A Place in Florida – Margaritaville Is More an Attitude Than a Place
There’s a place in Florida they call Margaritaville. It’s 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 beach bum chic.
Key West has been Margaritaville since Buffett, a transplanted Mississippian, turned the city into ‘Parrothead Capital of the U.S.’ in 1977 with his wildly popular album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes Buffett has parlayed the song into a cult-like following of Parrotheads that brings him more than $100 million a year.
And this place in Florida – not to belittle its earlier ‘favorite sons’ of Ernest Hemingway, Tennesee Williams and President Harry Truman – will be forever grateful. Jimmy Buffett is arguably the greatest draw Key West ever had.
At one of his 20-30 concerts a year, Buffett was quoted as saying, ‘People ask me just exactly where is Margaritaville? I say Anywhere you want it to be.’ If his songs are any measure, he’d want it 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 place in Florida is live and let live. Over the last half-century, The city has become a beacon for the gay and lesbian community, which holds a nine-day Gay Pride Festival every spring.
The only time in recent memory that the city got its dander up was when the U.S. Border Patrol put up a roadblock on U.S. Highway 1 in 1982 to search northbound traffic for illegal drugs and immigrants. The feds failed to think about what that would do to tourist revenues (which predictably nosedived), and the city was irate.
Time to protest! In typical Keys fashion, the City Council declared the independence of the Keys, calling it the Conch Republic. Of course, it was all a stunt. After one minute of secession, the mayor surrendered to an officer at the Naval Air Station, asking for $1 billion in ‘foreign aid’.
The stunt succeeded. The roadblock was removed. But the Conch Republic name lives on in the hearts of many keys residents.
Strait tourists don’t seem to mind the city’s reputation as a ‘rainbow’ city. They continue to come, attracted by such magnets as the Hemingway House and Museum, the Conch Train Tour, the Old Town Trolley, the Aquarium, the Shipwreck Historeum Museum, the Butterfly & Nature Conservancy, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and the Little White House.
Harry Truman liked Key West. While president, he spent 175 days at the Little White House, which today is Florida’s only presidential museum. It has been visited by many presidents.
In recent years, recovered sunken ships’ treasures have become a major attraction, as displayed in the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
Hardly anyone who comes to Key West for the first time fails to visit the ‘Southernmost Point in the U.S.’. 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? Here’s why:
The real southernmost point is on Navy property west of the buoy marker. But a tourist attraction can’t be visited on Navy property, so the buoy will have to do, somebody long ago decided. It got me there! And we won’t talk about the islands just south and west of Key West.
If you’re not flying into Key West International Airport, it’s a l-o-n-g trip by car from Miami (130 miles). But it’s a memorable trip over the Overseas Highway, especially going over the Seven-Mile Bridge. On both sides for as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but water. It’s like being in a boat on wheels.
The Overseas Highway was built on the railbed and bridges of the Overseas Railroad, which Henry Flagler built in the early 1900s. But the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 all but destroyed part of the railbed, so the railroad sold it and the bridges to the state. The federal government built the Overseas Highway, completing it in 1938.
As you tool down U.S. 1 toward Key West (assuming you started in Miami), you’ll see Mile Markers to tell you how far you are from Key West. They are a helpful throwback to ‘Flagler’s Folly’, as his railroad was called, and they form the basis for the house-numbering system in this place in 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.