Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
May 28, 2011
I think I just had a glimpse of my new backup plan.
There it was, right next to the shimmering Gulf of Mexico, in front of a gorgeous sunset at Mallory Square in Key West. And it was juggling for tips.
Specifically, I was watching street performer and Key West native Reid Fierheller-Conklin, who, at age 19, has already been a fixture at Mallory Square's legendary sunset celebrations for six years.
Can you actually make a living at this?
"I can make a living at it," my new juggling friend tells me after collecting a bucket of bills from the sizable crowd that gathered to watch him toss his fiery torches. "Not everyone can, but I can."
If you look at the peppy, chamber-of-commerce-issued picture on this page, it might contribute to a bit of a misconception about street performers. While there are acts on the square that go for the flashy costumes, there are just as many in cut-offs and sneakers, which pretty much covered Reid's wardrobe.
Also, the gleeful expressions on the official photo belie the truth that this is hard work.
I know this because for a short time in the infamous blue period of my early 20s, I worked as part of a juggling act at the now-defunct Church Street Station. I wore a fedora, tuxedo jacket, jeans and colorful rented bowling shoes and I specialized in juggling unusual objects.
There was a tribute to my favorite sports (golf ball, bowling ball and tennis racket) and my salute to the Soviet Union (hammer, sickle, hand grenade). How'd it work out? Well, I paid my bills in pocket change and still bear a quarter-inch-long sickle-related scar above the bone where my right thumb joins the back of my hand.
So I could relate as my new juggling friend explained how he used to do a bigger show, where he stood atop a straight ladder (the kind with only two legs) to fling the fiery torches. One day, he leaned too far forward and the ladder hit the deck. He tore ligaments in both knees and was taken away in an ambulance.
A big finish.
Mallory Square performers sign a waiver, so bills come out of the tip jar.
Hmm. Maybe it's time for another backup plan.
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