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 an alcoholic beverage.
- 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 chic beach bum.
Key West has been Margaritaville since Buffett, a transplanted Mississippian, turned the city into ‘Parrothead Capital of the US’ in 1977 with his wildly popular album. Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes Buffett has turned the song into a cult following of Parrotheads that brings in more than $ 100 million a year.
And this place in Florida, so as not to belittle its first ‘favorite sons’ of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and President Harry Truman, will be forever grateful. Jimmy Buffett is possibly 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 where you want me to be. If their songs are of any measure, I would want them to be on the beach, an easy and free lifestyle so popular in the Florida Keys. Buffett, now in his 60s, now lives on the beach (and tony) of Palm Beach.
The prevailing attitude in this part of Florida is to 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 was enraged was when the US Border Patrol put up a barricade on US Highway 1 in 1982 to search northbound traffic for illegal drugs and immigrants. The feds didn’t think about how that would affect tourism revenue (which, unsurprisingly, plummeted), and the city was furious.
Time to protest! In typical Keys fashion, the City Council declared the Keys’ independence, calling it República de la Concha. Of course, it was all a trick. After a minute of secession, the mayor surrendered to a Naval Air Station officer and asked him for a billion dollars in “foreign aid.”
The trick was successful. The barricade was removed. But the Conch Republic name lives on in the hearts of many residents of the Keys.
Strait tourists don’t seem to care about the city’s reputation as a “rainbow” city. They keep coming, drawn by magnets like 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 he was president, he spent 175 days in the Little White House, which today is Florida’s only presidential museum. It has been visited by many presidents.
In recent years, salvaged shipwreck treasures have become a major attraction, as displayed at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
Almost no one who comes to Key West for the first time misses the “Southernmost Point of 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 the Marina property west of the buoy marker. But a tourist attraction cannot be visited on the Marina property, so the buoy will have to be enough, someone decided long ago. He took me there! And we won’t talk about the islands to the 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 down the Overseas Highway, especially when crossing the Seven Mile Bridge. On both sides, as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but water. It is like being in a boat on wheels.
The Overseas Highway was built over the track and bridges of the Overseas Railroad, which Henry Flagler built in the early 1900s. But the Labor Day hurricane in 1935 almost destroyed part of the platform, so the railroad sold it and the bridges to the state. The federal government built the Overseas Highway and completed it in 1938.
As you travel US 1 towards Key West (assuming you started in Miami), you will see Mile Markers to tell you how far you are from Key West. They’re a useful throwback to ‘Flagler’s Folly,’ as their railroad was called, and form the basis of the house numbering system in this Florida location.
Key West? You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction when you arrive at 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.