All Together Now

In 31 years, I've seen every old school Florida attraction and landmark I could. One of four kids and blessed with two sets of parents who love the funny little quirks of history as much as I do, I'm rooted as deeply in the soil of this state as the live oaks in my mom's yard.

With grandparents in Winter Haven, my family prefered the Belles and daredevil skiers of Cypress Gardens to the rat with the big price tag. I've been told that the hoop-skirted women began roaming the gardens there to distract from plants killed in one of those freezes that sometimes grips the state. True Florida ingenuity.

If you want a postcard image of how people have been inspired by our state's natural beauty to make their own visions a reality, Bok Tower, the bells singing in thick Florida air, would be first pick. (Confession time: when my sister and I were sprats and Granny took us to the Tower, there was a sibling scuffle and I kicked? pushed her down on? her knee, leaving her with a limp for the rest of the afternoon - I remember none of the details, but I'll bet my sister does!)

I could probably run the Wakulla Springs boats and do the speech, for as many times as I've been up and down that little chunk of river. ("We call those turtles 'soup-sized'...") The forts at St. Marks and St. Augustine gave details to my daydreams as a pirate-obsessed kid. Ever been up the Citrus Tower? I have, and I've still got a flattened penny embossed with their logo somewhere in a box of trinkets. I never got to go to Circus World, but I sure remember watching out the car window as we passed that massive tent-shaped buildings.

In November, when even the McDonalds would close down, you used to be able to get a cottage on Panama City Beach for mighty little cash. That was back when the pirate still sat on his treasure chest. When the Goofy Golf still scared the bejesus out of me with its concrete monster heads and Sphinx statue. (Seriously, I wouldn't go anywhere near the place - I was kind of a jumpy tot. Too much imagination.) I won't say there weren't already massive, trashy dance clubs and overpriced, overbearing condos crowding the strip - I'm just saying that I remember when it was still the Redneck Riviera, and pretty damn proud of it.

This past weekend, my mama packed up all 4 of us kids, plus my soon-to-be brother-in-law (a truly good guy) and our dad and we all rode down to Weeki Wachee Springs, crown jewel of old Florida. Not our first trip there and, goodness willing, not our last.

I'm not a graceful guy, generally speaking, but in the water I'm not bad. I don't remember learning to swim any more than I remember learning to walk (though I do remember wearing water wingies - don't put them on your ankles, it doesn't work). Watching those mermaids slip through water so clear it tricks the eye is like watching my own dreams. Unanchored to land, no mask, no tricks, just a little air hose and a whole lot of lung capacity. That's so much of what Florida really means to me. A little costuming, a little applied glamour (in the original, spell cast sense of the word), but under it all - people using their own strength and nature's inspiration to create miracles and wonders.

By taking us around the state, telling us the stories and showing us the sights, my family taught my sisters and I many things. To appreciate authenticity and not be fooled by plastic and flash. That our waters and trees make the best backdrop to any performance. That there is magic lingering, kept alive by those who believe, and plywood condos and animatronic cartoon characters aren't worth plowing under a swamp for.

Damn, I love this state.


Ms. Moon said...

Uh, yes, I do believe we're related! That was a very nice little jog down memory lane, my dear boy.
And I had forgotten that I took you to the Citrus Tower. It was me, right? I do know I went there several times.
We may not have gone on a lot of vacations, but we have traveled a few rivers, seen a few things, haven't we?
You pushed your sister down? You bad, bad boy. No allowance for you this week!

downtown guy said...

I'm pretty sure it was you that took us. Did I ever tell you about the "petting zoo and exotic animals" that I stopped in maybe 9 or 10 years ago that I swear to god had a Florida panther in a cage in the back?

Ms. Moon said...

Have you ever talked to G. about when he was an official state animal inspector? He went around to all the different little places that kept animals and wrote up reports on them. When Ronald Reagan became pres, the job was ended. He might actually know about that panther.

Miss Trashahassee said...

Oh, man, great post.

Got memories of Weeki-Wachee, too (the OLD WW). I always wanted to be one of those mermaids. Closest I got was standing behind one of those iron thingies with the face cutouts and getting my picture taken. I was in 7th grade then -- I was mighty proud of that photo and the fact that MY face was on a body that had a bra size larger than double A.

As for kickin' your sister, if I were her I'da kicked your butt over to Homosassa Springs. I'm just sayin'.

Miss T

juancho said...

I was born in Lake Wales (home of Spook Hill where your car rolls uphill) just down 27 from Bok Tower. I almost drowned in the river while visiting Solomon's Castle as a kid. The castle is on either Arbuckle or Charlie Bowlegs Creek I think.http://www.solomonscastle.org/

Food and Brew Love said...

My grandparents are also from Winterhaven! My great-grandfather had a citrus grove there. My grandmother's four brothers went to college, but there was not enough money for my grandmother to go after a freeze destroyed most of the grove one year.

My grandparents took us to Bok Tower, Cypress Gardens, and Highland's Hammock many, many times. We were inspected by tame squirrels at Bok Tower, I caught an armadillo at Highland's Hammock, and we saw an alligator startle one of the lovely ladies at Cypress Gardens.

There is a hill near Bok Tower that we drove down -- some magic place where you drive down to the bottom and stop the car (I think I remember this right), and the car starts moving up the curve on its own?

I still haven't experienced the wonder of Weeki-Wachee -- can't wait to experience it with our little one, though.

Ms. Moon said...

Food And Brew:
That is Spook Hill you're talking about. Juancho mentioned it in his comment.
I just googled Spook Hill and it's still generating controversy and mystifying tourists.
I love it!
Hurry up and take all the little people you know to Weeki Wachee. Its future is still uncertain.

texino said...

Yo, you know I love your stuff. Hell I can stay right here in the A/C and smell the orange blossoms.

Keep going, T