Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
October 1, 2011
Suddenly, I have a hankering to hoist a beer at Capt. Tony's, on that barstool with Bob Dylan's name painted on it, looking out the door at the free-spirited lifestyle of Key West.
Yeah, the scene on Duval Street isn't the anarchistic scene that it was in the days when Jimmy Buffett arrived here as a nobody in 1971. Now, the island vibe is a theme-park commodity, including Buffett's own corporate branding in the form of the original Margaritaville Café.
Even so, Key West isn't without its charms, but a new book detailing the history of its wilder days only enhances the appeal of the Conch Republic. William McKeen's "Mile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West" (on sale Tuesday, Crown, $25, 320 pages) is a tale of the island's famous personalities that flows as easily as an ocean breeze.
From Hemingway to Buffett, "Mile Marker Zero" shows how the magnet of Key West's escapist charm managed to turn visitors into longtime residents. A common thread in the narrative is that few of the island's quirky characters ever intended to stay very long.
"Couple months here and I'm done," was the first thought of mystery author Tom Corcoran, who arrived to finish a 16-week Navy stint in 1968 and became one of the town's social fixtures in its hippie heydays of the 1970s. He sold tacos to playwright Tennessee Williams from a bicycle stand, served Buffett his first beer as a bartender at the Chart Room, collaborated with the singer on his early songs and attempted to keep Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in line.
There's genuine history at the heart of McKeen's tale, which brushes against Key West's period as a Spanish settlement and its importance as a military post in the mid-19th Century. There are chapters on Hemingway's arrival and how Williams extended the island's literary legacy.
Most of the book is devoted to entertaining, true-life stories set in the 1960s and 1970s, tales of writers, musicians, pot-smugglers and other characters who would be perfectly at home in a Buffett song.
Make McKeen's tale your next trip to the island — and have a beer for me.
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