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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

New Book!

New Book!

Time Traveler – The Oddities and Adventures of a Key West Bartender

With my new book out, it might be a fun to go to the root of how the ideas all came about.

It all started in 2015 when my friend and bartender at The Cork and Stogie, Mark Straiton, posted a new profile picture on Facebook. It was actually a very professional picture showing him in a jacket, tie, and neat haircut. Frankly, he looked like a college professor. So with that, my imagination started flowing and I made the following post:

Image may contain: 1 person
Image may contain: 1 person
Image may contain: 1 person

 "Time Magazine's Man of The Year, PhD. Mark Christopher Straiton, for his discoveries in the anthropological field of exploring and discovering little-known cultures through his expedient adventures in time traveling, to various hovels and bars. Doctor Straiton's intense research has enlightened the world of various previously unknown peoples in lost time periods, as has been well documented in his previous book, "Dirtbags, Sleazebags, and Vacuum Bags Encountered in Shit Holes 1800 - 1955". In his 2015 summer travel, Doctor Straiton ventured back to 1944 where he was a B17 bomber pilot based in Rattelsden Field, East Anglia, England. This was a chapter of his latest book, "Time Traveling to Historic Points and Places in Time." for which this award has been given. Other points of interest in his time traveling adventures in this latest work, Doctor Straiton lands as a Connecticut medical doctor in a Union regiment at the Battle of Shilo in1862, then seeks solitude in a Tennessee Tavern. On another adventure, this time in 1891, Doctor Straiton appears in San Francisco working as a brewmaster at the Anchor Brewing Company, where he managed to create what became known as Steam Beer, taking technology that he learned in the 2000 - 2010 era in brewing, and actually bringing it back in time creating America's only indigenous beer. When a keg's cork blew and erupted in a violent spray. Doctor Straiton named it Steam Beer "Because that mother fucker has some velocity!". Perhaps the most amazing story has Doctor Straiton going this time to Paris, France, in 1926 where this time he is a bartender at the Moulin Rouge and actually encounters himself from another time travel! The previous Time Traveling Dr. Straiton had been quite actively pursuing a Can Can floosie named Fanny, when a previous boyfriend of Mlle Fanny, Didier, disrupts the floor festivities and a physical altercation erupts involving the first Doctor Straiton, and Didier. The second Doctor Straiton comes to the aid of his previous self, by first throwing a glass of beer in Didier's face, then hosing him down with a bottle of highly carbonated club soda.Didier runs for his life. The two Doctor Straitons smile a smile that only a time traveler meeting one's self from another time travel, could understand, then retire to the bar where Doctor Straiton pours the other Doctor Straiton an elixir he doesn't have to ask if he wants or not. He knows. For Doctor Straiton's works, he is hereby named Time Magazine's Man Of The Year. The attached picture is one of Doctor Straiton's B17 1944 pictures."

That got me thinking and I was quite inspired by the concept of writing a book on time travel! The idea flourished for nearly a year and on October 12, 2016, I wrote the first chapter. Everyone, of course, knows that Mark Christopher Straiton is, in fact, a time traveler. This is not a well-kept secret and I must confess I did my share broadcasting it around The Cork and Stogie, if not around Key West, or the world, for that matter.

I recall when his mother was in town I said to her “You know Mark's a time traveler?” and without hesitation, she replied “Oh, yes! Of course!”

While Mark was the initial inspiration for the book, as it's being marketed as a science fiction book, the protagonist and his deeds would be fiction. After all, how would I, a mere non-time traveling writer/musician/songwriter know anything about a time traveler's adventures? It's not as though I'd get him completely zozzeled at the bar then pry him for time traveling anecdotes, would I?

So, therefore the protagonist's name is likewise fiction; Mark Straight.

In the beginning, when I was first pondering all of this, it dawned on me how much freedom there was writing about a time traveler. The possibilities were endless!

Consequently, I had the protagonist not only all over Key West but all over the world as well!

This is fun!

It must be stated that in writing the book, although fiction, I am a stickler for stating things accurately. So, if the protagonist went to a bar called, say, Freddy's Bar and Grill, Freddy's Bar and Grill actually existed in whatever time period the story takes place. It may be gone today, but in the time period, it did exist. In a case or two, I did have to improvise, as there really wasn't information available that suited the locale for the time period in question.

