A young black man, just off a refugee boat from Cuba, dropped facedown and planted a delicate kiss on the cement dock.

U.S. Customs men and bystanders didn't look twice at this very personal act. So commonplace is such a motion that the news reporters either missed it or didn't put it in their notebooks.

Hundreds of Cuban refugees have landed at Key West during the past week in a tableau as emotional as anything a fiction writer could conjure.

To see reunited families dissolve in tears, to see young children and bent octogenarians traveling here alone, to see hungry men scramble for food tossed into their arriving boats is to be touched by emotion.

But in fact most of Key West is not seeing those scenes or paying much attention to them. This southernmost city in the continental United States wears its laid-back insouciance like a badge.

The tour guides at Ernest Hemingway's great old home, not far from the refugee holding center, like to say that Hemingway loved Key West because no one stared at him on the street.

Hemingway died in 1961 but his observaton still seems valid. No one stares at anyone. The live-and-let-live spirit runs so deep that Key West has become a haven where artists, writers, sailors, tourists, merchants and gays mingle easily.

The idea that what you are is less important than who you are may explain why the flood of Cuban refugees into town has caused hardly a ripple here.

There is a little talk about the Cubans in the bars and restaurants. Bikini-clad sunbathers see the heavily laden boats coming in from Cuba and don't even wave a welcome. A miniature train takes tourists through the old naval base where the boats land, and the guide lectures about ancient history.

The real response to the refugees has come from Key West's sizeable and historic Cuban-American community, which has reacted in a way that would make any city proud. Many of the grandfathers of these people were involving in launching, from Key West in the late 1800s, the Cuban movement for independence from Spain.

Volunteers have gathered clothing, worked around the clock to prepare food, arrange transportation, provide information and medical services to the confused new arrivals.

"The important thing is to see that these people don't get hurt," said Arthur Espinola, a retired schoolteacher who directs the refugee assistance program.

Espinola traces his roots back to the Spanish settlers at St. Augustine and spouts interminable detail about the Spanish role in U.S. history. "We contributed quite a bit to the American revolution," he said.

The spirit persists and is felt vividly as the Fourth of July restaurant, a working-class Latin watering hole. Cubans from Miami make a beeline there to gather intelligence about the boatlift and make deals with boat owners to carry them to Cuba to pick up relatives.

Finding the right boat at the right price is the big problem for most, although not insoluble. One frustrated man who didn't want his name used confided that he was simply going to steal a boat from the docks and go to Cuba.

The boat situation was one thing, but the worst of it last week at the Fourth of July was the day they ran out of the special crunchy bread used to make Cuban sandwiches. Grumbling was widespread.

Key West is so blase and the Cubans so anti-Castro that one wonders why Havana and Moscow bother to fill the radio airwaves in south Florida with their English and Spanish language broadcasts.

With Cuban shores only 90 miles from here, Cuban radio programs fill the AM band. The newest sound is the North American service of Radio Moscow, which has a powerful signal apparently based in Cuba.

Cuban news and political reports beamed this way are accompanied by martial music and catchy folk tunes. The Voice of America sends a strong AM signal back toward Cuba with a disco music backup.