A Year Became 10

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of my arrival in Key West . Around this time a decade ago, I was getting settled in an apartment on Ashby Street . Any by “getting settled,” I mean I was standing in the living room, surrounded by boxes, wondering if it was too late to run back to my parents’ hotel room at the old Holiday Inn Beachside and hitch a ride back home, where I knew the name of every street, and which cabinet held the Pop Tarts.

They had made the 24-hour trek with me and their mini-van and now I couldn’t imagine them leaving me behind in this unfamiliar town that was so much less intimidating for someone on dive trips with a fake ID. Yet here I was, two months out of college and starting real life with a friend from school, who had gotten a management job at the then-Marriott Casa Marina Resort. He soothed my first night panic and homesickness with the suggestion of a few drinks at our new local watering hole. Shanna Key was Our Place back then. It was just two blocks away, and we made it our own – frequently.

Meanwhile, across town at the Holiday Inn Beachside, my father was looking forward to a refreshing dip in the pool after a long day of moving furniture and cutting the apron strings. He was also having trouble understanding how anyone would actually choose to live in a place that could only be described as a steam room. The pool beckoned, and he put on his bathing suit, anticipating cool relief. No such luck. As we all know now, 10 years later, there is no pool cool enough to be refreshing come July and August in Key West . The water temperature may be a few degrees below the air temperature, but the relief is minimal and my dad’s frustration led to a vow never to return to Key West in the summertime. He pledged to fly me to the Jersey Shore whenever I wanted, but he would reserve his trips to the Southernmost City for the winter months. He’s made good on both promises, although my mom has braved the humidity for a vacation with girlfriends, and for an unexpected “vacation” when my appendix exploded.

I was only supposed to live here for a year “to get it out of my system,” I told everyone. The island and weather had beckoned throughout spring break trips and I needed to live here just for a bit. My panic subsided in the first few days as I wandered the island and began work as a reporter, where I met friends I would keep for life and the British editor who took a chance on a kid just out of college. (I think it helped that I was wiling to work for $19,000 a year and cover the Mosquito Control Board.) Things were good. Still a little unfamiliar, but good.

My old Saturn was parked out front on Ashby Street , Michael McCloud’s lyrics were still new to me and I ordered conch fritters nearly every place I went. (I actually overdid the fritters and can barely look at them now.) While I was trying to get this place “out of my system,” it was becoming my system. It became home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. One year turned into 10, the island has changed, the British editor is gone and I’ve moved from Ashby Street . I still see my first landlords, Capt. Frank and Pam Holden. I still know Michael McCloud’s lyrics and I still treasure the friends I met at The Citizen my first day here. My dad still doesn’t visit in the summertime, but they still fly me up to my other home whenever I want. They drove back up north that day 10 years ago but still haven’t left me behind.

Mandy Bolen’s columns appear in The Key West Citizen

Mandy Bolen's award winning "Tan Lines" column appears bi-weekly in the Key West Citizen. Offering unique insights on life in the southernmost island and life in general, her wit and wisdom has been likened to that of a "female Dave Barry."