The above photo is of the Key West Cafe - the one located in Wildwood, New Jersey. There is a reason people that live in places like New Jersey try to recreate places that remind themselves of the real thing-Key West. It is the fact that they probably have had some of the best moments of their lives in Key West. Many dream of eventually moving to Key West. Some who dream of moving to Key West live in other places, like the ten cities listed below
There is a piece on the Internet today that discusses the ten worst places to live in America which are (according to the item) 1. El Centro, California, 2. Cleveland, Ohio, 3. Detroit, Michigan, 4. Las Vegas, Nevada, 5. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 6. Los Angeles, California, 7. Phoenix. Arizona, 8. Newark, New Jersey, 9. Miami, Florida, and 10. Memphis, Tennessee. CLICK HERE to read the story and get the details. The reasons cited for naming these cities bad places to live include crime, crime rate, violent crime, joblessness, foreclosures, weather, and traffic. (Most sane people don't dream of moving to places like these cities.)
I once toyed with the idea of moving to Laguna Beach, California. It is a small town much like Key West. Lots of laid back people living very comfortably from what I was able to see. The old part of Laguna has mix of California bungalows and mission style homes built before World War II. The oceanfront climate keeps the area lush compared to the tinder dry hills that protect Laguna from the megalopolis to the east, north, and south. Like Key West, it is isolated. The big Interstate highways are several miles to the east but are close enough to get you back to mass civilization within minutes. The isolation the seaside community once had is only ephemeral today.
The other side of Laguna Beach, the side that I did not care for, was the fixation the Lagunatics have on their own self-importance, flash, vanity, call it what you will. The ever present pre-occupation with self-indulgence is really magnified in a small town. And while I loved the idealic little town of Laguna Beach with the roaring Pacific Ocean and the wonderful beaches, I opted in favor of a location where "style" is often more about wearing clean clothes and riding bikes as opposed to wearing designer labels and driving flashy cars. That place is Key West.
I grew up in Denver in the 1950s. I lived in the suburbs as a kid and moved to the Capitol Hill area near downtown Denver when I started law school in 1969. I lived there until I moved to Key West in late 1993. Towards the end I started to feel ill at ease about Denver. The air (smog) was getting worse each year. Driving, even just a few blocks to work, became horrible as the streets were incessantly clogged with too much traffic. The crime rate started to rise all over the metropolitan area. (We didn't have a metropolitan area when I was a kid. But we had a huge one when I left town.) I remember a senseless drive by shooting where a little three year old girl was shot and killed in her parents' car in a northern suburb. Once my house was broken into. I came home and found the burglar standing in my kitchen where he had smashed in the back door. My Old English sheepdog was quivering under the breakfast table. My house had been ransacked, and I felt very violated. A woman Realtor was raped and killed little over a block from where I lived just before I left town. That was about one of the scariest things that ever happened to me. (I lived in a very good part of town.) I know individual acts of violence can happen anywhere, but there were too many of them occurring too frequently and then too near me.
I made my first trip to Key West during spring break in 1984. It was buzzing with people. I fell in love with this place very quickly. I imagined what it would be like to live here all of the time. The rational good angel on my shoulder told me to step back and not act rashly. I waited nine years before I took the final step that got me to Key West. I passed up several good opportunities waiting for the right place, the right price, the right time. But during the nine years I never gave up dreaming about moving to Key West because I knew my life would be different here.
I had a preconception of what life in Key West would be like. It didn't turn out the way I thought. It was better.
I found the photo (just above) on the Internet on Wednesday. It was taken in front of St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Duval Street. The two signs are self-explanatory. The guy who hates Fags carries his sign anywhere he can attract attention. He is a daily sight somewhere in Key West. The guy with the "other" sign is new and is making an equally forceful counter statement. What caught my attention was the two guys kissing to the left rear of the photo. In case you missed it, a federal judge in California ruled on Wednesday that Proposition 8, the ballot issue that outlawed gay marriage in California, was unconstitutional. I thought this photo pretty much sums up the debate on the issue: some hate; some hate back; and some make love in Key West where it is okay to be gay in public. Key West is pretty non-judgmental no matter who you are or what you want to do.
