"Key West Revisited"
by JoAnn Connolly

This essay was written by a good friend of mine. I have always liked it and she was kind enough to give me her permission to post it here on my website.  - poetheart 12/15/00

As the sun sets over Key West, Florida, bathing the Gulf and the island in hues of gold and red, a crowd gathers on the dock at Mallory Square. The bars in the square empty as patrons walk to the wharf, drinks in hand. I am one of them. Strains of Jimmy Buffet’s “ Margaritaville” emanate from Sloppy Joe’s on Duvall Street.

It’s been said that the island is a town of 25,000 individualists and it appears they’re all here. Mimes, jugglers, breakdancers, bikini-clad girls on roller skates and artisans selling their handicrafts press for space on the pier. A tall, knobby-kneed man in a plaid kilt is playing bagpipes, encouraging the tourists in Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian print shirts to throw coins in the basket at his feet. The smell of popcorn mingles with those of suntan lotion and the sea. The temperature is 87 degrees, and my gin and tonic tastes good.

I notice the changes Key West has undergone. Even its size has increased, through man-made additions of shale and concrete upon the reefs. Condominiums and resort hotels clutter the old Navy Base, which was closed several years ago. Fine, white sand has been trucked in from the mainland to make the beaches more appealing. More than a million visitors annually traipse through the island’s streets. There are traffic jams and shopping malls. Affluent retirees and vacationing yuppies searching for an unspoiled paradise have come and spoiled it.

I remember the first time I stood on this dock 25 years ago. That day, for the first of many times, I walked the three blocks from my house on Telegraph Lane, wheeling my infant son in his stroller, to participate in the sunset observance. “Beatniks” sold their paintings and seashell jewels to the few tourists willing to make the 140 mile drive south on the Overseas Highway from the mainland. Sailors in crisp white bell-bottoms, women in sundresses, conchs (Key West natives) and a few tourists, made up the congregation on the dock. Music drifted to the pier from the open-air saloons, yet it was peaceful. A barefoot young man in blue jeans strummed soft chords on his guitar. A pretty young girl wearing a shapeless cotton tent dress and sandals, clicked castanets. Marijuana cigarettes were passed in cupped palms among the group. Sailboats bobbed serenely on the blue water, with the orange sun as a backdrop.

The encroaching darkness brings me back to the present. I stand amid the jostling, noisy, picture-snapping throng, and I realize that though much about Key West is different, one thing is not. The sunset remains constant, beautiful; and now, as then, receives a standing ovation.

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