In contemporary times I take the writer's liberty and in some cases invent places that do not exist today at all, or I take contemporary places and change the names. Some I change their names. People who know Key West are already asking me if such and such a bar is actually a place they know! Others, such as the bar I co-own in real life, The Cork and Stogie, keep their real names.

Like the protagonist, whom I based on someone I know, many of those in the story are likewise based off characters I know in real life. I say based off of, as it's not a true assessment of the real-life individual. This, however, changes to suit the story. For instance, one character is very closely aligned to the real-life individual, while another shares their name only. The others fall in between, It goes without saying that some people in the book are purely fictional individuals. For some readers, this offers an intriguing quest to figure out which individuals fall into whatever of the aforementioned categories!

Likewise, many people in different time periods are often based on real people who lived in those time periods. These people have their real names and are noteworthy.

The book takes place in Key West, however, it is not exclusive to Key West. There are times the protagonist has to leave Key West, and again where and when he goes I've made a focus to be historically accurate to the time and place.

As it is assumed that none of the readers are Time Travelers, a large effort has been made to establish the how's and why things occur. Myself, when things are assumed and not addressed in a book, it leaves the reader with the question “Well, there's no answer, or reason explained”. Because of this, basic questions are answered, so the book is comfortable within itself. When writing, logistics were imperative for the sake of the book's integrity.

There is one fundamental question that does go unanswered. It is, however, addressed. Part of a said question being unanswered is an integral crux of the mystery of the book. Addressing the question was essential.

The book has already garnered requests for a follow-up story. I'm happy to say the follow up is underway!

On a funny/humorous note, back in March 2017, five months into writing the book, I learned that the 2017 Key West Fantasy Fest theme was based on... Time Traveling!

In conclusion, we have a bartender from Key West, time traveling to all sorts of wild, odd, crazy, funny, and fascinating adventures in time travel. He explores a Key West of decades past, as well as other places, which events and situations in the Key West of years past dictate him to do.

Available on Amazon as a download or paperback! The paperback includes a free digital download.

Thank you for reading the blog! I hope you love the book as well!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Key West and Hurricane Irma – September 27th 2017

Key West and Hurricane Irma – September 27th 2017

Before I lived in Key West, I lived in Cutler Bay, Fla. Cutler Bay was about a thirty-five-minute drive from Key Largo. Consequently, Key Largo was a common weekend jaunt for me. I used to joke and say The Caribbean Club was my local bar, thirty miles from home.

My sister-in-law came over one Sunday afternoon and stated “I had such a great time yesterday! We went down to Key Largo!” Naturally, I asked where she went.

“The Tiki Bar!” was her reply.

My head shook from side to side rapidly and my eyes blinked several times. The Tiki Bar is not even remotely in Key Largo, it's two towns further south than Key Largo, in Islamorada (say: ISLE more ahdah). Here was a college educated RN, who lived in the area for decades and didn't even know where she was.

Every island in the Florida Keys has its own personality and identity. A town like Islamorada is actually a group of islands, each one different.

I run into similar things with folks from out of town, since I've been in Key West.

Friend A “Oh! We were down to Key West but we missed you!”

Me “Oh? When were you down and where were you staying?”

Friend A “We stayed at Glunz Resort!”

Me: “Glunz Resort? Nice place indeed! Glunz Resort is in Marathon, not Key West though. It's fifty miles north of Key West”.

I bring this up for a reason. I recently heard many people outside the Keys are saying “I saw the horrible damage and destruction in Key West”.

For starters, the eye of the hurricane landed around twenty miles north of Key West, not on Key West. The Keys that were greatly affected were Summerland Key, Cudjoe Key, Big Pine Key, Sugarloaf Key, No Name Key, Marathon, as well as bands sweeping down into parts of Islamorada.

(Homes in the Cudjoe Key - Big Pine Key area)

Many of the people in these areas lost.... everything.

A friend of mine who is displaced from her home in Cudjoe Key said “Thank God Key West didn't take the brunt of the hurricane. We will still have jobs!”

These people need soap, paper towels, water, food... everything. They also need prayers.

