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Covid in Key West

After Covid in Key West | How much did we change in four years?

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.

03/23/2024

I spent Tuesday welcoming 26 Republicans in Key West’s Precinct 7 as they voted in Florida’s Republican presidential primary. In the quiet hours between opening the polls at 7 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m., we election workers chatted about, among other things, how different election day voting was during the Covid in Key West years.

No masks these days, no fretting over wiping down pens, tables and voting booths after each voter. No worrisome attention to whether folks stayed six feet apart. Way more mail-in ballots as voters have settled into the convenience of not having to vote in person. I love working election day polls if for no other reason than I get to catch up with friends from the neighborhood as they vote. Covid didn’t change that part.

The conversation got me thinking: How much did we change over the past four years?

Humans being humans and not wont to jump at the chance to switch things up, “things” didn’t change all that much. Roads got paved; potholes got fixed, unfixed and fixed again. Gasoline prices went up and down. We couldn’t find toilet paper and then we could. Tourists poured in with a plethora of predictions that we’d never have another semi-quiet off season. And then we did. Remember last November? We were all chattering about how it was finally feeling like normal what with empty parking spots and no lines at our favorite places.

There’s a catch. While the stuff of everyday living didn’t change, March 2020 was that line in the sand when we reached a dead end on the ways things had always been and found ourselves trudging down an unmarked path. Most of us unconsciously now mark time as before and after Covid.

Before Covid, despite our growing awareness that perhaps all was not right with the world, we still thought linearly, depending on three-quarters of a century of stability and trusting that we could make a life’s plan with decent hope we could follow through.

March 2020 and Covid brought that kind of planning to a screeching halt. In seconds, we went from sorta knowing how things worked to a black hole of uncertainty. We’ve been living in that uncharted, seemingly senseless void ever since. Four years isn’t nearly enough time to absorb it all, much less develop the coping skills, to regain a sense of control.

That’s making us crazy. Well, it’s making me crazy. I like knowing the end of the book, which is why I will read the last chapters first. Then I can enjoy how the plot unfolds without worrying about how it ends. It’s why early in the Covid years Ranger Ed and I bought our forever home in the Key West Cemetery. I know where we’re supposed to end up; I can spend my time figuring out how we get there. You do you, of course.

Covid in Key West

Covid in Key West | How long will this last?

One of the frequent questions during Covid has been “How long is this going to last?” There wasn’t an answer to that and we got all testy when public officials and experts couldn’t tell us exactly what was happening and what we should do about it. We wanted someone, anyone, to lay it all out, tell us what to do and put some order back. Our distrust escalated and we drew hard lines between us and them. Humans are like that. In the absence of order we cast about for someone, anyone, who sounds like they know what they’re doing. It’s how autocrats thrive and dictators arise.

Before Covid we were inclined to take for granted that things would go along pretty much as we expected them to. Now fours years in, we feel a profound sense of confusion, a loss and grief that can overshadow the best of days. We are weary. The temptation to give up is mighty.

I am, as coworkers, friends and family attest, a cockeyed optimist.

I am also capable of building global, intermodal transportation centers when what’s needed right now is a little red wagon. I like to fix things with huge and perfect structures requiring 1,000 pages of business plans and spreadsheets. I can’t do that in a post-Covid world because I can’t see that far ahead.

So I do what I can. Run errands for the neighbors. Share a roll of toilet paper. Slip a $20 bill to the clerk at the drugstore and say thank you. Donate to a local group that keeps the money here in the Keys. Bike past a friend’s house and stop on the street for a conversation. Remember, that little red wagon might have to make a thousand trips, but eventually it gets the job done.

(Editor’s note: Featured image at top by Key West chef and photographer Martha Hubbard. Higgs Beach pre-dawn on March 21, 2024.)

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