Monday, September 6, 2021

Move To Key West

Over the years people have turned to me to ask my opinion on moving to key West and I am leery about offering advice, mostly because it is ignored and sometimes misinterpreted but at this late stage I suppose I can offer my thoughts especially by way of thanks to people who think I know more than I do.
The first question I have is why would you want to move to the Keys?  Layne and I washed up here looking for a place to earn some money to continue sailing and I had friends here from previous visits and thus it all fell into place. If you want to move to the Keys you have to know why. It's  a long way from nowhere and and as much as people promise to visit you shouldn't count on it. The Cuban embargo effectively makes Key West a dead end and you will have to learn to live separated from your former life. This isn't a  frontier town in the traditional sense with a nearby  open door to new cultures. It's a cul-de-sac for most residents.
The fundamentals of living in the Keys are the same as anywhere else. Except consider this: you have to drive north of Atlanta some 800 miles from Key West to see a mountain. I love the varied landscapes of the Florida peninsula but the terrain is seen as monotonous by most people. The other point to consider is Miami is a shithole. I used to hear other people characterize it thus and felt rather put out. My wife and I speak Spanish and we enjoy different cultures but Miami is a cross roads of incivility, indifference and cruelty. Of course there are people and pockets that buck the trend but it takes years to find the places you can enjoy and its a tough journey to find what you like in that city. Miami does not add  nearly as much as you'd like to think it would to the experience of living in the Keys and it's a shame. That's my very personal subjective view of a city I wanted to love and that has spurned me. Like everything else I write you may have a very different experience and I hope you do.

You need to make a plan and part of that plan is understanding the limitations. At work you have to dump your ambition and your expectation. The best career positions are taken and you need to understand you are optional in the cog of career  choices in the Keys. The best paid jobs are for permanent residents, people with connections and roots and you will be tolerated as long as you threaten no one. Innovation, over work and pushiness are fatal to your prospects. It may not be immediately apparent but you will be sidelined. If you live to work stay away. The best career move you can make in the Keys is to be reliable, show up and do things as you are taught how to do them. Become an old timer yourself...
Quit yer bitchin'. I promise you no one cares how you did it Up North. If you move to Old Town and think you have a divine right to park you can easily start a neighborhood war and remember you don't know who your new enemy knows. Connections are everything. Make friends not enemies. If you aren't used to living without offsets you'd better practice. Your neighbors live in your butt crack so enjoy. No one cares how many millions you paid for your shack. You suffer the same shortcomings everyone else does on your street not least because they paid more. Your reputation will be set in stone by the end of your first week and it will take years to overcome whatever negative characteristics have been attached to your character by silent, unseen observers.
Make friends and keep them close. Connections in the Keys are everything. We got our rental home thanks to a friend who lived two doors down and acted as our character witness and we got to check out the available home before it came on the market. My wife took it instantly and had the cash to pay first last and deposit in cash. Layne is a planner. Do not come to the Keys impoverished unless you are young and happy to sleep rough and couch surf and all those improvisations of our long lost childhood. If you want to live on a  boat know the best anchorage for liveaboard is in Marathon and key West harbor sucks. Look at a  chart: its exposed in all directions, the bottom is thin sand over rock and as i said above all the bets spots are already taken. When Layne and I arrived from San Francisco I had a friend with a mooring ready to help me settle in. Make a plan, execute the plan and show up on time. I'm not telling you things I don't do and haven't done myself. If you come and hope for the best you will need lots of money but if you have lots of money you know that already.
Island Time. Oh how I hate that phrase, applied to so many ideas of how to live and used as a blanket to cover up endless miles of sins and omissions.  For you Island Time means moving slowly mon, ignoring the clock and shrugging when your appointment shows up late, if at all. That sort of island time is deployed by the idle rich as a measure of how cool they are now they live in name brand sandals on a  tropical island. No worries mon, I can live without air conditioning/running water/ a functional car for a few more days. That's island time for the sidewalk philosophers who have to justify an inability to function. This is all bullshit. I have been late to work twice in 17 years if I remember correctly and I have commuted 25 miles on the ever clogged US 1. Island time in my book means live your own life on your terms and pull out of the way if you are clogging up someone else's life. Island time means don't be a snitch. Because I choose to live differently than you isn't cause for you to interfere. Offer a hand but don't get butt hurt if you are rejected.
Richard has lived on the streets of Key West  for 46  years. I asked him once if he gets bored and he looked startled - in Key West? he said incredulously. I made the faux pas of offering money in my ridiculously suburbanite way -money cures all ills- but he looked at me again as though I were stupid. I've found street people like to pet Rusty, the non judgmental, silent soft ball of furry warmth. It's the human touch not easily found on the streets. And it comes from a  dog. Remember the true value and meaning of Island Time. If you can stand an atheist quoting the Bible at you Island Time means Judge not lest ye be judged, for with what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged. Try and figure the difference between a criminal, a lunatic and a non conformist before you feel called upon to act.
In a way I feel like Covid has brought the rest of the country down to the level of service the Keys have been enjoying for years. The problem is you can't get a job that justifies spending the money required to buy a house. Professionals can manage but even so the work to pay ratio remains out of proportion and the only true compensation is joy in living here. For people not planning to be doctors accountants vets and managers the cost of living requires you work all the time so you don't get to enjoy the living in the Keys side of things. So you leave. Thus under staffing is a permanent issue. There is no shopping in the Keys compared to the mainland. If you don't like ordering stuff you are going to be living truly minimally. On busy weekends and during the winter my internet service routinely pixilates my Netflix on my television as the bandwidth is insufficient for the influx of people. See above: quit yer bitchin'. Layne and I developed a saying 20 years ago after cruising Central America on our boat. The Keys: First World Prices with Third World Service and none of the charm.
You know what the good bits are but be warned the difficulties are real and friends have a habit of leaving town and scattering so the people you'd like to grow old around may be in California, North Carolina, Maine, Ocala or Tennessee or any number of other interesting places. So you may find yourself negotiating the difficult times alone. Friendships are also hard to make in a town where people scatter all the time. No one wants to invest in you if you have one foot out the door. I feel it myself now that I am on the down escalator, life carries on and you are history. Know that you will be lonely for a long while and you will need to prove yourself. Don't be pushy but think of Keys residents as wild deer, let them approach and get to know you slowly. Make yourself available but don't beg. Its a tight rope, I'm telling you.
Come on down, the water's lovely, but tamp down your expectations, be cool and don't put a Conch Republic sticker on your car to show off your new status. And please, do me a favor and start taking pictures and walking a round Key West to remind me of what I left behind. Try to make me regret my choice. Thank you.