Duval Street in Key West, Florida runs north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic and in that famous stretch of a bit over one mile road you will find Victorian mansions, plenty of bars, restaurants, touristy gift shops, art galleries, drag Queen shows, and lots of cigar shops. You name it and it just might be there. And interesting characters? They abound.
Everyone has their own thing that makes them unique – their schtick if you will – and they are entitled to do it to their hearts content but Mr. Chapman really put the joy into the season with his. I had no idea who he was the first night I heard him coming. He was riding down Duval while blasting Santa Claus is Coming to Town on his tricked out tricycle. I quickly turned around and fired off a couple of shots of the charming man with the killer handlebar mustache.
I was poking around in one of those ubiquitous gift shops the next night when I heard the music again. “There’s that guy again!” I said. The clerk smiled and told me “Oh that’s Mr. Chapman, he does that all the time.” All the time? Really now. And here I thought it was just someone doing it for the holidays. Out the door I dashed managing to get another shot of him as he rolled by; lights flashing playing another Christmas tune. Turns out he has quite the musical repertoire for all seasons.
James Matthew Chapman was born and raised on Key West and has a lane named after his family. He even hung out with Hemingway back in the day. Here is an interview with him from 2010 that was done by a local online paper. I really wish I had gotten a chance to interact with him more than just exchanging smiles as I stood out in the street to take his picture. I would’ve told him how cool I thought he was. Unless you are a Grinch, you can’t help but smile when Mr. Chapman rides by. I don’t know if he is out there every night or just occasionally but I feel fortunate to have experienced him.
Each and every “character” out there has some kind of a story be it good or bad; happy or sad. What I took away from my brief encounter with Mr. Chapman was this – sometimes doing what makes you happy will in turn make others happy. Isn’t that part of what life should be about? He definitely gave this visitor a happy memory.
Joy to the world.