Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tropical Rain On The Parade

They tell us all will be dry by the time the big parade starts rolling Saturday evening, but Hurricane Sandy has been raining on pre-Fantasy Fest activities. Luckily most of them take place indoors, parties dances and drinking, but of the latter there is a fair bit outdoors on Duval Street and this afternoon rain was obviously in their.

I was fast walking back to the car by the time the first drops hit and pretty soon the raw as slashing down, just as it had this morning when I was walking Cheyenne and we got soaked the first time today. It was raining hard by the time I left town.

I was glad I had chosen to drive the car, not just for the weather but also for the distracted drivers this time of year in Key West, and there was much to distract them.

Not much clothing to ruin there even if it started raining cats and dogs. But that's Fantasy Fest for you. Underwear is daily wear this week, rain or shine.


Fantasy Fest Is Coming

I will, I promise get pictures of people getting drunk on Duval Street but I wanted just one more day of bucolic nothingness from a dog walk. I took these pictures last week when it was raining and Cheyenne and I ventured out far enough east that we got past the rain clouds inflicting storminess on Big Pine Key. We got to West Summerland and all the evidence of the storms was on the ground.

There are holidays in various communities around the world that effectively shut down the community where they take place, one thinks of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Bastille Day across France. In Key West Fantasy Fest is the local holiday that drives everyone a little crazy. This is a town that likes to gather in groups and drink riotously, fancy dress and costumes are much favored also and because this is almost Halloween ghouls and ghosts and leering pumpkins are already popping up all over town thanks to the national obsession with my birthday. Despite the fact, perhaps because of the fact I was born on the Thirty First I loathe dressing up, disguises and all the puerile panoply of the pagan holiday coopted into All Saints' Eve. Which doesn't mean I don't want anybody else to enjoy the holiday. Indeed I hope everyone has all the fun they want and deserve this Fantasy Fest. As city leaders estimate 80,000 visitors is year I am certain much fun will be had while I work...

My colleague Fred has all but convinced me that next year I should put some white paint on my face and ride the zombie bike ride from Stock Island to Higgs Beach and on to downtown. He did it this year, on a night when he wasn't working and loved it. He and his buddies towed a coffin filled with beer on ice and joined a couple of thousand cyclists parading all the way to the Green Parrot. Most years I stand on the sidelines of the so-called Locals Parade on Fleming or Southard and say "Hi!" to people I know who are either scantily dressed, and one struggles to not look at their speedos or their nipples, or they are dressed in outrageous costumes and one struggles not to burst out laughing. Cheyenne stays home as she doesn't do well in crowds.

The locals parade isn't really local anymore, it's been discovered as it has cachet as a local event so everyone shows up and the walk does tend to drag on a bit. But it is easier to escape when you get tired and it does tend to attract some of the local commentary that makes Fantasy Fest fun, local scandals and a few national scandals as well bring some star laughs for onlookers. This is also the week when public intoxication is a bit more tolerated in the fantasy zone of Lower Duval and nearly nude strollers are on display. There is a lot of rather unattractive tut-tutting when older and less buff people strip and walk around, the sort of criticism I find rather crass in a town that claims everyone belongs to one human family. Bad taste isn't a crime and it's not really suave to heap criticism on your neighbor for exhibiting bad taste this week, but snotty newcomers to the traditions of Fantasy Fest do like to pretend that only slim young people should be nude in public.

I have no desire to participate in these displays and were it up to me shopkeepers could find a better way to get visitors to come to town, but we are stuck with Fantasy Fest and we ought to make the best of it, and with good humor and tolerance. I once spoke with Tony Falcone, the founder of Fast Buck Freddie's with his partner years aback and he told me how in the 1970s Key West went dead in summer. The silence and lack of human contact literally drove some people over the edge and he told me stories of spectacular domestic disturbances taken public into the streets as a result of the lack of anything to do. So they created Fantasy Fest, a joke of a parade half a block long that quickly dissipated and repaired to a bar with drinks all round. The thing grew out of all proportion to the initial expectations into what it is today.

There are themed "balls" all week long which require participants to meet dress codes, usually color coded, and there is generally plenty of gathering in homes and bars and so forth. All this culminates with the locals parade Friday evening and the actual float parade down Duval Street Saturday evening and that's my big irritation. I don't care about people undressing like I said, even if they fail to meet aesthetic standards set by vociferous snobs, but what I do mind are the out of town floats that tag on to the Fantasy Fest parade. The local floats are handmade by local businesses and they reflect the theme or have some biting social commentary familiar to Key West residents. Then there are the floats that come from Up North and they have nothing to do with Key West, their crews throw beads languidly and they stretch the parade out for hours, creating endless tedium. Heaven help you if you are on the west side of Duval for you will doomed not to escape until well after midnight. I don't go to the parade anymore as I have to work at least part of the night and I am over the whole crowd crushing parade going thing.

That's my take on Fantasy Fest, a useful influx of money into town at a slow time of year that brings with it irritations aplenty as well. It also slows down the news at this time of year, so much so the headline in the newspaper referred to the contest between the Presidential Debate and Fantasy Fest events vying for locals' attention! And good luck getting anything done in Key West as the end of the week approaches. Office workers start to shuffle toward the door, their minds on their costumes and Key West gets a decidedly lackadaisical air to it, which I think is the best part of Fantasy Fest. It does actually get to feel like one lives In a Third World country on the cusp of Carnival. And next week it will be a citywide hangover with the cheerful souls of Buffett-world wending into town to meet their minds in a totally different mindset. The perfect antidote to the frenzied partying of Fantasy Fest.