When people here find out that I’ve moved down from New York, the response I usually get is that “Oh wow, that must be a big change.” Well, yes and no … There are lots of conveniences here (though I would give my eye teeth for a real diner … Denny’s doesn’t count), a thriving artistic community, no real need for a car … but there are some differences …
Key West is like living in Manhattan in that you are on an island. But imagine instead of dozens of neighborhoods on an island, your neighborhood of Chelsea, the Village, the Upper West Side, IS the island. Our year-round population is about 25,000 souls.
Cost of living in Key West is similar to a big city. With a lot less opportunity for income. It’s not that jobs are not available (unemployment in Key West is much better than the entire state of Florida), its just that wages and salaries are about half. Many people work multiple jobs and live with roommates just to make ends meet.
People here are very colorful, just like in a big city. However, here colorfulness is not simply tolerated and ignored with a “live and let live” mentality as in a big city, it’s more like part of the social fabric.
There is an odd wonderland type quality to living here, and I don’t necessarily mean in a good way. Some people live here because there is really no where else to go. Or they come here on vacation and wind up moving here or staying, but then they realize that at some point, they really can’t leave … trapped by a mixture of their own vices, their spending habits, and the lure of simply living here. At times it’s kind of like living in that village in the British series “The Prisoner” where everything looks lovely on the outside, but just underneath the surface everything is not always bright sunshine, ocean breezes and palm trees.
With some of the residents, you get a feel of a sense of desperation or resignation to how they just live from one day to the next, just trying to get by. With cost of living being what it is, leaving is not an option because they can’t save up money to leave. Don’t get me wrong, more than a few people here have “checked out,” but leaving isn’t exactly possible.
Everyday I am reminded of how fortunate … and blessed … that I have moved down here under the circumstances I have. It’s almost embarassing. I really don’t know if I would have been able to do so under any other way.
For all the pitfalls and traps that come with living here, though, living here is quite good IF you know how to make it work AND you keep a certain perspective.
There are also lots of opportunities for ministry here. LOTS. Of all kinds. I suppose there is a reason why we have the highest concentration of worship houses per capita in the United States.
I have a feeling that I could write a book about my experiences here and the royalties could pay for seminary.