It was twelve years ago, sitting at a bar on the limited seacoast of New Hampshire after work, having a few relaxing beers, that the conversation first started. “You know why I love this place....” slurred one of the locals, who’d been drinking since my shift began about nine hours prior.
“Seabrook?” I question, looking over my shoulder at the eerie sphere of the nuclear power plant, which the servers told the tourists was a observatory. This part of the seacoast had speakers all over the telephone poles to make the locals feel safe that when the meltdown happened, cause they seem to always eventually happen, that they would have plenty of notice to evacuate. What these naive locals didn’t know is that the speakers didn’t work. They were for comfort, like diet shakes. It made you think you were doing something positive, but nothing changed. Seabrook, and all the surrounding
communities, were full of bridges, which will close when the meltdown happens. We lived in the kill zone. But, hell, it made for an excellent sunset, over the harbor, viewed from the docks, or the bar, behind the plant.
“No, the bar.” He sneers. Shoots the girlie shot that the bartender, my girlfriend, had "invented" that evening. “It reminds me of Key West ...”
That is when the seed was set. Three months later I landed in a land that I did not know. The joke is that I did not even know it was on the map. The best it was explained to me is that it was off the coast of Florida. No one mentioned it was in the Caribbean. Granted, I believe that the actual geographic location of the sea is south of Cuba, but the soul of the island definitely lies in the sea of pirates. So when people ask me why I moved from the Canadian border to Key West, there really is no reason. In all honesty it just seemed a good idea at the time. I like to tell the people the road ended. No one ever asks why I stayed.
I never asked that local or the many others over the next month or so why they didn’t live still in Key West. They all spoke of it with a glitter in their eyes, like they were dreaming of some far off paradise. And of course they were. But like all dreams there is a reality to paradise as well. That reality is the reason why people dreamed of the Florida Keys but did not live in the Florida Keys. The whole reality of the situation is what you want out of life. When bars close at four a.m. and reopen at six, and sobriety is a matter of degrees, it is hard for some to live what many would call a real life. These locals, hiding in the bars of small beach towns throughout the coast, did not fare well in the Keys. It is a small island, limited real-estate, and a penchant for gossip. Those who can’t walk the line of work and pleasure usually burn through opportunities quickly and head to the main land.
I headed to the main land for another reason: career. I had it stuck in my head that my situation in Key West was temporary, and eventually I would start my “real life.” Basically, I wanted to try my hand at reality. The stress of that reality, in the real world, on the main land, led me back to my paradise after three long winters and three very short summers.
For me Key West is a paradise. I wear sandals 95 percent of the time. I own a jacket, somewhere. I have little stress from traffic or being late to work. One: I bike, therefore skip through what traffic may occur. Two: No one cares if I am late. “Hey it's Key West time,” you will hear people say when asked why they are late or if the restaurant opens five minutes late. Relax, it is an island, and few are going anywhere quickly. It makes me believe that if we let the rest of the world run
five minutes late, maybe there would be less stress in the world.
That is why I returned to Key West, and that is why I will stay.
Keith Ross is a New Hampshire native who is living the dream.