Ker-flush. Gurgle. Clunk. Ah, the sound of the neighbor’s toilet.
Or, how about skritch-scratch-purrrrr? The neighbor’s cat snuggles into the outside cubbyhole beside your bedroom door — and taunts our Cat 5s into hissing killers in the middle of the night.
If one doesn’t want to share the neighbors’ lives, one ought not move to Key West — or Manhattan, for that matter. It’s an adjustment for lovers of open spaces and five-acre zoning, this living cheek-by-jowl in a place where six inches might be all that separates one’s kitchen window from the neighbor’s gas grill.
One can choose one’s house; one can’t choose the neighbors. So being surrounded by good ones — defined loosely as they don’t overly meddle or play the music like a bar scene — is a gift.
We’ve got good neighbors (just making that clear in case they’re reading this.) So good, in fact, that sweeping the curb in front of our house is a gift from next door. We guard each others’ parking spaces, gently suggesting to the vacationing folks from a hotel down the street that parking a car in front of a gate for a week is going to result in towing. Why not back up 14 inches? Which they do without push back and usually with an apology.
Anyone considering buying a home in Key West ought to check out the neighbors before asking for marble in a renovated kitchen. Good neighbors beat off-street parking, in-ground pools and central air conditioning. The number one criterion on your “must have” list ought to be “are there transient rentals close by.”
If there are, that’s a hard pass. You do not want to buy your forever home only to share it with weekly or overnight renters here to party. A monthly rental next door is only marginally better, especially if the house isn’t managed well. Who will you call at 2 a.m., when there’s a pool party with disco music and liberal use of the “F-word” right under your window?
The number two criterion should be “how long have they lived there”? The longer, the better. If there are second-home owners around, do they rent out the house when they’re off island? The answer should be no.
It’s getting harder to find that forever home with local neighbors because an abused monthly rental three blocks over can wreck the whole neighborhood. There’s one not too far from us. I can hear the night-time parties; can’t imagine what it’s like living next door.
There are 4,411.8 people packed into each of Key West’s 5.9 square miles, making it one of the nation’s most densely populated cities. Compared to the aforementioned Manhattan with its 69,467.5 folks per square mile Key West is positively lonesome.
Rockford, IL, my previous hometown, a for-real city outside Chicago can only muster up 2,500 per square mile.
Even when I am frustrated by vacation renters, I’m amused by the ceaseless fussing over dogs barking, roosters crowing and cats wandering that makes for Key West conversation. Oh, and let’s not forget the parking wars complete with trash cans, saw horses, plastic deck chairs and boat trailers.
I mean, surely we knew Key West was a tiny, people-packed island when we moved here, right?
Thousands of ordinances, from litter, noise and parking to paint colors, tree trimming and fence heights, attempt — futilely, I might add — to quell the mini-battles between neighbors. There’s always someone delighted to rat out a neighbor’s barking dog or “illegal” fence post. And, out come the hurt feelings, the city enforcers and occasionally, the lawsuits.
The best neighbors color inside the lines — most of them anyway — maintain their fences and wear earplugs. A set of Powerbeats does wonders.
My favorite neighbor to whom I had once apologized about our noisy renovation put it this way: “If it gets too bad, I take out my hearing aids. Can’t hear a thing without ’em.”
And, that marauding, night-visiting cat? Give him a treat and send him on his way. After all, we knew when we moved here we’d be sharing 5.9 square miles with 25,000 people. And almost as many cats and chickens. More iguanas. And, vacation renters. Sigh. At least we don’t have skyscrapers.