The Mighty Conch Republic
Twice in my life, I have found myself living in Key West. Both times, I was there when it was winter elsewhere in the country and I needed to get away from the "real world." I chose Key West for the warm weather and money making prospects. The income of this tiny island is based on tourism, but the nature of the place is transient. Therefore, it is often difficult for businesses to find good workers. If you have a pulse and a smidgen of common sense, you can make a decent amount of money quickly. Besides waiting tables, I shucked oysters at a topless beach and made frozen drinks next door to Ernest Hemingway's old house.
Beyond the fiduciary prospects and the gorgeous weather, there other things that have drawn me to the southernmost point in the United States. It is small and accessible by bicycle. The island is two miles wide and four miles long. Varying estimates put the resident population at 50% gay. You can wear flip-flops all year long and you can drink alcohol while walking down the street if it's in a plastic cup. Between the clothing optional bars and Fantasy Fest, there is always a reason to be naked.
It is a lovely place to lose a few months of you life. A place where chickens and six-toed cats run free and businesses offer a "locals discount." There is a tolerance and easiness that attracts all types of people to the tiny atoll. In small ways, the nature of Key West is similar to the nature of New York City, the only place I consider home. Evidence of their comparably rebellious essences is the outgoing fact that both places have tried to or at least entered into the public dialogue the desire to -- secede from the union of the United States.
However, being a New Yorker by nature, I often felt like I was missing something for the months that I spent in Key West. The former is the center of the world, the latter is the antithesis. The second time that I lived in Key West, Jason and I were working to save money so we could travel in Thailand for two months. He quickly found work cheffing and I got my old job back very easily. We found a cozy cottage with a garden for half of what we payed in Brooklyn. We were prepared to live simple and make cash.
Every morning, before going for a swim, I would go across the street and buy the local paper, The Key West Citizen. I have said before that my New York paper (the New York Daily News) is worth little but for the four pages of comics and the intermittently entertaining gossip column.
The Key West Citizen's best feature is the Crime Report.
On page 2 of the island's only paper (which is usually about 15 pages in total) they feature a "Citizen of the Day" from the local population and also a few short a stories that are taken directly from the daily police report. They are usually very specific and often very funny. Some days, little is going on and they will report that someone stole some beer or got drunk and fell asleep at the post office. Often, there are stories of drug busts and couples fighting. The locals read it to see if anyone they know got arrested.
The stories are like this one from Tuesday, May 24, 2005:
KEY WEST — At 2:52 a.m. on Sunday morning, a taxi driver contacted authorities to complain about a woman who refused to pay her $4.95 cab fare, according to a Key West police report.
The taxi driver picked the woman up at Harbor Lights bar and was asked to take her to Finnegan's Wake. She exited the cab on the 300 block of Grinnell Street and began walking. When told she would need to pay her bill, she stated that "Bill" would pay and resumed walking, the driver told police.
When the driver told the woman that he would contact the police, she said that the police would not arrest her for a $5 bill, according to the police report.
The woman told the officers who arrived on the scene that she had paid her bill; she then said that the driver had propositioned her; she then accused the driver of smoking marijuana in the taxi, police said.
After a consensual search of the vehicle turned up no evidence of narcotics activity, the woman was arrested on a charge of petit theft. The officers did not comply with her request to place the driver under citizen's arrest.
Lately, the news from the international world and my own little world have been too much to bear. It can be difficult to feel optimistic when so much seems contrary to the emotion of hope. It's often easier to believe the bad news. But, somehow, I still believe goodness prevails if you believe and keep your head above the water. And, as much I loved my times in Key West, I have always had to leave eventually because you can only escape your life for so long before it catches up.