The Great American Reach Around - Florida, New Orleans, and Germany
This week in the Great American Reach Around we will complete our long tour of the South by visiting two of that region's most unusual states. Florida is a state divided between the Deep South of its Panhandle and Heartland regions and the tourist-friendly metrosexual paradise of Southern Florida. Both version of Florida can be fun or scary, depending on where you end up and who you end up there with.
We'll also be heading to Louisiana for a look at that creepy Creole realm of Voodoo, pirate ghosts (or is that ghost pirates?) and derelict refrigerators. As many of you may have surmised from watching anything over 30 seconds of TV in 2005, Louisiana has fallen on hard times, and the city of New Orleans is still far away from a full recovery.
Achtung! Our foreign representatives this week hail from the fatherland, bringing us two heaping servings of Deutschland. Tech will be giving us a tour of his historic home city of Darmstadt and Funky_Faultier will be showing off the town of Mayen, where precisely nothing happens. You hillbillies out there will be given the rare opportunity to see how hillbillies in Europe live.
If the states of the Deep South are the oddball states of the Union, then Louisiana and Florida are the oddball states of the oddballs. Generalizing states and entire regions of the United States is antithetical to the purpose of this entire project, but the rest of the South seems downright homogenous compared to these two schizophrenic pariahs.
We begin this week's adventure in the state of Florida, home to Walt Disney, the swampy Everglades, alligators, air boats, and Don Johnson in a powder-blue blazer. If you are an avid political hound then try to suppress the urge to grind your teeth you feel each time you hear or read the word "Florida". They're not deciding the outcome of an election. Yet.
Legend has it that famed explorer Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth in 1513 when he discovered the Island of Florida. He met with little success in finding the Fountain of Youth, but he returned to Florida in 1521 with a batch of armed colonists ready to set up shop. He was quickly run off by volleys of native arrows and he retreated to Cuba where he perished from arrow holes.
If only Ponce had known what Walt Disney knew he might have avoided death-by-arrow and created a happy and prosperous colony. Disney's trick to avoiding volleys of arrows in Florida was to quietly buy unwanted swampland through a variety of dummy corporations and holding companies. Once you have acquired enough land you announce your venture and build a city-state with an economy based on people in animal costumes. No, not Furcadia; Disney World!
Beyond the ominously nondescript Reedy Creek Improvement District, where Disney exercises real government control over the inhabitants, the city of Orlando has become a Mecca for tourism dollars. The subtropical climate of Florida and the lure of Disney World have colluded to provide a year-round infusion of tax dollars to the area.
A giant anthropomorphic mouse is not the only terrifying thing living in Florida. Thousands of retirees relocate to Florida every year to enjoy their sunset years in a planned community. They putter around in their high pants, reminding the youth of Florida that all good things come to an end. Sometimes they can even come to an end on the golf course, when an unlucky soul drops a birdie into a water hazard and end up in a death roll with an alligator at the bottom of Lake Titlist.
One of the most famous terrain features of Florida is the Florida Everglades. The Everglades are basically persistent floodwaters from Lake Okeechobee that slowly creep around as a giant marshland amoeba. Where this amoeba roves come more alligators and all manner of interesting wildlife that probably needs to be exterminated.
Unfortunately, people keep adding new animals to the Everglades, resulting in the spread of fun species like the Burmese Python. You will note the word "Burmese" before the word "Python". Burmese is not a part of Florida, these snakes were released by pet owners and it turns out that they like the same climate as old Jewish people. Possible relation? I'll let this week's foreign correspondents decide!
Residents of the Everglades area tend to embody the rural Floridian with gusto, speaking in strange slang and spear-fishing frogs from the backs of air boats. For those of you unfamiliar, air boats are basically a big sled combined with a really big fan. These are used to get around the Everglades because the water there is sometimes less than a foot deep and can be filled with dangerous hazards. In case you were wondering, frogs are these little green amphibious animals that people really shouldn't be eating regardless of what the French and Floridians claim.
Like it or not, the city of Miami is the cultural center of Florida. It encompasses everything good and bad about the state and ties it up in a glowing bow that pulses to the bass hits of a techno remix of a Shania Twain song. Miami is sultry and infused with an irresistible Latin beat that comes courtesy of Miami's enormous Cuban immigrant population. Miami is also one of the gayest cities in the United States, as if to say to the rest of the Deep South, "We ain't y'all's grandma's South, breeder!" This also gives morons like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell (God rest his sweet soul) a reason to point and squeal whenever Florida is struck by a hurricane.
Miami's South Beach area, one of the oldest tourist destinations in the United States, has developed into one of this country's hottest club scenes. If you want to see booties shake and hear the best DJs (I have no idea what this even means) then you should hit the bars and discos that populate the seaside strip.
Be warned, if you require liquid courage to pick up a woman then South Beach is best avoided. You'll bring her back to the hotel thinking she's a goddess and wake up next to her and realize she's Hephaestus, balls and all. Gender ambiguity is a small price to pay to get to hear the best DJs in the world.
No, I still haven't figured out what that means.