By Steve Siciliano
Way back in the early 70s when I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Michigan State I made annual road trips to Florida with a dozen or so fellow MSU undergrads. Our usual roosting spot was Daytona Beach. We stayed in campgrounds, ate at fast food joints and spent most of our time doing what young males on spring break generally do — lolling on the beach during the day, consuming copious amounts of alcohol at night and trying continuously to hook up with vacationing coeds. One year the weather didn’t cooperate and in an effort to find the sun we motored south down A1A and eventually made our way to Key West. We probably would have gone further but we ran out of road.
Key West lies at the southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states and the island city’s end-of-the-line geography probably has something to do with its infamous laid back mentality and its propensity for attracting eccentrics. Key West is still that way today but I imagine it was even more so in the early 1970s. Back then there were no docks for the cruise ships. There were less waterfront resorts, less tacky souvenir shops and a lot less tourists parading up and down Duval. But Key West is still a good place to get away from it all, to recharge batteries and to rub shoulders with idiosyncratic and invariably loquacious locals.
Most of my memories of that first trip to Key West have been blurred by the passage of time but I do remember being captivated by the wood-framed, pastel-painted houses with their gingerbread trim, louvered shutters and covered porches. The Caribbean architecture was something I had never seen before. I have a distinct memory of walking down a deserted Whitehead Street one evening and pausing in front of the Audubon House to gape at the tropical gardens behind the white picket fence.
I also distinctly remember the afternoon when some of us piled into a VW bus to test the legitimacy of a dime bag of dope. While the hippy dealers drove us around town we passed around a joint and I remember being scared shitless that we were going to be pulled over by the cops. The grass wasn’t all that good but we bought it anyway.
It was probably later that same night that I made my first visit to the Green Parrot bar. Like many Key West watering holes the Green Parrot is an ancient wood structure that someone converted into a saloon. It too was fairly deserted and inside it was dark and a