By Beth Rubin
Beth Rubin (Keys snowbird and freelance writer featured in Island Jane, Aug. 2013) sat down with Cammy Clark, a Keys resident for going on 8 years who covers all the Keys for the Miami Herald. The women met in the 1980s while working on a community newspaper in Potomac, Maryland. Several years later, Beth was vacationing in the Keys. She began reading a Herald article with Cammy’s byline, and curiosity got the best of her. She picked up the phone—and the two reconnected. Just another example of good Keys karma.
Where did you spend your early years and go to school?
I was born and raised in Plymouth, N.H., and went to The American University in Washington, D.C.
Where did you get your professional journalism experience?
I paid my dues early in my sports journalism career in the Washington, D.C. area, working for the George Michael Sports Machine, stringing for United Press International, copy editing for The Washington Post and serving as sports editor for the Potomac and Bethesda Almanacs. In 1990, I moved to Florida to work as a sports reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. I became the paper’s first beat writer for the expansion National Hockey League team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Seven years later, I moved to California to cover the Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne-led Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
In 2000, I quit my job to travel the world by bicycle for a year with a group called Odyssey. I toured 41 countries on six continents, riding about 15,000 miles. I climbed the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Mountain of Death in Costa Rica. I sang karaoke (badly) at a family-owned bar in Viet Nam and slept in a former bomb shelter in Switzerland. During the Olympics in Sydney, I walked on top of the city’s famous bridge. In South Africa, I did the world’s highest bungee jump from a suspended bridge—and I have a video to prove it. But that wasn’t as cool as waking up in a campground and watching giraffes roam by.
Did you write about it? What did you do next?
When I returned from the bike trip, I wrote a book about the experience (which is still in the works). After a short-lived bartending career (a gift to myself to figure out what I wanted to do next), I’d grown tired of being broke. I returned to Florida, this time to work for the Miami Herald. I began as the paper’s NASCAR writer then covered the University of Miami’s basketball team.
How did that work out?
I needed more of a change. The opportunity came in 2006. I was killing time during a trip to St. Augustine for my friend’s birthday. While waiting for her birthday cake to cook, I discovered by chance that the Herald had an opening for its Florida Keys writer. A month later, the moving van arrived and I was on my way to Key West to cover anything I found interesting: pioneering efforts to farm corals, a federal trial of a baseball agent who smuggled Cuban players, Inga the Swedish Bombshell drag queen getting the first legal tattoo in Key West in decades and, of course, the sinking of the USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
What has been your most exciting or unusual assignment?
I love my job because I have gotten to do many cool things and interview numerous interesting people. I reached the speed of sound flying with the Blue Angels, dove the Aquarius underwater habitat, looked for treasure with Mel Fisher’s grandson, and watched renowned exotic-animal veterinarian Dr. Doug Mader [on the staff of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon] perform surgery on a turtle. But the one assignment I will never forget is the 160-mile roundtrip journey by boat with Cuban exiles to about 12 ½ miles from Havana, just within international waters. It was during the Pope’s visit to Havana. The exiles were armed with fireworks, which they set off to show support of their countrymen. The boat ride to just outside Cuban waters was calm, on a beautiful day in March. But the seas and winds picked up during the fireworks show. And by the time the three-boat flotilla headed back, a terrible storm had rolled in. All 19 of us on the Democracia put on life jackets as 10-foot waves washed over the front of the boat that had been dry-docked for five years. Everybody was seasick, even our captain. The engine kept conking out. I sure hoped the Pope was saying some prayers for us. We limped back to Key West, arriving at 7:30 a.m., nearly 19 hours after we left. I had to write most of my story from memory as my entire notebook was a soggy mess.
How long did you live in Key West?
Two years. Then I moved to Key Largo for a year before buying a house in Islamorada—during the real estate crash in 2009. I married Mark Coleman, a sergeant with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, on Nov. 26, 2011.
How did you meet your husband?
I met Mark while on an assignment to cover a body exhumation at the Southern Keys Cemetery on Big Coppitt Key. Mark was then a homicide detective. He was there to observe the removal of DNA of an unidentified newborn known only as “God’s Little Angel,” who was found 16 years earlier, dumped near a church. There was hope that advances in mitochondrial DNA technology might make it possible to identify the baby’s mother.
Where was your wedding?
We were married at the point at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in Key West. We built our own arch with my late dad’s tools. My aunt’s handpicked flowers to decorate it. Our officiant was Kathy Salamone, who I serendipitously ran into while searching for a fax machine. She wrote our ceremony. It was so personal and moving it made me sob when I first read it. (Thankfully I got the tears out of my system ahead of time, and I did not cry and ruin my makeup during the ceremony). The weather cooperated for our big day, providing a gorgeous sunny afternoon—with sailboats, cruise ships and personal watercraft cruising behind us. And we had the perfect sunset for our pictures. We took the Conch Train to our reception at the A&B Lobster House, where our guests raved about the food, service and entertainment provided by my good friend Rob DiStasi and his band, The Prime Movers. Our wedding day was coordinated by We’ve Got the Keys, owned by another good friend, Nadene Grossman Orr. And afterward, those who could hang continued on for a Duval Crawl. But first, I had to stop at Captain Tony’s where, for the first and only time in my life, I got the quarter into the fish’s mouth at the entrance.
What’s your favorite Keys experience?
I did not know the real beauty of the Keys until I met my husband and he got me hooked on diving. The wrecks are fun to dive, but the shallow patch reefs in the Upper Keys always amaze me with their colorful and diverse coral and abundance of marine life. It truly is like being in an aquarium. I love to swim with the nurse sharks, sea turtles and spotted eagle rays and discover moray eels and lobsters hidden under ledges. I once snorkeled into about 200 fish near Hen and Chickens. I did not know until I swam back to the boat that those fish were barracuda.
What is your favorite Keys food or meal?
I love grouper, which I first discovered while living in St. Petersburg.
What local activities do you participate in?
My husband is known as Aquaman and we spend a lot of time on the water: diving, swimming the jetty at Founder’s Park in Islamorada, paddleboarding and kayaking. My husband also has taught me to kiteboard, although that is still a work in progress. We both like to do local triathlons and running events, including the Seven-Mile Bridge Run. I beat the bus once by fast walking the route after knee surgery. And now, after a 30-year hiatus, I play tennis regularly.
What is your favorite place to watch the sunrise or sunset?
Forget sunrises. I’m a night owl. But I love sunsets at Marker 88, with a cold Corona Light and a lime.
What about the Keys grabs you or inspires you the most?
I’ve been here 7 ½ years and during that time I’ve learned so much about the history, the people and the independent spirit that thrives up and down the island chain. Tourists come and go, giving the place a renewable energy. But it’s we locals who call this place home that give this slice of paradise its soul – the artists, the boat captains, the bar-stool singers, the mom-and-pop motel owners and all the people who have come here to make their dreams come true – or try to run away from the law. For me, it was originally a place to change the direction of my career, away from the hectic pace and weekly travel of sportswriting to the more thoughtful reporting and writing of features and news. And where better to do that than the place that once inspired Ernest Hemingway? Maybe one day I will finish my book.