Research is the ground upon which all my books sit. It is hallowed ground. Back when we were living in Key West full time, I would grab my notepad and a few pens and hop on my conch cruiser, pedal out of Aronovitz Lane, up to the Green Parrot, turn right, go against the traffic and head on over to the library on Fleming Street.
It would take me three minutes.
Two, if I hit the green light on Duval and there was no traffic.
The Key West library was a goldmine, not just on account of the many references books, maps, encyclopedias and newspapers, but because of the colorful library denizens. The place was full of them. And the majority were transients. Those souls who slept rough under your neighbor’s ‘conch style shotgun’ house or illicitly on a front porch, or even in a bush.
The homeless in Key West loved to read.
Everything they could get their hands on. They were voracious readers. Especially one chap called Eddie. I first met Eddie at the Beach at Fort Zachary. Sitting under a tree reading a tattered Carl Hiaasen. Eddie had lost half his brain in Vietnam – fortunately he still had enough left to read. Anyway I digress.
Back to the library – the main attraction for many was its air conditioning and comfy seating.
They also came to doze, dine (generally out of a paper bag) or debate.
They would come early and stay late. There were toilets and a drinking fountain.
The library was a serene venue to research, write and eavesdrop. There was that one librarian though who talked loudly enough to get through to the hearing impaired. She gave me an alarmed look when I asked her to “Go sotto voce.”
The library was my office during the day, and I managed a modicum of work. The internet did exist but it was a third wheel. To check on one minor fact you had to look at many different browsers/portals such as Excite or Alta Vista or Ask Jeeves – each one often giving a slightly different version.
The Bull was my office during the evening. I didn’t get much writing done, but the research was on a different scale: I was able to observe the good, the bad and the creepy. All great for building future characters: a tattooed bald head hanging over the balcony sipping a dainty mojito, a mousy pale-faced Mid-Westerner twerking on the stage with the amused guitar player.
Things have changed. I now have Google. I spend less time in the library, but about the same amount of time at the Bull.
Of course, for me, the internet can’t replace good, old-fashioned source experts: when I’m writing about women for example and I need to write some inspiring dialogue or describe their sense of fashion, I hit up my wife or a fashionista friend I have in north Wales. Her passion is shoes – from spikes to platforms. And anything with a designer name.
But I do still miss the Key West library