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KEY WEST — The party continues on Duval Street, oil or no oil.
But ask about it and people have lots of opinions – some well-articulated, and others a little slurred.
Merchants are worried that news of tar balls on the beaches, even though they’re not connected to the spill, will drive tourists away, and those who love to eat, drink and be merry in Key West are worried that their favorite vacation island will suffer.
“We’ve been keeping track on the local news about the tar balls,” said Stephen Golderese, 44, standing under a round yellow awning outside the “Smallest Bar in Key West.”
Golderese and his wife Deb, 47, stood outside the bar with beers in hand, chatting with another couple they’d just met. They have visited Key West every year for three years, and each time they’ve made their reservations for the next trip – except this year.
“The uncertainty right now, it makes us a little bit cautious,” Deb Golderese said. “My prayers are going out for this island, for all the Keys. We love it here.” But that didn’t mean that the Goldereses didn’t have fun this time around, they said, and it was clear that many other people were partying on the street Friday night.
By 9 p.m., music pumped out of open doors up and down the street: Country and hip hop, techno and classic rock. Men rode bicycles towing passenger carts and taxis trolled the streets looking for people who had already had enough. It smelled like beer and food, and crowds bunched at street corners waiting for the lights to change.
Donna Jeffery, 56, and her husband Robert, 57, stopped to wait at a street corner on their way back to their hotel after watching the sunset. They were vacationing on the island from Pennsylvania, and purchased a condo.
“We heard a lot about the tar balls,” Robert Jeffery said.
“Some of the merchants were talking about it, saying they’re concerned that the media is going to blow it out of proportion and it’s going to affect business,” Donna Jeffery said.
A block or so down Duval Street, John Hubbard sat outside the Key West Cigar Club & Smoke Shop behind a table with boxes of cigars.
“Get your cigars,” he shouted. “Fresh hand-rolled cigars, best on the island.”
Hubbard, 51, has worked at the shop since the beginning of March, and he’s the “barker,” he said. He sits outside, says hello to people and hawks the shop’s wares.
People are talking about the spill everyday, he said, especially locals.
“Everybody’s concerned about the economic outlook,” he said. “It is a tourist island; everybody’s livelihood depends on tourists.”
People who charter boats are especially nervous, and many have already had people cancel bookings, Hubbard said.
“A lot of people are concerned that we might get a hurricane on top of it, and that it’ll push all the oil toward us,” he said. “Nobody’s having oil parties yet, but I’d imagine they will if they find out it’s definitely coming in.”
The only overt reference to the spill on the street was a man who held a sign that read “God Sent the Oil.” But he left his post at a street corner not long after the sun set, and as it got later, the street became steadily more crowded with people drinking, partying and living it up.