On paper, at least, Florida might be one of my least favorite states. It’s right up there with Rhode Island. I’m just kidding Rhode Island. You’re probably great. I just can’t remember if I’ve ever actually stopped there long enough to check. And who doesn’t like to make fun of Rhode Island, or compare it to very small things? But Florida... let me count the ways.
Exhibit A: It’s murderously hot and humid much of the time. B: It’s crowded as all. 23 million and counting. C: They have paved the state end to end, leaving only enough dirt and swamp in the middle for industrial-scale mosquito farming. And that's not the only deadly fauna afoot, check this out!
There's more. I like mountains. The highest point in Florida is 345 feet above sea level, which isn’t even a respectable mound. My people come from the Scottish Highlands. Our warmest day of the year is Florida's coldest. You can sunburn in the shade down here. And not least, the current Governor has turned bigotry and book burning into a popular campaign slogan.
Yet, here I am, back for my third year in a row, and not just loving it, but already booking us for next year. What is? Up? With that?
Maybe it’s because the people of Florida are the loveliest people anywhere in the country?
I totally just made that last sentence up. But I will say this about the people here – they are very tan.
So, what is it with this place? What beguiles me so?
Perhaps it’s the beaches? Florida has some of the loveliest in the world.
But it’s not the beaches. I’m like my friend Mike Macaulay on the beachy front, who states: “I’m just not a beach guy.” I know exactly what he means by this. Beaches sound great. We like to fetishize them as the quintessence of beauty and relaxation. But most of the beaches that I’ve been to, even the gorgeous ones, are hot, sandy, windy, lacking in comfortable furniture, or convenient bars (something Europe figured out a long time ago), and they are usually way too many steps from the parking lot.
You slog out there like a poorly designed camel, laden with towels, books, sunscreen, a cooler, paddle tennis, a frisbee, hats, a beach umbrella, and all the other essential beach paraphernalia. You do not have a comfortable chair because there is no more space on your body to strap anything to. You secure a small patch of unclaimed sand, empty your flip flops, dump the crap and plop down. Once settled, you spend a minute or too gazing out to sea and think: “nice.” Then you think: “now what?” You take a quick dip. Cold. Salty. Mysterious seaweed stuff now clinging to you. You try throwing the frisbee for a minute before you realize that the wind is going to deposit it in the ocean, sideways, no matter how skillfully you throw it. Paddle tennis seems too dull to even bother with. You try to peruse your beach read (too much glare for Tik Tok) propped up on your elbow for five minutes before the position becomes too tortorous to sustain (also not a good beer drinking position).
After a cozy 40 minutes, you’re wondering if it’s too soon to pack up and head back to the car.
So, it’s not the beaches.
Maybe it’s that feeling you get here that you absolutely deserve to just be chillin’ on a shady porch, guitar propped nearby, with a cold rum drink in hand? Like all the time. The vibe just screams: “kick back and relax dude! Whatever it is can wait.”
And Stanley loves Florida. It's his jam.
But maybe most of all, it might just be the enduring weirdness of the place. There is more weird in Florida than a Star Wars convention when someone spikes the Red Bulls with LSD.
Weirdness abounds and weirdness abides.
We just spent 4 delerious days in Key West with uber hosts the Macaulays again this year. I wrote about the Conch Republic last year, but whether it’s drag shows, dildo races, feral roosters, or the freaks like me parading up and down Duval Street, it’s just endlessly entertaining.
On the other end of the weird spectrum, morality wise at least, we’re currently camping at Koreshan State Park in what was once rural SW Florida. Here are the remains of Koreshan Unity, a religious cult that flowered briefly during the dawn of the 20th century and hung on until the 1960s before the last members died or dwindled away. They had envisioned this site as a New Jerusalem and home to millions of followers, rather than the hundreds they actually got. This failure to thrive may have been due to some fairly out-there beliefs, even by the standards of religious experimentalism in those days. For one thing, they believed that the earth was hollow and that we lived on the inside of the shell, not on the outside.
Their founder, or “Koresh,” was Cyrus Teed of upstate New York (not far from where Joseph Smith, a distant cousin, got his start in the messiah game about 30 years prior). When Dr. Teed died, they waited three days for him to reincarnate while he rested in a bathtub. (As a reminder, it’s extremely hot here in Florida). When he inevitably turned a tad ripe, they interred him in a concrete mausoleum and continued their vigil. He failed to appear. Some years later, a hurricane rolled through and washed the mausoleum and old Cyrus out to sea. And so it goes, in Florida.
Perhaps more problematic for Koreshanity's long-term survival than curious scientific theories or the lack of a sentient messiah was the decree that celibacy was vital to achieve reincarnation upon one's death (and here we might pause to ask if the good Dr. Teed may have slipped once or twice along the way?). Hence, there were no children born on the commune. Note to any potential messiahs out there: encourage fruitful followers. It takes a ton of pressure off the recruiting effort.
Cyrus Teed also preached that men and women were true equals. This did help with recruiting. At least with the ladies, but it seemed to have the opposite effect with most of the husbands. A majority of members were women as a result. In fact, the “Planetary Court” which oversaw the day-to-day governance of the entire commune were all women.
Who knows? Koreshanity might have still achieved big-time religion stature, even with the living inside the earth stuff and the celibacy. But, heaven knows, their views on feminism were obviously way too nutty.
But, I digress. Where were we?
Oh yes, Florida – it's as weird as an oyster enema, but it just gets under your skin; both the melanoma and the metaphysical, and you think: “as a matter of fact, I would like another Margarita, thank you very much.” And back you come.
Maybe, I should see someone about this? But until then, I think I smell that shrimp beginning to boil.