Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bed Racing

It happened in 1982 that the Federal Government had one it's periodic crack downs and the Border Patrol as was set up a check point on Highway One to make sure "illegal aliens" weren't using the Keys as a back door entry to the US. This unaccustomed heavy handedness caused tourist operators to fear the worst for their income and they did the all American thing and took the Immigration and Naturalization Service (as was) to court.The story goes that pressed by reporters on what he was going to do next, Mayor Dennis Wardlow, in consultation with his advisers huddled for a moment in the courthouse lobby sought and found the inspiration that sometimes strikes the desperate. So he announced that he was going to secede from the United States. A declaration that made headlines. And so it was that the Border Patrol (as was) found itself shamed into taking down the check point and restored easy travel between the US and the Conch Republic, which in the meantime, having got into the spirit of the moment pressed the US government to fork over some "foreign aid," seeing as how the islands were blockaded from the mainland. And so people gather under cloudless blue skies to watch other people make gentle asses of themselves in public:In an effort to keep the revenue up for the "hospitality industry" the latter part of April is a time set aside for celebrations in Key West to mark the ever popular act of secession. Much of it involves the usual drinking, parading, and bikini contests with the addition of a "sea battle" which the Coastguard joins with local boats, and the whole thing wraps up with a bed race up Duval Street."Where else but Key West," my wife the former public defender wondered out loud, "would you find the cops escorting beds down the street?" The Conch Republic is big business for one week and they hire off duty cops to keep order, which needn't be a tough assignment at a family event like a bed race. Officer Standerwick was keeping an eye on the crowds as the start line:When one says a "family affair" this is one human family, not at all like the Swiss Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden which the BBC reports has voted by popular acclamation to outlaw naked alpine hiking, a problem I hadn't previously known to have existed. Key West doesn't actually allow nudity on the streets, but the One Human Family label covers a multitude of sins where the benefits of commerce are involved and peculiar garb, and the less of it the better, is designed to attract crowds and their money:So they line the beds up two by two, and they push them down the street, raising money for charity, laughs for the crowds and cans of beer for refreshment:
Duval Street was closed for several hours on Saturday afternoon as the pushers pushed and the crowds cheered them on. Between pairs of beds Eaton Street was opened to traffic by Officers O'Connell:And Jewell:

Who kept order at the busy intersection reminding riders that Duval was closed, as though that weren't obvious even to the oblivious, and to cross the street before the next pair of beds came flying past. The crowds were huge along the street but it was an easy going bunch of people who came out to check on the weirdness galloping down the street. The spectators, unlike at Fantasy Fest, kept their street clothes on as they gave their off spring an education:

Rob O'Neal, a photographer from the Citizen was busy documenting the speeding beds, and we exchanged a few pleasantries on the future of Cuba, and the hope that the embargo might soon vanish:

As it is there is more animosity welling up between the Upper Keys and the Lower Keys, never mind Cuba, over this Conch Republic fantasy. Peter Anderson who styles himself the Secretary General of the Conch Republic is involved in a copyright dispute of embargo proportions with a group of copy cats in the Upper Keys who have seen the popularity of the Key West festivities and want to peel off a piece of the action themselves and hold their own more suburban gathering of the "Northern Territories of the Conch Republic." Rather than have a bed race to sort out the rights to the name (which seem obvious in light of Anderson's longevity) they are going back to the real roots of the Conch Republic: The all American Courthouse.