Perched on a wall outside a restaurant, the rooster squats then launches himself into the air, hurdling over a bus and alighting on the other side of Duval Street. It is one of the countless feral fowl that prowl the streets of Key West, protected by law, tolerated by locals, and gawked at by tourists. A flock of hens and chickens guarded by two roosters scurries about on a side street off Duval. As a woman walking her dog approaches, the cocks perceive a threat and charge. The woman retreats, yanking her yelping dog—his paws dug in for a fight—in another direction, and the hens and chickens trot about in the road, clucking undisturbed. They are the descendants, these roosters, hens, and their broods, of fowl that escaped from ships docking from Europe and the Caribbean in centuries past. Like the cats that fled the same ships, generations of feral progeny have benefitted from the tolerance for which Key West is renowned.
The day we arrive on the ferry from Naples, a three-hour journey over the Gulf, downtown Key West is teeming with college students on Spring Break. It is one o’clock in the afternoon along Duval Street’s main commercial avenue. Many are already reeling. With thumping music blaring onto Duval Street, young people pack themselves five deep at the bar, beers and tropical drinks in hand, rollicking to the beat and pouring out onto the street. Not quite the girls gone wild scenario one might expect on the beach, yet these young girls and the hordes of strutting males they lure parade like the flocks of feral chickens just a few blocks south.
“What?” the guys shout over the din of the music. “What? . . .”