By: Scott Maxwell
Last week, news broke that a congressional candidate in Gainesville had a secret pastime: impersonating vampires. And superheroes.
Some people would call this nutty.
In Florida, we just call it Tuesday.
Seriously, that’s not even our highest-profile vampire story. Remember the “vampire killings” from Lake County?
Some of our stories are heartbreakingly tragic. But so many are also mind-numbingly strange.
In Florida, we do weird the way Kansas does wheat.
Here, giant pet snakes escape. And breed. And then invade our national parks.
We have fish that eat people, alligators that eat people and people who eat people.
Two years ago, when news of the “cannibal attack” broke, the nation let out a collective gasp … until learning it was Miami. Then it all made sense.
We have killer amoebas, hanging chads and diaper-wearing astronauts. (All of which would make awesome rock-band names, by the way.)
We have a town named Christmas … where it never snows. We have the world’s smallest post office and a couple trying to build America’s largest house.
I used to think Florida attracted wacky people. Now I think it creates them.
Take my grandfather, for example.
Early in his life, he was a NASA engineer in Virginia — and as strait-laced and buttoned-down as they came. His passions were photography and crossword puzzles.
Then he moved to Florida. After Grandma died, we worried that our sober and contemplative grandfather would become listless and uninspired.
He became neither of those things. Instead, he became a nudist. (Lending more credence to the notion that it’s never the people you want to see naked at a nudist resort.)
At first, we were all: What the heck, Granddad?
But you know what? He found new life and inspiration. He’d travel down Interstate4 from Ormond Beach to Cypress Cove, where he’d pay strict adherence to the two main rules: Never take pictures, and always place a towel on the bar stool before you sit down.
Florida liberated him. And he spent the remaining, widowed years of his life happy. So you go, Granddad.
By the way, nudity is another one of our weird themes.
•”Nude man found dead on killer whale’s back”
•”Florida Lotto winner seeks to open a nude dude ranch”
•”Blind woman sues nudist colony over heavy dog”
Florida newspapers carry such headlines the way other papers carry horoscopes.
Some of that is understandable. It’s hot down here.
And I don’t mean happy, sand-at-your-toes, wind-in-your-hair hot. I mean sweaty-thighs-stuck-to-your-car-seats, armpit-stains-like-dinner-plates hot. It’s enough to make anyone nutty. And naked.
But it cuts both ways. When it’s hot, it makes us crazy. When it’s pleasant, we attract other states’ crazies. I mean, if it’s January and you’re already planning to run a scam, con or heist, would you rather do it in Buffalo or Boynton Beach?
This state is also lousy with newspapers and TV stations, meaning we have more ink-stained wretches and blow-dried broadcasters than your average state to tell all the weird stories.
Finally, there’s our melting-pot effect.
You simply can’t throw so many different cultures together and not expect some fireworks.
But you know what? That is also part of what makes this state so splendidly unique.
We have character and texture — a bouillabaisse of native and newcomer, sinner and saint, scholar and simpleton.
It’s a fusion that produces a weeklong bacchanalia in Key West and pioneering medical research at the Burnham Institute.
It’s the reason Orlando can turn out just as many people for a Veterans Day parade as it does for Come Out With Pride.
And it explains how a mild-mannered rocket engineer can feel inspired to start a new life by ditching his pocket protector — along with everything else he’s wearing.
And, yes, it’s also how we end up with some of the wackiest politicians in America — including a vampire-impersonating, superhero-mimicking, punk-rock lawyer running for Congress.
Just what we need … another lawyer in Congress.