The main event
The look-alike extravaganza runs July 19-21 this year and is the centerpiece of an even larger Hemingway Days Festival, running July 17-22. Among the events are a $50,000 marlin fishing tournament; a sunset 5K run; an internationally recognized short story writing contest judged by Hemingway’s granddaughter, writer Lorian Hemingway; a book debut with Hemingway’s grandson, Edward Hemingway; a Caribbean street fair taking up much of Duval Street on July 21, and the always zany “Running of the Bulls.”
By now, Sloppy Joe’s was bursting at the seams with hundreds of well-lubricated patrons, half of whom looked something like Ernest. They spilled out the open doors and windows onto Greene and Duval Streets, awaiting the start of the festivities.
As I was alone, I sought out fellow contestants and was quickly adopted by a group from Texas. Richard Filip, a real estate executive from Houston, had an entire team with him for support, sporting T-shirts, campaign buttons, and banners. Upon learning I had no supporters of my own, they loudly declared they would root for me onstage, too.
Richard explained why he had entered the competition multiple times: “It’s the camaraderie, having my whole team here with me, the people you meet from different states — it’s just an interesting cross-section of all walks of life.”
The enormous crowd roared as the contest judges appeared on stage, carrying, of all things, a cake. It turned out to be a birthday cake with a likeness of Ernest, since that night was his birthday. Looking at the judges — all previous contest winners — I gasped. They were all, well, very stout, and very white of beard and hair. Being neither, I wondered about my chances.
Contestants were called up to the stage in groups of eight. When my turn at the microphone came, I tried to show my connection with Hemingway through various photos. One of me with Ernie, the six-toed cat. One of me fishing in my kayak. Other photos and vignettes, and finally, one of me climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. “Not only have I have seen the The Snows of Kilimanjaro, I have been on top of Kilimanjaro,” I said.
They weren’t impressed; I didn’t even make it into the next round.
A close shave
Disappointed and fueled by mojitos, I found an all-night pharmacy and bought a beard trimming razor. The next morning, clean shaven except for a Heminwayesque moustache, I soaked my naked face in the warm waters of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park beach.
Later that day, I made it to Sloppy Joe’s in time for the “Running of the Bulls.”
This daft event always occurs on the last day of the contest and features the look-alikes dressed as devotees in Pamplona, riding or pushing wheeled, wooden bulls on a mini-parade through Key West. Thousands of shouting tourists line the route, snapping pictures, waving cigars and swilling cocktails. I didn’t participate, but one of my new contestant friends told me that without the beard, I now looked like a “young Hemingway.”
The finals that night were raucous, and yes, the eventual winner really did look like Papa.
I finished my Key West Hemingway Days as he might have done by going offshore fishing the next day, catching a beautiful mangrove snapper. All of the restaurants along the wharf will prepare your catch for dinner; mine was done at the Half Shell Raw Bar for a mere $9, including all the sides. One of the best seafood meals I have ever had.
As I write this, the beard is growing gray again, and I’m readying my presentation to the look-alike judges. Maybe they’ll be more impressed with my recent trip to Hemingway’s house and favorite bars in Havana, Cuba?