Final Score: Coconut Telegraph 1 – Grinch 0
Coconut telegraph” is a 1981 Jimmy Buffet album which contained a lead single by the same name. It’s also a term commonly used by locals here in the Keys to describe the “word of mouth” network that spreads news – good and bad – almost instantly. This is such a small, tight-knit community that it’s hard to move here, leave here, and/or do anything significantly good or bad here without everyone knowing about it almost before you do it. Makes you realize what a tiny dot on the face of the world we are! Something happened to me just before Christmas that reminded me of that. I can only relate the basic facts without much detail, in part because I, myself, don’t know all the facts first-hand. Mostly though, it’s because I believe that there are criminal charges pending arising out of the incident. (No, not against me!) I don’t want to influence that or prejudice the judicial process. But, here’s what I believe I can tell you.
I was sitting in one of the chairs on the dock next to my boat, updating the “Contacts” list on my cell phone to reflect the correct addresses for some friends who had sent me Christmas cards. While doing that with my cell phone in hand, another friend sent me a text which needed a response that would have to include an attachment. I had to e-mail that from my computer, which was on the boat, so I got up and stepped inside to do that. I thought that I left the cell phone on the arm of the chair, inside a clearly roped-off area. After sending the e-mail, which probably took 5 to 10 minutes, I went back to that chair, only to notice that the phone wasn’t there. Being the advanced age of 65 and somewhat absent-minded, my first thought was that I must have taken the phone inside with me. I checked my pockets. That’s where I usually keep it. Not there! Then, as I recall, I looked inside, but it was nowhere to be found. I returned to the cockpit and heard a voice from the dock area behind my boat calling me. There were 3 people on the bench there – 2 men and a woman – and one of the men asked me if I was Captain Gene. They were my charter for two days later and had come down to “check in.” They must have arrived after I had gone inside to send the e-mail. I responded that I was their man and that I’d be with them shortly, as I was looking for a cell phone. The man then said that they had just seen someone, with a very unique physical appearance which they described, pick up a cell phone around the area of my boat (I won’t say exactly from where for the the reasons stated at the outset) and go around the corner about a minute or so before. I immediately took off in the direction they indicated to try to find that person. I looked for about ten minutes and never saw anyone resembling their description, nor did anyone else I asked in the area during my search. It’s a bustling area - The Harbor Walk - normally crowded with people busy getting on and off cruise and snorkel boats and it has many exit routes. So, I figured it best to call the police to file a report, for insurance purposes if no other, assuming that I’d never see the phone again. However, during my search, I told several people whom I knew to keep an eye out for a person of a very specific description and to notify me or the police if they saw that person.
You can imagine my consternation. This was right before Christmas and that period, up until the weekend after New Year’s Day, is one of the busiest of the year, with trips pretty much every day. Here I am without my cell phone to take calls from customers. Worse yet, the phone was a loaner. My own phone had died while still under warranty, and the new one was on the way. So I’m thinking that I’m going to have to pay them for losing the loaner when the new phone arrives. Merry Christmas! The Grinch wins!
The police arrived relatively quickly. While I waited, I told anyone that I saw and knew to keep a lookout for the person described to me. Two of our dockmasters remembered seeing someone with those characteristics in the area earlier and one of them even took it upon himself to go look for the individual after hearing my story. When the police arrived, I told them what I knew for their report and then got on my bike to scour the area again. During that ride, I alerted several other people of my search, asking them to also keep a lookout for the individual as well. My 8½ years here had taught me that was the way the coconut telegraph worked.
My ride of about a half hour didn’t yield any immediate results. However, shortly after returning to the boat, one of the friends I had alerted came by and said that he had seen an individual outside Jack Flats, a great sports bar on Duval Street, matching the description I had given. I immediately jumped on my bike and rode there. About three blocks away from that area, I saw the flashing blue lights of the KWPD. When I arrived, there were two squad cars with police officers on the scene. An individual was sitting on the curb on the southbound side of Duval surrounded by the officers. He fit the unique description perfectly! Two of the officers on the scene were the ones who had taken the report and, upon seeing me, one of the officers produced a cell phone which I was immediately able to identify as mine. This whole scenario probably took less than two hours from the time I realized that my cell phone was missing to the time I had it back in my hand once again. The “Grinch” wasn’t going to ruin my Christmas week after all!
A lot the information I have about the incident is obviously not first-hand knowledge. For instance, though I’m sure in my mind where I left the phone, I didn’t personally see where it was when someone may have picked it up and how it left the area of my boat. I also did not see with my own eyes how the individual the police detained that day got my cellphone and I obviously don’t know his intentions at the time, other than from statements he made to me in front of the officers. Also, because of lack of personal knowledge and for the reasons I mentioned above, I won’t tell you how the police found the individual so quickly. Let’s just say that I have it on very good information that the coconut telegraph played a real big role. And you wonder why I love this paradise that is Key West so much!
So, if you’re new to the area, remember and be forewarned: Big Brother may not be watching you, but the “coconut telegraph” may be reporting your every move! As one of the choruses from the song says:
But you can hear it on the coconut telegraph (telegraph)
By now everybody knows
You can hear it on the coconut telegraph (telegraph)
Just who comes and goes
Comes and goes, comes and goes.
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