Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Celebrating the Conch Republic Key West Style

Last week, well the last 10 days really, was the 30th anniversary of the Conch Republic celebration in the Keys. Stuffed into the final 30 hours or so that I was in Key West were Conch Republic-related activities.

For the uninitiated, the Conch Republic was born of a dust up between the Keys and the U.S. government. In its war on drugs, the U.S. government established -- what for all intents and purposes -- was a border crossing on Card Sound Road leading out of Key Largo in an attempt to curtail the drugs getting into Miami.

The Border Patrol checked IDs, searched cars and generally mucked up traffic coming out of the Keys. It added hours to the trip. Tourism was down thanks to media reports about the difficulties of the trip home. It was every bit as intrusive and time consuming as traveling over the border from Mexico.

Attorneys for the Keys filed for an injunction to relieve the hardship with the Federal Court in Miami. The U.S. Attorney General himself traveled to Miami to argue the government's position. Basically the judge refused to find one way or the other after the U.S. government promised to become more selective in the cars that were stopped; profiling, in other words.

When the group representing the Keys walked out of the courthouse, they were met by a gaggle of media asking them what they were going to do next. Without issuing a statement, they returned to the safety of the courthouse to discuss an answer. Although who actually suggested succession has been lost to history, someone did and the group agreed. They returned to the microphones outside and stated that they were forming the Conch Republic and it would succeed from the U.S. at noon the next day.

At noon on the dot -- such punctuality is quite rare in the Keys -- the Conch Republic announced its independence and declared war on the U.S. A resident U.S. Navy admiral, sympathetic to the cause, offered himself as the target of the only hostilities in the event and was pummeled with Cuban bread. The Conch Republic then asked for $1 billion in foreign aid. The money was never forthcoming, but the border crossing disappeared three days later.

The Conch Republic claimed victory.

I was entertained with this story by none other than the Honorable Sir Peter Anderson at breakfast on day five of my Keys adventure. I sat next to him as he regaled our small group with the history and little-known facts about the Conch Republic.

Sir Peter was named First Secretary General of the Conch Republic by Captain Tony because he was the only one who came to the organizational meeting with a pen and pad of paper. He remains the Secretary General today. His two main functions are issuing Conch Republic passports -- yes, they issue passports -- and yelling orders to participants in the annual World's Longest Parade through a bullhorn.

We saw him in action at the parade the evening before. It's called the World's Longest Parade because its route takes it from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico coast -- a few blocks, actually, but it is from coast to coast.

Fortunately, our vantage point was directly in front of a bar, so we had no problem wetting our whistles as we waited and watched. I'd say it required about 15 minutes for the entire parade to pass in front of us.

On Friday evening we boarded the two-masted Jolly Rover for a sunset cruise and to watch the "Bloody Battle" in the harbor. This consisted of a Coast Guard Cutter doing battle with several large party boats and schooners. The weapons of choice were water cannons. The boats maneuvered around hosing one another as sea planes and biplanes circled over head carpet bombing the entire group with rolls of toilet paper.

It was quite the spectacle.

I even got a turn at the helm.

After the cruise, I excused myself from our hosts and walked to J & B Lobster next door where Kia was hosting dinner for a group of journalists who had driven from Miami in the new Optima Hybrid. I crashed the dinner and spent the rest of the night with this group hitting spots like Capt. Tony's and Durty Harry's.

Because I had to be up at 5:00 the next morning to call Delta in an attempt -- a successful attempt, I might add -- to rebook my flight home from 5:30 p.m. to 8 a.m., I left the remnants of the Kia crew and headed back to the Cypress House around midnight.

Another Keys adventure in the history books.

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