the weirdest county in the weirdest state in the country. I still live here. That's right - my claim to fame is that I live in the nudist capital of America. (I, however, am not a nudist. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
As a kid, I never thought my state was weird. Even now, as an adult, I'm not entirely sure everyone else is right. I mean, sure, I suppose we have some crazy stuff: Fantasy Fest, Fetishcon, The Holy Land Experience, Disney World, hanging chads, pirates, sideshow freaks, a month-long pirate invasion, cowboys, acres of oranges, festivals honoring corn, strawberries, pirates, rattlesnakes, and kumquats, the most famous strip club in the world, circus perfomers, six-toed cats, a two week festival honoring an Indian invasion, aliens, sharks, nudists, naturalists, hurricanes, tornadoes, water spouts, sinkholes that swallow homes and people, over-sexed teachers, over-sexed cops, over-sexed retirees (for a time, one of the most popular retirement communities in the state was considered the place where one was most likely to catch an STD), and alligator-eating pythons. We're also home to Travis McGee, Archy McNally, Serge Storms, and Carl Haissen's menagerie of characters. Huh. Okay, well, maybe we are a little different. Must be all the heat and humidity down here.
Fringe Florida takes a tiny bite out of our weirdness. In ten chapters, Lynn Waddell, a former writer for the now-defunct Weekly Planet (the Planet is now Creative Loafing) details just a touch of the fringe of Florida, some of the things that make us who we are down here. She starts off gently, telling us about a big cat rescue in the Tampa Bay area and an exotic animal amnesty program, and then moving just a few miles further in to Tampa to introduce us to Joe Redner, a staple of Tampa Bay history, and the Mons Venus, the strip club that is quite literally the most famous in the world. We drive out to Daytona to meet motorcycle mamas, and here's where I learned that there are actually motorcycle gangs, true bad guys like from the movies. She introduces us to circus performers (Ringling still winters down here), to mud boggers (North Florida is often referred to as the Redneck Riviera), and to aliens (Pensacola used to be a hot bed of sightings). She unironically points out that the Holy Land Experience, where one can see Jesus singing as he is crucified, is located just an hour away from Cassadega, a community of healers and spiritualists. And then she circles back to my stomping grounds, the nudity capital, where the communities range from swinger clubs that hold coleslaw wrestling to country-club like places where they run 5Ks in the nude.
Waddell jumps in to her assignments with gusto. The same cannot always be said of her husband James who accompanies her on a few of her research trips, particularly the ones that involve sex and other potentially sketchy scenarios. But James is a supportive research assistant, even if he clearly finds the whole experience beyond weird. In his defense, I'm not sure there are many husbands who would leap without hesitation when their wives propose a trip to see naked old guys sing karaoke.
Fringe Florida is simultaneously gruesome and fascinating. The small town girl in me loved when I recognized places and yes, even characters. I've seen Peter Pan, and although I've seen photos of The Senator (a man who wanders Ybor City in little more than a thong), I haven't yet had the pleasure of sharing a cocktail with him. The Florida girl in me wanted to stand up and defend my home state, but then I realized that Waddell wasn't making fun of our wackiness, she was celebrating it.
*Note: I read Fringe Florida as an uncorrected proof from NetGalley. For some reason, the file was a little wonky and the pages with the photos wouldn't load, which was disappointing, because I'm sure they were fantastic. The book is due out in September. You'd better believe I'm picking up a copy.