The Key West Mystique

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Best places to live Key West

Five reasons Key West isn’t on “best places to live” lists

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.

07/04/2022

Key West doesn’t make the best places to live lists.

That’s not surprising. There are at least five reasons we’re never going to see our island on those lists; I’m good with that. You probably are, too. We know that despite our warts and wobbles, anyone who has loved Key West — and had the island love them back — never strays far — even if their home address is, well, not here. I call it the Key West Mystique.

Why don’t we make best places to live?

We don’t make the lists because:

  • Housing is limited and what’s available takes a bequest from the likes of Bill Gates. I mean, really, when mainland folks snap up million-plus single family houses simply by pulling out some pocket change, how can the real people compete? Our housing is among the most expensive in the country, there’s nothing to rent long-term and there’s no end in sight to the train wreck that’s turning local housing into vacation rentals.
  • Jobs depend on tourism and the public-governmental sectors. That means career opportunities are slim pickin’s at best. Our unemployment levels are low, which is a good thing, but no one’s much making enough to afford the housing or to grow a family.
  • Education beyond high school and the College of the Florida Keys means leaving the island. I take nothing away from the Monroe County School District or the college; both do well by their students and they most definitely prepare locals for the Keys job market. But access to deeper, broader technical, professional or vocational training means leaving the Keys.
  • The cost of living reflects the premiums we pay for living in a tropical island paradise at the end of the four umbilical cords that provide electricity, water, digital communications and everything else that gets trucked down the Overseas Highway. We are by no means self-sustaining. Add on the costs of home insurance, including wind and flood, and many folks are paying as much for insurance as they are for their mortgage.
  • Access to specialized health and medical care and access to assisted living and skilled nursing care are bare bones. My Key West docs are some of the best, but when they leave or retire, there’s not much to replace them.

So, there we are, five reasons we’re not on the best places to live lists. Add our sweltering summers, a couple of hurricanes and an iguana in your bathroom, and Key West ain’t for everyone. No. Make that Key West isn’t on most folks’ best places to live lists.

Key West Island News

Ranger Ed and I returned last week from an family air-and-road trip that included the Atlanta suburbs, the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and southern West Virginia. All three areas are regularly included on best places to live lists, in great part because they are opposite of that list of five things Key West doesn’t have.

I’ll admit a fondness for those gentle Blue Ridge and rugged Appalachian mountains, for forest views that stretch for miles from the top of Afton Mountain and the rivers and creeks that run alongside the roads. It’s a joy to find what I need in an actual store, no Amazon Prime involved. I love the idea there’s world-class health care, assisted and nursing home care and universities a few miles up the road. There’s a host of reasons why living in one of those places would be a smart choice.

I don’t want to live there. An occasional road trip is enough.

Perhaps it is an anthropomorphic nuttiness that I feel when I leave the island, something brought on by the colossal combined stench of sargassum, dead dinosaur fumes, rotting fish and summer trash cans, but if it is, a whole boatload of us share the crazy.

I saw this in a friendly acquaintance’s social media post the other day. He sums up the Key West Mystique perfectly:

“It is so good to be back on the island. But I’ve really come to hate long trips away. … being off the island is literally like being unplugged from the source of life. I don’t know if my friends and neighbors in Key West can relate, but I have never had such a symbiotic relationship with a place. … Carolina and Virginia are good places, but they lack the secret magic to impart strength to face adversity. Visiting them is like hanging out with perfectly nice casual friends. Coming home it’s like being embraced by the lover that one absolutely adores. It’s more than being happy to be home. It’s like receiving a transfusion of the sustenance that makes life worthwhile.”

Yep. Just like that.

1 Comment

  1. Audtey

    To use a well worn phrase…all the other places are nice places to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there

    Reply

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Avatar of Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham

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.

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