Tomorrow we’re headed to Florida. I’m terribly excited, and not just because it’s rainy with a high of 42 in Nashville today. I’m excited because we will be introducing our kids to the most spectacularly goofy state east of the Mississippi.
I often hear people–usually Georgia people–remark that Florida isn’t the “real South.” That’s not true. Florida is the real South. It’s also about fifteen other things at the same time. Or to put it another way, Florida has every bit of the goofiness of a Georgia or an Alabama, with I don’t know how many other layers of goofiness on top of it. Regular Deep South goofiness is just the baseline. Add to that retirees, tourists, Cuban expatriates, drug smugglers, and folks for whom things just weren’t working out elsewhere.
Let me clarify. I’m not implying that Cubans or retirees are goofy per se. What is so wonderful–which is to say, goofy–about Florida is the fact that all these people from so many walks of life are always rubbing up against one another. Consider the following sentence: “A Canadian, an alligator skinner, and a beach bum walk into a bar.” It’s either the first line of a joke, or it’s something that’s happening in Florida right this very minute.
I used to have a CNN.com alert that fed me stories from Florida, because anything can happen there. There was the guy who robbed somebody not with a gun but with an alligator he held under his arm. There was the guy who just about killed himself diving off a bridge to fetch a twenty-dollar bill that had blown out of his hands (“It was my last twenty,” he said. “A guy’s got to eat, don’t he?”)
Stories happen where worlds overlap, where city meets country, where water meets land, where rich meets poor, black meets white, drug smuggler meets snowbird. No wonder there are so many stories to tell about Florida. You may have heard the old saw, “There are two kinds of stories: a man takes a trip or a stranger comes to town.” That’s the story of Florida’s life.
I’m afraid we’re going to have a rather sanitized, Disneyfied Florida adventure. It will hurt my heart a little to be so close to the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show and the Big Daddy Don Garlitz Museum of Drag Racing and a dozen low-rent alligator farms and not see any of them. But maybe we’ll be able to get out and get a little Florida under our fingernails. I’ll let you know how it goes.