Readers of this column know that one of my favorite topics is “FloriDUH” – the people, places and events that make our State of Florida the US capital of weird. Native Floridian and Tampa Bay Times writer Craig Pittman has made a career chronicling all that makes Florida infamous. In 2013 Pittman wrote a popular blog for slate.com, “Oh, Florida!”, that inspired some of my own writing. The success of Pittman’s blog led to multiple appearances on television and radio. It also inspired him to write a book: Oh, Florida!: How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country (St. Martin’s Press). It is the next best thing to actually living in Florida.
In his slate.com blog, Pittman listed some of the ingredients that make a weird Florida story: unusual weapons, nudity, animals (preferably alligators), sex, sex workers, mistaken identities and Walt Disney World. In Oh, Florida!, Pittman elaborates on this mishmash. The Sunshine State – a misnomer, since Florida gets more rain than does “rainy” Seattle – is also the lightning capital of the western hemisphere, the shark bite capital of the world, and the state with the most sinkholes. Florida also gets hit by more hurricanes than any other state (though Louisiana and the Carolinas might now argue that statistic). To these natural disasters we should add quite a few human horrors, many of who preside over local governments and the grotesquely phallic building we call the “Tower of Power”: the state capitol in Tallahassee. In Florida, no bad deed goes unrewarded, as evidenced by the surprisingly successful (and undeserved) career of Senator Marco Rubio.
“Why does Florida produce so much weird news?,” Pittman asks, and towards the end of Oh, Florida! he ventures to blame our state’s weirdness on various factors: (1) our weather; (2) our geography; (3) our shifting landscape; (4) our history; (5) our government; (6) our people; (7) our big lie; (8) our greed; (9) our wildlife; and (10) our open records. All this makes us wonder why the hell we still live here; or why so many people choose to move to Florida, just to add to our state’s electoral votes and to its overall weirdness. But we love Florida, in spite of it all, and refuse to move to a saner or more boring state. As Pittman writes it, “Florida can fool you. Amidst the constant flow of weird Florida stories, people see this state as nothing but a house full of drugs, guns, and garbage. They don’t see the treasure. Or sometimes, in pursuit of the treasure, they overlook the garbage. … If you live here already, or are planning a move here, I encourage you to embrace our weirdness, to celebrate our funky, fun state, to dig into our history, grab hold of our culture with both hands, and take a big old whiff of the sin, scandal, and screwball silliness.” Besides, if not for Florida’s weirdness, Florida writers won’t have much to write about.
by Jesse Monteagudo