I danced in the grocery aisle Monday morning. (That’s an image you won’t want to keep handy.) There’s more to that snippet of Key West weird later, but, first let’s back up a few days.
Our tiny, two-by-four island with its long tail stretching 150 miles up the Keys last weekend shrugged off the past two years. Four marquee events tugged us away from longing for “normal” a la 2019, and toward a recognition that there’s joy in our new, always-Covid world — but, the joy comes with, if not a warning, a pause-and-re-think whisper.
It was a joyful weekend with a reminder that so much of the Key West Mystique is aging out. Is moving out. And, though those both pose possibly daunting challenges, I lament not the inevitability of those changes. I will celebrate the joy. It won’t be easy, but I think we’re smart enough both to pay attention to the whisper and to love getting our joy back — at the same time.
The Key West weird whispers
The Annual Key West Garden Club Garden Tours: Board president Rosie Ware and her band of green thumb experts headed by tour organizer Mary Olson ordered perfect weather for the annual tour of Key West backyards last Friday and Saturday. (Note to newcomers: Key West houses usually sit close to the street, which means an often nondescript front yard hides the real gardens to the sides and back.)
With half a dozen of my neighbors’ gardens on the tour, I loved getting a close-up look at how they’d turned their Key West plots into doll-house secret gardens. I chatted with friendly acquaintances I hadn’t seen since before Covid, caught up on stuff and was drunk on sunshine happy.
The whisper: Wow, that’s a lot of gray hair and not the designer kind. I first heard that whisper Friday morning as docents and volunteers welcomed the first of what would become a steady, two-day stream of visitors. It would be repeated throughout the weekend.
The 38th Annual Headdress Ball Mardi Gras Edition: Please, let there be no video of half a thousand Key West residents doing the Chicken Dance with the outsized exuberance of six-year-olds. I’ve refused for five decades to do the Chicken Dance and yet there I was. Joy.
It has been two years since the last Headdress Ball, sponsored by the Key West Business Guild with proceeds going to promote LGBTQ+ tourism to Key West. It’s usually attached to Fantasy Fest, but two years of Covid, meant no Headdress Ball. There will be another in October; best get your tickets as soon as they go on sale.
That crowd was plumb happy to be out there under the stars, watching, hooting and clapping for two dozen brave, competitive souls in neck-breaking head wear and singing along with the best of Key West’s divas.
The whisper: Wonder why it doesn’t start until 8 p.m.? This is a crowd that goes to bed at 9:30 p.m. There was a time when evening didn’t start until then.
37th Old Island Days Art Festival: The high-quality artists under the stewardship of Lois Songer and the Key West Art Center and Gallery and the carousel of friendly acquaintances make the festival a joyful event. With Whitehead Street, its customary venue, in a road construction nightmare, a swift regrouping took it to the Truman Waterfront Park. The festival usually draws upwards of 25,000 people; it will be interesting to see how the waterfront location affects attendance.
The waterfront has everything a good festival needs: location, access, parking, easy navigation. It lacks the one thing every festival has to have: serendipitous crowds, the kind that wander in wondering what’s going on as they make their ways elsewhere — and stay to buy. If I were betting, the festival heads back to Whitehead next year — if the road construction’s done.
The whisper: Great location for us folks who can’t handle crowded streets anymore. That’s polite-speak for we prefer wide-open, smooth walkways to the curbs, uneven sidewalks and crowds downtown.
One Singular Sensation: A tribute to Danny Weathers: Sunday night’s sold-out celebration of Danny Weathers at the Tennessee Williams Theatre will go down in Key West lore as one of those “you had to have been there” moments. With almost as many local theater celebrities in the audience as on stage, Weathers’ friends, family and the star-struck (that would include me) raised a joyful noise to the life of the island’s iconic actor, singer and artistic director who died at 68 on Aug. 21, 2021, at his home in Palm Springs. The show was brilliantly curated, written and hosted by singer and pianist Bobby Nesbitt.
We should all live our lives in such a way that someone would want to travel from around the world to sing Broadway show tunes at our wakes.
The whisper(s): Actually, Nesbitt touched on both whispers. Once when he acknowledged an 18-year-old’s birthday: “Who knew,” he said to laughter from the audience, “that you’d be celebrating your birthday with old people singing show tunes.” And, again, each time he introduced yet another local theater legend with a sad “they no longer live here.”
Which brings me back to dancing in the grocery store Monday morning. I’d picked up a prescription and turned to see a young woman stricken still as stone and poised to run as she awaited a shot of some sort. She was terrified and said she could use some distraction while the pharmacist did his thing. So. I danced. Right there. And I told her she could go home and explain as how this chubby, old woman danced a bit of the Chicken Dance for her. She was smiling, shot done, when I left. Joy.