Key Westers that are born on the island or that have been living in Key West for a very loooong time are called Conchs (pronounced KONKS). They are a unique group of people that embraced a paradise way of living. If you move to Key West as a mainlander you can reach “Freshwater Conch Status” after many years of proving that you are worth the salt of the island. You will notice that Conchs have a certain attitude that all mainlanders admire – they are lazy davy. How do you get this Zen attitude as well? Here are ten secrets that you can learn from the Conchs that can defrost any soul.
1) THE CALLING – ALL ROADS LEAD TO KEY WEST
All Conchs and Freshwater Conchs were pulled towards the island. They came on vacation and never left, they docked in the harbor and never reboarded. Somewhere in your life, you will also hear the call of the island. What will make you a Conch is that you will listen and be spontaneous and adventurous enough to answer back. Flow as you go and sooner or later your road will lead to Key West as well. Listen and be the Conch.
2) STUFF HAPPENS, CA LA VIE
Hurricanes came and gone. The boat sank. The “city” wanted more taxes. You lost your wallet. None of this will get the Conch down because they take everything with a pinch of salt. As they cruise on their bikes they will ask in the wind “Did I spill some milk or did the cow died?” and usually it is only a spill. Keep on Conching! Stuff is just stuff, be the Conch.
3) ONE HUMAN FAMILY
White, black, pink, top or bottom – we do not care. Conchs love and are at peace with themselves and thus love those around them. They are not intimidated by immigrants, they are not offended by all religions, they are not scared of the ‘different’ or the ‘other’. That is why “One Human Family” is the official motto of the City. This is a small island that will teach you that harmony and acceptance are like a strong coral bed that a town can sprout on. Love and be the Conch.
4) TIME IS NOT LINEAR A.K.A ISLAND TIME
You will only see a Conch move fast under two circumstances. To be on time for the Sunset view and hearing “last call”. Other than that, time is not their master. Do not rush a Conch they might withdraw into their shell and ignore you flat. Like the ocean, they have a natural rhythm and they honor that. It is because they know how to breathe. Breath island air in and breath island air out. It will put the world into perspective. Slow down and be the Conch.
5) MEDICINE OF THE PEOPLE – SALT
You do not feel well? Or your heart is broken? Has your day lost its luster? A Conch will tell you to take a bit of salt for that. Go to the beach and soak your body in seawater, and like a teabag, the sorrow will seep out of you. Cry do not hold back and let your tears run over your cheeks until its salty trails drip onto your sandals. If seawater and tears did not do the trick then you are in need of some emergency salt. To make sure the emergency salt goes down chase it with tequila. Easy fix. Salt it and be the Conch.
6) ALL INCLUSIVE – NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
We all have a wound to lick. Key West is the place to do that. You will be left at peace to do some soul searching and address your existential crisis. Nobody will ask questions. Conchs know that the island is a place of healing and searching. They have been there and done that. Do what you need to do to straighten out your head, you are in a safe place. Conchs belong and you will soon learn if you are long enough on the island that you belong too. If you are weird, a bit crazy, somewhat eccentric, misunderstood and ahead of your time, it does not matter. Belong and be the Conch.
7) ANIMAL LOVE – DOGS, CATS, CHICKENS.
If you do not absolutely adore animals you will never be a Master Conch. In Key West, our chickens are revered and protected by law. We have colonies of feral cats and as many dedicated cat ladies feeding them. Every Conch Cruiser (the official bicycle of Key West) has a basket with a pooch in it. Our restaurants welcome dogs, we have a doggie beach and even doggie parades. Conchs and their animals are joined by the hip – it is unconditional love! Not just any pet, they love their rescued pets from the shelter. Typical of a Conch they will give a home to the outcast. Kiss a kitty and be the Conch.
8) THE CURB ALERT
Conchs like to share. If they own something and they do not need it anymore they will pass it on and place it on the curb for whoever needs it. You have to hurry once a “Curb alert ” announces, it will be gone very soon. So keep your eyes peeled for your next couch, bookrack or lamp, you just might find it around the corner. Many Conch homes are decorated in splendor from the Conch curb circulation. Share and be the Conch.
9) CONCH CHURCH – THE OCEAN
If Conchs have time off or a day of worship you will most likely find them on the beach, kayaking, paddling or fishing. The ocean surrounds the island and is always present. It is there when you need your salt medicine, it will cool you down and it will make your soul soar. The ocean is the fluid constant of any Conchs life. Be the water, be the Conch.
10) DANCING WITH THE MUSE
When you live on this island the creative Muse will bless you. You will have urges to play the Ukelele, to pen down a poem, to write that novel and pick up painting. Some sing other dances, either at the playhouse or at the karaoke bar. All Conchs make themselves available to the Muse. They allow her to swoop through their minds the same way she did for Hemingway, Tennesse Williams, Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost etc. So be warned, Key West will awaken something in you that you cannot cork again. Create and be the Conch.