Key West has changed a lot in the twenty six years since I first came here. Many of the houses look much nicer, and the sidewalks and streets are certainly in better repair. There is more traffic for sure. During season the streets are filled with Conch Trains, scooters and those damned electric cars. All the tourists bring lots of money to Key West and that keeps our economy running, Thank You very much. The talking heads on TV do their damnedest to stir up trouble by scaring people about hurricanes, oil slicks, Cubans who float over to Key West to escape old what's his name. It works sometimes but the public eventually remembers how much fun it is to be in Key West. So they return year after year after year.
After living here for several years I figured out that life here is not about the houses, the climate, the ocean and beaches, the gay acceptance thing, the culture, or the laid back lifestyle. No, to me, it's just about living life each day and being very contented.
People who live here learn to adapt to Island time and Island style. I remember getting on the highway and sometimes city streets, and speeding a lot. I always felt the need to get ahead of the guy in front of me so I could get where I was going sooner. Key West is so small there is no reason to speed and no place to do it. You gotta be pretty lame to get a speeding ticket here.
When I moved to Key West I brought 14 suits. I had two Donna Karan's, a couple of Ralph Lauren's, Alexander Julian, Hugo Boss, and others. They are all in a cedar chest. There is no place to wear them. I wear shorts in the summer and usually khakis in the winter. Designer labels aren't important like they used to be. But I still wear clean clothes and normally they are pressed. I am not alone. Most Key Westers dress down, not up. I doubt that the book "Dress for Success" had many buyers here.
I don't have the need to "shop". I can buy what I need on the Internet. I need less living here. Really! I remember going shopping for hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. That is how many people up north in America spend their private time. Buying stuff. Here you need less stuff and you end up spending your time doing more fun things. Or nothing at all.
If you are in to social and political affairs, there are plenty of people with whom you can mix and do your thing. Or not. If you are into the outdoors and love to run, bike, workout, box, do yoga, sail, fish, or just boat, this island is full of similarly inclined folks that share your passion. If you are cerebral the arts community flourishes here. We have several theaters and our own symphony. Key West has lots of artists and writers that live part or all of the year here. We even have dress-up affairs where women wear gowns and gents wear tuxes. But you will also find people who don't participate in much of any thing, mind their own business, and wear the same clothes for several days in a row. It's not that they are anti-social, but they are just living their own lives.
In my old life I could be pretty demanding. Everything I did was important. Or so I thought. So I needed stuff done right away. Timing is important in what I do now, but either my advanced age or my acceptance that things move more slowly in Key West has made life (normally) much easier to accept. "Island time" is for real.
I have found the experience of living here to be more fulfilling than I ever imagined. It's the little things that happen every day (or every season) that make life in Key West so pleasant. Each morning around 8:00 AM a flock of sea gulls (I think that's what they are) sit atop the electric lines at the corner of Reynolds and Von Phister Streets awaiting their breakfast which is supplied by the guy who lives at the house on the corner. It's not uncommon to see an egret walking around the Casa Marina area. I've had blue crabs walk the four or five blocks from the ocean and end up in my pool. One even walked into my kitchen a few years ago. I've seen iguanas and even a raccoon in my yard. I don't like the frogs that screech in the night each summer but they eventually stop. Otherwise, the little animals and birds make life in Key West interesting and sometimes entertaining.
Riding a bike in Key West is more than exercise or a convenient way to get from place to place. I get "mushy" when I ride my bike under the flowering trees. I think how lucky I am to live in a place this beautiful.
I do not miss the snow and cold of Denver. Nor do I miss the awful choking smog or the horrible traffic. I don't know how or why people live in places that are so far removed from where they work that they must endure commuting. I don't miss the crime and all of the people. Real life in Key West is much more fulfilling than I ever dreamt.
If you live in Wildwood, New Jersey or anyplace else and dream of someday moving to Key West, please consider using me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 as your Buyer's Agent. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West. If you live in one of the ten worst cities in America, get the heck out. I don't want all of you coming here. But go someplace safe and live your lives more sanely.
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Gary Thomas in a Nutshell
- Gary Thomas
- Key West, Florida, United States
- I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.