That 75 degree difference for the high temperature in each locale today explains the good, bad and ugly of Key West, Florida. There is no other place in late January to play in the warm seawater, smell semi-tropical flowers, and lie in the guaranteed sunshine…that you can DRIVE to in the U.S. That is the good part. 15 years ago when I last visited, it had only been “found” by gays, cuban exiles, and WWII Navy families that stayed on. I remember joining them for Bocce Ball in Higgs Park in the evenings. It was very, very quiet. Especially at night, when the only people out in the residential neighborhoods near Duval Street were dog walkers, men with great haircuts gossiping about the dinner party they were just leaving, and workers coming home from the bar and restaurant trade. QUIET. Locals now refer to that as “Old Key West”.
Beginning about 15 years ago, someone named Walsh brought in a lot of money and developers and the housing and hotel room stock exploded. Now there are 30,000 people here in the high season, only about 8,000 during the summer. Some of these are from the cruise ships which spew out tourists daily. What never seems to stop is the high pitched whine of scooters, the low thumping of Harley engines, the canned and amplified tour trolleys. Inebriated (loud) adults seem to have infiltrated all the formerly quiet neighborhoods.
It is a noisy, rowdy place with a dark side. Homeless drug addicts have also “found” Key West, and there is lots of panhandling and violence as well. We went to Duval Street (the main commercial drag) in search of a signature cocktail and live music, and instead found a crime scene, shutting down the block and the bar. At least 20 police officers were interviewing eyewitnesses to the stabbing, possibly a homicide.
The other attraction that never stops is perhaps a bit more charming…BIG COCKS EVERYWHERE!….that would be Roosters I am referring to, no matter what you were thinking. They crow all day, and all night in every part of the Island. They are so used to dogs, they don’t even step off the path at their approach.
My mother told me that my father remained in a homophobic rage their entire visit here, 25 years ago, because of the overt male sexuality and hysterical drag queens. There are still sweet and funny drag queens on Duval Street complimenting me on my goofy jewelry, but now they are next door to a brothel for straight men, and across the street from raunchy bars encouraging drunk tourists to dance on the counters, and “take it all off”. Feels a bit like Bourbon Street in New Orleans except there are galleries, designer stores, beautiful restaurants, and historic buildings tucked in between the “Spring Break in Florida” feel to the place.
The landscaping has benefitted from the infusion of capital, and it is an eyeful. Bromeliads taking all their nourishment from the air, huge staghorn ferns (that die in my care in the SF Bay Area, thrive here. Flowers just keep blooming, seeming to have no season. Fan Palms, orchids just hang over the fence, lush and lovely.
We were fortunate to be here for the Quantum Key West Races: lots of spinnakers flying, Hobie Cats with crew hanging out in their harnesses, with great wind for the races. There were some gorgeous schooners out to observe the fun. Once you get out on the water, all the dross and ugliness drops away. Once again, we started talking about traveling the world by sailboat…just talking, not planning…. talking…for now.