Key West 2011

Key West — The group of elderly tourists whose presence at the Chinese restaurant we dined in had only added to the quiet stolidity of the place must have stopped for a nightcap when they left half an hour ahead of us, because by the time we saw them again, in front of the library on Fleming street, they were Spring Break drunk.

Screaming laughing, they reassured the passing pedicab driver who apparently had asked if they needed a ride, that they were JUST FIIIIIIIIIIINe, occassioning more laughing and falling about amongst themselves. They were two couples, the men standing and starting to seem restless, the women sitting on the library wall, one woman trying to explain her condition to the men — she wasn’t used to drinking so much.

Some things don’t change. The syndrome of respectable bermuda shorts-wearing tourists, going all the way to Key West just to get staggering screaming drunk, at an age at which people can be expected to be wise enough not to do that anywhere else, is one of those things.

The falling out in front of the library, as if that is just the distance from Duval Street, that the drinks hit hard, also seemed familiar. It has always been sad to see drunkeness in its own right so commercialized that the smell that dominates the morning downtown is one of regurgitated booze.

Was this ever really an artists and writers hangout, the main squeeze wondered. It was. It still is, probably. The claustrophobia of the place makes it easy to watch life play out, and capture it: as John Hershey did, as Hemingway did. It’s still a nice place, too, of shady lanes, slow wheels, roosters who recognize people rise at all hours of the day, lush foliage, delicate solid houses, straight talk, unappeasing style.

But it’s sad too. Always haunted by the dreams that came all the way down US1 to die there.

What else do people do, the main squeeze asked, besides wait on people and sell them things?

They support the infrastructure, work for the schools, banks, bureaucracies, real estate offices, insurance companies, just like anywhere else. The difference is that they do it in paradise, where the downtown smells like vomit in the morning because visitors couldn’t find anything better to do there.


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