Key West . A multi hued tapestry of tourists, partiers, military, old crusty Florida hippies, gay boys and girls, sailors, hustlers, locals, street performers and musicians. The end of the line. Where all congregate to celebrate the sunset each night from Mallory square, and from the piers, rooftops, and waterfront bars, focused on the final moment as the great orb spreads into the sea, all waiting for the elusive green flash.
Beautiful classic southern architecture, with balconies overlooking the streets, wide front porches, shutters for the windows, tucked away behind the palms and and mossy tentacles that fall from the trees. Many old moldy run down wood paneled fixer uppers in the waiting. Banyon trees stretching wide, limbs out with hanging vines reaching for the ground to turn into new trunks.
Earnest Hemingway in the bars, the names. Over 100, 6 toed cats, descended from his famous feline at the Hemingway house where he wrote many of his classics. He drank here, he stayed there. Pictures on the walls of bars of him drinking, fishing, carrying on. White haired, bearded Hemingway contest looks alikes on the street. Elia says I should grow the hair, grow the beard, get the steely eyed stare and embrace the man, the writer, the drinker, the womanizer. Maybe she means just the look.
Much inebriation on all sides, at all hours. Thankfully we missed New Years eve by a few days, but as they say on the T shirt, “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning”. In paradise for only a few days, many waste no time.
Money being extracted from the tourists in many creative ways. From far away the para gliders hang their victims off the back of their boats and float them in the breeze. Sunset cruises abound on old schooners, Catamarans, Sweet Janes Island Charter. Catch the deep sea Tuna or the Marlin and proudly match your wits against a poor defenseless fish that didn’t even know there was a confrontation to prepare for. Tiki huts built on rafts motoring throughout the anchored boats. Snorkel out off the packed boat to the murky key. How many tourists can you pile onto a Catamaran, while jacking the reggae as you go past the anchorage. All you can drink, all you can drink, all you can drink. Stumble back to your hotel, or to the late night streets of Key Weird. Restaurants and bars throughout downtown. Packed on New Years week. All the tourists flying in, staying at the hotel, the inn. Eating out, drinking out. Spending the green, yes siree. The American way.
A different style of boating community than we are used to. Small interactions among boaters, but many with only a slight wave as they go by on their Carolina Skiff to work in the morning. There are regular cruisers but it seems hard to connect with them. No VHF net in the morning. No central place to hang. Very few of us, compared to the affordable housing members of Key West, that bought Bubby Joe’s boat for $500 and keep it anchored out with a long dinghy ride to town. Sails blown out, motor doesn’t work but one way to live cheap in paradise.
Forts abound on the Florida coast. Imposing structures mostly built for the short lived Spanish American war. Most never had a shot fired. You can take an all day ferry ride to the Dry Tortugas for $200 to see Fort Jefferson or go to Fort Zachary Taylor state park on the tip of the island. Lots of american military dollars and might. Guns that can shoot 32 miles out and over the horizon in 1896. Keep the enemy hopping. Immigration control old school. We don’t need no stinking wall!
Tourists of all flavors regurgitated from the cruise ships daily. Pulled up along Mallory square, leaving by sunset. Italians, French, Japanese, hard to say where else, but all with the pasty overfed, hungover glaze of the one week vacation a year, get it all in at once in a week in paradise before going back to “reality”
Old crusty florida types. Elia calls them “my people”. Bearded, deeply dark and wrinkled crusty as all get out, living on the boats, hanging in the streets. Seem to have an inner circle. They shout out to each other as they stumble by. Yo Bro.
And then the music. Ah yes. The Green Parrot, Sloppy Joes, The Bull, Sunset Pier, and on it goes. All free. No cover charge. And the beauty for this old man of the sea is that it starts with a 5:30 sunset set. Done by 7:30. Home for sup. Bed by nine. Some of our favorites. Billy And The Squids. Skinny funny looking guy, tight pants, hair slicked back, blowing lonesome harp and singing the cowboy boogie Hank Williams classics. The Whores. Playing anything for a tip proudly. Here’s a ten, play Sweet Caroline. Open to stopping for $11. It stops. Open to starting for $12. Back and forth until some guy gives them $100 to play the whole song, if they let his Mary sing with them for her birthday. All funny as hell especially to the more inebriated at Sloppy Joes. Many bars with a singer and single guitar and some mild electronic backup. Blues, some Jimmy Buffett, some just background tourist music, others truly talented. Found a Dead Jams cover band that was excellent. I watch the bass.The test is Eyes Of The World. He nailed it. And he brought a fast, funky, approach to Bertha, to Rider. Kind of a Vulfpeck Joe Dart bass into Dead tunes. We talked after the show. They do over 300 shows a year. Also plays in a funk band, an island Jazz band. Made me head back to the boat to work on the elusive eighth notes on my fender.
And then as always it’s time to go. Maxo off on a bus to Ft Lauderdale, to Costa Rica. We’re on the Key West Transit Blue line to Publix to shop big for the upcoming dearth of supplies. Last night treat of the second round of the Dead band on the sunset pier, dancing to Shakedown Street, and a wonderful funkified “You’ve Got To Serve Somebody to end the set, and then off for the overnight to Cuba. Great time in Key West. Long enough to feel it. Short enough to appreciate it. On to the next adventure.