Key West did sustain quite a bit of hurricane damage, though nothing on the scale of those north of us.

I walked down Duval Street two days ago and I'd say 35% - 40% of the businesses were open. Cruise ships started arriving on Sunday.

Honestly, we do need a bit of recovery time. There is a lot of downed trees that need to be attended to, however, we do have water (thanks to the desal plant!) and power. We do not have internet, but most here in Key West do.

Rumors start, naturally. Someone told me that the eastern part of Fleming street is destroyed. Houses had collapsed. They said. I went there and no houses had collapsed at all. There was a very large tree down, however.

In Closing:

Key West did not blow away. Key West is, in fact, still solidly on the map and should be functional within a week or so.

Damage in Key West. Trees down mostly at this point. Businesses are opening back up.

The Cork and Stogie, 1218nDuval Street is open! This shot was taken on Sunday, September 24th


My brand new book "Time Traveler - The Oddities and Adventures of a Key West Bartender" is now available through Amazon in both paperback and digital download! The paperback includes the digital download for free!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricane Irma Refugees - Running From The 'Cane

We made the decision to leave Key West early in the week. So many factors came into play: Our house is in a very low lying area and  our two dogs were the biggest factors. We left on Wednesday for the six hour drive to our friends Kate and Jerry Kunart in Melbourne, Florida. It took us nearly eleven hours to get there! This was the worst traffic I've ever been in! Most of it seemed to be going between 10 and 20 MPhil. On occasion it would pick up and go 60 for ten minutes,or so, but then back to 10 - 20 again.

Fortunately we left with a full tank of gas! Gas stations either had no gas, or they had enormous lines. When we got off of I 95 in Melbourne, we needed gas, though we had about 75 miles to go before empty.  As we turned off there were several gas statiomns,all of which had long lines. Then on the left there was a Mobil station with open pumps and available gas! Totally amazed, we pulled in and filled up!

We arrived at Kate and Jerry's and hung out for a spell, then went to bed. It was a long day on the road and sleep came easy.

We were off the next day fairly early and we're very grateful for Kate and Jerry's kind generosity!

At first the roads were normal. We scooted across the state to I 75. Before we knew it traffic was back to being the sludge it was the day before. This went on and on. We get a break and suddenly we'd be going 70 MPhil for fifteen minutes. Yay! It was over and moving normally! Then, for no reason at all it was back down to 10 MPhil again!

Finally, I got the idea to try Rt 41. Rt 41 was one of those highways that was used before the interstates existed. It wasn't too far away either, only a few miles west of us.. we took that option and I wished I'd thought of it earlier! Smooth sailing, save for one minor glitch which we bypassed.

By the the time we rolled into Georgia it was getting time to call it quits for the day. Not long after Valdosta, we could see that I75 was moving again, so we hopped on. Finding lodging was virtually impossible. Dani must have made rwenty calls, to no avail. After what seemed like eternity, I spotted a run down joint. We pulled in and they had a room,

To call this place a Shithole would be a complemvent. Apparently, it had been abandoned for quite some time. Someone bought it and had plans of restoring it. In the room we had, the carpets were discolored and rippled. The metal trim ring around the sink was rusted, as was the coat rack. We had a lot of fun texting pictures to our friends and commenting back and forth with all sorts of humorous comments which went on for some time. It succeeded in relieving the stress of the situation.

The bed however was large and clean. We slept well and left in the darkness of 6am. Driving up I75 the entrance and exit ramps were lined with cars. These were those not as fortunate as we were. Without finding available lodging these unfortunate people were left no other option, but to sleep in their cars.

The ride from the file bag hotel to our destination in Harrison, Tennessee the GPS told us would take five hours. Again, there were far more license plates from Florida, than there were from Georgia, and this followed suit right through Atlanta!

Above Atlanta the Florida tags dissipated and Georgia tags were prominent. We crossed into Tennessee and reached our destination at our friend Danny Lynn's home in Harrison, Tennessee at 3pm, four  hours later than the GPS estimated for that day's stretch.

The first stage of the exodus was complete for us.  It must be noted though, at this point Hurricane Irma had yet to hit our little Island home a thousand miles away.

The generosity of Danny Lynn and his girlfriend Leather Moss On Shields has been second to none. They've opened up their home to us and welcomed us with open arms. We are very, very fortunate!

