The Key West Mystique

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Atlanta rush hour at sunset AI-generated

Off the island | Three weird things about the mainland

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.


I don’t get out much. I can count on one hand the times I am off the island and out of the Keys each year. Well, unless you add excursions to Stock Island, 12 forays to Marathon for monthly meetings and doc visits that necessitate 10-hour round trips to Miami.

I’m talking about off-the-island junkets that require a plane ticket or a thousand-mile car ride. When I do get off the island, I’m kinda flummoxed. Life’s different in the real world.

Tuesday is column-writing day and it doesn’t matter whether I’m in my Key West office (the front porch) or off the island. Deadlines don’t get extended because I’m in Atlanta babysitting the grandson; two Golden Retrievers (one is about 100 years old with special needs and the other is two-thirds adolescent Jersey Devil and one-third Pound Puppy); two cats, equally weird, and one fish who bothers no one and has no name as best I can tell.

I started three columns and cast them aside as just too depressing. First there was flood and wind insurance, which have become so insanely expensive in Florida that they rival mortgage payments. Then came an update on smalltooth sawfish dying and fish spinning. Still dying. Still spinning. Still no explanations. And now making headlines on the New York Times’ website.

The last one I tossed aside was a rant springing from Monday’s report that the Florida Keys ocean water is so hot right now that unseasonable coral bleaching is doing more damage to our all-but-dead barrier reef.

I’ll eventually come back around on those, but for today, let’s stick with three reasons why, when I go off the island, things feel, well, weird. None of these is original and not one will make you ratchet up the daily outrage quotient.

grandparents do homework off the island
Ranger Ed and Connor do homework. Not sure who is the tutor at the moment.

Off the island | Weird things about the mainland

Everything is super-sized.

Key West scales human-sized. Sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Not too big; not too small; just right. You could plop the whole island of Key West inside a single suburban neighborhood with room to spare. There are hundreds (heck, thousands) of these sprawling neighborhoods surrounding Atlanta’s center city, and residential land-use planning starts with the idea that there’s no such thing as too much.

Every subdivision feeds onto a once-rural road that has morphed into a four-lane highway with turn lanes that resemble spaghetti tossed against a wall. Every highway is lined with retail strips offering up services from dog grooming to tax preparation. Every five miles or so, an intersection boasts a bank, a gas station, a Publix or Kroger, a Home Depot or Lowe’s, chain restaurants and a handful of locally-owned ice-cream shops, plant nurseries or hair and nail salons.

It’ll just take you 30 to 45 minutes (more in the endless work and school rush hours) to get there and another 10 minutes to walk across the endless parking lots. I do admit, my step tracker gets a MUCH better workout up here. Same tracker is happily recording elevation, which it rarely does in Key West (except for that slight incline toward Solaris Hill).

There’s no there here.

You know how you’re almost guaranteed to run into someone you know when you do errands on the island? Ain’t happening up here. Oh, you and your friends will be in Publix at the same time — just not the same one. Planners try to create a sense of place with things like Towne Centres (note spelling weirdness) with cute little shoppes (ditto), a pocket park for dogs and kids and a concrete walking trail meandering around a manmade catch basin, but it sure isn’t downtown as we know it in Key West.

Mainlanders wear clothes.

OK, so we sorta do in Key West, but flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt feel distinctly out of place in the Mall of Georgia, much less in church, even in the summer. I made a point of looking at shoes in the crowded local garden center and I was the only one with open toes. There were people wearing what we might call business-casual with real shoes and socks smack in the middle of an 81-degree weekday morning. I was, to say the least, underdressed.

By the time you’ve made it this far, I’ll be back on the island, delighted to share a whole town in the space of 5.6 square miles. Until, that is, I trade it all in May for a 10-by-10 tent in the Dry Tortugas, where we wear swimsuits, T-shirts and sunscreen with nary a highway in sight.

(Editor’s note: The featured image of an Atlanta, Georgia rush hour at sunset is an AI-generated illustration.)


  1. Roberta Ginsberg

    Jerry and I are back in Western New York. I have been wearing warmish clothes but continue to wear my flip flops. Today the rain mixed with snow and wind forced me to wear socks with real shoes. April is the worst in NY. There is a hint of spring but it is grey, cold, skin drying bone chilling depressing. Dreams of palm trees and humidity bring smiles to my face. Thank you Linda

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      May there be real palm trees in your future, Roberta!


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