Danny Smith and Genie McDonald knew their caffeine-starved customers would come calling, hurricane or no hurricane. Nothing, not even a furious storm with the same name as a character from "The Flintstones," is supposed to disrupt the pace of life for the eclectic inhabitants of this island at the nation's southern tip.
So it was that by 7 a.m. Monday, Smith and McDonald were behind the counter of Joffrey's, their bakery cafe just off Duval Street, serving coffee and croissants, even as Wilma's winds continued to howl and the rain made sporadic, half-hearted curtain calls.
"They expect me to be open," McDonald said. "They need their coffee. They can't even talk without their coffee."
And yet the small cafe seemed a rare pocket of resilience in the initial aftermath of Wilma, which flooded parts of the city, knocked out power and cut off U.S. 1, the only land route between the island city and the mainland.
It was as if the celebrated spirit of this town had, for a day at least, met its match in Wilma, which struck with stronger winds than had been forecast and left even some old-timers shaken.
"It scared me to death," recalled Julia Lang, 69, a retired courthouse worker who was awakened by the sounds of wind shearing off strips of tin roof on the abandoned house next door.
By the time it was over, Lang and her house were fine, but many others in her Bahama Village neighborhood were not, having flooded during the pre-dawn downpours. Never one to be frightened by a hurricane, Lang said Wilma had changed that. "I'm not going to stay here for another one," she said.
Along debris-strewn Duval Street, the worst flooding was at both ends of the busy strip, close to the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast and Florida Bay to the northwest.
Even as locals wandered along, taking stock of the damage, many of the city's shops and restaurants along the strip remained shuttered into the early afternoon, with only a couple of bars and liquor stores joining Joffrey's in opening up.
Even more significantly for the city, stretches of U.S. 1 were still underwater Monday afternoon, officials said. Being cut off from the rest of the nation is never welcome news and came at especially bad time for Key West.
Fantasy Fest, the city's answer to Mardi Gras, was planned for last week, but after Wilma took aim at Florida, the event was shortened and pushed back to this week, only to have Wilma drag her heels and arrive barely a day ahead of the new date.
Key West officials estimate that the city has lost at least $5 million a day in visitor spending and will recoup only a small fraction of that from a truncated event, whenever it finally happens.
Rick Smalley, a mechanic who moved to Key West nine months ago, said the festival had been done in by the initial forecasts, which cleared the city of tourists days before the storm actually hit. "This town really needed Fantasy Fest," he said "I have friends whose businesses are really suffering, and they needed this."
Fantasy Fest was about the last thing on the mind of Deborah Evans in the hours after the storm. A 50-year-old retired nurse who lives in a city housing development in Bahama Village, she came home early Monday to a flooded first-floor apartment. Water marks, some as high as two feet off the ground, lined the cinderblock walls of Evans's building.
Cars, her neighbors said, were up to their windows in water. Trash cans floated away.
Inside her one-bedroom apartment, each step was a squishy reminder of the mess Wilma had created. Books that had been left on the floor sat soaking in a puddle. "I don't know what to do," Evans said.
A lifelong resident of Key West, she had gone to a relative's not because she feared flooding where she lives but because she wanted access to a generator.
"We never get flooding here," she said. Well, almost never.