After more years of visiting Key West than I wish to recognize, Marilyn and I moved to Old Town, settling into an 1890 cigar maker’s home, not far from the city cemetery. After years of renovation, still ongoing, (the termites were winning), we are near complete. It has become our home, not just a house.
For those who have visited, you will understand the beauty and unique culture of the town. Tropical, liberal, willing to have a party for any reason, and accepting of everyone by nature, it truly is one of the most interesting and fun-loving towns in the world.
For those who haven’t, come on down! I keep wanting to use unique to describe the town, because frankly that’s the best single word. I know of no other place in America quite like it. It’s a very small island where over eight languages are spoken. Where workers including tradesmen and service workers alike ride their bikes to work carrying their tools in the baskets. Parents take their kids to school on bicycles. And dogs are everywhere, attached to their respective owners by leash. Feral chickens are everywhere, as are neighborhood cats, lizards both native and invasive, and did i mention termites? They should be on the Key West flag.
And then there is the entertainment side of the town. Anything you possibly could imagine (And things I guarantee you haven’t thought of) are here. Live music? It’s everywhere ranging from rock, reggae, pop, country, and jazz. All from the friendly confines of many small venues scattered across town. Live entertainment? It’s here including the aforementioned music scene and also including playhouses, singers, street entertainers, and drag shows. There is even a Thursday Night Vibrator Race with proceeds going to charity. And yes, you read that right.
The locals? They range from normal to batshit crazy, which is totally healthy, and I embrace. You can pass service workers walking home after their shift, while being passed by a man, painted with glitter, wearing angel wings, while riding a bicycle. Likewise, you can be passed while walking your dog, by a lady on bicycle wearing headphones, singing horribly out of key at the top of her lungs, while gesticulating wildly to her song. Or have a 200-year-old local bicyclist pass you singing ‘ You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog’, while pointing to you and your dog. Another day in Key West. and it’s not yet 8am.
And while we are talking about walking, let’s talk about walking. One of the most endearing parts of living in Key West is the fact that you walk anywhere you need to go in 20 minutes. We may need to fill up the fuel tank on the car four times a year. Even faster, on a bicycle you can get anywhere in 10 minutes. The freedom of walking out of your house to grab food, find entertainment, or just walk without a destination in mind, and having the incredible range of options that the island offers, is truly a great thing.
Finally, and hugely important to me is the unmatched natural beauty of the Keys and surrounding waters and wildlife. Capturing the everchanging moods and beauty, both outrageous and subtle, of this place is now my quest, as perhaps you have noticed in many of my collections.
One of the overused adjectives of the town is ‘Paradise’, which in many ways is true. Are there problems in Paradise? Absolutely. Property values in the last decade, and accelerating over the past 5 years, has resulted in displacement of many old Key West families. These Conches, as they are proudly labeled, take with them much of the culture and history which makes this place great. Simultaneously the ever-escalating property values escalate rent to the point that the local labor force can’t afford to live in the area. And what’s driving this? People who come down and are willing to pay the ever-growing asking price for real estate. The ‘new locals’, including myself, are driving the problem. Something has to give.
Take the good and the bad, and out of it all its a great town. And while Austin Texas claims to be ‘weird’, being familiar with both towns, Key West is Weirder Longer.