Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Driving to Mile Marker Zero

We set off this morning to drive a well-known piece of asphalt: highway 1 from Miami to Key West.
I've always wanted t explore this part of the country, and so did everyone else in the group.
It was a great day, filled with beautiful views and lots of slow drivers.
My expectations often did not match up with reality. For instance, I had envisioned miles and miles of bridge highway, with two lanes in each direction. The reality was that we drove mostly on small isands known as "keys", and it was almost entirely two-lane (as in one lane in each direction). We drove through dozens of small towns, all with their own version of a speed-trap. No, I didn't get a ticket, but it was close a few times.
We made Key West in about three hours, walked around, taking in the circus-like atmosphere, and then headed back towards Miami.
The Florida Keys are like no other place. Each key has it's own unique character. And of course, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the road whenever we passed a canal or other waterway - all of them just begging for me to row a gondola through them.
Florida has a rich gondola history, going back for many decades. One of the most colorful and active gondola operators in the state was Karl Rhunke, who ran gondolas for nearly twenty years before falling victim to a severe stroke. He was a great friend of mine and I'll never forget the time I visited him here in Miami.
Karl had three gondolas, one of which he trailered around Florida, offering cruises in several cities, including Mami, Hollywood, Boca Raton, Venice, Destin, and Key West.
On Feb. 14th, 1997, Karl's Venice-built gondola, the "Leona Pearl" was featured in an article in The Citizen - a Key West newspaper. I have a crude color-copy of the article, in which a couple from Illinois gets engaged, and one of Karl's gondoliers, Dave Campaniello is pictured preparing the gondola. I'd like to post it here, but it's a prettyweak scan, and it's probably against copyright laws.
Of course there were no signs of Karl's Key West gondola operation today, walking around the town, you'd never know that it was there eleven years ago. Few, if any of the townsfolk are likely to remember it either, but I'll bet the couple from Illinois still visits the Keys and remembers their storybook proposal on Karl's gondola.
Tonight, I raise my glass in sad but fond memory, to Karl Rhunke.

3 comments:

conchscooter said...

A whole three hours in Key West? TrumanaveMallorysquareDuvalstreetFastbuckfreddiesHemingwayhouseSouthernmostpointSloppyjoesforlunchPassthedocksmissthecemeteryTrumanaveonthewayout...phew!Jet propelled gondola!

Conchscooter said...

A whole three hours in Key West? TrumanaveMallorysquareDuvalstreetFastbuckfreddiesHemingwayhouseSouthernmostpointSloppyjoesforlunchPassthedocksmissthecemeteryTrumanaveonthewayout...phew!Jet propelled gondola!

Anonymous said...

I think I knew this Karl Ruhnke when he was young. Was he tall, blond, lean and blue eyed? He should have been about 60 by now.
Do you have a photo? When did he have this stroke. It sounds likehe died from it? I always wondered what became of him.