|Sunset in Key West|
First a little history:
In 1982, the United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on US1, the only road connecting the Florida Keys with the mainland. Vehicles were routinely stopped and searched for drugs and illegal immigrants.
The Key West City Council complained repeatedly about the inconvenience for travelers to and from Key West, claiming that it hurt the Keys' important tourism industry.
Their complaints were ignored by the federal government. Attempts to win an injunction against the roadblock failed in court. On April 23, the Council launched their protest by declaring Key West's independence and secession from the union.
Protesters believed that since the federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station as if they were a foreign nation, they sure as hell might as well become one.
As many of the local citizens were referred to as Conchs, the nation took the name of the Conch Republic.
It gets better.
The Mayor was proclaimed Prime Minister of the Republic, which immediately declared war against the U.S. (symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform). They surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid!
The roadblock and inspection station were removed.
Traveling (seceding) to the Keys is one of the most unique driving experiences in America. You are part of a vehicle processional along a narrow road, which includes crossing several bridges with only the turquoise Atlantic on both sides. It is 122 miles at 50 mph with plenty of time for reflection.
When you arrive in the Conch Republic, you have entered a place where relaxation reigns. The locals and tourists gather every night at Mallory Square to watch the sunset and celebrate like it might be their last.
The people bask in their freedom from the trappings of urban bustle and a disregard for the opinions of others. So many Jimmy Buffet wannabes. Men with ponytails, earrings and Tommy Bahama shirts. People so tan they could be skinned for shoes or purses. Virtually NO children (seriously), giant strollers or parents clamoring to pacify the "precious". Just Hedonistic Adult Nirvana!
But it is a tourist trap with a proud history. "We are laid back and friendly, but Don't F**k with Us" is the undercurrent of this peaceful, easy feeling. I suspect even the 60+ six-toed cats who roam the famous Hemingway House have more attitude than usual to spare. The bars feature live music all the time and beckon to you that everything will be okay...especially after a few drinks.
Sometimes there is no substitute for Distance. You may find relaxation at home or somewhere else in your town. But oh, the epiphanies that await you after a few thousand miles and a margarita! Looking back at your life lets you see more clearly your options for moving forward. It is the best gift you can give your psyche.
By the way, you can apply for a passport from the Conch Republic. I plan to carry mine proudly.
I might even mark my calendar for April 23, and celebrate the Conch Republic's Independence Day, inspired by the mission of the local organizing committee. They call themselves Sovereign State of Mind and "seek only to bring more Humor, Warmth, and Respect to a world in sore need of all three".
Viva la Conch!