Tales from the End of the Road; Living through COVID19 in Key West

On January 24, 2020, I received a text message from one of my Moms, Jules. She had linked me to an article: “Second Travel Related case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Detected in the United States.” She followed it up with a plea that was not surprising from a mother to a child (even if that “child” is 33 years old).

“PLEASE go to Amazon and order a bunch of N95 masks for yourself, and maybe some safety glasses too. You live in a tourist area!”

That, I do. I live in Key West, Florida. For the uninformed, its a 4.2 square mile island nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, in the northern part of the Caribbean Sea. We call it the “End of the Road.” US 1 Highway runs down the country’s Eastern coast, all the way through Florida and ends at Mile Marker 0, a couple blocks from where I live. It’s closer to Cuba than Miami. Closer to Cuba than a Wal-Mart, even. The population is around 24,000 people, but as the most popular island of the Florida Keys, we see millions of tourists every year. MILLIONS.

I could see why mom was worried. Not only do I live on a busy tourism-dependent island with three cruise ship ports, I am also a bartender at one of, if not THE busiest restaurants in town. On any given day, I come into contact with literally hundreds of people. It’s not unusual for us to serve 800-1,000 people for breakfast. Yeah, Jules had every right to worry. I tend to brush things under the rug, so I wasn’t too concerned then. I should have listened.

March 16, 2020:

When Jules sent me that “end of days” text two months ago, I thought she was overreacting (sorry, Jules). I mean, I’ve been through some stuff. I once had Swine Flu and bed bugs at the same time. I’ve been stuck on this island for a category 4 hurricane, Irma, with no electricity or running water. How bad could an illness be, really? Up until this past week, the only thing COVID-19 was doing for me was making it damn near impossible to buy toilet paper (this is a respiratory illness, people, not a poopy one). They closed the cruise ship ports last week, and word around town is that there will be a town meeting tomorrow to decide if restaurants should close until this thing is over. This is getting real. And despite Jules’ pleas, I did not prepare as I should have. She would be pissed, or even worse, just disappointed, if she knew.

The tourists seem to not have gotten the memo that the world is shuttering its doors and windows. The streets are packed with people, and maybe I’m just paranoid, but these people are just coughing willy-nilly, not covering their mouths. Gross. Stores are still out of toilet paper because people are hoarding already. There is still food, though! I am used to preparing for a hurricane, so I’m kind of at a loss as what to stock up on.

March 17, 2020:

Governor DeSantis announced this morning that all restaurants are to reduce to 50% capacity, starting tonight. That’s all fine and well, but remember what I said about my restaurant? We can easily serve 1,000 people in a day. Reducing that to 500 people is still 500 people too many, especially when they’re coming from all over the world. Supposedly, there are no cases in the Florida Keys… yet.

UPDATE: Mayor Teri Johnston just announced that in the city of Key West, bars and nightclubs are to close their doors, and restaurants are to have take-out or delivery only. That 50% capacity didn’t last long. We were told by our owners that we are not required to come in for our shifts if we aren’t comfortable, but I can see my bank account dwindling pretty quickly once this all goes sour, so I’m going to go in for my shift tonight and try this whole thing out.

March 18, 2020:

Quarantine Day 1:

Last night was my last shift at the restaurant for the foreseeable future. We are not built well for takeout food, and virtually nobody was tipping on their orders, so it was not worth it for me to expose myself for free. I left with $7 after two and a half hours of work.

I decided today that I will not be going to Crossfit until this whole thing blows over. That was a hard decision to make, since I’ve been pretty on top of working out for the last 8 or 9 months. But I have a sneaking suspicion that gyms will be closing soon anyway, so I’m going to have to figure out a way to work out from home. Maybe I’ll finally dust off those P90X workout DVDS that I bought ten years ago and have been carting around to every place I’ve moved since then. Do I even have a DVD player?

March 19, 2020:

Quarantine Day 2:

Now that we are getting into the full swing of quarantining, dear journal, let me list for you the players that will be coming in and out of my entries, so that you may get properly acquainted:

In my adorable and cozy (read, somewhat small) apartment, there are four of us stuck together for God-Knows-How-Long:

Jenni: Jenni is my roommate. She is a server at a quaint little French cafe around the corner from our apartment. She’s mild mannered and knows how to calm me down when I get my panties in a twist.

Shelby: Shelby is Jenni’s daughter. She’s a couple years younger than I am, and she’s spunky and hilarious.

Myles: Myles is my new boyfriend. He’s a musician, which means he’s also out of work. He’s beyond chill, which is a good balance from my firecracker personality. Nothing like starting out a new relationship by being forced to be around each other 24/7! Pray for us! Haha, just kidding.

This is all still surreal, so I’m going to go what I do best, and have one or seven cocktails until I fall asleep relatively early just to get this day over with. I’m already bored.

UPDATE: I chopped all my hair off. Rather, Shelby did.

March 20, 2020:

Quarantine Day 3:

Governor DeSantis closed the gyms today and advised that we not congregate in groups over 10 people. Myles and I decided to make a big Publix stop to stock up on essentials (still no toilet paper), and I backed into my neighbor’s rental car, leaving a pretty impressive dent in his driver side door.

Myles met up with a couple musician friends to live stream a show online. It was awesome to see people tuning in, making requests, and donating money through Venmo or PayPal. Everyone’s bank accounts are slowly but surely dwindling, and even though we aren’t out and about spending money, rent is coming up, and bills are piling, and I don’t think any of our student loan companies give a crap that we are out of jobs en masse.

I have a little bit saved up, but not as much as I’d like to have at this point in season. I was supposed to have a few more months to stockpile some money, but at this rate, it doesn’t seem that we will be going back to work for a while. The return-to-work date was supposed to be around mid-April. Now, it’s looking like mid-May. I have a feeling they’re stringing us along so that we don’t all freak the hell out.

March 21, 2020:

Quarantine Day 4

We attended a small wedding in the middle of a sandbar today (don’t worry, we adhered to the rules pretty well, keeping some distance and kept our boat at 7 people). It was the most Key West style wedding I’ve ever seen. It was so nice to be out on the water for what will probably be the last time in a long time. It’s torture sitting inside my house when all I see when I look out the window is sunshine and palm trees and blue skies.

This social distancing is hard. By nature, I’m an extrovert. I crave human connection. I’m the epitome of a social creature. I’m going to have to come up with a daily routine so that I don’t lose my damn mind during all of this. It hasn’t even been a week and I’m climbing the walls.

LBB  Lauryn Lucy Brooke is a bartender who lives in Key West, Florida. Her favorite activities used to be traveling, scuba diving, and hanging out with friends. None of which she can do now.  Lauryn has a Masters Degree in Journalism from CUNY.

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One thought on “Tales from the End of the Road; Living through COVID19 in Key West”

  1. Being an extrovert in quarantine on another tropical island, I can certainly relate to this! Being surrounded by beautiful beaches you can’t go to adds a whole other layer to this experience. 😞

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