The Key West Mystique

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Cat 5 in this together

The world’s a mess, but, folks, we live in Key West | Predictions for 2020-21

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Exhausted are we? How could we be anything other than double-dog tired to the bone? Between Covid-19 and the four-year-long presidential campaign slog, we’re not forgetting 2020.  I could — but won’t — recite my litany of all that’s gone wildly wrong. You’ve got your own, I’m sure.

The world’s a mess; it’s going to be a mess for a long time for a lot of reasons and there’s diddly I can do about most of it. Just as I wind up my whining to a shrill pitch, I hear my mother’s retort: “You live in Key West.”

There is that. So what will life be like in Key West as we round out 2020 and head into 2021?

Let’s get two predictions out of the way first because there’s nothing we can do about them:

Someone will win the presidential election. Eventually. That’ll be the first step (not the last as so many might hope) to setting us on the path to our better selves. Could take a couple days or six months; heaven forbid years. Could be boringly and bureaucratically bloodless or could be neighbor-to-neighbor civil war, although human nature is more inclined to the latter. Either way, it’s going to happen so we ought cease the frantic scrolling and meme posting on social media, hunting for validation of our belief sets.

A vaccine and successful treatment for Covid-19 arrive. Eventually. That will call a cease fire to the guerilla hostilities between the defiant on both sides of the mask-wash-distance battle field. We’ll use that reclaimed time to figure out how to craft the island economy. Until then, I’m a mask-wash-distance girl who adds an N95 when I have to spend time among the deniers and rule flouting.

Here are the predictions we can do something about:

The snowbirds and our seasonal visitors return. Key West and the Keys are going to be the winter destination for Americans. Our weather is glorious, our waters better than in years and we feel, well, like a safe place to be — the lower Duval craziness notwithstanding. The airport is back to 95 percent of this time last year, making it the fastest recovering airport in the country. I’m seeing vacation rental and second homes being spruced up and readied for the season. With them will come a boon to local pay checks and a lifting of some of the economic pain of the past eight months. I’m happy to see them back.

A crack down on the lower Duval craziness. Our snowbirds and seasonal visitors are the least of our challenges. But those folks who day trip for the bar scene and a drunken Duval Crawl? They’re out of hand, putting local workers at risk (and by association, spreading the coronavirus at home). They’re fighting and brawling and turning a big chunk of downtown into a dangerous place. I know we are reluctant to really crank down on visitors, but these folks are not going to be stopped with a polite intervention. It will take the city, the police and the business owners to get lower Duval under control. And soon. Before Christmas.

Life without cruise ships. Or at least without the ships of the past five years or so. Whether the three Key West referendums withstand the onslaught of inevitable lawsuits is irrelevant. Covid-19 has reshaped the cruise ship business to such an extent that what we had before simply isn’t coming back. Whether that means the loss of $10 million or $80 million to the local economy, there’s an economic hole that will need to be plugged and a culture that must shift. Time to stop arguing about whether we “like” or “hate” cruise ships and focus on retraining and reshaping the workers and businesses that relied on them.

We will be deep into 2021 before we can predict with any certainty just how the messes left behind in 2020 will resolve themselves. I’m OK with waiting. Let’s use the next 12 months to clean our closets of our partisan masks and triggering T-shirts. Let’s fly an American flag next to the Conch Republic flag — and use neither as a political weapon.

We live in Key West. Thanks, Mom, for the reminder.


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