Anonymity isn’t possible on Key West. It’s too small an island (2 by 4 miles for anyone tracking), the houses are too close, the people too known. Like the Midwest small town of the idolized 50s, everyone knows someone who knows you, and word travels fast.

KW Rush Hour

Morning Rush Hour, Key West Style

So there’s no road rage, no honking. People walk around with their heads up, rather than staring at the magical devices in their hands – unless it’s the tourists, using their map application to get three blocks up the road or posting their bragging-rights pictures from vacation. People leave their doors unlocked. When they are not home. For large stretches of time. And nothing disappears from them. About the only things that get stolen are bikes that aren’t locked up – more a crime of opportunity than of real piracy. Looting — itinerant, transient, homeless style.

Rush hour is non-existent – at least in the morning. Cars stack up all of 8 deep before the light changes, and everyone gets through. I have been too long in the city and as I walk past the workmen speaking Spanish and picking up their morning conleche (espresso style coffee with steamed milk and sugar so heavy it makes your mouth pucker), this strikes me as magical: a morning commute of ease. As the day wears on, traffic picks up, until by 3 pm it’s a steady stream of cars on all the major roads. But still, everyone makes the light.

KW Voodoo

Christmas & Voodoo

The sun shines down a majority of the days, turning the waters that surround the island alternating shades of aquamarine and pearled blue, depending on whether it’s a sand bottom or a grass bed underneath. Aside from the summer days when the ocean breeze fails to blow, it’s pretty much always warm. And even the cold days aren’t really all that cold – though they would be more tolerable if any of the houses had heaters. They don’t, aside from the odd, shared space heater.

It is a paradise. And yet, insanity clings to the edges of this island, where chickens have some of the best ocean views, and no one expects eggs from them. Christmas lights decorating the small shacks in Bahama Village (a villa within Key West’s Old Towne that was historically the gathering place of immigrant Bahamians) include Voodoo dolls – and they are not fake. Cuban migrants stillKW Refuges land on the shores of the island, unbidden but welcomed as brethren from the edge of the world.

Insanity. The inverse of sane, “of an undertaking or manner that is reasonable; sensible.” This makes the spirit of Key West not exactly reasonable. It also makes it – the part that’s not drunk or high — special.

Insanity. The tourists who flock in droves here, year-round now (there used to be a lull in the summer and in November to Christmas, but no more), pick up the hint of it and easily settle into the eddies that life at the edge brings. They turn it into a reason to drink, to party, 24-7 – except for the cruise ship visitors who use it as a reason to cram as much US paradise activities into their 5-hour shore call as only an American can.

KW Chickens

Prime chicken real estate

Except they are missing the true heart of the island that lives at the edge of the continental US. Embroiled in beer along Duval Street, liquor at Sunset Pier or revelry at Mallory Square (where hundreds gather each evening to watch the sun set into the water), they miss that they are in one of the few towns where you can still leave your doors unlocked, rush hour means an extra five minute commute and chickens have the prime real estate.

Maybe that’s what makes it paradise, more even that the sun, the water and the temp.

And about those chickens: What started out as a small flock providing eggs to a very good breakfast restaurant in Bahama Village (Blue Heaven, a definitive must) suddenly took root and multiplied, rapidly, in the early 2000s. No one seems to know why: Perhaps they just finally adapted to life on a hard-scrabble island with few worms but plenty of half-dead Sea creatures washed up in flotsam and seaweed – and garbage scraps.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go on a chicken egg hunt. I’m on a budget.

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