We go mainly for the nostalgia. As a child growing up in South Florida, my parents would take us there for long weekends. In the 60's Key West was a navy town with a shrimp fleet. On Sunday's they would have "open houses" where you could go and tour the submarines. There were no resorts. Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson were as fancy as it got. The Half Shell Raw Bar was a dive where the shimpers hung out. And Duval Street was a row of roudy bars where you could get your teeth knocked out if you looked at a biker the wrong way.
But it was also this wonderful place at the end of the highway were you could ride a trolley and they would tell you about the gingerbread trim on the houses, and you could tour Ernest Hemingway's house with six-towed cats, and there was a lighthouse you could climb up in and see the whole island, and an old aquarium that didn't have many fish, but you could hold a starfish and a horseshoe crab would climb up your arm, and there was a place where you could have sandals made right on your feet. And, the food! Conch fritters with horseradish cocktail sauce, fresh shucked oysters, grilled dorado (we called it dolphin back then) and yellowtail snapper, and key lime pie so tart it would make your tongue roll up.
Tourists started discovering Key West in the 80's and real hotels like the Pier House and The Reach began springing up. T-shirt shops, art galleries and boutiques started replacing the tatoo parlors. The submarines left and fire eaters, sword swallorers and dancing cats took their places on the wharf. And somewhere along the way the Half Shell Raw Bar started serving sushi.
But none of that matters. We still go whenever we can. It's a lot less frequently now that we live in a place where it snows. But, every time we cross the little bridge onto Key West we feel like we are home. We still roam Duval Street until all hours of the night, stuff ourselves at the Half Shell Raw Bar, go elbow to elbow with the other thousands of fools down at Mallory Square jockying for position to see the guy who ties himself up with chains and then cheer the sunset like we've never seen one before.
I'm not really sure WHY we keep coming back. We just do. And I quess we we'll just doing it until we are to old to get drunk at Sloppy Joe's and and stagger back to our hotel. Then, there will be no point.