In Key West there are three basic choices of where to stand to ring in the New Year in a public, shoulder-to-shoulder demonstration of “Good-Bye 2012, Hello Whatever-Comes-Next:”
- you’ve got your basic conch-shell-on-a-building, which is a bar (Sloppy Joe’s) that lowers the iconic symbol of Key West’s misfit Conch Republic
- then you’ve got your cranked-up Pirate Wench on a Schooner Mast set up in the harbor along with lights and a countdown clock
- and last, but certainly not least, there’s the fiberglass high heel shoe, sometimes called a “pink slipper,” (suspended above Duval Street at the Bourbon Street Cafe) which contains the island’s Number One Drag Queen playing to the crowd while a full stage show occurs below
All these options are for free, but there are also just a few bars and restaurants conspiring to rid you of any spare cash.
Somehow we found ourselves almost directly in front of the Bourbon St. shoe show. This was after a dinner out, fireworks, a stop at Pepe’s with a good Cuban dance band and a resident Generalissimo of Mojitos at the bar (from Jersey), and a lot of general milling about and actual hiking around town. We had only been heading along Duval St, in the general direction of our parked car. This was about 11 pm or so which kind of, in our minds anyway, seemed to indicate a full hour before the height of glory would be reached. We were so wrong.
Instead as we inched our way through the pressurized crowd any semblance of actual forward progress became only a figment of our somewhat-impaired imaginations. As we suddenly realized that we were going nowhere slow the stage show revved up its final hour glories. It was both far better and far worse than we’d imagined, at least as far as the song acts were concerned. They included a mix of actual talent (all acts were males dressed as various female visions, such as a geisha, a Lady Gaga, a Tina Turner, and you-probably-get-the-picture). To the good side, it was all good clean fun, no four-letter words or anything family-unfriendly going on. Also to the good side? If you were under 5-3 it was impossible to see much of anything.
To the bad side? Not everyone could sing. Not everyone could even pretend to think they could sing. In fact, due to the extreme nature of the electrical overload occurring on whatever amps were available from neighbors through a network of power cords suspended precariously over our heads, some of the brief outages caused by breakers giving way were actually registered as welcome relief.
Thank God for circuit breakers. Yet the countdown continued relentlessly toward the “stroke of midnight” (which fortunately no one in the asphyxiating masses actually experienced). General frenzy had increased to the point where beer spilled onto neighbors had become the least of anyone’s worries and the lunging for thrown-beads had just about maxed out, because no one could do anything but reach straight up anymore. Every once in a while someone would appear trying to make headway through the crowd. Clearly they were more under the influence than the rest of us who continued staring in mesmerized fashion at the shoe.
The shoe is held aloft on twin pulleys suspended from a “Let’s-hope-to-God-some-of-the-guys-on-that-balcony-were-engineering-majors” fashion on paired brackets mounted above said balcony. To say the arrangement looked precarious would be like saying that the performers had “some” makeup on. Fortunately, the distractions, beyond the obvious ones already mentioned, included a mist machine operating from the balcony, a laser-light show, and the general crowd anxiety that can best be summed up as, “It can’t get much worse!”
Or much better, because several acts were really good. In fact, one performer (doing Pink’s “Raise YOur Glass”) actually had to be introduced to the crowd with the ringing phrase, “Yes, she’s a drag queen,” because, well, he/she was THAT good, and doing his/her first appearance at Key West.
The countdown occurred as expected, the shoe dropped but not much, as there appeared to be some knd of mechanical glitch. Which may have been a good thing. The crowd kissed. Auld Lang Syne was sung with crowd participation. And the thing started breaking up thereafter. Duval became a street again. Girls in tight sparkly things hobbled homeward on their “What-was-I-thinking” heels.
We stopped off in a jazz bar with an underwater coral reef playing continuously on a giant flatscreen back of their bar. Their largest shark had been nicknamed Bruce.