The Key West Mystique

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Eaton St. from Hugh's View

Living in Key West | Three places to get your happy back

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.

04/06/2021

For someone born smiling, I sure have been grumpy the past couple weeks.

Grumpy can mean swearing aloud, smashing a coffee cup with extra oomph on the table, closing a cabinet door with particular firmness or stomping around while posting vague social media memes in the hopes someone will ask what’s wrong. For me, grumpy means thinking irritable, albeit creative, swear words while grinning like that Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland.” (Look it up.)

You think I’m being delightfully engaged; I’m planning how I can shove a pie in your face. I hide my grumpy so well I need to alert Ranger Ed. “Hey, I’m grumpy.” He and the Cat 5s nod and go about on tiptoes.

Grumpy rarely lasts long and I always know what sets it off. Saying “sure, happy to do that” when what I really mean is “have you lost your mind?” A glitch in some geeky thing I’m working on that takes three days to fix, when it should have been three minutes. Having to clean the bathroom again when I just did it a week ago. Sarah, the Cat 2, throwing up on the bed six minutes after I washed the linens.

Heck, I should have had the Johnson & Johnson one-and-done Covid-19 vaccine. While I waited around the three weeks for the second Pfizer dose, the gremlin on my shoulder whispered: So many things to go sideways in three weeks.

And, the mother of them all: One of my well-constructed plans goes awry. My fourth-grade teacher spotted that one as witnessed by this note on a report card: Linda does not accept unavoidable situations gracefully.

Covid-19’s upending of a year’s worth of plans, hopes and dreams is the perfect Petri dish for raising up a specimen crop of grumpy. If you haven’t been grumpy this past year, it’s either because your head’s in a conch shell or you’ve learned to cope.

Grumpy is a choice. I hate grumpy in me — and in others — so I’ve learned to cast about for ways to “un-grump.” A 10-year plan to move to Key West was a decent start. And, as I texted a friend this morning, “The weather is so spectacular, it’s hard to be anything but happy.”

Here’s what I do to un-grump albeit with this caveat: My grumpy needs quiet time. Yours might need a flurry of people all in your business.

LGC and Ranger EdLet’s start with a bunch of little things. I love standing in the street at midnight and looking through the open gate at my house. There’s some stars, sometimes a moon. Shadows everywhere. And a light in the kitchen window that says, “you’re home.” I love 4 p.m., when the construction workers wrap it up for the day and the neighborhoods quiet down. I love watching my mango tree go from flower to fruit. I love an omelet that doesn’t crack when I fold it. I love that our orchids re-bloomed after years of being just green.

You get the point, right? About the little things? Good. Now moving on to three places to get your happy back.

The White Street Pier (or Knight Pier if you’re determined to rebrand): One would think this quarter-mile long slab of concrete with no escape from the wind, sun, rain or crashing waves ought be the last choice for finding happy. I put it first for a reason: There’s something magically healing about the interplay between the Brutalist architecture with its sharp, clean angles and blocks of cement and the changing blues, greens and grays of the sky and sea. Look over the side in low tide; watch the fish nose in an out. Go. Doesn’t matter whether it’s sunrise, sunset or in between, hurricane or dead still.

The West Martello Tower. The Civil War fort is home to the gardens of the Key West Garden Club. Since 1949, the club has preserved the fort and developed the gardens of native and exotic plants. It rises above the beach on the Atlantic side and one slips from bright sun to deep shadows inside the fort. Wander to the top of the path or stand in the shade with the ocean before you. There’s not as much room to spread away from others as on the pier, so I tune them out and give up grumpy to the wind.

And, for sheer joy, pick a high place. For me, there is nothing as giddy-making as seeing Key West stretched from me all the way to the sea. The Key West Light House is my favorite when I want to see 360 degrees — and am feeling energetic. That’s a lot of stairs to climb but the view? Breath taking. The Key West Shipwreck Museum‘s lookout tower with a less dramatic ocean view but an interesting view of downtown requires far few stair steps. (Forget La Concha; that rooftop bar is no more.)

And, there’s the new high place in town, Hugh’s View at The Studios of Key West. Ranger Ed and I did the “After Glow” happy hour on Monday. Covid-limited to 12 people, happy hour was akin to having the rooftop to ourselves. A great way to celebrate our anniversary and kick any remaining grumpy to the curb.

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