Tourists by the hundreds sauntered down Duval Street in Key West, the same street as last night, looking in shop windows, eating overpriced seafood and stopping by famous bars to see Jimmy Buffet, a hippie pirate, or the ghost of Hemingway. Instead they only found other chubby tourists half-blitzed since 2 p.m. sitting on the stools where those now-famous folks once sat.
Looking for local culture was as easy as picking up the local paper. The tourists picked up the brochures for PARASAILING! DEEP-SEA FISHING! SUNSET CRUISES! We reached for the weekly Key West paper, whose audience was not drunken tourists, but drunken locals. We learned which bars had industry nights and happy hours for locals. We discovered where the locals ate (which cost 40% less than the tourist restaurants). If a local restaurant disappoints, the locals will not return, and they will either improve or go out of business. If a tourist restaurant disappoints, there will always be another cruise ship full of suckers docking tomorrow.
I was drawn to an ad for a $5 show to see the Improvables, a local improv troupe. Either they needed improvement, or it was improbable that they were funny. What the heck. We’re on vacation!
We arrived by taxi at 6:00 to buy tickets for the 8 o’clock show. While the troupe practiced onstage, the ticket taker materialized from the back of the darkened room, shocked that people would buy a ticket in advance. After dinner at “the best Chinese restaurant in Key West,” it was back to the sixty-seat strip mall showroom.
This was their only show of the week, certainly not staged for out-of-towners. The man next to me was married to one of the performers, a woman of a certain age, who shared the stage with a diverse cast of all colors (with a Brit thrown in for good measure) from their twenties to their sixties. Like all improv, it was hit-or-miss, but the laugh-out-loud bits overshadowed the awkward silences, leaving us with an improbable memory that no other tourist to Key West experienced that week.
For $5 we had a unique experience, a memory which could not be duplicated in Cancun or South Padre. Plus there’s always tomorrow for parasailing.