To be continued in the next blog.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Playing With a Guitar Virtuoso.

At this writing, Bobby DeVito, a.k.a. Bobby D. has been playing as a Shanty Hound, for two weeks, filling in for Dani Hoy. He's here for one more week and as crazy as it sounds, as the schedule currently goes, he leaves back to Chicago the same day that Dani returns.

Bobby and I go back a bit. We had been a duo, The Offending Culprits, back around seven or eight years ago. We had a Blues Sunday afternoon at Captain Tony;s, which went quite well. He also played on eight of the tracks of the tracks n my album "Shanghai'd and Marooned in Key West (things could be worse)". He fell in love and moved to the Chicago area three years ago with the intent of moving back in six months. He still lives in Chicago, albeit the desire to move back is strong. 

He does come to Key West at least once a year however and almost three years ago, he, Dani, and I wrote and recorded our holiday song “Happy Merry Christmas From Key West”. At that point, he became a Shanty Hound!

With Dani going on tour for three weeks and Bobby not busy in Chicago, everything fell into place. Having Bobby here now has added a completely different aspect to The Shanty Hounds, as one would expect, swapping a female voice that sings like an angel, for that of a virtuoso guitar player.

Having a virtuoso guitar player in Key West only adds to the wide variety of musicians here. Sure, there are other virtuoso guitarists in town, but having another, with a style unto himself, only adds to the variety!

When we started playing together again, it went well. However, playing five and six times a week, things have only gotten better and better. As Dani is away on tour, we called our string of gigs “The Shanty Hounds Sausage Fest Tour Of Key West” I've lost count of how many gigs we've done!

Last night we played Boondock's, up on Ramrod Key (27 miles north of Key West). As I have a few guitars to choose from, when Bobby arrived I first lent him my '96 Stratocaster, however, after a couple of gigs, he wanted an acoustic. So, he took my Ibanez and I used my Rainsong. That worked out well until the Fishman pre-amp in the Rainsong gave up the ghost. This isn't the first time for that guitar. This is it's forth pre-amp in five years. The atmosphere here in Key West, over 100 miles (160km) out to sea, has a lot of salty, humid air and it's murderous to anything corrosive, particularly electronics. We played one gig without the Rainsong at Rick's and for that, I pulled my 1975 Guild D25M, "Bell", out of retirement.

Grateful Guitar, here in Key West where I bought the guitar in 2012, did a quick and very good job in the repair. Thank you!!! When we got it back, we swapped guitars! I took the Ibanez and Bobby had the Rainsong. The gig at Boondocks was fabulous! John Sausser helped us out on drums. The combination of playing together for two weeks, swapping guitars, plus the large, open venue of Boondocks, not to forget John on drums, brought a lot of magic out! The Grateful Dead's “Eyes of the World” Bobby just tore it up in the solo! Bobby sings Steve Earl's Copperhead Road, and also Fleetwood Mac's Gold Dust Woman, both of which I get to play slide on. We're getting very good reception on both!

Back in 1996, I came up with an acoustic version of Gregg Allman's “Whippin Post”. A guy whom I was playing with at the time said: “You can't play Whippin' Post acoustically!”. I did anyway and he always scoffed. A year later Gregg Allman came out with an acoustic version of the song on his “Searching For Simplicity” album. I looked at my friend and smiled.

I brought the arrangement to The Shanty Hounds a few weeks ago. With Bobby, it's only accented everything and the reactions we've been getting have been truly magic!

Remember I mentioned that we played the Grateful Dead earlier? On Tuesday at our Rick's gig, there was a construction crew across the street using a jackhammer. I pulled out the 'Dead's “Easy Wind” which the first line is “I've been balling a shiny steel jackhammer, been chippin up rocks for the great highway...” The song goes on from there about jackhammering, drinking, a girlfriend who discourages drinking, a doctor who advises to give up jackhammering, and hoping for a new girlfriend who won't “hide my liquor try to serve me tea”.

No, it's not a song that you'd hear first and second graders singing in the Christmas Celebration glee club event at their grammar school. However we had a great jam on the song though, and not long after we started, the jackhammer stopped!

