A rooster crows in the distance. A palm tree sways. A tourist hands me his camera in front of a concrete marker on the corner of Whitehead and South Streets.
For the record, I am taking the photograph at 24 degrees 33 minutes north latitude and 81 degrees 45 minutes – it’s supposed to be the Key West southernmost point of the continental United States, though some argue it really isn’t. We like to argue in Key West.
At dawn, tourists begin lining up for pictures next to the red, white and black buoy that marks the southernmost spot. At sunset the line still snakes down the block, though this being Key West, most tourists have traded their coffee for something boozier.
“I always wanted to come here,’’ Baltimore’s Eric Scott tells me on one of those balmy mornings for which Key West tourists pay plenty. “It’s cool to be this far south.’’
When I was a boy, my dad played piano at a honky tonk somewhere on Duval. During the day we fished from the seawall at the southernmost point.
It was a crowded place back then, too, but more commercial. I remember seeing the African-Bahamian Julian “Yankee” Kee, who peddled grunt and snapper, lobster and conch shells from a worn out card table. After the old man died, I remember seeing his grandson, Albert, a preacher known in Key West as the Bishop, famous for waving to tourists and blowing on a Conch shell as if it were Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. That part of the southernmost point is gone now, though a bronze statue of the Bishop tells the old history.
Key West's southernmost point is located in an old Key West neighborhood, where residents sometimes stand in their yards and behold the passing humanity. One time I stopped to chat with Rita Castillo, who told me about the favorite conversations she’d had with tourists excited to be at the southernmost spot in the continental U.S.
“Which direction is Cuba?’’ someone asked her.
“South. Ninety miles away,’’ Rita answered.
“I can’t see anything but ocean,’’ complained the tourist.
“To see Cuba you would have to have vision better than 20/20,” Rita explained.
Ah, Key West.
When you go…
Whitehead Street and South Street, Key West, FL 33040