Key West Stories

Wild in the streets. That’s what Key West is all about. Not riot wild. Not even New Orleans wild — although it can get that way in October during the annual Fantasy Fest.

I guess I mean, wild at heart.

Whatever you want to do in KW, as long as it doesn’t cross the line — and even when it does — not a problem. It’s a frontier, laid-back, grab a beer, love ’em, leave ’em, it’s your life mentality.

July 4th one year. Fireworks going off the New Town side of the island. Maria and I were standing at the top of The Bull and Whistle. The Bull is the first floor bar, where they usually play live blues or rock. The second story is the Whistle Bar, and the third story, on the roof, is the Garden of Eden. Lounge chairs for nude sunbathers in the day; bar at night.

We heard women screaming and laughing down below on Duval Street. This was the first year Hooters was open on Duval (only a year or two later it became a Hard Rock). We look over the ledge, and there’s a naked guy running down the street — well, he was wearing sneakers. The Hooters waitresses were loving it, as was the crowd watching from the Garden roof. I’m still surprised the building didn’t topple over from the weight.

Same vacation, early afternoon. Oustide at a table at the Schooner Wharf Bar, on the Key West Bight. Afternoon blues guitarist/singer. Hippie chick lights up a smoke…but it ain’t a Marlboro. And nobody bothers to stop her.

You gotta love it!

Fantasy Fest, nudity runs rampant. Instead of arresting the offenders, the cops hand them t-shirts. (2nd offense, that’s different.)

Justice at work.

Speaking of Justice with a capital J, I stupidly took off a semester in grad school. If I had stayed in Miami, I could possibly have heard first-hand about the Conch Republic — the only town to ever secede from the U.S. I recommend reading The Conch That Roared by Gregory King for the whole story. But here’s the brief history, as reported by Wikipedia:

In 1982, the United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on US 1 just north of the merger of Monroe County Road 905A/Miami-Dade County Road 905A onto US 1 (they are the only two roads connecting the Florida Keys with the mainland), in front of the Last Chance Saloon just south of Florida City. Vehicles were stopped and searched for narcotics 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. In fact, Eastern Air Lines, which had a hub at Miami International Airport, saw a window of opportunity when the roadblocks were established; Eastern became the only airline to establish jet service to Key West International Airport, counting on travelers from Key West to Miami preferring to fly rather than to wait for police to search their vehicles.

When the City Council’s complaints went unanswered by the Federal Government and attempts to get an injunction against the roadblock failed in court, as a form of protest Mayor Dennis Wardlow and the Council declared the Key West’s “independence” on April 23, 1982. In the eyes of the Council, since the federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station as if they were a foreign nation, they 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.

As part of the protest, Mayor Wardlow 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), quickly surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid.

The mock secession and the events surrounding it generated great publicity for the Keys’ plight — the roadblock and inspection station were removed soon afterward. It also resulted in the creation of a new avenue of tourism for the Keys.

2 thoughts on “Key West Stories

  1. Be afraid. I am the pretender to the throne of Scotland and the Emperor of Maine. Once I talk over Maine, because it is too cold and rocky so the US won’t mind if we leave (except for the lobsters). Then Scotland back from the UK, because they never really were given rule. My McIver tribe will rise again.


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