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Perfect Evening, Natch.

A cooling wind and a still bright sun in a flawless sky at seven. What can I tell you. Key West.

I was part of a large crowd lined up at the main pier, all of us gazing at the water and the sky for signs of impending battle. Sometimes we glanced at bland gated Sunset Key island across the water from us, full of empty houses and nothing else.

Despite the full sun, tall lamps burned along the waterfront. Reggae, an inescapable component of island life, pursued us.

Pelicans sat on pilings looking bored. Yet another reenactment of the epic battle with the Coast Guard by which Key West attained its independence and became the Conch Republic. Yawn.

But we were excited. Many around UD wore hats in the shape of conches. They waved Conch Republic flags, miniature counterparts to the enormous CR flags flapping madly in the wind from atop various ships preparing for battle.

One combatant vessel floated by with a banner on it. A QUEST FOR CLOTHING OPTIONAL BEACHES. On the boat, a pirate flourished his sword. Practicing.

A teeny plane puttered by. “Battle’s ongoing,” said an informed observer near UD to no one in particular. “Air power hasn’t yet showed up in force. See that boat with the big Conch Republic flag on it? That’s us. Enemy’s anything without the flag.” He and many other men sucked cigars. Through the smoke, UD saw the circling craft begin spraying water from their decks in large powerful arcs. Again, preparing…

“Airforce!” shouted the man as six planes in ragged formation approached from the south. They rained streamers on the CR boats, and people on the CR boats shook their fists at them.

“Coast Guard!” As the crowd booed its arrival, protracted mutual spraying commenced.

More planes! And then big guns that made red smoke! The streamers streamed down as the air and sea battle ground on. Helicopters buzzed the CR boats, trying to intimidate them, but once more the CR boat people shook their fists. Ashore, young women with flowers in their hair and old men dancing along to the steel band also shook their fists.

Someone fired a banana at the Coast Guard ship, and this was the final straw. As the sun quickly set, government forces just as quickly retreated, and it was over.

Margaret Soltan, April 25, 2009 7:53AM
Posted in: snapshots from key west

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