Key West on a whim

Late on a Monday night, I found myself playing the host’s role for a couple of my spring-breaking buddies. They wanted to drink. They wanted to dance. They wanted to party. But in Miami, on Monday? It wasn’t happening.

At 9 p.m. we packed into the navy blue Daewoo my friend Teddy had rented and set course due South to our best option: Key West.

“Just trust me on this one,” I told them, “We’ll be there by midnight, right when Key West gets going. It’ll be crazy.”

The waning weeks of March and beginning of April are a springbreaker’s paradise in Key West. I could already picture the bars on Duval Street-Key West’s famed bar-hopping hotspot once frequented by Ernest Hemingway-packed with college students from across the country.

“They call it the Duval Crawl,” I told my buddies, who seemed skeptical of my spontaneous plan, “I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this.”

Part of their skepticism stemmed from our lack of proper lodging. OK, so we didn’t have a hotel room. The youth hostel, which provided beds for $22.50 a night for non-members, was also booked. My friends were banking on the usual spring-breaking Don Juan way of finding quick accommodations-meeting someone who had a place to stay.

We took A1A around the southern side of the island towards the south side of Duval Street. I was getting excited, but my friends were starting to get worried.

“Dude,” my other friend, Gilbert, said, “We’ve been on this island for 10 minutes and I still haven’t seen one person.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him, “wait till you see Duval Street.”

We approached the southernmost tip of Duval Street, which lies only a block away from the southernmost point in the contiguous United States. I suggested parking the car, but my friends still hadn’t seen any reason for even being in Key West.

We began our tour of Duval and suddenly, people were everywhere, stumbling out of every alleyway, sitting in doorways, crowding entrances to bars. As we passed Fleming Street, we began to see springbreakers walking from bar to bar with plastic cups and the bolder, or perhaps drunker, partiers carrying open bottles.

We began walking toward the bars. In Key West, they are very relaxed on the open container law. For the most part, they don’t enforce it. More or less, you would have to club someone over the head with your open container to get in trouble for it, so we began walking toward the bars with our previously-purchased beers.

Sloppy Joe’s was the first bar on our agenda. It is a wide-open bar with high ceilings and stage near the rear. We stopped in and Teddy ordered another beer, while Gilbert and I finished the ones we brought in with us. About 20 people were dancing on the dance floor, but the bar lacked the energy for which we were looking.

“Let’s find a better place,” I said. Teddy and Gilbert agreed, so we emptied back out onto Duval. Teddy was in need of some cigarettes, so we walked down the street and found a convenience store. Teddy asked the clerk for advice.

“Rick’s is going to be the best thing going tonight,” he told us. “It is Monday.”

Rick’s-it was right across the street. The place looks like on old saloon on the first floor with white painted shutters propped open. A staircase leads to an upper floor that has the look of an Old West brothel.

The line to get into the front door was huge, so we walked around the back entrance and stood in a smaller line. As we waited, a waitress approached us with a platter full of jell-o shots. I bought a round of the electric-blue gelatin bullets and she topped them off with whipped cream.

Finally, we paid the $5 cover fee and made our way into the courtyard behind Rick’s. There was a stage set up in the very back of the courtyard where an emcee stood with about seven girls in white T-shirts. We walked closer and found that they were hosting some sort of wet T-shirt contest.

“All right, this is pathetic,” Teddy said, taking a drag from his cigarette. “Let’s go upstairs to the bar.”

We snaked our way through the mass of scantily clad bodies, up the stairs to a patio overlooking the dance floor. It was packed. Bleary-eyed, drunk springbreakers danced, while keeping one hand aloft and stationary as to not spill the precious contents of their plastic cups.

Gilbert and I hit the dance floor for a bit, but it was too crowded.

At times, when the bar got too crowded for my liking, I ventured downstairs to the smaller bar area, also a part of Rick’s. I took a breather and sang a song on the karaoke stage, You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling by the Righteous Brothers.

The bar eventually closed at 4 a.m. The remaining springbreakers poured back onto Duval. Those who had hotel rooms piled into cabs and sped away.

That’s when we met Scott. He was a spring breaker who had rented a house for the week. The house was equipped with a hot tub. Therefore, Scott went up to every remaining girl on Duval and said:

“Hey, let’s go party at my house. It’s got a hot tub.”

Needless to say, Scott was less than successful-and drunk out of his mind.

“Scotty,” Teddy said, “That’s not exactly a smoothest way to get a girl back to your place.”

Scott then pointed out our equal lack of success, and suggested that it might stem from the sunglasses, which Teddy was still wearing.

As we were having this conversation, a man wearing a Yankees cap walked up to us and started telling us about an after-hours club he knew of called Hula’s. The man in the New York Yankees cap had flagged down a cab soon after and asked us if we were coming.

“Sure, why not,” I answered, “We don’t have anywhere else to be.”

Teddy, Gilbert, our new friend Scott and myself piled into the cab with the New York Yankees guy and headed for Hula’s. The cab took us about six blocks. We paid the cabby and promptly ragged on “New York,” as we now called him, for being so lazy that he couldn’t walk six blocks.

Hula’s seemed like a very sketchy after-hours place from the outside. It looked like someone’s house only it had a hand-painted sign on the front. The people at the door asked for a $5 cover fee.

New York demanded they charge us the “local’s fee.”

They charged us $2 instead and as we walked inside, the people at the door stuffed about six condoms into my hand. I looked up and saw another hand-painted sign that read, “Clothing Optional.”

Couches filled the room and several sheer curtains hung blocking off small areas. Gilbert, Teddy, Scott and I all shot each other confused looks. We made a quick huddle.

“Whatever kind of place this is,” Scotty said, “and whatever goes on in here, we’ll be all right if we stick together.” We agreed and made our way upstairs.

A man and a woman, who were grinding each other against a wall, greeted us at the top of the stairs. Another man, wearing nothing but a thong, danced to the blaring music on a makeshift stage. A group of people crowded around a makeshift bar and ordered drinks.

“What kind of place is this?” I asked Teddy.

He pondered the question for a moment, taking in the scene and noticing all the couches and curtained off areas.

“It’s a Swingers’ club!” Teddy said after a moment.

And it was a swingers club populated predominantly by men. In fact, there were only five women present in the club. Upon closer inspection, three of the five women were, in fact, men.

“Where’s Scotty?” I said. “Let’s get out of here.”

We couldn’t find Scott. He had vanished somewhere into the club. The man wearing the thong on the makeshift stage was getting dangerously close to becoming the naked man on the makeshift stage.

“Let’s bail,” Gilbert said, “Scotty’s on his own.”

We agreed and flooded out of the house. We felt bad for having left Scott, especially since we were thinking about crashing at his house, but the important thing was that the three of us hadn’t been separated.

We headed to the southernmost point in the contiguous United States-there’s a marker there saying so-and sat there for a while, pondering whether there could possibly be a similar group of guys at the northernmost point in the United States going through the same thing.

“Probably not,” Teddy said. “It would be so cold up there.”

After a little more pondering and sobering up, we made our way back to the car and drove out to the beach on A1A. We pulled out a few blankets and headed onto the beach.

A sign read: “No Camping.” We convinced ourselves that the excuse of “stargazing” would suffice, and by 5:30 a.m. we had found a spot in the sand, under a palm tree, to catch a couple hours of sleep.

Before long, the sun would be up again, and we would be on our way home.