Opinion: Everything is different in the Florida Keys

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I can always tell when I’m past due for a vacation. I start thinking about Key West, that enigmatic capital of the Conch Republic where My Friend the Boat Owner and I spent a number of years lazily repairing and sailing a 45-foot ocean-going sailboat.

To call Key West different is like calling an enraged tiger a pussycat. The people are different, the pace is different and the attitude toward just about everything is different.

The people who live in the Keys in particular are all-inclusive. The homeless man riding his highly decorated bicycle down the street enjoys the same status as the guy who owns the waterfront bar or the elected town official. Everyone counts. The same goes for dogs, cats and feral chickens.

The pace in the Keys is more of a lollygag than a stride. Urgency has been excommunicated. Nobody hurries. If something doesn’t get done today it probably won’t get done tomorrow either.

The overriding attitude in Key West is one of whimsical tranquility. By acclamation, most issues must be discussed over a large pitcher of margaritas. If no agreement is reached, a second pitcher is mandatory. It’s against the law to get uptight. Dress is largely personal preference. A formal occasion means you wear socks.

Visitors to Key West quickly learn the rules. By the time they have been there for four days, they suddenly realize they haven’t looked at their watch for hours. And they’ve been sitting contented on the same bar stool since the sun went down. Moreover, while it took a mere 20 minutes to cruise the entire length of Duval Street when they first arrived, now they seldom make it past Sloppy Joes before closing time.

In 1982 the Florida Keys seceded from the union. It happened when the federal government set up a roadblock at Florida City – the gateway to the Keys – ostensibly to keep illegal aliens from entering the mainland. Unfortunately, this also kept regular citizens from entering the mainland until they proved they were citizens.

An angry mayor of Key West along with a few other indignant residents first filed for an injunction against the federal government, and when that failed, issued a proclamation of secession from the union, thereby establishing the Conch Republic.

Minutes after seceding, the mayor surrendered to the federal government and demanded foreign aid. The feds just laughed, of course, and as a result, the secession is official and still stands. If you live there, you can get a Conch Republic passport, which is accepted by most Caribbean islands and parts of Europe.

And, oh yeah, they are still waiting for the foreign aid.


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