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"The Key Westers"

Laboratory research has shown that if you put too many mice 
in a small box for a long time, they start to look at each other funny. 
Key West is like that. 

The island is six miles long, 160 miles from the mainland, 
with only one way out. 
No wonder Key Westers are a little nuts. 
I like them that way. 

When we first saw Key West we thought they ought to 
tear it down and build a nice slum. 
We didn't know it was charm. 
It took us a few weeks to get to love it. 
The first time we went there we had a nine piece band 
in the main club on Duval Street. 
Instead of a salary, 
our band got a cut of the week's cash register take, 
and although business boomed, 
the tapes never showed enough to pay us a living wage. 
We found out later that most of the business was marked down 
in a secret book and never rung up. 
These are the things we remember later and plow into a parked car. 

The Conchs claim to be the original Key Westers. 
They are of Cuban ancestry, 
take the name Conch from the shelled sea creature doing business locally, 
and have a unique accent, 
sort of like New Orleans or New York City. 
We gathered some good memories in Key West. 
Here are a few: 

Wayne Childress, our baritone sax player carrying home his sax case 
every night filled with stolen bottles of beer, 
leaving his horn on the bandstand, 
until the drummer's dog chewed up his expensive mouthpiece. 
He never again got the same sound. 

Jack Gray, who owned the Downtowner Bar, 
saw smoke coming out of the second floor of a building, 
ran inside, up the stairs, 
and heroically threw all the furniture out the window, 
only to learn that the fire was next door. 

The Key West Police arrested a sailor and the Shore Patrol came to get him. 
The cops wouldn't give him up and a fight started, 
a real battle between the city and navy cops. 
The SPs got thrown in jail. 

Paul McLaughlin, a young sailor who played tenor sax, 
was playing at the Downtowner against orders from the navy. 
The Shore Patrol knew it, but couldn't seem to catch him. 
Jack Gray, the owner, wouldn't let the SPs inside 
so they would wait for him to come out after work. 
The reason they couldn't catch him is this: 
He would climb into one of the trash cans, 
the lid would be closed, 
and he would be carried out the back door with the garbage. 
When the Shore Patrol guys went away, 
he would climb out and sneak back onto the base. 

One day we noticed a portly gentleman weaving briskly 
through the afternoon crowd of Duval Street shoppers, 
saying, "Excuse me. Pardon me.", 
and naked as a jaybird. 

Tiny, the 300 pound lady saloon bouncer with a heart of gold. 

The practical jokes born out of boredom: 

One night our lead guitar player, Doug Tarrant, 
found a huge dead fish on the back seat of his new car. 
He did the only logical Key West thing: 
He wrapped it in a blanket, placed it in the alley by the Downtowner, 
and called the police, reporting a dead body. 
A few minutes later there were sirens and screaming brakes. 
The cops leaped from their car, ran into the alley, 
and pulled back the blanket. 
They looked sheepishly around to see if anybody was watching (We were,), 
leaped back into their cars and roared off. 

There were old fashioned funeral parades with slow marching blues bands. 

And, one more thing: Our laundry was on the corner of Margaret and Truman. 

Copyright  January 20, 2001 by Jack Blanchard. All rights reserved.

 

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