Key West was a perfect place to launch a book. It is also a perfect place to launch a boat – but I don’t have a boat and I do have a book www.soyouthinkyoucanbepresident.com. Actually, Key West is perfect for anything.
Iris & Clay signing books at the Dewey House
When you are there, whether you open your eyes in the morning to a purple sunrise or close them, after a few rum drinks on the beach and a brilliantly orange sunset, it remains a perfect paradise. Perfect and paradise maybe repetitious but in this case well deserved.
This was not the case after Wilma hit in October 2005. It was only a few months after the devastating Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi and because the Keys had escaped serious damage from that storm, the destruction Wilma caused was almost a surprise. Key West is an Island. You can just hop on over if you want to drive three hours from Miami, fly from points north but with a change in aircraft, or venture by sea—like on a cruise ship. It is well worth whatever effort it takes to get there, but it is not as easy a vacation destination as others might be—which makes it even more agreeable. But people who make their living from the tourist business, as well as people who chose to own property so they could escape to paradise every year, found it difficult to recover. Restaurants, shops, even bars disappeared in large numbers. A property that had been selling for a million dollars immediately dropped 10 to 20%. People whose homes were severely damaged were forced to move to trailers or worse, to leave the Island. The trailers were the same lot that went to Katrina victims so they were delayed, non-existent or, and here’s the best part, only to be used in non-hurricane areas during non-hurricane season. So even if you got lucky enough to finally get a trailer (and it didn’t rot) you weren’t allowed to have it for very long.
Needless to say when people were looking for a place to mellow out and relax, they gave second thought to traveling to Key West which was what they considered “chancy”. My pal and co-author Clay Greager had a store called Last Flight Out for twenty-two years. Given the diminished number of tourists, he finally closed the store this past January.
And as I have said, he was not alone. They are starting to rebuild but there is still a kind of pall hanging over the community. The people who are Key Westers no longer trust or like the Government of the US – it is just too dumb, most agree. And so they find solace in their own Republic which was “established by secession of the Florida Keys from the United States of America, on April 23rd, 1982 in response to a United States Border Patrol Blockade setup on highway U.S.1 at Florida City just to the north of the Florida Keys. This heinous act effectively isolated Keys Citizens from the U.S. mainland since the blockade was on the only land artery to and from the mainland. This roadblock portrayed Keys residents as non-U.S. citizens who had to prove their citizenship in order to drive onto the Florida mainland! Hardly an American thing to do!” In a 1982 declaration of independence - in the name of The Conch Republic, they wrote:
“DEDICATED TO THE FUNDAMENTALLY AMERICAN SPIRIT OF A PEOPLE UNAFRAID TO STAND UP TO ‘GOVERNMENT GONE MAD WITH POWER’ THAT EMBODIED THE FOUNDING OF THE CONCH REPUBLIC IN 1982. AS THE WORLD’S FIRST FIFTH WORLD NATION, A SOVEREIGN STATE OF MIND SEEKING ONLY TO BRING MORE HUMOR, WARMTH, AND RESPECT TO A WORLD IN SORE NEED OF ALL THREE, THE CONCH REPUBLIC REMAINS THE COUNTRY WHO SECEDED WHERE OTHERS FAILED.”
The Secretary-General of the Conch Republic, Sir Peter Anderson
In their humor there is a sweet sadness reflecting only a part of their frustration with the high price of fuel – the cost of fish has remained the same but oil to run the boats has quadrupled. Additionally, People who work in high priced places like Key West can’t afford to live where they work and have to commute – which costs a lot if you have to do it by boat or car—and how else can you do it. The residents are tired of the lack of concern, services, diplomacy, and general effort of the part of the government to deal with this, as well as many other problems in “vacation” communities.
I know, vacations are not a priority if people can’t eat, be educated, take medication, have health care, drive their cars, etc. But vacations are not the point. People just trying to survive and maybe use a few extra dollars for which they worked very hard, are exactly the point. And so we decided to launch our book, a test that, in a humorous way—like the Conch Republic, introduces the reader to the overwhelming scope of what it takes to be President, in a place that has suffered the consequences of government ineptness.
People came in droves to celebrate the success of one of it’s own. And they wanted to see what this piece of political literature was really about – they wanted to take the test. But more than that, they want the next President of the United States to have passed some kind of a reality check. They are no longer willing to hear Bush say he didn’t know gas prices were high or Cheney to say “So?” as a reaction to the war, or even a speech like the Obama speech about race. Maybe if, like the Conch Republic, every state secedes in protest over incompetence or arrogance we will actually stand a chance to succeed as a nation. We’re just sayin... Iris