Let’s face it. Most people ought not be wearing tattoos. No one over 40 ought sport one at all because by 45, the eagle spreads to a vulture and the cute kitties to a saggy, baggy elephant.
Back when I was young, stupid and thought I could make fun of being old, I shared a snark with a co-worker about nursing homes of the future being filled with aging boomers and Xers with nose rings hanging down over dentures and tattoos spreading across, well, across.
I’m not one for piercings and tattoos as my preferred First Amendment expression, but what the heck, if you want one or a dozen, help yourself.
All that to say: Was Key West serious when it argued — very unsuccessfully — that the city didn’t need a third tattoo parlor in Old Town and that a Jimmy Buffett song proved its point?
Back in 1966, the U.S. Navy, which is an economic engine and power broker on this two-mile by four-mile island, convinced the city to ban tattoo parlors to prevent sailors from spending their furlough money unwisely. No tattoo parlors dared ink an arm until 2007, when two shop owners sued the city and won.
But, just two, said the city and refused thereafter to allow more in precious Old Town. (There’s plenty to choose from if you go a few blocks outside the historic district. I’m willing to bet no one determined to ink up has trouble finding a vendor.)
Back to Key West and its Old Town tattoo parlors. Along comes Brad Buehrle in 2011. This Virginia tattoo artist sued the city, claiming his First Amendment rights were being abridged by the city’s refusal to grant him a business license to open a tattoo parlor in Old Town.
The courts long ago decided that artistic expression, tattoos included, is covered under the First Amendment and governments can’t make laws outlawing them. Cities can, however, with appropriate documentation, have all manner of rules and regulations governing who can sell what where, what kinds of signs can be hung or what businesses are allowed to compete, all in the name of preserving the things that make a place a place.
In order to keep out an Old Town tattoo parlor, Key West had to prove that a third one would be an overwhelming detriment to the city.
And the city went off the rails.
Eschewing proof that a third tattoo parlor would harm the Old Town culture, the economy or the neighborhoods, Key West turned mother-of-all-mothers for tourists. Why, sighed the city, these tourists will come here, get a tattoo (apparently in some paradisiac euphoria), regret said tattoo and post vile things about Key West on the interwebbies.
Here’s where Key West icon Jimmy Buffett comes in. The city quotes Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” specifically “Don’t know the reason I stayed here all season, with nothing to show but this brand new tattoo … how it got here I haven’t a clue.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that Key West could not refuse Burhrle a business license. Though he appears to have had to beggar himself to fight the city, Burhrle’s happy,
Frankly, I wish the city would figure out how to ban tattoo parlors, oversize entertainment vehicles that cater to tourists, T-shirt shops hawking words and phrases that embarrass pretty much everyone, landlords who don’t paint their properties, tourists who walk out in front of cars, tenants and homeowners who fail to bring in the trash and recycling bins, chickens that don’t use birth control and iguanas.
But no more Buffett songs, OK?
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a digital management company. She loves the beat and you can dance to it. She has never been inside the Key West Margaritaville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.