“Key West – Where The Weird Go Pro” – Written on a t-shirt displayed in the window of one of Key West’s many, many tacky t-shirt shops. The best humour is always born from truth and that particular t-shirt summed up some of Key West’s more “colourful” locals in my opinion. Colourful sounds so much nicer than weird don’t you think?
Every beach-y resort town has a few things you can count on: ice cream, patio bars, t-shirt shops, seafood, tourists, art galleries and kiosks selling booze cruise and para-sailing tickets. Key West has all of that and more. You can also find female impersonators, alcohol, nude girl peep shows, alcohol, fetish shops, alcohol, Cuban leaf (rolled in the Dominican) cigar shops, only one book store (sadly), alcohol and street “entertainers”. I use the term entertainers loosely. One scruffy looking guy had a small dog, a Chihuahua maybe but it was hard to tell because he had it wearing little dark sunglasses, a small visor hat and about 6 colourful bead necklaces around its little neck while it sat obediently on the curb. He had a sign beside the dog that said “Take a picture – Leave a tip” You lazy SOB. You can at least beat on an empty paint can or something. Make a little effort like the guy riding around on his bicycle decorated like a disco, complete with spinning mirror ball and Donna Summer blasting. Now that was creative. As was the guy who was literally jumping through hoops and those crazy guys riding tall uni-cycles while juggling fire sticks. Now that’s entertainment. Especially when you realize there is no way they can afford health insurance!
Anyway, back to the guy exploiting his little dog…at least he didn’t say anything. He just sat there waiting for the money to roll in. In houndsight hindsight, he is better than the guy playing guitar and singing down at the park where everyone gathers to watch the sun set each evening. That guy was belligerent because he wasn’t getting tipped enough in his opinion. He’d play one song (not that well I might add) in his rough I’ve-had-too-many-whiskeys-and-cigarettes voice and then stop to shout things at the crowd like “Tipping is not a city in China people!” His tip bucket was a large 5 gallon plastic bucket with a sign on it that read “Tipping EXPECTED and appreciated” “Ya, I don’t think so! I came to the park to see the sun set and not be harassed by you anyway, you talent-less jack ass!” I screamed while swinging punches at him but John scooped me up around the waist and was carrying me away so none of my punches landed. I made that last part up, I’m too heavy to be “scooped”, and too polite to yell at people strangers…but I thought about it! We did get a few hundred pictures of the sunset so it was all worth it.
Apart from, and despite the weird, Key West is a very charming and cool place to visit. The historical district of Key West dubbed Old Town where we stayed is wonderful. Most of the architecture dates from around 1886 to 1912. Wood-frame construction of one to two-and-a-half-story structures with peaked metal roofs, horizontal wood siding, gingerbread trim, pastel shades of paint, side-hinged louvered shutters, covered porches along the fronts and wood lattice screens covering the area elevated by piers.
Chickens and roosters roam and yes, even cross the streets. Why? We couldn’t get a straight answer from any of them. Six toed cats, descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s cat, Snowball, still reside lazily all around Hemingway House and quite likely beyond its gates.
There is a long list of well known people who have called Key West home at one time or another. Ernest Hemingway (whose home we toured), Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Buffet, Calvin Klein, Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, Truman Capote, Harry Truman, Ralph Lauren, Robert Frost, to name a few. I completely get why. The southern most tip of the US (only 90 miles from Cuba – so close and yet so far) has a kind of beauty and magic in its humid salty air. It’s just different and quirky enough to have its own unique southern charm. After a few Cuba Libra’s in Sloppy Joe’s Bar (served to me by Bonnie the bartender who looked about 68ish and was a scary “there, but by the grace of God, go I” reminder) I declared in a slur – I must write about this place!
“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
– Ernest Hemingway
True dat Mr. Hemingway! (He’s rolling over in his grave right now)