Key West — Everybody living in Florida has probably heard the old joke, “if it’s called tourist season, why am I not allowed to shoot them?” Here in Key West the locals seem to have made their peace with tourists and accepted the fact that their island depends on the tourist’s money as income. But the same problems that are found everywhere else in Florida can be found here, albeit condensed into an island two by four miles in size.
Like many coastal towns, Key West has witnessed the construction of many expensive apartments and condo complexes tailored to tourists and priced out of the reach of local residents. Even though most tourists only frequent Key West for a few weeks, or even only days per year, such constructions inevitably change the very nature of the island community.
But if tourists are willing to leave their money here, why not accept it and make a good living off of it? Let’s just say it is a natural progression from the early 1800s, when some of the islanders were prone to shipwrecking trade ships in order to loot their cargo. Taking money from tourists is less exacting and also, not to be underestimated, is on the lawyer-free side of legal.
I was actually surprised how tastefully major attractions are handled down here. It would have been very easy to turn Ernest Hemingway’s home, undoubtedly one of the “must-see” sites down here, into a theme park-like tourist trap. Instead, the house has been kept in its original state, filled with manuscripts and personal items of one of America’s best-known authors. I actually learned quite a few things about Hemingway while visiting his residence of about 30 years. Even though the admission price of $10 per adult is steep, I did not regret going.
Don’t get me wrong, there are tacky things there, such as post cards, posters, etc., featuring the cats that now reside at the house rather than the Nobel Prize-winning author. But it is all done in good fun, such as the cat-nip that the bookstore on the premises sell. So even if your literary appreciation is less A Farewell to Arms and more The Cat in the Hat, there is still something there for you.
Regretfully, not all areas of Key West are free of tourist traps. Duval Street, the main road in Key West for clubs and bars, is seeping with cheap knick-knacks and outright stupid souvenirs.
There are t-shirts with semi-witted slogans such as “it’s not a beer belly, it’s a gas tank for a sex machine” that you could as easily find anywhere else. But who in their right mind would buy a pair of boxer shorts reading, “I love to fart,” let alone such things as plastic figurines that (I am not making this up, I swear) blow bubbles out of their naked behind?
I can only guess that they are probably the same people that go to Sloppy Joe’s bar because they want to be able to tell their friends back home they went to the bar Hemingway used to hang out. Every guidebook on Key West would tell them that the original location of Sloppy Joe’s is actually now called Capt. Tony’s Saloon and is across the street from the current one. They are probably also the ones that listen to horrible one-man bands at Mallory Dock while taking flash photos of the sunset.
Strangely enough, the small island seems big enough for both obnoxious stereotypical tourists that want to get as drunk as they can and people like me, that just want to get away and relax for a few days, to co-exist.
But what Ernest would make of it all, I have no idea.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior in environmental science and The Oracle’s Opinion Editor. firstname.lastname@example.org