Winters in Key West are like summer camp for adults from big cities. They come to Key West for the sunshine and bring Art and Culture to the natives who have spent the summer in intellectual indolence swimming, fishing and drinking in the air conditioning.
In winter we seek our shirts with collars and shoes with laces and line up to see what the world outside has to offer. They sell us reduced price tickets, to teachers and military and students and employees of other worthy causes and we get to tug our forelocks and have a laugh in the stalls. It is great fun, then live performance, and gives a two world distinction to Key West that I have never enjoyed anywhere else.
The Waterfront Playhouse is a converted wharf building from the days when Mallory Square was a working waterfront, and in summer it, like the locals, snoozes until the time comes to gear up for another season of live performances.
Mallory Square itself has a live performance every night the sunset isn't blocked by a parked cruise ship, though when I am in town to work I have to leave before the action starts. Dinner time for pigeons is a pre-attraction event.
Stephen Mallory was an important person when they were casting around for a name. That he ended up most notably as the Secretary of the Navy for the Confederate States of America is unfortunate, such is the risk of naming things after living people. It curries favor among the powerful but the Romans, smart people, forbad the practice. Conchs should learn from them but history means little and even today landmarks are named for the living in these islands.
So much is history forgotten, who would wonder at the name of this place most famous now for a circus atmosphere at sunset?
Performers make a good living doing acrobatics accounted by comedic patter for a couple of hours before the sun goes down. Tennessee Williams is credited with starting the practice by standing somewhere here and toasting the greatest performance of the day as the orb sank out of sight. From the cheerful homeyness of a bunch of friends subduing boredom with alcohol the city has developed a must- see attraction on the waterfront. Key West never ceases to amaze me.
Movers and shakers want to spend millions to widen the ship channel to accommodate a new generation of ships that will haul 6,000 passengers, twice as many as the Majesty of the Seas, shown above docked at Pier B.
Opponents argue this move, like the introduction of mall shopping on Rockland Key will wreck Key West. Developer Ed Swift had a passionate editorial in the paper this Sunday arguing that the tide must be seized at the flood else the opportunity will pass and we will miss the next generation of income from super sized cruise ships.
Where I ask myself will the oil come from to build and power this super sized technology? Does nobody understand that the world's population has doubled in the fifty years I have been alive? How is infinite growth possible? I stand on the sidelines and watch and wonder.We are ingenious creatures, we humans, and most likely we will be surprised by the human drive to build and grow to exasperation. Some might say I lack imagination.
There is a lovely 19th century touch to Mallory Square at this hour. Away from the parking lot a raggedy-ass squad of performers who use nothing more technological than their human skills and a few simple tools entertain crowds every single evening who spend the rest of their humdrum lives sprawled in front of beeping glittering electrons in isolation at home and at work.
Here, the bicycles and wooden carts and pieces of string and metal tubes render the world magical for a little while for people who have forgotten how to gather in public spaces and walk and talk and marvel the same way their ancestors did, before technology overran us all and assigned us specific tasks in a world that doesn't allow our stories a beginning a middle and an end in our mundane daily tasks.
They stop and talk and lead the crowd by example. No rush to deadlines here, one imagines. However securing a prime spot on the square is extremely competitive and a very hard fought lottery behind the scenes. Laid back is relative!
And they come, in droves to watch and marvel and laugh in public. It starts as a trickle but by December it will be a thick swirling crowd of people.
Me? I have to go and answer the phones and talk on the police radio and listen to tales of misery, stories that have no beginning and no end in my life. They come and go all night.
Technology giveth, in my case a Bonneville, and technology taketh away, in my case the time, today, to stand and stare at the magicians of somnolent Mallory Square.
It's lucky I enjoy my technology driven job!
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