LETTER TO EDITOR / Out of Respect for our Buffetts

By Rick Boettger

I have only a couple of things to add to the celebration of sympathy and memories of the truly great Jimmy Buffett. I wrote a little bit about him in a recent column about a young performer, now around Jimmy’s age when he started here at the Chart House, saying to be on the lookout for the new Buffetts in our midst, who may come along every ten years or so.

But no one I believe in the history of our City, back to Mallory’s age and including Robert Frost or Mel Fisher, will have meant as much to the heart and soul of our city as Mr. Margaritaville himself did—this is of course our Municipal Anthem, and it should be declared so, if that has not already been done.

I biked around till I decided to watch from Green and Duval, where it started. I told the motorcycle cop at the front what an honor it was to lead off, he must have done something great for that assignment. On the way there I heard a guy ask, “Are there going to be any floats?” Actually, this was not a “parade” as on Fantasy Fest, where we have floats. Instead it was a “procession,” modeled on those in New Orleans, Jimmy’s first musical stop before Key West. It is semi-solemn, just a small band as the “first line,” then the “second line” is anyone who wants to join in.

I counted 1300 people in the second line, estimating in groups of 10 that I can see and count at once. A Miami station said 2,500, which sounds about right, counting all those along Duval who joined in on the way. A guy with a huge trike decorated like a twelve-foot-tall mutated chicken/flamingo edged in about 100 marchers in.

He was the only biker allowed to ride. I was glad I walked my bike, coming in as number 1301, because the only action I saw the police take was hollering “Get off and walk your bike!” to some scofflaws behind me.

If you were in Key West Sunday and weren’t there, I don’t know why. I’m a wreck, and I made it. But the 1300 number, sorry, that is the extent of my unique reporting.

Because the other thing I know about Jimmy I can’t really report on because it is based on proprietary info, and I only know because someone else broke their promise, and I’m not going to break mine. But I will let it inform my musing about how we need to respect the famous among us, which indeed we Key Westers are in general pretty cool at.

We treat them like normal people! My earliest run-in was with Kelly McGillis, of Top Gun and, locally women’s football fame, who played tennis at my Bayview Park. She would sometimes stop by to sit on the bleachers and watch the tennis studs on center court play for a while (in the magical past, when I was one of them, sigh). We would occasionally smile and say Hi, that’s all, until some rube got all excited and stopped, gushed all over her, and asked for her autograph. We were no longer home for her, and she never sat there again.

Our most famous non-poet Key West writer of all time (no one will top Frost and Stevens) was a bit prickly about people capitalizing on their personal contact with her. She is friendly with so many, and they know now not to go publishing local columns detailing their own touch with her greatness. I am so glad for this respect, as she has stayed around a lot, in public, where I take it she gets to feel as much like a normal person as anyone with an international reputation can.

What I fear is that the reason Jimmy left Key West so soon, still in the 1970’s, to move to—oh, the shame, St Bart’s, where the snooty French would leave him alone—is that his friendly, regular-guy personality, famously talking to strangers whenever they met him, got to be just too much. I don’t think any of us regular people can vaguely understand what it is like to be that famous—maybe we’ve gotten a glimpse from the well-documented blowup of the British monarchy around the abuse of the late Diane and her son.

Because the only secret insight I have about Jimmy is that he had the normal human impulse to not want people to use this contact, his generosity, for their own gain. As it was, he is justly famous for the many times he was, in public, what he was in private, a fun guy and great friend. It makes my heart weep to think we chased him out so fast. Sure, maybe it was that “Key West was changing” but really, in 1979??? No, I don’t think so.

So my plea to us all is the next time Oprah boats in from Sunset Key or Tiger stays at Little Palm, we continue to treat them as just other people lucky to spend a little time in our paradise. Love them, but from a respectful distance, giving them the great gift of feeling normal—at least to the extent you can be “normal” here, where, as our Governor might put it, “Normal comes to die!”

Finally, not a bad death for a man of the tropics, skin cancer (lymphoma only came because of the Mercer’s). Maybe second place for death showing a life lived balls out, after first place, dying of cirrhosis, at say 86. Last item on my Bucket List.

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