Listen, we’ve lived here 120 miles off the tip of America’s wang for two entire months now, so basically I’m now an expert at everything Key West*.
It’s true that one of my favorite parts of moving somewhere so completely different from the places you know is that everything is new, and there are a million things to learn. I absolutely feel like I learn something new and interesting every day.
I know a lot more about fish now, and the entire fishing industry I basically knew nothing about. I know a lot more about boats now, including what it takes to live on them, and what your options are for keeping them near land. However, I don’t know anywhere near as much as I need to know about the ocean, like the many diverse ways it can kill you, what all the markers mean, and how to know how near that storm actually is. We’re still nervous about kayaking in anything but the most perfect conditions.
I’ve learned nerdy stuff about the infrastructure here, such as that the one big pipe that brings us water from the mainland springs leaks way more often than makes me comfortable, and that the organization in charge of it is constantly being accused of less than honest management. I know that the majority of our electric poles are concrete for wind-related reasons, which I appreciate.
I’ve also learned that we all have metal roofs not just because it’s “Key West style”, but because they’re infinitely more wind-resistant and having them will result in much lower insurance bills. That’s critical in a place where sometimes the cost of government-mandated insurance can sometimes exceed your mortgage. The section of Old Town we live in is the most sought-after (and therefore most stupidly expensive when you check properties on Zillow) because it’s just barely far enough above sea level to not require that insurance. 12 feet! We live at 12 feet above sea level. Eek.
Though it’s a long-running joke everywhere, I swear that Florida drivers are abjectly terrifying and that driving the interstates in Miami is taking your life in your hands. They will go anywhere between 20 miles under and 30 miles over the speed limit, usually in the totally wrong lane to do so. And everyone has tinted windows, so you don’t know who to hate. (It doesn’t help that I’ve gotten out of driving practice really quickly. I probably fit in on the highway.)
Everywhere you visit along the east coast of Florida, you’ll find a monument to Henry Flagler. We have at least three of them here, plus a street named after him. I didn’t even know much about him beyond the name til we started visiting here. Basically, he was Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil, had more money than anyone even knew how to count, and decided he really liked going to Florida. When he started visiting, though, nothing really existed on the east coast, from St Augustine on down. So he built a railroad, and the towns around the railroad. He conjured Miami from a gigantic swamp full of alligators and malarial mosquitoes. Then he had the crazy idea of continuing the rail line down to Key West, which was basically the stupidest idea anybody had ever thought of. But because this guy had all the money and was stubborn as hell, we can drive to this island today. Thanks, Henry Flagler. You’re alright.
Sunset is A Thing in Key West. Every night, you can go down to Mallory Square (by ‘go’, I mean walk or ride you bike. Don’t drive in Old Town unless you hate yourself) and watch sunset with a crowd of people. There are buskers, some of whom are really entertaining (see: Key West Mustafa and the fire-juggling guy). There are booths set up with various tacky souvenirs, plus tacos, conch fritters, and a guy from Guyana who will hack open a coconut with a machete for you so fast you can’t believe it. That’s also where most of the cruise ships dock (we have three docks), but they’re obligated to get the hell out of town well in advance of sunset, or otherwise they have to pay a substantial fee to let their passengers hang out and watch while everyone else complains about them blocking the view.
If you’re smart, you’ll do a sunset cruise as often as possible. We have multiple schooners here whose only purpose is to sail out into the ocean and make you happy. (There are catamarans too, but the schooners are way more awesome.)
Another critical part of living here is the locals’ discount. Everything is expensive here, for reasons of being a tourist town and also being hard to get products to. But from what we’ve found, even the most touristy of shops of Duval Street offer a locals discount that makes everything normal prices. Also, don’t tell anyone I told you, but they hardly ever ask for ID.
Living in a much, much smaller town than I’m used to (there are 25,000 people here) hasn’t actually been as big a challenge as we expected. We have not one but two Publixes, a mile from each other, and it’s a pretty excellent grocery store who treats its employees well. (We also have a Winn-Dixie we’ve sworn off forever, though I keep telling Matt I’m going to sneak in there someday just to see it.) We have no Target – the closest thing is a crappy K-Mart. There’s not much we need that can’t be had at either Publix or Walgreens (or Amazon), though. There’s a Home Depot, which is a surprisingly large store for this island. When we go up to Miami to shop, our main store-goal is Costco.
We do lack a really good Mexican restaurant, and anything African. That’s another reason to go to Miami. (We have tons of Cuban, obviously, but it’s not exactly the most vegetarian-friendly cuisine.) We have a shocking number of places that have very good vegetarian food, and we have lots of great beer bars. That’s something we’re not missing at all from Minneapolis.
Speaking of Cuban: yes, having multiple Cuban coffee places within blocks of us is life-changing.
We subscribe to the newspaper here, because it’s so goddamn charming to read a small-town newspaper most days. There are interesting problems here, primarily because no matter where you are, rich people tend to hate (or at least misunderstand) poor people, and tourists make everyone not in the tourist industry angry. There’s a lot of talk about Fantasy Fest destroying the culture, cruise ships turning the place into Disney World, and buses from the mainland ruining the hotel industry. Thing is, most of the stuff the oldtimey Conchs all hate is all related to everything being so expensive. Maybe if the rents weren’t so insane, Fast Buck’s would still be on Duval Street instead of CVS. Hotels wouldn’t be importing staff from eastern Europe because they can’t pay locals enough for them to afford to live here. It’s something to think about.
We apparently have the largest bocce league in the country (there are leagues every night at the outdoor courts down the street at Higgs Beach), and it’s highly competitive. They publish updates and standings in the paper. The season just ended, so Matt and I are going to have to do some practicing if we want to join a team next season. Hopefully one that plays on one of the less-challenging nights. (There’s no bowling alley here, but bocce is way more awesome in a place where you want to be outdoors all the time.)
I’ve learned that you adjust to temperature really quickly, and that 75 degrees can make you consider putting on a hoodie. I’ve yet to wear actual shoes with laces since we’ve moved – I think the reason I like biking so much is that it’s one of the few exercises you can do wearing flipflops.
Outside is a much bigger part of your life here, even when you work from home. I can work on the patio now. Sometimes a mosquito bites me. It’s still great. Just biking and walking everywhere means you’re outside a lot. I love it.
Also, this is the last day of November, which means that I’ve managed to blog EVERY SINGLE DAY for a month. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it that much. Every week? Sure, that’s a good goal. I like having the documentation later. But daily – it’s not that enjoyable. Anyway, I did it. Go me.
*That’s a huge lie. I do have a lot of excellent advice on attractions, restaurants and bars for you when you visit.