The Key West Mystique

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Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Key West newcomers

Covid cancels your Key West plans? Pack up for Fort Zach

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.


We’d weathered the will-it-won’t-it forecasts of Tropical Storm Fred and made it to the window between never-came-here Tropical Storm Grace and we were headed to Snipes. Then came the text: “I am so very sorry but your captain just tested positive for Covid. And my other captains are away. We have to cancel today. I know you’ve been looking forward to it.”

Well, rats and cats. We’re used to regrouping during hurricane season, but the vagaries of Covid make planning more art form than orderly mission. The gaggle of (ahem) older women were disappointed for, like, seven seconds before the pragmatic, resilient wisdom of decades kicked in. Our text string ended an hour later when Ranger Ed started fussing about how all guys would do is ask who had the beer and bottle opener.

First the pragmatic: Better that we find out the captain’s positive today than tomorrow – after we had spent the afternoon together.

Then a solution: Let’s pack up our stuff and spend the day at Fort Zach. Who’s got the ice, chairs, snorkeling equipment, Solo cups, cooler, beverages, leftover cheese, chips? What about the beach wagon? By now, we’ve got more stuff than Ranger Ed and I take to Fort Jefferson when we camp for four days.

Clearly, having a sandbar trip canceled is a first world problem and I’m not making light of the current dire straits of Covid-19. If you’re inclined to post nasty-grams because I’m not taking the mess seriously, read my “bad Covid” columns of, say, last week. I’m no denier and I have little empathy for those who just plain don’t get the whole concept of caring for others. Oh, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis is a weenie in a bad suit.

At the same time, we headed into year two. A lot of us are asking “is this all there is” and, pretty much, the answer is “yes.” We aren’t going back to the ways things were or the plans we’d made before Covid. For the rest of my life, I’ll have test kits under the bathroom sink, masks at the door and in every pocket, sanitizer handy and I’ll drop by the pharmacy for a booster annually right along with the flu shot. I’ll probably add a bout of Covid to the occasional common cold and seasonal flu. Might not be what I want, but it’s surely what I’ll get for foreseeable years. Lazy Dog Day

Every part of our lives has been reshaped by Covid, even if we can’t quite wrap our brains around those transformations and we long for everything to be normal. One can woulda, shoulda, coulda this mess like a worry stone ground to dust.

Or one can suck it up, do the right things and get on with the business of living. I figure, if the actuarial tables and my birthdays cooperate, I have maybe 20 years before I move into the Key West Cemetery.

I’m not spending them wishing things would go back to 2019. Which is why the hour-long text string among a bunch of crones who sound much like their teenage selves made me smile. It was such a perfectly normal response to an unavoidable change of plans. Most folks aren’t ready to shape their post-Covid worlds into normal; many are in circumstances that they cannot do so even if they want to; others may never make the transition. But my goofy text string lends confidence to knowing we will be OK.

Want to eavesdrop? Here ya go. Enjoy. And, maybe today sometime you can find a moment to know you’re going to be OK, too.

C: Well, (word adults aren’t supposed to use in print)!!!! So disappointing. But, better that we find out the captain’s positive today than tomorrow – after we had spent the afternoon together.

ME: I am SO glad we learned now. Now on to a solution…. I’m thinking we need a replacement thing to do today. Shall we perhaps take our snackage and beverages to Fort Zach for a late lunch and some sun, water and sand?

S: I’m going to work, I guess. Have a dinner invite so I have that to look forward to.

C: Do you have ice? For drinks and for a cooler. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough. We can stop and buy some if necessary. Are you bringing a cooler? If not, I can.

F: I’m bringing one. Not really full. I have dry ice but not loose ice.

C: I have 3 small containers of dip, a small bowl of cantaloupe and a container of cut limes that need to be kept cool. As long as we have ice for glasses that won’t need to be refrigerated.

Me: Looks like F is covering ice and C has (appropriate beverages because after all there’s no alcohol allowed at Zach). I’ve got table cloth, solo cups, some hummus and a handful of carrots and celery. Tossing in some strawberries. Plus an old piece of brie that’s been frozen and may or may not be edible. Be sure to bring you chairs.

C: I’ve got Tervis glasses I can bring. Will keep our drinks cool and not create any trash.

ME: Ed’s at Fausto’s, so I think he’s getting a bag of chips. We should have plenty to nibble. Oh, and I have a trash bag. 

S: And I am pouting at work.

F: Girl, we could bust you out. Oh, and cherries, naan, chutney, yogurt balls.

C: I have a beach wagon that I’ve pulled out for us to bring if we want to. Most of our stuff can be loaded onto it. 🙂 I don’t want to schlep all the crap I’m bringing. So I’m gonna vote we find room for the wagon. 🙂 One can never be over prepared.

ME: Nah. Let’s re-pack if needed. We’re only going for a couple three hours. Not a month.

S: I was just about to point that out. Y’all are headed to Fort Zach for three hours, not Fort Jefferson for a week. 

F: I have no chair.

C: I have an extra. Oh, and snorkeling equipment.

RANGER ED: Stop obsessing. We’ve got a big car. We’ll figure it out.

S: (A couple hours later) Well, have y’all run outta food and started to devour each other? Sort of a tropical Donner Party? 

We took the beach wagon, four chairs, snorkeling equipment, water shoes, towels and nothing went to waste. We took our trash out with us. And, we made it to the sandbar a week later.


  1. Natasha

    Ah I too have not made it to Key West now for two years as we are “stuck in Nova Scotia”. If I have to be stuck anywhere I am grateful it’s here but still I wonder how long it will be until I get my Keys fix again. I am fearful of how long it may be 😞

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      I hope you can come back soon. Living here does makes it easier to stay safe than visiting here for sure.

  2. Susan R

    I love reading your columns and am only a wee bit jealous ( well, maybe more!) that you live there and I don’t. We’ve been coming annually to Key West for about 25 years but have now missed 2020 and 2021. Fingers are crossed for 2022 but must admit there are days when we long for 2019☹️ Carry on creatively and enjoy, enjoy!!

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Susan. You made me smile. And, please try to make it down soon. As crazy as things are, Key West can still be a wonderful visit.

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