I am a princess. I know this, and I am no longer ashamed to admit this annoying fact about myself. Upset Waitress thought she knew this, too, until she spent two days helping me look at places to live in the Keys. “Oh my God, you really are a princessa, aren’t you? A total, f—ing Princess!”
I could only smile and shrug every time she seemed to become newly aware of my royalty status. Because one’s princess persona is never more apparent than when she is looking for a place to live in the Keys. Oh I know, those dreamy Keys: land of azure waters, a laid-back pace, a kick-back-be-happy attitude. And that’s all true. It is also true, however, that it is a land where a princess is expected to pay top dollar for a falling-down, roach/ant/rat infested dump the likes of which one needs a shower after stepping gingerly around the stained carpet and scattered cans of bug spray left behind.
But hey, it’s the Keys! The Keys! Yeah, the Keys, baby.
One of our first stops sounded so promising: several bedrooms, ocean side, on a canal, with a tiki hut on the patio. Wow. Because there are no visible house numbers or mailboxes or any other identifying marks to set one dump apart from another, it took us almost an hour to track down this charmer.
“You got to see it inside. It’s pretty nice,” said the grizzled owner who finally met up with us so we would stop breaking into other nearby occupied homes thinking it was the one for rent.
“I know her,” mumbled Upset Waitress. “No way.”
Being the polite princess that I am, however, I waved her off and smiled and said, “Oh no, I am happy to take a look.”
Aside from the filth growing on the walls that didn’t meet the floor, aside from the stench of rotting something, aside from a general disgusting atmosphere that even Rouletta would not tolerate–it was great! Next place, please.
And so it went, Upset Waitress driving Bunny the Rabbit up and down Route 1 and along every side road that she’d never personally known about even though she’s lived there forever, while I called prospective landlords and begged directions to the next horror show. My personal favorite was the place “being worked on” that reeked of pesticide on the inside and out, but which had an added touch of blue pellets of rat poison scattered throughout the kitchen. “See, it’ll all be fine now that we’ve treated it!” exclaimed the mother of the owner for whom she was “showing you this as a favor.”
After 782 more walk-throughs of 782 more nightmares, I was chain smoking and swilling leftover carryout mimosas–all before noon. Hey, but it’s the Keys!
I knew I had found it the moment I saw it. I knew I would pay anything for it. I knew….
“No, you will NOT pay the asking price. I watched these places being built. First storm, they’re blown away. You will get the price down or not take it,” scolded Upset Waitress.
“But after all we’ve seen…”
It is best not to argue with Upset Waitress. And so I drove my hardest bargain with the agent showing us the place on behalf of the owner. I was shot down almost immediately.
We trudged through 643 more vermin-infested places. “I am calling that agent back and telling him I’ll pay full price,” I told Upset Waitress. She was already exhausted from the search, as was I, and I wasn’t listening to her talk bargain hunting any longer.
Even she agreed. Time to suck it up and just pay more than top dollar for a pristine, brand new house on the ocean with a community pool and private beach that will likely not stand up to a minor tropical storm. But Upset Waitress is no fool. She knows exactly where her off time will be happily spent on my rental dime.
I called the agent back and left a message saying I’d take the place at full price. And he didn’t call back, even after I left four more messages begging him to allow me to squander my meager savings on the place. Because that’s how it goes in the Keys, you see. Why call someone back who is gainfully employed with great references who is willing to pay full price for a place when it’s a so called renters’ market in the worst economy in decades? Really, why?
Thankfully, I did not have to employ the knee-breaking tactics of my new boss to get the deal finally done. A full two days later, I heard from the owner, and with luck, she really is emailing me a lease tonight. With luck, I really am moving into the princess castle in the sand. With luck, I am getting the f— out of Fort Lauderdale and winging my way south to peace and quiet and no boys and no bars and no nothing else except work and writing.
Yeah, that’s right, the Keys: Restaurant Gal’s new rehab locale. 😉
At least I’ll be living like a princess with Upset Waitress as my witness. Upset Waitress who is, amazingly, still my friend after this two-day, house- search hell.
“I would live on the streets before I would ever look for a place to live down here,” she mumbled while lighting the 25th cigarette smoked between us in two hours.
Not me. I’m simply never looking anywhere else to live again.
Okay, that’s a lie–I’m never looking again for a place to live…for now. And for now, that’s fine.