Look, I get it. There are way more important things to write about than the 600 or so words about to follow. But, darn it, you know it’s true. We have arrived once again in Key West Grumble Season.
Grumble Season arrives in Key West in tandem with the Autumn Equinox on Sept. 22. Elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere that means Fall and that means Christmas decorations in stores with carols a-singing. OK, so it also means crispy temps and cuddly sweaters, harvesting and frolicking in leaf piles, apple pie, cranberries, cement geese in hats and, ta-da, Pumpkin Spice Lattes — that is, if your Starbucks has enough baristas to open the drive-in.
In Key West, we get none of those, well, except for the pumpkin spice but who wants Starbucks when we’ve got the likes of Cuban cafe con leche? Instead, we get Grumble Season.
The Tourist Development Council would never tell visitors about Grumble Season. I mean how can you explain to off-island lovers of Key West that for three months every year, we are just miserable as we plod through Grumble Season?
Grumble Season looks like this:
The hallmarks of Grumble Season are obvious to anyone living on the island full time.
Grumble Season begins with a low rumble, sort of like a cat purring but with an accompanying warning that teeth and claws could be an option. The first rumble usually comes in early September, well before official Grumble Season. It starts the day one feels the slightest hint of coolness under the daily breeze. That’s the day one can bike almost across the island without sweating though every layer of clothes. And, we nod to our companion and say “Well, sure feels like the weather might break,” before we shrug and add “It’ll be awful tomorrow.” And, of course, it is.
We are moldy. By this time of year, we are way done with temps in the 90s with humidity to match. Done with mold growing in every corner. Done with rain and wet clothes. Done with electric bills for the air conditioning. Done with closed up, stuffy, slightly stinky houses. Done with gagging garbage cans and rotten leaves plugging up the storm drains. Done with being as miserably hot at midnight as at noon.
We are tetchy. There’s this sense of low-grade irritability we can’t help but share with everyone around us, even people we actually like. I chalk this up in part to months of hurricane preparation that entail boxes of supplies cluttering up the back porch, compulsive testing of the generator and worrying that those containers of gasoline might blow up. We are weary of watching the colorful hurricane cones rolling off the African coast with noses pointed right our way.
We are tired. Perhaps this year more than most. Grumble Season used to bring quiet time to the island. The tourists left, the snowbirds weren’t packing for their treks southernmost. We got enough downtime to recuperate and bank some excess energy for the start of “season,” the day after Christmas.
Locals got our island home back for a few months in the Fall during which there were always parking spaces, empty stores and locals’ specials at all the best places. Used to be we could get through Grumble Season just because we had the laid-back, real Key West to ourselves.
Covid-19 changed that, for sure. Too many visitors; too few staff to handle the demands of all those fun-seeking visitors. If there were a lull this year, good luck finding it. The island blew past all visitor records this summer and still they’re coming. Heads in beds, butts on planes, scooters on steroids, well, you get the point. This year we didn’t get an off-season vacation to offset Grumble Season. That might not bode well for January, you know.
So, here we sit at the end of September as Grumble Season stretches its legs. Tetchy. Tired. Moldy. Feeling depressed? Yeah, but…. Come the end of November-ish, when hurricane boxes are back in storage and I’m digging out fleece and socks for their annual washings, I’m going to turn to a friend and say “Aren’t we lucky to live here”?