Mandy Miles, the veteran reporter at The Key West Citizen, writes a Sunday column in the newspaper that recounts what she sees and hears around the island city.
Each week, this energetic and expressive woman tracks the unique aspects of life in Key West in her column, "Tan Lines."
For instance, I love how she captures what happens when fall arrives, the temperatures cool, and we shut off our air conditioners. Without the hum of her air conditioner to block the sounds of the night, Miles writes this:
"... I now hear everyone traversing Simonton Street between 1 and 4 a.m.
The guy with the Boston accent was convinced the 'Bahs' in Key West stay open until 4 a.m. and could not understand why the duo was already heading back to the room."
"And the woman locked out of the guesthouse across the street decided to use her God-given talent of whistling through two fingers to get the attention of her friends or the management."
Miles also reveals that she worries whether putting her own sunglasses into her purse while in a drug store will cause the management to think she's stealing a pair from the store's shelves.
And this jewel: "Am I the only one who thinks driving sidesaddle on a scooter is absurd?"
After pounding the hell out of her bed when she jammed and bloodied her toe on its metal frame, "The old jingle for Band-Aids was running through my head ... as I affixed one of them to my toe."
This is not to mean she's crazy. She's not, at least not in a negative way. She just has a gift for capturing what makes us human, as well as what makes Key West dig itself into our hearts.
Mandy has just published the second collection of her columns called "Only in Key West" and I heartily recommend it. The writing is crisp and following her thought processes is like sitting down with a friend and listening to a string of stories that leave you thinking, "I am not the only one who thinks like this. That's a relief."
In this book, for instance, she writes of adopting a cat that in fact, had adopted her and Stan, her real-deal fishing captain husband with a heart of gold.
"I had no idea a cat could look disappointed.
"I swear I saw the one who lives at our house sigh and shake his head last week when I opened the door and saw him in his usual spot on the deck. Stan, on the other hand, is greeted with happy prancing, head rubs against his legs and a look that can only be described as awe every time he opens the back door."
(Note to Mandy: I think it's because Stan works around fishing boats and bait. My cat did the same thing when I worked at the marina. Now, she doesn't even stand up when I get home).
Not to say her columns are without a message. Her books serve as historical accounts, capturing the times we all share. Such as the unraveling of the AIDS quilt down the length of Duval Street or the mood of the island in the days after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Readers will remember how impossible it was to drop or pick someone up at the new, multi-million airport out on the boulevard. Traffic cops forbid anyone to stop long enough to pick up passengers, making it difficult for families with babies and luggage or elderly or infirm people to get picked up in cars belonging to friends and family. Mandy wrote about the impossibility of the situation and the airport got lots of calls to fix the problem and it did so.
"Only in Key West" and "Tan Lines" are worth buying, especially as Christmas gifts. Not only will you be supporting a Key West author who doesn't have a look-alike contest to honor her or a history of bizarre public behavior to help her sell books, you'll laugh at the little details that explain life on this packed island.
When I pull one of her books off the shelf and read her accounts, I smile and realize how lucky we are to have someone who sees the lightness of being in Key West and I value her as someone who can show me that life need not be so serious.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Tan Lines" and "Only in Key West" are available on Amazon.com and are on sale at Key West Island Books at 513 Fleming St.