I had set out to find a real cafè con leche during the half-hour break in the Key West Literary Seminar, and the task proved to be more difficult than anticipated. As I sat on the curb at the corner of Whitehead and Fleming, sweating and sipping my reward, I spotted a family walking my way.
They were obviously tourists, probably from the Midwest and looked fresh off the cruise ship.
The couple was about to pass me when the wife noticed the sign on the nearest pole, directly in front of me. "It read ‘Begin US1. Mile 0."
She then turned to her husband and asked him to take a photo of the sign with both their children.
Feeling generous, I asked if they would like me to snap a photo of the whole family in front of the landmark. Being from Miami, and feeling empowered as a semi-local, I explained to them that this side of the street was actually the beginning of US1, and not the end of the road, which I pointed to across the street.
“The end? The beginning? It’s the same thing, right?” she said without hesitation. Holding hands, the family posed and after I snapped two shots, they were on their way.
Back on the curb, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about what she said. I had always thought of Key West as the end of the road, and never as a beginning. But the more I examined the idea, the more I realized she was just as correct as I would ever be.
Coming from the south, Key West is indeed the beginning of our country, and not its end point. It is through this narrow chain of islands that the world funnels into the rest of the United States.
I realized that from the vantage point of Key West, we can just as easily view the rest of the world as we can get a complete picture of ourselves as a nation. Being on the brink certainly offers its advantages when it comes to perspective-- a view from anywhere but the edge always leaves a big blind spot behind you.