Going Native … The First Month

30 06 2010

Well, it has been 30 days since arrived here at “the end of the road,” or as someone said to me last night “this could be the end of the road or the start of a journey!”  Obviously, the hope is the latter….

As folks who have followed me along on Facebook know, I’ve landed a job working at the Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum, where the official title for the position is “actor,” as there is a script to learn as well as a costume to wear.  All of us, except the main character, are in clamdiggers, long-sleeve shirts, suspenders and a straw hat and we hang about outside the museum.  The main character is dressed more like a Victorian-era gentleman and he is inside most of the time giving the bulk of our presentation.  I’m also learning the script for the Ghosts and Gravestones Tour which will be starting up in August at night.  In that instance we come up with our own character and name following some guidelines and suggestions.

Today I’m enjoying a day off and moved from the vicarage to a room in a duplex.  During the day, St. Jeronica remains parked and I get around doing what needs to be done on a bicycle, which a new friend of mine was generous enough to give as he no longer had use for it.

So now that I have a place to live, steady income, transportation and am making new friends as well as growing older ones, then I suppose you can say I’ve been successfully grafted into the life of  a new community.

Living here is very different than vacationing here.  It can be as expensive to live here as it is in Manhattan, and the salaries for jobs available are much less than half of that.  A full time job with benefits, while not rare, is uncommon, especially if you are not from here.  Eating at those fun little places on Duval Street is not something one does regularly.

Housing is expensive.  The standard rate for renting a room in a house in the Old Town part of Key West is about $800/month (plus utilities), give or take, and if you are lucky or know someone you may even get a private bathroom.   The place where I live is in a quiet part of Old Town not too far from the cemetary where people are buried above ground as in New Orleans.  The room is small, with a small closet, some very basic furniture and a shared bathroom with one of the other tenants.  I jokingly refer to it as the “monk’s cell” because it is small and serviceable and clean.

Key West, while a very charming historic town with a great deal of character, is also a hard town that will chew you up and spit you out … much like New York but in a different way.  I have heard stories of people who come here and forget that living here is different than vacationing here.  They think every night is a party and soon forget that a quiet evening at home is a good thing.  People here are very laid back and easy going, but when the morning comes, you still have to go to work and the bills still have to be paid.  Those who forget that soon find they are on the way back from whence they came.

It’s kind of like the parable of the prodigal son, who went off with his inheritance to enjoy the good life, and soon the resources ran out.  The difference is, in Key West, there is no forgiving parent to return to.

In the middle of all this getting settled and adjusting to a new life, there are some pretty interesting lessons to be learned.  At the museum, I’m experiencing something of what it might means to live in community as monks of nuns do.  We have considerable amounts of time on our hands, and the staff is only 6-7.  We learn a great deal about each other, especially in watching our presentations and how we interact with other customers and visitors.  The days are ordered as we have presentations at set times during the day.  There is work to be done in setting up and taking down the various props at the beginning and end of each day.  No one except the managers has a real assigned role as everyone pitches in and does what needs to be done.   While recognizing this is true in many work or even living situations, I would dare to say because of the amount of time we can have on our hands during a slow day or even a slow hour, there is a certain amount of social intimacy which doesn’t exactly exist in many work environments.  You can’t just focus on what you’re doing, like at a desk job in the cog of a corporate machine, you need to be constantly aware of yourself, your colleagues, and the guests we are entertaining and educating.

Speaking of the guests, it is pretty cool to have people take your picture while standing on our little stage, while barking our sales pitch at the passers-by, and random people come up to have their picture taken with you.  Chances are our paths won’t cross again in this life, but knowing that your silly antics were captured on camera and you became a reminder of someone’s vacation, that there was something about what you’re doing that makes people smile is a very special thing.

There is also a lesson to be learned in what it means to have “enough” and knowing what material goods are important.  At my job in New York, I was fortunate enough to have catered lunch every day, and if i worked late, i would get dinner.  Here, lunch normally consists of two Nathan’s hot dogs and a soda and dinner is something a little less simple, but still frugal by big-city standards.  In New York, if I wanted to buy something, I was comfortable enough that I usually could.  And if something was broken, I could just replace it or not as I chose. Now, every purchase can be looked at as an investment.  I doubt I’ll be doing much clothes shopping any time soon, for example.

Life is good here in Key West.  God’s grace has been sufficient to provide a fun and rewarding full-time job, a schedule where i could work a second job if i wanted, a place to live, transportation, and most importantly, great friends, old and new, especially in the persons of Fr. Don, who was generous enough to give up access to his upstairs porch and let me have use of his guestroom while thing settled;  and of Jeffrey, who recognized me as the Reverend boy some years ago on one of the first trips down here.

Yes, God is good and God’s hand has definitely moved things along quite well.

It’s going to be great two or three years spent down here.




4 responses

30 06 2010


I’m happy to hear that you are settling in, and that things are falling into place for you. This is a big challenge, but one you are up to and I know there are many great things waiting for you around the bend.

I miss you.


1 07 2010

I am very much enjoying reading about this experience and getting to know you at the same time.

4 07 2010

How wonderful that you’re happily finding your way as you follow your call. Glad to hear it’s going so well. The journey lies ahead!

9 07 2011
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