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A Key West Ghost Town, A Strange Last Week of School, Bracing for What’s Coming Down U.S. 1

Florida Keys Roadblock Ends Monday, June 1

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Last weekend, Jim and I drove our cars to Key West. We were just going to go there and walk around before the roadblock at the 18-Mile Stretch ends on June 1, but on the day we decided to go, I woke up feeling like our 2-hour trip south needed a little something more…

“Let’s race the cars to Key West,” I said, half kidding.

“Ok!” Jim replied.

Thus began the idea for “Keys for Keys: Porsche vs. Mustang” race to the Southernmost Point. Of course, not much of the race was real despite what many viewers thought, but it was just fun to drive both of our convertible sports cars to Key West on the Saturday before Memorial Day with no one around.

Describing Key West without people is kind of difficult. I moved to the Florida Keys in 1999, and ever since I can remember, traffic has been a problem in any populated areas of the Keys. However, with the roadblock in place, sometimes it would be several minutes before we saw a car passing in the opposite direction on the way south.

When we got to Key West, it felt like when everyone evacuates for a hurricane. Except there was no threat of an impending storm. No windows boarded or shuttered up. It was just… dead.

After the car “race” to the Southermost Point, we parked in a lot without cars. Then we walked down Duval Street, the main drag in Key West, passing hardly anyone. We went into Margaritaville for lunch. The waiter, Joshua, asked where we were from.

“The Upper Keys,” I responded.

“Oh!” he said, pointing to the one other table that was occupied in one of the normally busiest restaurants on the island. “That couple over there is from Key Largo!”

We asked Joshua whether he knew if Peppers of Key West was open since that was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Key West – we were out of Asian Marinade.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” he replied. “A lot of places shut down and are not coming back.”

Joshua told us about how much some businesses paid for rent in Key West. He mentioned a place that paid $36,000 a month, and a T-shirt shop on Duval that pays $72,000 a month. With businesses shut down in the past two months during the peak of tourist season, it was anyone’s guess as to which ones will reopen.

After lunch, we walked down to Mallory Square. No crowds. No street performers. No vendors. Nobody drinking pina coladas out of coconuts (except a homeless person, and was probably just coconut milk). The only person there was a man walking his dog. On Memorial Day weekend. Unreal.

So the roadblock into the Keys is set to come down Monday. As of yesterday, Monroe County has had 107 Coronavirus cases and four deaths versus 17,168 cases in Miami-Dade county to our north with 633 deaths. Although these numbers scare me, they almost don’t anymore. COVID-19 isn’t new; it’s something we’ve been living with in our society for three months. We all know someone who knows someone who has had it or who has died. Maybe we’ve even had the virus (like I suspect I got early on), and it’s not so much a threat. Either way, in two days we will be opening the floodgates and hoping for the best. Hoping that the only thing the counties to our north will be giving us is a better economy.

For the Keys economy, I’m glad the roadblock is coming down. In every other way, I wish it would last forever. I’m just grateful for the time I have gotten to spend returning to the days of ole in the most beautiful 106-miles drive in the country.

* * *

On Tuesday, we did something we had not done in over two months – we visited friends! Pete and Wendy invited us over for cocktails, and we ended up spending most of the evening laughing, chatting, and catching up. We were happy to be around people. Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed now, although not suggested if they’re not necessary. Time with my best friend (other than a Zoom call) had become necessary, and I was so ecstatic to finally converse with someone other than Jim (no offense to the best Quaranteammate I could ever have!).

* * *

On Wednesday, parents and our community held a car parade for graduating seniors. We were told in a faculty meeting that this was not an event that was sponsored by the school due to distancing regulations. I completely understood the liability concerns, but I couldn’t wait to go see three of my six graduating seniors who were attending and dozens of my former students.

Jim and I arrived a little early at Treasure Village where students were putting last-minute touches on their car decorations. I told him that I planned to stay in the car and just watch the parade go by so that I wasn’t tempted to hug the students, but I just couldn’t stay put. We walked through the barrage of vehicles, congratulating all the students who had worked so hard to obtain diplomas in my class. It was a reunion, and it was like nothing was ever wrong with the world, one in which everyone who had their credits got a diploma.

Later that evening, we watched a prerecorded graduation ceremony on the TV in our living room. All of the seniors’ names were called, and a lot of them even submitted videos of themselves donned in cap and gown with someone off screen handing them a diploma. It was genius, well-put-together, and it was nice watching it from the comfort of my living room.

Then school ended for underclassman on Thursday. Last week, all they had to do was answer a question of the day for attendance if they were all caught up with work. Teachers’ jobs were to help those students who had fallen behind with distance learning. So my support person, Vanessa, and I helped those struggling students. I am proud to say that every student in my classes who participated in distance learning earned a C or higher. Three of my students, however, never participated, and as per school policy, they received an incomplete.

And after Thursday, that was that with the students. On Friday, I posted grades. On Monday, I have a faculty meeting. No end-of-the-year celebrations. We are just done for the year. It’s kind of anticlimactic compared to all the rest.

But that’s good. I’m settling in to this laid-back lifestyle.

* * *

Tomorrow, we’ll take the boat out one last time before the Keys opens up. We’ll enjoy the peaceful serenity on the water. We’ll take one last day of deep inhales. Then on Monday, we’ll hunker down and brace ourselves for whatever starts coming down the road.

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