One of the boys had found us a hotel so we made a beeline for the Days Inn. There were still a few hours before sunset so we planned on rushing to our room to get changed for the beach and then heading to the pier for the celebration. I was standing at the check in desk with Joey when I happened to turn around and see Tom talking with a woman at a desk behind us. The nosey girl in me started walking towards them to see what the buzz was and found out that Tom had located our very first hotel concierge. How cool is that? She set up a snorkeling trip for us the next morning and gave us a map showing the beach, Duval Street and the pier where the Sunset Celebration was. We hurried off to our room and after throwing on our suits we made tracks for the beach. We got side tracked by a quick Margarita and the band at Sloppy Joe’s (Hemingway’s old watering hole), a two year old girl being potty trained on a side street (yeah, it was really weird), and a dozen Conch Fritters at a stand after that. We asked the Conch man which way the beach was while he was cooking up our delicious treats and he told us the best was the State Beach and pointed off to his right.
We walked with greasy Conch Fritters in hand down to the State Beach with an hour to spare before sunset. We paid the nominal fee at the gate and walked what seemed to be a long way down to the shore. We had a nice quick dip and then called a cab to cart us over to the pier. Halfway up the long asphalt drive way from the beach to the front gate of the park Joey realized he forgot his Hawaiian shirt, and Tom, being the fastest among us offered to run back and grab it. What a trooper, thanks Tom! We all reconvened at the gate and jumped in the cab on the way to Key West’s coolest nightly tradition.
Now this next story may seem like it doesn’t quite fit but stay with me- my dad always gets my mom the most awesome presents, and one particular year for her birthday he flew the family down to the top of the Keys and rented a red convertible to celebrate her for a week of fun in the sun. See the Where We’re Going page for the details of my hideous sunburn, but regardless we got to do a lot of really fun things while we were there on that vacation, so I knew which hot spots I wanted us to see on this trip.
Photo by Rich Lovelace
The Sunset Celebration has been going on for a long time and is a really cool tradition. Everyday all year long any tourist that knows about it heads to the pier around 7:00. Sailboats lazily float by; their sails silhouetted as in a painting against the gloriously setting sun. Sunset cruises gently motor by the dock and the cruisers with drink in hand gleefully waive at everyone gathered on the dock. The beauty of the boats sailing back and forth against the bright orange sinking sun and the pink evening clouds make an amazing stage for all of the street performers who come out day after day. When I was here with my parents I was 17 years old; eight years later as Joey, Tom and I walked around the dock, two of the street performers in particular seemed very familiar. I stopped to watch one man up on a high wire and as he began yelling to the crowd gathered around him I realized he was the same guy I saw when I was 17!
The other guy I recognized because I had been in his show while on vacation with my family. He called us all up to the edge of his stage and my family was on the inside most wall of people. After awhile of jumping around and being pretty cool he started looking around the audience for a volunteer. I quietly shrank back trying to squeeze behind my parents but the guy saw me and grabbed my hand. I resisted for an instant but my dad gently pushed me forward and my mom and brother were cheering for me to go with the guy. He told me to get on a bike like normal but to keep my back flat and duck my head down. He pulled another guy out of the audience and had him hold a hula hoop on my back; he got the crowd all revved up for his trick and right before he got set he bounded over to me and whispered in my ear. “Don’t move, OK? Don’t move.” I nodded but my heart dropped to my shoes. I didn’t move, but you can bet I didn’t watch either.
Photo by Rich Lovelace
I felt a rush of wind over my back and heard wild applause from the audience. I barely opened one eyelid to look out and the man patted me on the back and had everyone clap for me again. “What did he do?” I asked my parents when I got back in the crowd with them. My dad told me the man had somersaulted mid-air through the hula hoop and landed on his feet safely clearing the end of the bike. I’m really glad I didn’t watch. Anyway this same guy was at it again! Tom, Joey and I made our way around the outside of each crowd surrounding the performers and watched from a safe distance.
We snapped pictures as the sun sank lower and lower into the clouds and started thinking about our next move. There are several cities in this great nation that have iconic streets basically made for partying. Key West is no different. Duval Street is home to many famous bars, Hemingway’s old watering hole for one (Sloppy Joe’s), so we made our way down the road starting at the famous Hog's Breath Saloon.
We got some mojitos to start and struck up a conversation with our bartender, Paul. Paul got interested in our trip and found out we’re headed to Chicago the same weekend he is going to be there with his daughter. He’s going for The Pitchfork Festival and told us all about the lineup which of course got us all excited that we’ve run into yet another cool coincidence on our trip! Thanks for the tip Paul!
Well America, this post has gone on and on, and while I could go bar by bar with you I’m sure you get the idea; beers and cool people having a great time on the very last days of June. We happily but sleepily made our way back to the Days Inn and dreams of coral reef and colorful fish danced in our heads.
Until next time America.