Coming out of the menâ€™s room at the Hotel Inter-Conch-tinental during the Summit of the Americas… the Olâ€™ He-Coon himself, Governor Lawton Chilesâ€¦
“I sure am glad youâ€™re still our Governor, and our Special Envoy for Mainland Affairs! Conch-gratulations, Governor!”, said Secretary General, Anderson.
“Hey, why donâ€™t you bring the Conch on up to my Inauguration?”
On New Yearâ€™s Day we load it up and head off to Tallahassee. Warm clothes, and warm hearts… The Conch Republic is welcome in Tallahassee. We have been working with the Governorâ€™s Inaugural Committee, and they are as excited as we are to be the only foreign country invited to the “Florida Jubilee â€˜95”.
The Governor has planned a party, a big party. Not your average black tie, richy rich, reward the big money type party. Not for the he-coon the rich trappings of the highest office in Florida land. This is a party for people. Everything is open to the public. Everything is free. The whole deal is paid for by business sponsor…it reminds us of the Conch Republic Independence Celebration.
We are invited to set up a presentation booth in the Street Festival, and we are scheduled to blow the Conch Horn in salute to the Governor as he ascends the stage to address the throng.
Our tent is set up for us on Adams St. just down the hill from the Governorâ€™s mansion. Across the street is the Ocala booth with a giant sausage cooker. Did they know that Ocala has the largest concentration of Conchs outside of the Republic? Yeah. It is 42 degrees, and we are freezing. Giant oaks sporting huge dreadlocks of Spanish moss overhangs the street. The natives are friendly, offering us heaters, socks, the use of a warm bathroom. The Inaugural Committee is young, enthusiastic, bright, and funny. They think we are funny, too.
Here cones a gaggle of clowns. Here comes Micky Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, the Queen of St. Augustine with her King and the Princess. A small knot of homeless folk gathering free food from all over the state. The Worldâ€™s Largest Paella is being served in giant portions to one and all. The Seminoles are making pumpkin bread. Spaceport USA has an Astronaut wandering around in a gold foil helmet and space walking gear. Three stages are set up, and the music is non-stop. Little girls in regional costumes clogging, tap dancing, acting out skits. Ocala has the best roasted sausages we ever ate. The owl next door keeps flying off with his perch. Except for the dreadlocked oaks and the cold we could be on Duval St. during Fantasy Fest.
Lawton climbs up on stage with a rock and roll band and starts to jam and sing. Wearing this utterly ridiculous raccoon stole Rhea found in a second hand store, and a Australian bush hat, the Govâ€™ is having some fun now.
Meawhile, our booth is doing landslide business. We brought a huge pile of Conch Republic Border Pass bumper stickers and temporary visas. We are giving them away to one and all. Everybody is giving stuff away. The food is free, the drinks are free, the flowers are free, the orange juice is free, the paella is free, the sausages are free. This is Florida celebrating itself.
A very distinguished Looking Latin gentleman approaches our booth… “Ah-hah!,” he exclaims, “The Conch Republic in the flesh. You must be Secretary General Anderson! Iâ€™m Luis Laredo, Chairman of the Miami Host Committee for the Summit of the Americas, and let me tell you, the White House sure knows about you guys! What a trip you guys put me through. The memos between my office and the State Department and the White House over the Conch Republic… Whew!” “Actually”, he says, “The Conch Republic gave me the only really great laughs I had during the Summit…I love you guys!”
“Would you like to join our Tiny Islands Nation; says I. “Get a passport…?”
It would be an honor… We take his picture, he fills out the passport application, we validate his passport. “Now raise your left hand and repeat after me. He does… “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of my Tiny Islands Nation. And to the Republic for which it stands…one Nation under the Sun… Indivincible…where the Liberty is true, and the Justice is divine.” A blast on the Queen Conch, and a handshake…we have a new Citizen.
It is time to salute the Governor on stage. Striding out to the middle of the huge upper stage, horn to lips, a Conch Salute written especially for the occasion…a Gubernatorial, bop:
bop, de bob-bop; bop, bop, de bop-bop; bop, bop, de bop-bopâ€¦boooowahhhhat! Eyerybody smiles. Everybody claps. It is a polite audience. The Governorâ€™s tickled.
He is definitely having too much fun. He makes a few remarks about â€œif we are having some fun now, just wait until tonight. Where is my toy???!!!”, he exclaims. Up on stage comes a “spud cannon”. Yep….a killer spud gun. The Guv pounds a fresh Florida potato down the barrel, fills the breach with hair spray, and torches it off with grille lighter. Bah-whump!!, and the potato is off toward Monroe St. “Damn!”, says the Guv, still dressed in the ridiculous raccoon stole and the bush hat, “That was a good one!” He reloads, This one schlumps through the air toward the Mansion. “Oh well”, he says. He loads again. His lovely wife Rhea is getting worried. “He hasnâ€™t been the same since he got that ridiculous spud gun for Christmas”, she explains. It seems that a lot of mangled potatoes having been arching over the walls of the Governorâ€™s Mansion. Where are we?
That night the Leon County Civic Center rocks, boogies, clogs, line dances, foxtrots, waltzes, and jams. A free concert for all. The amphitheater is festooned with huge balloon arches One arch has balloons that say, “Lawton Rocks”. The next says, “Buddy Boogies”. Above the stage is a large neon sign, “Rockinâ€™ with Lawton”. The he-coon is on stage playing guitar, and singing with Billie Dean and Bo Diddly. It is all free, all open to the public, and totally, totally fun. The Guv knows how to throw a party. We are honored to be there. I wonder if heâ€™d like to bring his spud gun down to the Great Battle for the Conch Republic some year? (Lawton Chiles passed away in late 1998. Godspeed, He-Coon!)
The 13th anniversary of the Conch Republic in 1995 saw a new event added to the schedule…the Election of a Royal Family for the Republic. Voting for Royal Family positions costs one dollar per vote, and all “votes” were designated to the new Conch Republic Foster Childrenâ€™s Fund.
The fund is unique because there are no administrative costs assessed to the money raised. Each dollar goes, intact, to meet the special needs of children in foster care in Monroe County through the auspices of the State of Floridaâ€™s HRS unit in Monroe County.
Minister of Underwater Affairs, Mel Fisher, was elected King. Terry Weckleman of TIB Bank of the Keys was elected the first Queen. We got a Court Jester; a Duke of Earl, A TMOTCRRFFKAP, a new King of Beers, and much more. King Mel has been a great King for 1995-96. Letâ€™s hope he is re-elected for 1996-97. (Mel continues to be re-elected King, year after year. The King is dead. Long live the King!)
1995 became even more interesting in September when the United States Armyâ€™s 478th Civil Affairs Battalion announced they were going to conduct exercises in Key West designed to “simulate a geographically isolated foreign country”. Their press release became even more ominous when we read of their intention to “make contact with certain elements of the civilian population”. We were not supposed to be alarmed… We went to a wartime footing, declaring DEFCON 5.
What follows is the report to the Nation on this incident: The Great Invasion of ’95