When you move to Key West, you're going to encounter Fantasy Fest. That's what happened when I moved to the island 24 years ago.
The big finish is the Saturday night parade. That first year, I figured out that you're part of this thing. It's kind of weird if you show up and you're not in some kind of costume.
At my first parade, I remember being so impressed by the Caribbean dancers with their shiny costumes and giant, elaborate wings. They were so graceful and had such incredible stamina — and the junkanoo beat was infectious.
In 1993, my third Fantasy Fest, the theme was Lost in the Sixties. I put on a tie-dyed T-shirt and some hippie earrings before heading out to cover the parade.
In 1995, my boyfriend and I filled out the form, paid our entry fee and became part of the parade. When the theme was Tinseltown Dreams, we were Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When the theme was TV Jeebies, we were the Maude Squad — as in Bea Arthur. We all had gray wigs and long vests.
At some point we quit trying to follow the themes. But we still marched in the parade.
In 2009, dengue fever broke out on the island. So we dressed up as disco mosquitoes and called ourselves Dengue Night Fever. We had a tricycle rigged up as a mosquito control helicopter. That one made the New York Times.
But a few years ago, it started getting to be less fun to join the parade. More and more, the other floats were just big trucks with sound systems. Back in the day, local crews would work for weeks on elaborate floats sponsored by local businesses whose owners had helped start Fantasy Fest.
But those businesses closed or left town, and it's hard to find the space and the time to build that kind of float.
Fantasy Fest in general has started feeling like a weeklong occupation by exhibitionists. It's always been a risqué event, for sure — according to local legend, the very first parade was led by a naked woman, spraypainted gold, sitting on the hood of a car.
But it's turned a corner from risqué to ... kind of boring. If you can call people walking around naked at 3 in the afternoon boring.
A lot of people in town feel this way. I swear it's not just because I'm 24 years older than I was when I saw my first Fantasy Fest. And I don't entirely ignore Fantasy Fest. I still dress up for the Friday Masquerade March, which most people refer to as "the local's parade."
Even after a big outcry about all the nudity last year, there haven't been any real changes. From an organizer's standpoint, the hotel rooms are full at the highest rates of the year. So what's the problem?
The local community has largely just moved on to doing other things this week. That was proved beyond any doubt last weekend when the Zombie Bike Ride took over the island. There were thousands of zombies on wheels, of all ages from infants to grandparents. They wore costumes from a simple bloody T-shirt to an insanely elaborate tribute to Mad Max: Fury Road. If there was nudity, I didn't see it. The zombies biked the Atlantic shore at sunset, then partied on Duval Street.
Saturday night, Duval Street will still be taken over by the All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show 3 Wishes.com Fantasy Fest Parade. But I won't be there to see it.
I'm going to be on the other side of town -- at a Halloween party, handing out candy to little kids.
Music in this piece included "Aurea Carmina by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), licensed by Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http//creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0 and "The Life and Death of a Certain K. Zabriskie, Patriarch" by Chris Zabriskie (chriszabriskie.com), licensed by Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/