Stop the buses before the Cow Key Bridge

Fifty bucks for six hours of premo parking in Old Town? And the City of Key West provides the parking lot gratis?

Now you may be thinking “Crikey, that’s a lot of money for parking. It’s darn near $10 an hour.” Nah, you’re wrong. That’s nothing, A pittance.

Why? Because that’s $50 for one mass-quantity bus. You know the ones. Filled with day-tripping tourists? Those massive “motor coaches,” complete with WiFi, that ply the two lanes of the Overseas Highway between Miami and Key West?

cropped-KWWM_Letters.pngThey do a daily dump of hundreds of sightseers at the bottom of Duval for six hours of wandering the streets, discovering (and complaining) that we don’t have tourist-fancy beaches, and occasionally spending money on a $5 T-shirt (or three for $10).

These lumbering, over-sized charter buses come down daily from Miami and have become the scourge of Key West’s narrow, one-way and dead-end streets. Their sides and back ends spill across two lanes, they struggle with multiple three-point turns attempting to get around a corner and they park their waddling carcasses anywhere they darn please until a cop runs them off.

This week, the city said it was building a nine-bus parking lot in the 900 block of Caroline St., just down the block from the start of the Duval Crawl. And, lordy, lordy, the city’s going to charge each bus all the way to $50 a day to park there.

Now that’s a nice chunk of change for the city coffers. Nothing wrong with $450 a day of unearned income. Except that it ought to be double that. Heck, let’s triple it. Quadruple it.

These charters charge each passenger between $75 and $100 for the round-trip. Passengers are encouraged to bring along their own snacks (then they don’t have to spend money eating in Key West.) The bus company’s only going to pass along what would amount to a few bucks to the riders. What do we care?

Key West ought to ban charter buses anywhere in Old Town except in this new Caroline Street lot — and then charge outrageous fees for the premium location. No drop-offs or pick-ups except at Caroline Street.

Ban all the other charter buses from Old Town and require them to park off island, in the retail shopping area lots or in the high school lot on weekends (and charge them there, too.) In short, if your charter bus crosses the Cow Key Bridge, there’s gonna be a fee commensurate with the size of the bus. Big.

If the charter owners balk and say they’re not coming to Key West anymore, well, then, most excellent. These are not revenue producing visitors. Farewell and don’t let the door hit you broadside on the way out of town.

P.S. The same — except with a tenfold increase in the daily fee to $500 for the day — applies to the approximately 75 chartered party buses that disgorge thousands of Fantasy Fest day trippers in October.

These benighted souls come equipped with coolers, camp chairs and survival packs of adult beverages and food, and lay claim to blocks and blocks of sidewalk. Even the city acknowledges they don’t spend money; they just clutter — and litter — the streets.

Solution’s simple: Put a gigonzo parking fee hurt on the charter buses. It might curtail the spend-no-money riffraff. And, if it doesn’t?

At $500 a day per bus times 75 Fantasy Fest buses, that’s $37,500. Not a bad ROI for parking.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a small business digital media solutions company. Clearly, she’s not rationale about those buses.


Fantasy Fest: getting nekkid in Key West

Here we are, eight months from Key West’s annual October Fantasy Fest and, right on schedule, we’re talking about naked.

More to the point, the definition of naked.

Let’s step aside for a moment to bring those who’ve never heard of Fantasy Fest to the party. Cash registers don’t ring much in October. It’s the tail end of summer and the hurricane season. The weather’s nice in the North lands and snowbirds are planning turkey day, not a trip to the island. October is a locals month, but since we tend to spend our money at Publix on bread and eggs, and not along Duval Street, there’s that cash register problem.

Back in 1978 (Halloween Day to be specific), the Tourist Development Association of Monroe County did what Key West does oh so well. It pulled a 10-day party and parade from thin air. And the cash registers clanged happily.

Fantasy Fest is a bacchanalian extravaganza for adults. Think Mardi Gras, beads and all, but with margaritas and great weather. It’s that warm sunshine that separates Mardi Gras from Fantasy Fest — and separates Fantasy Fest celebrators from their clothes.

For once a year, ostensibly only in the designated fest areas (loosely defined as Duval Street north of Truman) one can let the boobs bounce free and the privates dangle. Humans of the push-the-limits variety turned Fantasy Fest into a game of strip poker. Each year a couple more pieces of clothing were left in the hotel room.

Until, well, it got kinda gross. That’s when the city fathers and a couple of mothers allowed as how all that skin needed to be disguised. Body paint. Now there’s a solution. One couldn’t simply wander around as God made you. Nope, go for the top-to-toe (and don’t forget the dangles) body paint.

That sorta worked, but I’ve gotta tell you that even elegant body paint does little for the aging saggies of leading edge baby boomers. (Google naked pictures of Fantasy Fest if you’re feeling wicked and don’t mind NSA or your boss checking your browser.)

This year there’s a city commission proposal that boobs must have pasties. No more free bounce. There seems not to be a solution to dangling privates, though one guy last October tied a small plastic hat to his stuff as he strolled along Duval at the Saturday night parade. Small was the operative adjective there.

Truth is, of the tens of thousands who flood Key West for Halloween, all but a handful of hundreds have the good sense to keep their clothes on. The ones who prefer open air get chuckled over, pointed at and forgotten unless they made the terrible mistake of doing selfies for social media.

But, as sure as it is Spring, the town gets exercised each year over how much, if any, nudity is appropriate for Fantasy Fest. Is it OK for a guy to wear a teensy-tiny thong and plant his butt on the bar’s counter stool? If women must wear pasties up top, how about the guys with serious man boobs? And, what in the world does one do about dangles?

No shirt, no shorts, no shoes, no service. Seems pretty simple. As for the five hours of parade night? Stay home if stupid humans leave you breathless. Because as long as the cash registers ring — and for 35 years they have — there will be nekkid dangles at Fantasy Fest.


Fantasy Fest — Key West Family Style

  • Fantasy Fest’s family night for locals

    No place does Halloween quite like Key West. For 10 days in late October, Fantasy Fest takes over the town, bringing tens of thousands of visitors to this tiny island community. Most of the events are “adult-only” fare, but the Friday night Masquerade Parade is all about the locals.

    Bless her heart, Hurricane Sandy, which gave Key West gusty winds and lots of damp clouds today, passed on in time for clear skies and the promise of a beautiful sunset.

    Thousands of adults — along with their children and pets — gather around the Key West Cemetery. In full costume, by ones and twos, or groups of eight or 10, they walk the streets of The Meadows and into Old Town.

    It’s a light-hearted affair, well-mannered and laughing all the way. Almost as much fun as watching the masqueraded marchers is watching the crowds along the streets.

    One must pity, though, the folks who didn’t get the memo and take to their cars. Oh, my. Not a good idea given the narrow, one-way streets that are a Meadows and Old Town fact of life. Must admit to seeing a handful of drivers brave a collision and a ticket as they headed up one-way streets.

    And at the very end of the parade tonight, bringing up the rear, so to speak were Key West staffers picking up the occasional dropped feather boa, the sparkles and glitter and, yep, a couple of empty beer glasses.

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