A place in Florida – Margaritaville is more of an attitude than a place

A place in Florida – Margaritaville is more of an attitude than a place

There’s a place in Florida they call Margaritaville. It is more about a song, a singer, an attitude and a lifestyle than it is about an alcoholic drink.

  • The song of course is Margaritaville.
  • The singer, of course, is Jimmy Buffett.
  • The attitude, of course, is live and let live.
  • The lifestyle, of course, could be called stylish beach bum.

Key West has been Margaritaville ever since Buffett, a transplanted Mississippian, made the city the ‘Parrothead Capital of the USA.’ in 1977 with the tremendously popular album of his. Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes Buffett has built the song into a cult following of Parrotheads that brings in more than $100 million a year.

And this place in Florida, not to belittle its former ‘favourite children’ of Ernest Hemingway, Tennesee Williams and President Harry Truman, will be forever grateful. Jimmy Buffett is arguably the biggest draw Key West has ever had.

At one of his 20-30 concerts a year, Buffett was quoted as saying, ‘People ask me exactly where Margaritaville is. I say wherever you want it to be. If his songs are anything to go by, he’d want them to be on the beach, a free and easy lifestyle so popular in the Florida Keys. Buffett, now in his 60s, now lives in beachy (and tony) Palm Beach.

The prevailing attitude in this part of Florida is live and let live. Over the past half century, the city has become a beacon for the gay and lesbian community, which holds a nine-day Gay Pride Festival each spring.

The only time in recent memory the city went into a rage was when the US Border Patrol set up a roadblock on US Highway 1 in 1982 to search for illegal drugs and immigrants in northbound traffic. The feds gave no thought to what that would do to tourist revenue (which, unsurprisingly, plummeted), and the city was furious.

Time to protest! In typical Key fashion, the Municipal Council declared the independence of the Keys, calling it the Republic of La Concha. Of course, it was all a trick. After a minute of secession, the mayor capitulated to an officer at the Naval Air Station, asking for $1 billion in “foreign aid.”

The trick was successful. Barricade removed. But the Conch Republic name lives on in the hearts of many key residents.

Tourists from the Straits don’t seem to mind the city’s reputation as a ‘rainbow’ city. They keep coming back, drawn by magnets like the Hemingway Home and Museum, the Conch Train Tour, the Old Town Trolley, the Aquarium, the Shipwreck Historium Museum, the Butterfly & Nature Conservancy, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and the Little White House.

Harry Truman liked Key West. While he was president, he spent 175 days in the Little White House, now Florida’s only presidential museum. It has been visited by many presidents.

In recent years, treasures from recovered sunken ships have become a major attraction, as displayed at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.

Hardly anyone coming to Key West for the first time fails to visit the ‘Southernmost Point in the USA.’ That’s the inscription on the buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead streets in Key West. But did you know that it really isn’t? This is why:

The true southernmost point is on Navy property to the west of the buoy marker. But a tourist attraction can’t be visited on Navy property, so the buoy will have to do, someone decided long ago. He took me there! And we won’t talk about the islands south and west of Key West.

If you don’t fly into Key West International Airport, it’s a long drive from Miami (130 miles). But it is a memorable trip over the Overseas Highway, especially over the Seven-Mile Bridge. On both sides, as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but water. It’s like being on a ship on wheels.

The Overseas Highway was built on the platform and bridges of the Overseas Railroad, which Henry Flagler built in the early 20th century. But the Labor Day hurricane in 1935 nearly destroyed part of the platform, so the railroad sold it along with the bridges to the state. The federal government built the Overseas Highway and completed it in 1938.

As you head down US 1 toward Key West (assuming you started in Miami), you’ll see Mile Markers telling you how far you are from Key West. They are a useful reminder of ‘Flagler’s Folly,’ as his railroad was called, and form the basis of the house numbering system in this part of Florida.

Key West? You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction when you reach Mile Marker 100 near the Key Largo Post Office. When you get to Mile Marker 0 near the Key West Post Office, you’ll know you’re there.

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