Monday, March 21, 2016
Papa would have hated it. Tourists packed shoulder to shoulder through the halls of his home. His hangouts filled to bursting with folks who thought that it was cool to be there, getting sloppy. The haunts of his Lost Generation replaced by the likes of Burger King and Salt Life.
He'd have freaked as he moved down Duval, carried along like just another head of cattle in the herd of beefy tourists sporting all manner of Steeler paraphernalia. I swear to God, upon landing at the docks, the gargantuan mothership hovering in the harbor had disgorged half of Pennsylvania, clad exclusively in yellow-and-black. I'd probably have retched too.
(No hate mail, please, all you Pittsburgh fans and Keystone State residents. Some of my best friends are so afflicted, bless their hearts.)
Ernest would have chaffed at the noise and the glitz and the commercialization he'd encountered as he moved down the main drag (and I use that term quite explicitly - not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not my thing) and I expect that he'd quickly have jumped over a block, west, probably no later than Eaton, to avoid the Duvallian circus. It's a bit more sane on Whitehead.
For those very same reasons, Mary and I took that route and, at the corner of Whitehead and Southard, just three blocks from Ernest's Key West home, found The Green Parrot. We stopped. Papa might have stopped too, wondering where the grocery store had gone.
Let me say, right up front, that the term parrotheads, associated with another Keys-based celebrity, was not generated here. That particular term, actually, originated in Cincinnati. Ohio. Enough said.
The Parrot was packed, but with a vibe unlike the cacophony of Duval. It was a happy buzz, generated, as it turns out, by a fun-loving mix of locals and "regulars" to Key West. Best blues joint on the island, the guide had confided in us as we sat up next to him on the front wheel well of the overpacked tour bus, getting the insider's scoop.
And while blues was not the musical genre for that particular evening, the band (Jeff Clark and the Rondo Rigs, an amalgam of local musicians, our bar mates knew the bass player) was a blast, full of unpretentious country and rock covers that they effectively and entertainingly made their own. Not an easy thing to pull off well. The crowd held a few first-timers, like ourselves, but it seemed many of the folks were regular island visitors who, like Papa and us, had learned to avoid the sightseer flash and landed here. A good crowd, at least the new best friends that surrounded us, and we happily drank and sang the evening away.
There were, of course, a few accommodations made in the name of tourism. Acknowledging the baby boomerish nature of the throngs that wash over the island, the band did two shows that night, starting at both 5:30 and 9:00. We old school rockers don't go as deep into the evenings as we once did.
The early show packs them in.
So after bitching and moaning all day over the state of Hemingway's beloved end-of-the-chain retreat, we finally found what we were looking for in Key West. Good folks and good times that filled the building and spilled out into the street. We could no longer complain, nor could have Papa, as it was plainly posted over the bar - there's no snivelling allowed at the Green Parrot.
None was warranted.