I'm REALLY looking forward to Dani's return next week. It's a double edged sword as Bobby is headed back to Chicago.

In a perfect world, Bobby would stay in Key West and join Dani and I in the Shanty Hounds!

You can catch Bobby and me, “The Shanty Hounds Sausage Fest Tour Of Key West”,  at:

Grunts Bar – August 24th – 8 – 11

Willie T's – August 25th 11 – 2

Two Friends – August 27th 12 – 3

Willie T's – August 28th 6 – 9

Rick's – August 29 Noon - 4


Bar Stories! A bit of adventure, a hint of mystery, some gray matter stimulation, laced with travel, and peppered with humor throughout! Take a unique trip with this Trop Rock musician through bars and the unique, odd, and funny goings on in them! Take a trip from Key West to London to Cape Cod, to Miami and more! So grab a libation and join the author on this wild ride! Seventeen 5-Star Ratings!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Getting By With A Lot Of Help From Our Friends! - The Shanty Hounds record a live album!

Getting By With A LOT of Help From Our Friends!

The Shanty Hounds Record A Live Album!

On July 13th, 2017 The Shanty Hounds descended on their two years “Home Gig” at Grunts and recorded a live album.

This was by no means an easy undertaking, yet so many made everything go smoothly!

This was an idea that Dani Hoy and I had kicked around a bit, however, make no mistake about it, Dani was the one who got the ball rolling. Thank you, Dani Hoy!!!

                                  Picture by Ralph DePalma

Dani started a Kickstarter campaign a few months back and, a week or so before the gig, the goal was reached! While Dani is to be commended for starting the Kickstarter, it was all those who contributed who made this possible. Thank you, Kickstarter contributors!!!! 

                            Photo by Ralph DePalma

Shortly before the Kickstarter was started, we talked to producer Ian Shaw. Ian is a world class producer who moved to Key West around five years ago. He bounces back and forth between Key West and his hometown, London, where he's produced every kind of record you can imagine over the last thirty-something years. I've been working with Ian for a while on my solo album, “Jump Into De FiYa!!!!”, plus, Dani recorded her vocals on her latest release “At The End Of A Long Road”, so going with Ian was a natural. We had to speak with Ian first to get a better idea of what we were looking at monetarily before we started the Kickstarter. Ian gave us an estimate and we were off to the races! Thank you, Ian!

(a minor note regarding Ian's experience: We started a song and were about four bars into it when Ian stops us and says "Dani, your B string is out of tune" Not "Something is out of tune" Or "Dani's guitar is out of tune" No, out of two guitars and a bass playing, along with a set of drums, Ian has picked out the individual string out of the entire cacophony of notes, singing, and bashing, just four bars into it. That's just flat out incredible. Totally amazing! I asked him about it later and he said "Oh, it just comes from doing it for so long, that's all")

                                            Ian Shaw - Picture by Chris Rehm

At Grunts for the last year, Bob Tucker has been joining us. For this recording, we brought drummer John Sausser in. John had played with us in our first year, so it was only fitting that he should be the drummer for the recording. John started playing with us every Thursday at Grunts, so we could get the feel of playing with each other. Again, Dani is the heroine, as she paid John out of her own pocket for these gigs!

                            Bob Tucker - Photo by Steve Craigo

                           John Sausser - Photo by Steve Craigo

Next, in stepped Marc Hollander! Mark is the Vice-President of the Southernmost Coconut Castaways, and he also works for Keyboard Specialties. My bar, The Cork and Stogie, has worked with Mark for years, and the Shanty Hounds also have worked with him as well. Marc kicked in and had these commemorative cups made specifically for the event! Thank you, Marc!

In a most endearing and touching gesture, our friends Susan and Mo Sacirbey actually postponed their trip to the northeast by a week, just so they could be at the recording gig! How cool is that? WOW! Thank You, Susan and Mo!

                                       Susan Sacirbey with CR

Gary Ek, of radio station 104.9 The X radio station here in Key West, offered to broadcast the gig live! After a bit of chatting, we called Danny Lynn of Tiki Man Radio up in Tennessee and he also took the feed! I spoke with Eric Babin of Radio Trop Rock, who was on the road but had a laptop go down the day before, which prevented him from carrying the show. “Aww crap!” Was his first reaction. Thank you, Gary, Thank you Danny, and also Thank You, Eric, as you were there in spirit!

