Subject: Summertime and the e.coli's high
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Jim Vandewalker)
Date: Fri, 22 May 1998 23:52:38 -0500
People who don't live here think of Florida as all beaches or swamps, but
the part I live in is sandspurs and palmetto and oak hammock. "Hammock"
comes from an Injun word that means "shady place," and starting about two
weeks ago, "shady place" is what all us old lizards look for.
I was brought up here, way before home air conditioning, so I know that
when it gets like this you just find a place off that hot sand and don't
move much. Old time Florida people ESTIVATE. When I was a kid, at the
begining of summer we went down to the lake that was three blocks away from
my house and laid in the mud right beside the gators and catfish and we
STAYED there until Labor Day.
But the crazy people who moved here since the Advent of the Amana RUN
AROUND a lot even in the hot weather. The men wear COATS and TIES and turn
the office thermostats down to about 68, and the women pile on the
pantyhose and power suits, and then they scuttle from office to car and
don't think about how much GAS they're burning while they try to cool down
that huge expanse of windshield. They live in apartment complexes with big
pools but they stay in their apartments with those thermostats turned to
BLAST FREEZE and watch tennis players sweat on TV.
They TALK FAST, and wave their arms and summer is always a BIG SURPRISE.
"This heat is JUST UNBELIEVABLE." "It's not the heat, you know, it's the
The old-timers had their limitations too, though. April is the cruelest
month in Florida, because it's the DRY season. Summer rains don't usually
start until about June, and every April and May the crackers would start
talking like it wasn't never gonna rain AGAIN. But every year June would
see the afternoon and evening thundershower machine cranked up one more
time. Just about every day between the first of June and the end of
September if you go outside in the late afternoon you could DROWN if you
That hasn't started yet this year, and the e-coli count's too high in the
lake and anyway I'm not personally acquainted with them new gators and
catfish, so we went to the beach.
Tourists know about Daytona and Miami, but Daytona's just a parking lot
with water on one side and Miami's got the worst beach of ANYWHERE -- it's
got the texture of pounded concrete and it's covered in globs of OIL. No
kidding. The set of the Gulf Stream is such that all the SWILL from all
the bilges of all freighters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean washes
up on Miami beach and STICKS TO YOUR FEET. Standard giveaway in Atlantic
beach motels is a little foil packed towellete pre-moistened with MINERAL
SPIRITS to wipe the sticky globs of oil off your feet. And other body
parts, too, I guess, if you're dumb enough to let 'em come in contact with
No, we go to where all decent central Florida people go to the beach, and
that's the Gulf beaches. Anna Maria (pronounced by the knowledgeable as
"Ann-a Muh-RYE-uh") and Holmes Beach are old Florida funky places off the
coast of Bradenton. Longboat Key, just to the south used to be pretty good,
but it's covered with condominia now, with names like "The Breakers at Cay
Royale," and looks just like Vail, CO, with salt water. It's full of
Republicans who stay inside.
We stay at an old mom-n-pop motel a half a block from the beach. The rooms
are hardly big enough to turn around in, but for old lizards it's just a
place to get out of the midday sun. Since the Gulf beaches are on the west
side of the peninsula, it can be quite pleasant on the beach in the
morning. If you hit the beach early you see old people. They fall into two
categories: The leathery walkers may have some belly on them but they have
legs like ostriches. Also, many of them have stitch marks up the center of
their chests indicating various cardiac intervention procedures. They are
generally tanned like fine Cordovan leather. The other group tends to be
stationary with thick tubular legs and even thicker bellies. They stand in
the low Gulf surf and smoke. Early in the day they may be pale -- later on
they will be flame red.
In the morning the best place to go for breakfast is Ato's which is a
Polynesian (actually Samoan) place. You can get pancakes with pineapple and
coconut syrup. It's no bigger than your living room and has about 12 tables
and there's a 20 to 30 minute wait, and the staff really are Samoan. After
that you're ready for the beach.
Along about 11, when the sun really starts to get authoritative, head back
to the room, replenish fluids, have a little siesta, blink back to
semi-consciousness late in the afternoon, slither back to the beach and
watch the sun go down. A restrained round of applause is not out of place
for a particularly fine sunset. Then find a seafood place and eat grouper
and redfish and shrimp. St.Armand's Circle on Longboat Key has an
EXTREMELY PLEASANT sidewalk cafe where you can eavesdrop on rich people
(most of whom are DEAD BORING -- they spend all their time talking about
real estate and financial planning, NOTHING about sex, drugs OR where you
can get really good crab cakes).
Back up at Anna Maria the eateries are funkier. Rotten Ralph's is at a
marina on the bay side. The best place to sit is out on the dock right over
the water where you can look at a huge expanse of incredibly expensive and
seldom used toys. They are up to 40 feet long and have enormous diesel
engines. The waitpersons clear off the tables there by scraping the plates
of leftover fish into the water. Where OTHER FISH know they can come up and
get a SNACK OF THEIR RELATIVES AND FRIENDS.
Not the sort of thing you want to meditate on when driving back home
through the parched Florida scrub with the sunlight coming down like
spears. Those miles of two-lane blacktop with turkey vultures wheeling
overhead breed some dark thoughts in the searing light before the rains