I left Tybee Island after watching the clock change from 2 to 2:15, 3:05 to 3:23 to 3:46. I then willed myself to close my eyes until 4AM, when I finally gave myself permission to get out of bed, defrost my car and creep away from my less than adequate sleeping situation. I drove until nearly 6AM at which point I pulled over into a rest area and proceeded to sleep for an hour in the driver’s seat. I woke up refreshed and ready to make my way south where I would meet up with my boyfriend Josh, his friend Leah and her partner Amy.
Gainesville is located in the middle of the northern part of the Florida peninsula. It is, therefore, still BBQ territory, and is, unfortunately, not located near the Atlantic or the Gulf.
Our first stop Florida adventure took us to a local state park in search of alligators. I’m not sure if you know this, but I have a stated disinterest in animals. Big, small, fuzzy, cute, my official stance is that I could care less. Unofficially, however, you might remember that I almost dog-knapped Chief, my Austin hosts’ pug, and professed a future for myself as a dog owner. My Florida trip was rife with such inconsistencies, the first of which was my surprise at how gosh darn interesting alligators are. Alligators have fantastic armored skin that dries in the Florida heat, and their stillness lends them an appearance of gentility, even when you know they are killers. If by this point I didn’t understand what is meant by “Southern nice”, the alligators should have driven it home.
After an afternoon of alligator hunting, Leah, Josh and I went for dinner at Satchel’s Pizza, a real hip institution. It has a loyal following taken by the funky environs, quality food and labor-friendly policies.
The wildlife adventure continued with a trip to Homosassa State Park, which I can safely say is the strangest state park I have ever visited. The park was privately held until the mid-1980’s and continues to feel like a tourist trap. It has two separate gift shops and offers a boat ride from one side of the park (where gift shop #1 is located) to the other (where #2 is located). The purpose of our trip to Homosassa SP was to see the manatees that are held at the rescue site there. We saw them, learned a little bit about their feeding habits in captivity (cabbage) and their desire for warm water (hypothermia=death), and also did our best to impersonate them, which we did quite successfully thanks to the park provided kitsch.
Beyond the manatees, which are the main at Homosassa, there is a zoo. A hippopotamus named Lucifer, or Lu for short, has been at the park since 1964. When the state park system assumed responsibility for the park, they wanted to shift the focus of the zoo onto Florida natives, which meant that Lu, a non-native, was on the list of animals slated to leave. Visitors had grown fond of Lu and petitioned the governor of Florida to grant him Florida citizenship, thus making him a Florida “native” (!) able to remain at the zoo. Lu is 50 years old, a resident of Homosassa State Park and a citizen of the great state of Florida.