Grunts took us on over two years ago. Grunts is a conch house built in 1890. It was purchased over thirty years ago by the current owner, who turned it into a bar. The owner once told me “I grew up here and I saw all of the local Key West bars dying off. I started this bar with the intent of keeping the local Key West bar tradition.” The owner, whom I will not state his name as he is a private man, has gone head over heels for us. He has done things that other owners or managers would never dream of doing. He knows what I'm talking about and that's all that matters. Thank you SO much Grunts Bar! We love you!!

Natalie Konysheva, is first and foremost, a dear friend. Long after we became friends with her and her husband Alan Pairmount, I noticed that she took phenomenal photographs on Facebook. When I inquired with her about it, she told me that she had been a professional photographer up in New York City, where she also went to school for photography. After that, Natalie took the picture for the cover of my book “Bar Stories” at The Cork and Stogie! Additionally, she and I are working on a book together, “The Absolute Best Bars in the Florida Keys”. Natalie stopped by and took a lot of photographs at the gig for us. Thank you, Natalie!

                                           Natalie and Alan

Then, there was everyone who showed up! Man! The place was busting at the seams! I won't name those who stopped by, only because I will inevitably forget some and, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Some came from as far away as Texas, others sailed in from the Bahamas. One regular couple whom we love dearly was in Iceland, but the husband sent his sister and her husband to the gig, as they were staying at their house here in Key West! Then, there was our local core of friends! These folks are authors, artists, entrepreneurs, teachers, fellow musicians, office workers, retirees, nurses, jewelers, office workers, hotel workers, photographers, art salesmen, the list goes on and on. They show up all over town where we play and support out the wazoo! I think every one of these folks showed up at the recording gig! Just wait until you hear them all singing along on the chorus of “Yippee Cayo Hueso”!!! Truly amazing!!! 

Ralph DePalma, the famous music photographer of musicians, as well as the author of the series of books on Keys musicians, The Soul of Key West,  was kind enough to swing by and take pictures! He posted on Facebook and I borrowed a couple for this blog! Thank you for everything, Ralph!!!

To all of our friends, Thank you!!!

As for the recording, it went very well! Our plan was to use original songs by Dani and myself. There were a couple of exceptions. we'll see what happens after we listen to what we have.

There were so many highs to last evening, it's impossible to pinpoint one that stood out above the others. Our great friend Steve Craigo, an individual who goes about Key West every day in search of hearing great music, told me today “I think last night was the best music I've heard since I moved here.” Wow. I'm floored.

Like I said:

We Get By With A LOT Of Help From Our Friends!!!

I will keep you all posted on both progress and the release.

Also, we will be having a contest for naming the album!

Again, I can't say it enough.... Thank you very much!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Panama Hat and one of the Greatest Retail Stores before Corporate Destroyed It.

The Panama Hat. I've worn Panama Hats for over thirty years. Here's a fun background of mine on how I was introduced to them. I hope you might enjoy!

Today, when one thinks of Banana Republic, one has an image of a sterile, boring, store, which fits into the cookie-cutter format that all clothing stores seem to fit into. They are all about as exciting as soggy cardboard.

Banana Republic wasn't always that way, however. Back in 1979, two journalists, Mel and Patricia Ziegler, a married couple, left their jobs and started Banana Republic . The etymology of the term Banana Republic goes back to O Henry's use of it in his book "The Admiral". Loosely defined, Banana Republic is defined as a third-world country, most likely in Latin America, although for the store, it could be any worldwide ports of call, or exotic, less refined destination. For what they were doing, it was the perfect fit. They promoted a lifestyle of adventure, exploration, and even literature. 

Banana Republic was a very, very different sort of company back then. Their approach was way off the beaten path of conventional clothing stores. To begin with, their title was “Banana Republic Travel and Safari Clothing inc.” They had their own, very unique nitch, carrying products that no one else did. Where else could you find a bush vest, for instance? Or a ventilated shirt? A Bahia Dress? A Ladies Jumpsuit? Plus, they also had quite an original way of presenting their products.

