As I sit and ponder my existence over a lukewarm plastic cup of beer, I am caught off guard by a city name on the signpost at Key West Bight. You know the one, don't you? The tall sign near Turtle Kralls that displays the distance to various cities around the world. It is a Key West landmark begging to be photographed and is several hundered times a day, I am sure. There is a city, apparently, named Ulan Ude, somewhere on this lovely blue marble that we call Earth. It dawns on me that I have no idea where this place is. Thailand? New Zealand? Russia?
Professional vagabond that I am, It disturbs me that there is somewhere I have never been, but it disturbs me even more to realize that I don't even know where in the hell it is. I have roamed the face of our planet for well over 40 years and like to consider myself quite the drunken prophet of the road. You need directions? How many different ways would you like to get to your destination? I am a walking road atlas so you understand when I say that Ulan Ude bothered me and would until I could get home to my trusty internet and do some research.
Contemplating the subject as only a man well into a six-pack can, I wonder how many of us really know where we are? I mean, sure, we are in Key West but where is that? End of the road?
Paradise? The Rock? We call our little island home so many things, do we ever really stop and think of what it really is? My friend, Stoner Steve, tells me that I am overthinking the whole thing and I should go ahead and buy the next round. Just enjoy Paradise for what it is, he says. Don't think about it too much, you will ruin it. Seems awfully tenious for Paradise, I say.
Is Key West the utopia that we always claim to the tourists? In some ways, I suppose it is. Plenty of sunshine, tons of activities to keep us busy, beaches, beautiful people, music flowing from every doorway, and permission to drink all you care to. However, 5 AM garbage trucks, vomiting tourists, lack of parking, overpriced mediocre bar food, roosters announcing their manhood during a Saturday morning hangover, corrupt politicos, crack fiends in Bahama Village, half-naked Czech girls who won't speak to me, and rampant smelly homelessness all make a strong argument that Key West is only a rehashed microcosm of the rest of the world. Add hurricane season, outrageous rents, and the prick on Caroline Street that stole my $600 Conch Cruiser weeks after I purchased it and the end of the road looks like any other pretentious ass of a town.
Stoner Steve and White Feather decide that I am thinking too slow and decide to pool up for another six pack. Fine with me, writing always makes me thirsty. I must be related, at least in spirit, to Papa Hemingway in that respect. As I am standing in line at Mustapha's (For some reason, I end up getting talked into buying.), I see it. I see all around me what makes this island so special. I am in line behind an unattractive transvestite in a spandex exercise outfit. She is buying a bottle of cheap red wine, a bag of Skittles, and a pork filled frozen burrito. Mustapha, one of the nicest men on this island, is a Muslim. The guy in line behind me is obviously Cuban. Outside on the sidewalk, I can see a homeless guy giving an elderly couple directions to, presumably, Duval Street. My neighbor, a stunning artist who likes to ride her bicycle naked around our neighborhood at 3 in the morning, comes in the store and hugs me hello. It is a sunny day.
We are truly one human family. It is not just a cliched bumper sticker. We are family here and just like any other family, we may not like it when Uncle Kenny shows up drunk for Thanksgiving or when Cuzzin Trevor rams his bicycle into your car, or your sister-in-law defrauds half of your island in the name of progress, but we are still family. That, to me anyway, is what makes this rock magical. It may not be perfect, it may not even be Paradise, but at least it is not Ulan Ude.
By the way, Ulan Ude is in Russia. Brrrr.
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