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Runaway Happy Hour: Fantasy Fest in Key West

Memories of Fantasy Fest

by guest "Island Expert" Lisa Hartz

Islands have the power to make us step out of ourselves. I think about the islands that have undone me. Seduced me. Once we walked for miles along the coast of Scotland's Isle of Skye, just me and my new husband. Rocks and goats and sea. Paradise. Made love on the beach in Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico. Blew past the Do Not Enter signs in a tiny rental car to climb the steep ridge of a pineapple farm and look back at an intoxicating Maui. Danced in the streets of Mykonos.

We moved to Miami from Washington, D.C., in 1989. You can imagine the culture shock. That first year, we thought we'd seen it all parading past our favorite outdoor cafe in The Grove. The tiny, neon outfits. The massive jewelry. The inflated hair.

But we hadn't been to Key West yet. More importantly, we hadn't been to Fantasy Fest.

October, 1990: We drove down along that perfect necklace of a highway, US 1, that links the exquisite Florida Keys. Piled six people into a motel room meant for four. Headed out to crazy-town.

Duval Street aswill with revelers. Half-naked or elaborately costumed.

A celebration of sex and letting go. The parade featured a penis a block long, toted by men in very small bits of black leather. Strutting the street, men in technicolor gowns and satin heels, constellations of women in sequins and feathers.

A woman wearing only paint. Steel drums competed with throbbing disco. The balconies filled to bursting with swaying bodies. Half the world dancing at Sloppy Joe's.

The other half at Mallory Square being entranced by magicians and clowns, fire-eaters and acrobats. The whole island seemed to be pulsing with an essential joy.

Walking back from the revelry, inspired perhaps by three (or seven?) shots of tequila and the soft, encouraging veil of a light rain, I whipped off my little top and kept walking. Immediately, from across the street a shout of celebration from a stranger: “It's a testament to small-breasted women everywhere!”


We let loose on islands. That water that lies between us and our other selves? A gift. I liked the person that place brought out in me. I was definitely coming back.

Thank you, Lisa, for your wonderful piece. Check out Lisa's author bio here.

(Photo credits: 1. Float, Cayoba, 2. Man with alligator, Brian Lin, 3. Woman with feathers, Jim Vetter, 4. Sloppy Joe's, by Raymond L. Blazevic, Florida Keys Public Libraries, 5. Couple, Brian Lin. Flickr license for photos here.)

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