Florida Man Explains Why Florida Is Bat**** Insane
It’s not the heat, it’s not the humidity, it’s the people …
Back around 1990, some friends and I had a habit of strolling over to the Red Lion pool hall to watch America’s Most Wanted and count how often our state came up. If the number was ever zero, I don’t recall it.
Yes, my native state is famous for producing headlines like these:
Now look, I know crazy happens everywhere. But crazy is to Florida what snow is to Alaska — we get a damn sight more of it than most states. And like all forces of nature, the Floridian strain of insanity is an amalgam of smaller forces intersecting to deliver an undefeatable wallop.
Forces #1 & #2: Coastline and highways
Florida has a longer coastline than any other contiguous US state, more than 1300 miles. No place in Florida is more than 100 miles from the ocean. And no place is more than an hour drive from an interstate highway.
What this means is, pretty much anything can be brought from anywhere in the world to anyplace in Florida just by pulling a boat up to shore. And so, it is! And once here, it can be taken anywhere else in the country. We got people smuggling drugs, cash, other people, wild animals, bogus seafood, phony you-name-it, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.
Need a flying squirrel? We got you covered.
Running low on snakes and turtles? Hey, we know a guy.
Illegal goods flow through Florida like cholesterol through a trucker’s arteries. If you’re on your way to Disney World, take a gander sometime at the car in the next lane over. It’s a coin toss there’s something or other stashed away in there that you could go to prison just for knowing about. Welcome to the sunshine state!
Force #3: The sun
Florida is warm. So people without shelter tend to come here if they can. Transients, fugitives, teepee-dwelling hippies, all sorts of people with nothing between themselves and the weather but a jacket are naturally attracted to America’s southernmost state — or at least, the southernmost state you can catch a bus to.
Naturally, not everyone who enjoys our balmy climes has all their oars in the water. And so, we have incidents.
Those who are of sound mind sometimes find themselves in desperate straits. And when you’re down to your last dime, well, ya do what ya gotta do to earn that next buck.
The rest of the country might think life’s all one big resort down here, but trust me, there’s a dark side to the land of sun.
Force #4: Tourists & snowbirds
Speaking of which, every day hundreds or thousands of people come to Florida expecting a coast-to-coast amusement park.
One time I saw a car with New York plates suddenly swerve off the highway and stop on the shoulder. We pulled over to see if they needed help. Turned out, they’d spotted a large alligator sunning itself in the drainage ditch. Dad got out fumbling with his camera while mom shooed her two tots over toward the creature for a photo.
I said, “I don’t think I’d do that. Alligators can run pretty fast.” They both just glared at me so we decided to light out before potentially becoming witnesses to anything. Fortunately the gator wasn’t hungry and slid off down the sluice. (Cause seriously, those two toddlers were like the alligator version of “fun size” Snickers.)
I make an exception for bikers, because they know how to behave. They tip well, don’t taunt law enforcement, and don’t get into fights for no good reason. Spring breakers are the worst. Their only goal seems to be to score the kind of sex they won’t mind being too drunk to remember. Volusia County used to build holding pens for them out of hogwire right on Daytona Beach because there were always too many to process at the station. By sundown the makeshift corrals would be chock full of youngsters, milling around like so many half-dressed, boozed-up, well-lotioned cattle. And yes, some of them way back in the middle were probably hooking up.
Nothing is real for these people. It’s all one big fantasy, until the boat police run you down for taking off across the channel with someone else’s bar.
Then there are the yankees who buy homes built on reclaimed swampland without realizing gators have no concept of property rights. That never ends well. Especially for the ones with small yappy dogs. I’ll spare you those headlines.
Force #5: Boredom
The reality is, in between the coastal resorts and the Orlando attractions, Florida is mostly farmland dotted with tiny sand-road towns consisting of a post office, a gas station, a Dollar General, and a cinder-block tavern with bars on the windows. There ain’t a helluva lot to do.
So it’s no wonder the most common last words in my home state are “Hold my beer, y’all watchiss.” In fact, things can get so dull, a fellow might be tempted to join his buddies in the local lockup just for some company.
And when the days get long and there’s nothing much good on TV, you just might find yourself pulling pranks involving enormous phalluses, like surprising your mom with a human-sized, quarter-ton, penis-shaped mailbox for her birthday.
Or using the sky as your personal bathroom wall and air traffic radar as your Sharpie.
Sadly, boredom can also lead to drinking to excess, which in turn can lead to perpetrating a solo hit and run.
I know that’s considered “weird news” in the rest of the country, but in Florida people are like, well, coulda happened to anybody. There, but for the grace of God, after all.
Force #6: The South
We must not forget, all this is going on in the South. And while Southern culture gave us barbecue, Mark Twain, and jazz, it also birthed the Confederacy, instant grits, and the Southern Baptist Convention.
When presented with a problem, one of the first things Southern people tend to ask is, “Can it be shot?” If the answer is “No,” some folks figure, “Well, it’s at least worth a try.” This reasoning can even extend to inanimate objects such as uninteresting televisions, broken lawn mowers, and category 5 hurricanes.
And while the South is best known for fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, religious fervor here comes in all stripes, from snake handling to voodoo to practices which, as we say, are best left discussed “between you and Jesus”.
The South also maintains what academics call a “culture of honor,” which means we can’t allow any insult to go unanswered. Even if we’re on the clock and dressed in a full-body rabbit costume.
Perhaps if Florida were somehow in the Midwest, an indigenous character of stoic level-headedness might help temper the extremes to which its population is otherwise prone. But alas, Florida happens to be in Florida.
Crazier than the sum of its parts
One thing about being from Florida, outsiders are often genuinely surprised to learn it’s your native state, simply because it never occurred to them that anyone is actually born there. As though the entire place were some sort of production number.
And to be honest, it can sometimes feel that way to its own inhabitants. So we tend to develop a sense of humor about it all as a kind of coping mechanism.
Because really, what can you expect from a 450 mile peninsula perpetually awash in a heady froth of smugglers, transients, fugitives, clueless tourists, bored locals, and drunken college kids? An endless font of viral headlines, that’s what.
If you stay there long enough, it all starts to seem normal somehow. That’s when you know you have a choice — embrace being “Florida man,” or get out while the gettin’s good.
Me? My home’s in Georgia these days. Still got family and friends down below the Saint Marys. And every now and then, when the world’s looking just a tad too square, I end up pointing my tires toward mile marker zero.
Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?
Oh, right… “the worst that could happen” is what we used to walk over to the Red Lion to see on Fridays — the show where Florida was guaranteed an appearance every week of the year.
Header image: Handler places an alligator in a sleeper hold at the Ross Allen Reptile Institute in Silver Springs, ca. 1960 (State Library and Archives of Florida)
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