Some snowbirds didn't fly south for the winter and are living out their first northern chill in years.
Putting on a coat, gloves, scarf and hat just to take the dog out in the evenings — it's a scene that Longboat Key residents, both part- and full-time hoped would never chill them again. But for 2021 at least, it's reality once more for Canadian snowbird Patrick Bogert.
Though traffic has thickened, the tourist and visitor season on the Key doesn't look quite the same as it once did. Many part-time residents, especially Canadians, stayed away for 2021, citing COVID-19 concerns and the hassle of mid-pandemic travel. Those who stayed behind are firm and confident in their decisions, but are still spending shivering days thinking of the sun and sea of Longboat Key.
Don and Judy Arndt recently had their warmest day near Toronto since before Christmas — it approached 40 degrees.
The couple left Longboat Key about a year ago, six weeks earlier than they originally planned. They were supposed to come down in late September and stay until mid-April. Too many factors stacked up against leaving their home in the Great White North, so they stayed. Flying was the only option, and the hassle of renting a seasonal car and its expense was a key factor.
“Our kids would not have been very happy with us, and we feel better being here,” Judy said. “There’s all kinds of reasons not to be there.”
Though they know they made the right decision, it’s still tough thinking of what could be. It’s cold elements of daily life back in Canada haven't reopened yet like they have in Florida. But there's only so much TV you can watch and so much virtual bridge you can play. Luckily, they have a gym in their basement so they can keep their routines up and they’ve gotten a lot of reading done.
“We spend a long time having coffee and reading the paper in the morning,” Judy said.
Don and Judy expect they’ll get vaccinated sometime in April but won’t come down until next winter. They miss the sunshine, but have no desire to experience a Floridian summer. More than the sun, they miss their friends.
“I miss tennis league,” Don said. “You meet a lot of wonderful people on the other side, and you go to other clubs, you play and then you go out for dinner and lunch. They’re so social.”
Socialization is hard to come by these days. It’s the first winter the Arndts have spent in Canada in 17 years. Don said their grandkids usually complain that they’re not around in the winter, but now that they are, they’re all in lockdown and can’t see each other anyway. Each day is much like the last in Toronto for now.
“People ask us what we’re up to, and we’ve got nothing to report,” Don said.
Ken Bowes’ northern home is in Georgia, but the part-timer still hasn’t made it to Longboat Key in over a year.
“It’s an easy eight-hour drive, and I usually come down right after the first of the year and stay until a little before Easter and then come back down for part of the summer, so I go back and forth,” Bowes said. “I left last March, so it’s been the longest I’ve ever been away.”
Luckily, he’s not freezing through the winter — he doesn’t even have a winter coat in Georgia — but he’s missing the good eats and good friends. If he were spending the winter on Longboat Key, he would be spending the days at Christ Church with friends and the evenings at various restaurants around town.
“My daughter and granddaughter went down in February and she brought me back two pounds of stone crab claws, so I had a little bit of the Key,” Bowes said. “I got a lot of friends in my condo and a lot of friends at church that I miss seeing, but Zoom has kept us together in a lot of ways. But it’s certainly no substitute for being there.”
He’s stayed away, like others, out of an abundance of caution towards COVID-19. He’s known people who’ve gotten severe cases, and while he knows the odds are against contracting a serious case, he figures it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“The odds are, you’re not going to get it, but I’m in my 80s … my concern was the severity of it if I got it,” Bowes said.
Canadian couple Patrick and Sandy Bogert left in a hurry last March and couldn’t get back easily even if they wanted to. Like the Arndts, they could only get back if they flew down to Florida, and given their dog, art supplies and the stress of flying during a pandemic, they decided to stay put.
“There are other people who are not so cautious, but we are being ultra-cautious,” Patrick said. “We don't travel light, we have a dog. And Sandy really, really does not like flying.”
Their son-in-law is American and has taken his family to the Bogerts’ Longboat Key home, so at least some portion of the family is getting to enjoy the sunshine. Meanwhile, Patrick and Sandy are living out their first Canadian winter in years. They began the pandemic at their cottage near Quebec, which was nice and isolated. However, they’ve never winterized the place, so they relocated to a friend’s Toronto house.
“We’ve been keeping our heads down since November,” Patrick said. “We Zoom call or FaceTime. We go and pick up our groceries. We get up, walk the dog, watch TV, walk the dog, watch TV, have dinner, walk the dog and go to bed.”
The vaccine rollout in Canada is slower than in the United States, so the couple’s inoculations are still a ways off. They won’t be back on Longboat Key until they get vaccinated, so it’s looking like winter 2021. The Bogerts are exasperated with the weather, even though the snows are finally melting. Patrick has to put on a coat and hat to take the dog for a walk.
“Toronto is just cold and damp, and that's just why we go to Florida, frankly,” Patrick said.
Were they in warmer climes, Patrick would be practicing photography, Sandy would be painting and they’d be cooking together. It’s similar to what they’re doing now, but it’s hard to get yourself motivated when those few activities are all you can do.
“I used to go to the gym every day, we would go walking on the beach every day,” Patrick said. “You know, just do what old retired folk do, but in paradise.”