Key West’s first Christmas truck parade began with an insult. Someone stopped at the pétanque court with a wreath hanging from the radiator of their truck, and someone else said:

“It sucks. Do you call that the Christmas spirit? I can decorate my truck better than that.

Other words were exchanged (as tends to happen on pétanque grounds).

Little by little, there was soon a line of six or twelve trucks going down Rue Duval, some decorated with lighted tiki torches, others throwing firecrackers at tourists, all spreading holiday cheer.

It was 1993 and I was not there. The origin details came from Harry Harrison, a salesman who once sold spam, among other things, and who was the captain of the Ramada Rats bocce team, as well as a sort of ringleader for various forms of mischief. (These facts were confirmed, however, by my wife, a reliable type of journalist, who drove her Mazda Miata as the chase car behind it all.)

I don’t remember many details from second year except helping a future circuit court judge decorate his Jeep Cherokee, then driving around town, shouting “Merry Christmas” to passers-by. stunned and not being able to stop laughing.

The third year is the most important for me, probably because I had a camera and I had taken notes. There was Frank the Plumber, who was sitting in the bed of his truck on top of a stack of wrapped Christmas presents, on a real porcelain throne, with a plunger for a scepter and a sign saying “The Little Plumber. With a generator running somewhere below to power the excess lights. There was Wilma Krabill, who was 70, dressed as Santa Claus, flanked by palm trees and plastic flamingos, in the back of Bonnie and Mitzi’s 1950s celestial green Chevy pickup. There was this guy named Craig, who everyone called America’s Drunkest Man, loosely tied to the hood of a shiny black GMC pickup truck with a rope. Someone wrapped him in a garland, then someone stuck a red nose on him, and then he was dubbed America’s Drunkest Reindeer.

And there were about a dozen other trucks, as well as our old Volvo station wagon, which they were kind enough to let with us.

None of this was, of course, sanctioned by the city, or within legal distance. There was a “parade permit”, although it was taxidermized, fly-caught, according to my notes, by a guy named Nick, apparently some sort of world record, borrowed from the walls of a dentist’s office. and suspended from a pole above the hood of Harry’s Crown Victoria.

Caution was not completely thrown to the wind, however, as Steve and Kathy, on their Harleys with wood ducts glued to their helmets, raced forward to block traffic at busier intersections, so the parade can unfold.

I don’t know how long we drove around town that year, maybe 45 minutes, everyone honking “Jingle Bells” almost in unison, but it was one of the funniest nights of my time. life. A final bit of low-level anarchy as the 1970s era of drug trafficking slowly shifted into the mass tourism / wealthy snowbird era of the 2000s. I just remember Wilma coming out of there. endlessly amused Bonnie and Mitzi’s back of her pickup, recounting in her Kentucky accent how someone had lunatic her. And I remember the after-party at Compass Rose was cut short when the fire truck pulled up, because the generator in the Little Plumber Boy’s truck had set the wrapped packages on fire. No damage was really done, however. The firefighters put it out quickly and promised that when they got back to the station they would tell everyone it was a false alarm.

The Truck Parade could have happened again after that. Or maybe it was the last. I think it was difficult to muster that level of anarchy, even low level, on a regular basis. Looking through the photos, I now realize how many of these people have since passed away, including Wilma Krabill and Harry Harrington.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the truck parade faded away around the same time the official Key West Holiday Parade started to gain traction.

For those who don’t know, the existence of the annual Key West Holiday Parade is rooted in bigotry and intolerance, but its story is also one of the world’s finest fixes. At the time, there was a Christmas parade organized by the Lower Keys Ministerial Association. In the mid-1990s, when the largely gay Metropolitan Community Church and the Key West Business Guild applied to participate, they were turned down.

The Reverend Gary Redwine of Big Coppitt First Baptist Church in Big Coppitt Key, told the New York Times in 1995, “It’s not at all a personal matter… It’s not that we hate gay people or anything. We just don’t agree with homosexuality and we cannot condone the homosexual way of life. He added that the participation of homosexuals in the parade would not “conform to the image of biblical morals and of the family that we wish to project”.

It didn’t work out with locals or local politicians of any kind, so in 1996 the city of Key West just decided to have its own parade, inviting everyone in the community to participate, and no one heard a lot about the Lower Keys Ministerial Association. because. I have fond memories of Josephine Parker, the city clerk, riding in the back of a convertible in a pair of giant angel wings.

The parade has become one of Key West’s most fundamental traditions.

I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to see every year the mix of everything from Key West participate – the kids at the gym club, the churches, the members of the local synagogue, the drag queens, the police, the firefighters, the Aqueduct Authority, contractors, leather boys, prison zoo animals, high school marching band, jugglers, adoptive pets, hockey club, apparently everyone in South Florida that owns a Miata… It’s hard not to bask in the glory of a small town doing something so right. I don’t think I missed one if I was in town.

This does not mean that my wife and I have become completely legitimate. For the past 15 years or so we’ve been running something called the Christmas Lights Bike Ride, where a small group of friends meet at our house. We drink the biggest white Russian in the world, then we walk around town, looking at the lights, blowing up Christmas carols, clapping our hands with the people on the Conch train as we pass by. It is not so much a parade as a procession.

It started with eight or 10 of us doing this, but it has grown, most years, to 50 or 60 people, and we try to keep it going, so that it doesn’t become something heavy going. collapses on its own. weight. But there are always enough people who can’t make it every year that we have room for a few new people.

In the first few years of this, the end parties were a bit louder, with occasional episodes of skinny dipping and people trying on K-9 shock necklaces on each other. But we have all matured.

We have met other bands that have been doing this in recent years, and we are also trying to give them a hand. And there’s even an official Christmas bike ride organized by the city.

The only thing our group is trying to do is walk down Duval Street, shouting holiday greetings to tourists into a loudspeaker, but doing it in a way they don’t expect and confuses them for a moment. , so maybe they can stand there for a second, looking at us, trying to figure out what’s going on before they wave and smile at us.

It’s not a Harry Harrington level mischief, but it’s still pretty good.