Once upon a time, during an action-packed confrontation between Arnold Schwarzenegger and a pack of bad guys, missile strikes blew up the Florida Keys’ Seven Mile Bridge.
Okay, that statement isn’t STRICTLY true, but it’s based on fact — one of many facts about the Keys that are offbeat, slightly improbable and add an engagingly weird vibe to the colorful island chain.
It seems that in 1993, before he became California’s governor, Arnold starred in a film called “True Lies” that was shot partially in the Keys. The story, about a spy whose personal and professional lives collided in a madcap caper, involved a sequence of helicopter stunts and an explosion on the iconic Middle Keys bridge.
Needless to say, it wasn’t the real bridge — but the narrow expanse of roadway unrolling above blue water sure looked like the real thing.
Throughout the Keys, you’ll hear stories that sound as unlikely as the saga of Arnold and the exploding bridge. Some are flat-out tall tales, but a surprising number are true.
For example …
FUN FACT ONE: Key Largo is the site of the world’s only underwater hotel. It’s called Jules’ Undersea Lodge, and dive enthusiasts can spend the night there, with amenities including room service, among the marine life of the Keys. Imagine waking up to see vivid-colored fish peering into your bedroom window, trying to catch a glimpse of the creatures unexpectedly sharing their habitat.
FUN FACT TWO: Speaking of unusual things beneath the sea, every year the Lower Keys stage what is probably the world’s only Underwater Music Festival. The quirky annual concert draws divers, snorkelers, curious fish and even characters costumed as mermaids and other mythical denizens of the deep. It’s held at Looe Key Reef, acclaimed as a world-class dive site, and spotlights the need for reef protection.
FUN FACT THREE: Moving from oceanic to land-based eccentricities, many visitors to Key West are surprised to find roosters and chickens running wild in the historic Old Town neighborhood. The free-range fowl are supposedly the descendents of chickens kept for food and roosters bred for cockfights before the practice was outlawed. Today, at Key West’s funky Blue Heaven (a renowned eatery whose fans include singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett) “breakfast with the roosters” is served in an outdoor courtyard where resident hens and chicks wander freely.
FUN FACT FOUR: In the Middle Keys (yes, the area where Arnold had his adventure on the Seven Mile Bridge), dolphins instead of chickens take center stage — for their math skills! That’s because Dolphin Research Center, a renowned Middle Keys research and educational facility that’s home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, spearheaded a groundbreaking study that shows dolphins can perform simple math equations — identifying simple math and distinguishing the difference between numbers they see on a board.
FUN FACT FIVE: The Lower Keys can’t boast mathematical dolphins, but in December 2009 they were the site of another rare phenomenon: snow. Now, bear in mind that weather forecasters have never officially recorded snow in the Keys. But on Christmas 2009, the white stuff mysteriously blanketed the home of musician Howard Livingston. Come to find out, Howard had won The Weather Channel’s nationwide “Guaranteed White Christmas” contest — and, despite the approximately 80-degree temps, a snowmaking and special effects company created the surprising subtropical snowfall.
Want additional Keys fun facts to startle and amaze your friends? Trust me, there are plenty of them. So check back to Keys Voices periodically to find out more reasons why, in the wacky and wonderful island chain, truth is definitely stranger than fiction.