Their stores were likewise. They had a WWII era Jeep mounted on a rock base, coming through the front window! Real palm trees were throughout the store. A vintage bi-plane would be hanging from the ceiling, as well. Kind of saying “We're a lot different than the norm!” And they indeed were! Here was a clothing store which also had a bookstore, focused in the direction of travel and safari. Who would think of going shopping for clothes and leaving with a Zane Gray book? This store was not for the ignorant.

Let's look at their catalog, for an example. All the other stores would have large 8x10 glossy catalogs, lined with models wearing their products. That wasn't Banana Republic's style, however. Banana Republics' catalog was a 4” X 6” catalog on a course paper. There were no models, but rather artistic images of both the product, as well as drawings of people wearing their product.

Additionally, there were stories in each catalog, written by authors, which depicted the travel and safari lifestyle. Some were dramatic, yet others humorous. Interviews as well. 

Their catalog, stem-to-stern, was the thing that dreams were made of. Within the context of that catalog, a combination of the essay based stories on travel exploration and safaris, interview,s and in the end, the products, all combined to be the essence of what dreams were made of. It was 360 degrees. They painted the picture of the lifestyle and made it very easily attainable for their clientele to put themselves squarely into that fantasy/reality. Banana Republic made those dreams come true.

Certainly not the approach taken by the big conglomerates. As a matter of fact, this approach was the antithesis of everything corporate.

They had grown to a couple of stores in California when they received an offer from the parent firm of The Gap, to buy them out. The owners would still be in control of the stores, but corporate overseers had the ability to offer expansion. It was a great offer at the time. Before long, the stores with Jeeps barreling over rocks in the front of the stores were coast-to-coast.

Living on the east coast, this was how I became familiar with them. One of the first things I bought from them was a Panama Hat. I've had Panama Hats ever since. When I first saw it available, I had to have one. It was me.

Not only did I get a Panama Hat, but I also got the fascinating history behind them, from Banana Republic!

The Panama Pat, to start with, is actually not from Panama at all. Panama hats are actually from Ecuador! The type of straw they are made from is called Toquilla (say: toh KEY ya) and is unique to Ecuador.

The story goes, back when Americans were building the Panama Canal, they were issued the hats as protection from the sun. The workers immediately realized that the hats were quite stylish and set them to San Francisco in order to make some additional money. They were a big success! The stores in San Francisco, having received the hats from Panama, called them Panama Hats and the name stuck!

Banana Republic continued and stayed true to form until 1988 when the Stock Market nose dived. The parent company decided on boring, corporate bullshit approach that everyone else was doing. Gone were the Jeeps driving through the windows, travel and safari clothing, the incredible catalog, as well as the founders, Mel and Patricia Ziegler. Before that, they had excitement, pizzazz, and a totally assume “WOW!” factor, rivaled by no one. Regretfully today, Banana Republic can't hold a candle to its own roots. Itcan best be described now as a “Sleeping Pill”.

I miss the old Banana Republic. Not only did they sell me an absolutely beautiful hat, they also took the time to tell me what I was buying. They painted a picture via the story behind it. In their catalog, they taught me about the hat and it's history. They also explained the style of Panama Hat that I purchased. The Panama Hat that I bought from them is what's known as a “Fino”, or, The Finest. I see people today buying Panama Hats which are lesser variations. They'll lack the flowing grace of the Fino. The lesser hats will have imperfections in the weave, often leaving bumps where they don't belong or a brim that just doesn't flow. The contour of the vertical portions of the hat, combined with the graceful flow of the brim makes a perfect Fino.

A Fino today runs around $100, give or take $15. The first couple I bought from Banana Republic, however, after the corporate bullshit hit the fan, they didn't carry them anymore. I've gone elsewhere since. You can find them easily online. My current one, which is due for replacement, I purchased from a haberdashery here in Key West, about three years ago. I've been wearing Panama Hats for thirty-two years.

                                                                A Perfect Fino

With the Fino Panama Hat, don't turn the brim up vertically on the sides at all. The Fino will have a natural wave to it. It's possible you may want to accentuate that wave, but be certain it remains subtle, easy flowing wave. The front of the brim should be slightly bent down. The Fino is style and grace. Think of it's flow to be akin of that of a Bentley, or a Ferrari.


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