Flying out of Key West last week was a bit like crawling out of a cave, blinking in the sunshine and wishing I could scurry to safety.
The last time I left the island (other than three, day trips to Miami for health care stuff and a couple junkets to Stock Island) was in August 2019, when I headed to Atlanta for a week to kid-sit with the grandson. Twenty months. Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey. That’s a long time on the rock.
Early on in the Covid shutdown last March, April and May, being isolated on the island was a lark. The weather was its customary spectacular, we had the whole place to ourselves and we could wander without fear of random scooter encounters. We had happy hours in the streets, chatted from the curb with friends on their porches and figured this would be over shortly. Shortly being a somewhat relative term, ranging from weeks to years, depending on one’s optimism meter.
At least that’s how it was for those who could afford to be without paychecks. Larking about wasn’t for parents with kids needing home schooling, retail workers behind the checkout counters or unemployed wait staff wondering how to make rent.
Anyway, back to my point: Covid-19 and the disappeared year of 2020 gave new meaning to island fever. I’m sure I did not expect to spend almost two years in 4.2 square miles.
The temptation to get away for a friends-and-family visit was almost unbearable for months. It wasn’t until the middle of hurricane season 2020 that I stopped thinking about visiting up north. Then came the call from my son asking if Ranger Ed and I could kid-sit for 10 days in mid-April. Hummmmmm. Gotta admit I was thinking “uh, no” as I was saying “sure.”
Leave the island? On a plane? With all those strangers? Even with two-plus-two vaccination status, I had to swat irrational gremlins whispering that I ought never again set foot off this coral and granite rock. There’s even a name for it: cave syndrome.
I did it anyway. So far I’m alive to tell the tale. Here’s what I learned:
If everyone six feet apart is your deal breaker, get over it or embrace your agoraphobia. There is no such thing anywhere, though folks are generally respectful about not being in each other’s space. The Key West airport is close quarters, although there are several new seating areas, which have expanded things a lot. Take the 7:03 a.m., Delta so there are no delayed flights backups.
Most folks wear masks. Yes, they do. Despite the headlines and breathless social media posts to the contrary, there were few folks showing noses and chins. That goes for stores, restaurants, airports, assorted other enclosed spaces and folks standing in lines. Outside? Eh. Masks aren’t top of mind, much less on face. If you’re determined to exercise your non-compliant radar I’m sure you’ll spot offenders. But the basics of mask wearing and sanitizing in public indoor spaces are definitely a thing.
It’s easier to forget my mask in Atlanta than it is in Key West. That’s weird. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve hopped out of the car and headed into a store sans mask. I got to thinking about that oddity, especially considering how many visitors to Key West don’t wear their masks. There’s probably a PHD thesis in this, but I’m guessing it’s because we’ve made a habit of wearing masks at home, but when we go to our before-Covid places we revert without thinking to no mask.
Which brings me to this: Human brains being the adjustable things they are, we’re already transitioning to the post-Covid world. We’ll never give up Zoom and FaceTime; virtual reality is part of our worlds now. We may wear masks during Key West Crud season, though that prediction is likely a stretch. (I’d like to think I will, but, heck, I dislike having people stare at me. And they will.) Handshaking and hugging have become a politely nodding head and a smile unless it’s family and friends. (I like that part. A lot. Never quite comfortable being touched by strangers.)
Go ahead. Pack your bags. Or wait until you’re comfortable. But I’m going again and soon. To my family in parts northward, get ready.