Pandemic Journal , Day 67
The US 1 roadblock in Florida City, which has been keeping out non-Keys residents since March, is coming down June 1st. Most of us in Key West are holding our breath, waiting to see what happens when the cooped-up hoards, ready to shed their inhibitions and viruses, take over Duval Street. It’s Memorial Day weekend, quiet here, but the news has been showing mask-less people swarming Boardwalks and beaches from Missouri to New Jersey. The scenes are of lots of flesh in all shapes and sizes, cavorting in close contact with almost giddy abandon. It’s troubling to say the least.
I decide to grill out, but that means going shopping. Shopping has become an act of foraging now, scrambling to finding toilet paper and hand soap (whatever you can find) and eggs and dairy with long sell-by dates. And you can’t just “pop in” to pick something up. Going to a store entails lists and gloves, masks and a game plan.
Being that it’s a holiday, I don’t want to risk the big markets up on Roosevelt Boulevard. So I decide to get on the trike and head into old town, which has been uncharacteristically quiet since the roadblock and hotel ban.
Foraging Report: 5/24/2020
Fausto’s Fine Food Palace, Fleming Street, Key West;
The first thing I noticed was the blissfully unbusy vibe. The sole register open had only one person at it which inspired enough confidence in me to grab a large cart instead of a basket.
The produce section was fairly well stocked and completely empty of customers, allowing me to spend a relaxing time browsing through the overly priced fruits and vegetables. Deli had a good selection, although items on the grocery shelves were limited and marked up. Staff was politely distanced except the guy behind the meat counter who asked if he could help me find anything. That turned into a bit of a conversation, which, even though we were both masked, I would have rather not had. Still, he directed me to some pretty great fresh salsa.
I ran into only two other customers and both were exceedingly considerate. One flattened himself against the ice cream display case as I approached, and the other backed out of the aisle when she saw me turn in. The aisles here are those of a 1950’s A&P, which made the effort all the more appreciated.
My cashier allowed me to pack my own bags, so it was almost like self-checkout (my personal preference). The total was a good $10 over what I’d spend uptown, but what do you expect from a place that charges $4.99 for a small box of Raisin Bran? The peace of mind was worth it.
I’m going to remember this lovely grocery shopping experience for a long time. Because after June 1st, foraging will be more fraught throughout the island. With this Covid thing, you never know what can happen.
On Friday, I drove my trike over to Walgreens on Roosevelt Boulevard, the busy four shopping artery that connects Old Town with US 1. I said I’d never take my bike there, but it was a pretty evening and I had been inside all day. Earlier, I had a telehealth appointment with my ENT doctor, who gave me a shopping list of items to try for my clogged left ear. Unless I had something like ear cancer, he explained, he wasn't seeing people. Actually, I was kind of relieved to not have to go to his office.
The evening air was pleasant and hardly humid. I took to the sidewalk for my eastbound route, following the Gulf side of the road. At 7 pm, the water was silver and flat, mirroring the lowering sun, which still shone brightly as it dipped toward the horizon. Although I had traveled this road by car many, many times, I saw things I never did before: mangrove swamps, tiny houseboats with names like At Ease, a large community of pastel townhouses that I never realized was Section 8 housing.
There were occasional walkers, joggers, and small clusters of chatting groups, which were to be avoided at all cost. At one point, three girls on mountain bikes raced around me chatting up a cloud of human breath. I was wearing a mask, but hardly anyone else was.
I was glad to see a sign taped to the automatic door at the entrance to Walgreens stating all customers had to wear face coverings. Back by the pharmacy, I asked a salesperson, who had a mask but no gloves, for help finding the mineral oil that the doctor wanted me to try. She walked me to the spot, grabbed the item off the shelf and handed it over. I was horrified.
I did not want her to touch it, just show me it. How could she and all those other salespeople - including those in grocery stores, keep acting like everything was the same, as if six feet away meant nothing?
I took the bottle from her with my latex gloved hand but put it back as soon as she left. Then I selected the “clean” one behind it, knowing it probably had been handled, too.
The checkout line wasn’t long, but a woman was holding things up by chatting with the cashier and buying cigarettes and lottery tickets. As I waited, I grabbed a bottle of wine from a display near the checkout lane, whichhad been taped off in six feet increments. The cashier and customer kept talking in Spanish. Finally, the woman who had her paws on my mineral oil opened a cashier lane and called me over.
She got her hands on every item in my cart, including the bottle of mineral oil I exchanged for the one she handled. The she started to ring up the wine, asking for my ID. I laughed. “You want me take my mask off?” I asked her. “You won’t need an ID.” She stared at me.
I admit being checked for my ID was somewhat flattering (it’s been decades), but not worth the inconvenience of having to break into my wallet to pull out one of my “uncontaminated” cards. Whenever I shop now, I put the credit card I’ll be using in its own separate plastic bag until it can be cleaned at home. I had one card bagged and it was not my Driver’s license.
The license wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I began nervously digging through my bag, knowing my gloved hand was full of germs. I was glad to get out of the place and rip my gloves off. I used to love to shop. Not so much now.
On the way back, I ran into an aged Key West hipster (or homeless guy, couldn’t be sure) walking down the sidewalk carrying a huge American flag. He was naked except for red swimming shorts, a cowboy hat and flip flops. I say naked, because he reminded me of the naked cowboy on Times Square. Except with a flag. I saluted him as I passed. His face lit up with a huge smile. “Thank you,” he said. And he meant it.
I don’t know why, but that flag and that man made me feel better. Such a small, strange, man. Such bravery, making that flag his own. He was probably either drunk or crazy, but he knew what he loved. That flag.
And in the moment I saluted it, I did too.
I'm relaxing on my little patio enjoying the nice weather, when two guys walk by on the sidewalk. Although they're hidden by the fence and a screen of buttonwoods, I can hear them talking and I don't think they're three feet away much less six. My distancing alarm goes off. But this is it - I have to accept I live in a city now (no longerthe 1/4 acre of suburban separation I had before). So yes, I live in a city. And I can already hear it humming back to life, (scooters buzzing, trucks rumbling, cars booming bass out open windows). There's talk of Florida "reopening" for business. The natives are getting restless.
Masks are going away. I find the cheery normality with which it is happening frankly creepy. I don't drink near enough alcohol to numb the feeling.
Just found out the onset of our COVID infections follow the track of 2 cruise ships that were carrying COVID -19 passengers aboard when they docked on Key West in early March.
Their port of call dates, March 5th and 6th, lines up with the 2 week track of the first positive tested case in Key West on March 19th.
The Celebrity Infinity also had a crew member die on the exact same day as the first community death here.
The ships went on from Key West to travel around the Caribbean. My heart breaks knowing this. These poor islands don't need this.
And Hurricane season is coming.