When your town’s paychecks depend on tourists, second home owners and vacation rentals, it’s downright discourteous to say “Y’all stay the heck out of here.” For sure, no one that gets paid to promote tourism in the Keys is gonna put it that bluntly. I’ll do it for them.
I’ll add “please,” because my mother suggests that’s a courteous thing. So. Please. Stay the heck out of Key West and the Florida Keys. We are flat out not ready for flushing our own toilets. Our ice is made with questionable tap water. The AC is uncertain and internet stutters like an old car. Oh, and that beautiful blue, green and crystal water you love so much? Not safe to swim in. Ditto the swimming pools, far too many of which currently resemble swamps, complete with mosquitos and logs.
Tonight, the government deciders said that on Tuesday morning the Florida City checkpoint would be removed and the Overseas Highway would be open for traffic. That’ll surely make it easier for residents and business owners to get home and fix things.
Delta announced today they were resuming a “normal” schedule Thursday. I talked with a Delta agent today (I am going home Sunday), and she said their flights were booked to the wings, demand outstripping seats. I’m sure there will be more than just residents on those flights.
It’s wonderful news that it gets easier each day to make our ways home.
It’ll also encourage thousands of the curious to come see how things are going. They’ll come, of course, with promises of helping and trunks full of things they just know will be handy — but that will simply create big piles of stuff that no one will know how to distribute.
I totally get the disappointment. Weddings at Fort Zach cancelled. Girls’ weekends gone. A once-in-a-lifetime week in paradise done for. Deposits non-refundable because you opted out of the travel insurance during hurricane season. No snorkeling, fishing or rides with the wind on a sunset sail. No late nights in the Chart Room or sound checks at the Green Parrot.
But, folks, give us a few weeks. A few is three or four. That’s all we’re asking. Just a few weeks to get our homes — and your vacation happy place — in order. Give us a few weeks to re-group our staffers so they can serve you without worrying about who is going to do child care when schools aren’t open. Give us a few weeks until the emergency responders and repair and restoration crews can go home.
As John Teets and I texted a few minutes ago: “No water, no swimming, smelly brush piles, beaucoup de mosquito and streets blocked by bucket trucks? The supermarket parking lot blocked off for relief helicopters. Yee-HAW, Margie. We want some of that!”
No. Really you don’t.
The folks who make Fantesy Fest one of Key West’s most tourist-worthy events are busting butt to make sure it happens Oct. 20-29. The folks I know who manage and staff vacation and tourist services are cutting brush, cleaning rooms, repairing vehicles, trimming and planting trees. A few weeks and you’ll be hard pressed to know Key West took it on the chin from a Category 4 hurricane.
But right now? Y’all please stay home. Some areas of the Keys will likely open before others. Contact your airlines, your hotel, your vacation rental company. They can help you decide when it’s smart to come on down.
If you really want to help, send money. Actual spending money. The Sister Season Fund, which has long raised money for direct aid to the folks who staff our tourist industry — and who are most likely to be unemployed right now. They don’t make money when things are closed; they live from check to check and tip to tip. And, they still have to pay the rent and the utilities. For them, Hurricane Irma is going to be a financial Cat 5.
As certain as I’m sitting here in my mother’s Virginia living room, typing this on my laptop, I am certain that we’ll be ready to welcome you back “home” by the middle of October. Maybe even sooner. Probably even sooner. Maybe in a couple weeks. We need you. We need your passion for our island. And, yes, we need your credit cards and tips. Lots of tips. We’re gonna love having you back.
But not tomorrow. Please. Not tomorrow.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media. She and her husband Ed live in Key West with their five cats, the Cat 5s. She was off-island for Hurricane Irma. He stayed in Key West.