So it’s official. The roadblock restricting access to the Florida Keys is coming down on June 1. I guess it is about time that we start allowing tourists to migrate south for the summer. Although the roadblock completely served its purpose of keeping us relatively safe during this pandemic, the Keys economy is dependent on tourism… and we would have to open our islands up to non-residents sooner or later, despite the risks of COVID-19 depleting our retiree population. But what can you do, right?
I know many businesses and employees have struggled financially due to the lack of tourism. For their sake, I am glad the Monroe County Board of Commissioners made this announcement this morning. However, I can’t help but lament the announcement after enjoying the last two months of island living without the continual flooding of guests. Not only have our county officials kept us relatively safe from Coronavirus by closing the Keys, but they allowed this fragile environment a chance to breathe.
I moved to the Keys in 1999, and not once has there ever been a time that I could look around the road at a stoplight on the way to the post office and see all of my friends and neighbors in the few other vehicles beside me.
And how fortunate we’ve been to make a left turn while hauling our boat to the boat ramp! I’ve had to wait for 10 minutes at this time of year to launch my truck from my road on to U.S. 1 even before ever getting into the boat! How nice that has been!
What about going to restaurants like Lorelei and Gilbert’s since these Florida business reopened?!? Yesterday Jim and I enjoyed dinner on the beach of the Lorelei with no wait time for a table! In fact, there was only one other table taken while we were there! We ate on a sandy, white beach with the most amazing view in the world, and we only shared this experience with other locals who have chosen to make these islands their homes. I know this roadblock has not been good for traditional businesses, but I couldn’t help but to LOVE that we didn’t have to push over any tourists or step on any of their children to take pictures of the sunset!
Not once have we waited for a spot to dock our boat. Not once have we had less than outstanding service from waiters or waitresses who know now that we live here and we will always support our local businesses. Not once have we had to decide whether to take the old road rather than U.S. 1 due to traffic congestion on Plantation Key.
So before our beloved tourons return, I have a few things I’d like to do.
First, I want to go snorkeling on the coral reefs. I first snorkeled in the Keys in 1998. The reefs were pretty active then. Since then (and probably even before then), our reefs have been dying from the chemicals in suntan lotion and from other human activity. I haven’t snorkeled much in the past decade; I enjoy fishing more when I can get out on the water. But I want to go snorkeling now. I know it has only been two months, but I want to see the life teeming around the reefs; perhaps fresh, healthy coral polyps have been given a chance to start their life.
Next, I want to go to Key West. I’ve been there quite a bit in the past 22 years, but I want to go to the places that are never available to visit. I want to take my time in museums that are open. I want to try every single hot sauce in Peppers of Key West (minus the Weapons of Mass Destruction section). I want to go on any tours that offer a local discount and ask all the questions I want to ask to the guide! I want to drive down Duval Street… or maybe even roll down Duval Street! Actually, I really don’t know what I want to do in Key West, but I know I will never have this chance again to do it… without many people.
And maybe I’ll spend a half day sometime watching a dolphin show at Theater of the Sea; I was there once for an Islamorada Chamber of Commerce luncheon… maybe 10 years ago. Maybe I’ll have a picnic on the dock of Robbie’s Marina with the tarpon and the pelicans; I’ll eat a sandwich, and they can have some bait fish. Maybe I’ll haul my boat to a new ramp in a new location! The possibilities are limitless!
These next two weeks are an opportunity for us to do things we’ve wanted to do… without the lines! So formulate your Keys quarantine bucket list, put on your CoronaMask, grab your hand sanitizer, and go do all those things that you’ve wanted to do! We have a unique opportunity to experience our beloved islands as only locals of 60-plus years ago were able to do.
Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. The countdown clock has begun!