KEY WEST – It might have been the shortest naval battle in history.
“We declared war on the United States and threw stale Cuban bread at a Navy officer,” guide Robert said. “It lasted for about a minute. Then we surrendered and asked for $1 billion in foreign aid to rebuild. We’re still waiting for that $1 billion.”
When the Carnival Magic docked for the day in Key West, many of us climbed aboard a Conch Train open tram to tour around the unusual community. Driver Robert pointed out sites of interest and told us stories of Key West’s past and how it got its nickname of the Conch Republic.
“You are in the Conch Republic,” he said, gesturing to a Conch Republic flag on a porch. “We are proud to be Americans and we are proud to be Conchs. Our local high school sports team is the Fighting Conchs.”
The problem began in 1982 when U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Florida Keys so agents could search cars for contraband. Since the checkpoint was on the only road into and out of the island chain, traffic was brought to a standstill. A 17-mile-long traffic jam resulted.
The roadblock angered residents, visitors and Keys officials who complained that the Keys were being treated as a foreign country. Citizens should be able to come and go more freely, they argued.
When their protests were ignored, Keys residents decided to secede from the Union. On April 23, 1982, the southernmost point in the continental United States did just that. They seceded from the United States of America and formed the Conch Republic.
“The roadblock was quickly removed,” Robert said. “That is why our motto is ‘We seceded where others failed.’ We celebrate that.”
In fact, a 10-day Conch Republic Independence Celebration is held every April. In a town known for its parties, the annual celebration is legendary. That is one thing I quickly learned to like about Key West.
In addition to its colorful characters, laidback atmosphere, renowned Key Lime Pie, balmy weather, many museums, fishing fun and fascinating history, Key West is the only place I know that publicly celebrates the end of every day. Folks gather in Mallory Square to salute the sinking of the sun and to watch for the famed green flash - a special glint of light in the water at sunset.
I think I could get used to that. Celebrate every day and live life to the fullest. Good philosophy to have no matter where you are.