Sunday, September 29, 2013

Buried Treasure

Being that Florida was once a haven for pirates - and some say it still is - you may well inadvertently stumble onto buried treasure at some point while digging for fishing worms. Herewith we present just a smattering of the possibilities, as we shall continue to feature in future blog posts:

Canal Point. This spot on the southern end of Lake Okeechobee was one of the hideouts for the infamous John Ashley, a 1920s-era pirate/bandit/smuggler. It's one of several different spots where Ashley and his girlfriend, Laura Upthegrove, are said to have hidden vast sums of loot from their criminal empire. What makes Canal Point doubly of interest is that Laura opened a filling station there after John's death. $110,000 in gold coins John and Laura stole in a bank heist were never recovered. Another $250,000 is said to be hidden on one of the small islands in St. Lucie Inlet. )The pair were the subject of the 1973 film Little Laura and Big John starring Fabian and Karen Black.)

The Treasure Coast. Located on the state's Atlantic coast, formed by Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin, and in some definitions, Palm Beach counties, this region is well known for its numerous finds of booty which the Spanish Treasure Fleet lost in a 1715 hurricane.

Bokeelia Island. Supposedly there's buried pirate treasure here, but one website cites it as being that of "Bocilla the Pirate", of which a google search brings up that site and that site only. In other words, I think someone's really confused.

Pine Island. Another website says that nearby Pine Island is the site of the lost treasure of Bru Baker, a man said to be the sidekick of Jose Gaspar. But since it's pretty much assumed now that Gaspar/Gasparilla was only a legend, it doesn't say much for the veracity of a story about his sidekick, now does it?

Egmont Key. As we've already touched upon here, Egmont Key was once called Castor Cayo, so named for a mysterious Caribbean pirate about whom I can find very little information. Supposedly, if internet chatter is to be believed, this Castor the Pirate buried treasure on Egmont Key and and near Sweetwater Creek at Rocky Point, and held his own pirate community called Castortown on the East end of the key.

Somewhere near St. Petersburg. I know, I know, how vague is that? But that's all we have to go on from this old newspaper article from the Evening Independent, August 20, 1937. One old codger - and he was old even then - named John Girard was certain he could remember, with his photographic memory, an alleged treasure map he'd seen briefly as a young boy.

The Everglades. During the Civil War in 1865, Captain John Riley and his squad of Confederate troops were sent from Kentucky with a half ton of gold bullion to be transported to Fort Mead, Florida. They were nearly overtaken by Union troops advancing, so the Confederate band quickly buried the gold and escaped into the swamps of the Everglades. When it came to reclaim it, of course, no one could remember exactly where they put it. The gold may stay there a long time: digging in the Everglades, now a Federally protected area, is forbidden.

Caesar's Rock. The treasure of "Black Caesar" is supposedly located here, as well as on Sanibel Island. Black Caesar's full real name was either Henri Caesar or Caesar LeGrand, depending on which historian you ask. He was originally either from Haiti or from Dominica, also depending on which historian is speaking. Reportedly he entered the solo pirate business by killing the captain of a ship he was a mate on, then became a privateer for the next 28 years.

Don Felipe's Plantation. The legend is often told locally about a Spaniard named Don Felipe, believed to have buried a large hoard of family heirloom silver and gold coins on his property during the Seminole war. Unfortunately, he was subsequently killed by Indians and the cache, allegedly located 2 miles NW of Ocala, is still lying there waiting for you to find it.

Island Within An Island

If you love island life as much as I do, surely you'll want to head down to Palm Island soon - it's an island on an island. Siesta Key, to be precise. All residential neighborhoods, though it does appear there's one park; all surrounded by canals which pretty much makes this place a boater's dream.

There is one road that leads to the island on the southermost end of its heart-shaped perimeter - Calle Florida. And when plotting your visit, be sure not to confuse it with the Palm Island Resort in Cape Haze (though it looks quite lovely too.)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bunny Yeager

Of all the pin-up queens that helped define the Mad Men era, none even come close to surpassing Miami's Bunny Yeager (pictured below). Not only was she one of the leading cheesecake photo models of the day, she also was one of its leading photographers in her own right. This was a considerable achievement in the completely male-dominated industry of the time.

In the early-mid 1950s, Bunny was, some say, the most photographed woman in Miami. After retiring from modeling, she soon met Bettie Page and became one of her principal photographers, capturing some of the most iconic Bettie images that made her famous. This would include her pictorial in Playboy magazine and a photo (with an alligator pasted in by somebody else) that still appears to this very day on a pirated postcard found in gift shops all over Florida.

After Bettie's retirement, Bunny went on to continued success in photography (her photos of Ursula Andress were used in the James Bond film Dr. No) and acting (she appeared in The Lady In Cement with Frank Sinatra and Raquel Welch.) Today she is still working at the age of 83, and still holds splashy well-attended exhibitions of her photographic works.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ocala Starbucks

There are many Starbucks locations in Florida near and dear to my heart, and it's just your luck, dear reader, that I'll be using this blog to occasionally sing their praises. This particular is located in old-town Ocala, and is notable on several fronts: for one, it's unusual for its bright yellow exterior that makes it unique among SBUXes I've encountered. It's also got one of the longest and largest dimly-lit loungey spaces ever, and it is a veritable joy to curl up there and make Starbucks your office. Lastly, when I was there most recently, the employees said I just missed John Travolta by less than an hour. Travolta actually lives in Ocala, and apparently hits this Starbucks in person occasionally. Next time, I'll be ready and waiting to pounce so's I can get him to autograph my DVD copy of Be Cool.

Much to the irritation of some, I've always been a very open and very vocal supporter of Starbucks. I've always enjoyed the cognitive dissonance that my pro-Starbucks position instills among the masses of knee-jerk box-dwellers out there. People always expect an old first-generation-punk radical hipster bohemian artiste such as myself to take the liberal position that all things corporate and huge are automatically bad. Starbucks has always been a useful tool for me to illustrate to others that if I like a product, I don't give a damn where it came from or who else hates it, and that I do not oppose something just because it got big and successful. Things are supposed to get big and successful.

"But they're spreading everywhere and trying to take over the world", I hear the whiners whine. Yeah, so what? So am I. I'll see you at the finish line.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

North Beach Fish Camp

Funny thing about Jacksonville - since it's the largest city in the United States, and more to the point, since it's in Florida, you'd think it'd be downright sloppin' over with fantastic kick-butt restaurants. But I look around me and I see it isn't so.

No, if you really want the good grub, you gotta go to the beach, where of course, it's no longer technically Jacksonville. Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach are distinctly separate communities from Jax and despite the name, so is Jacksonville Beach. And it's Jacksonville Beach where I recently fell in love with a little joint called North Beach Fish Camp. And as so often happens with love, you find it right under your nose all along. North Beach Fish Camp is adjacent to my beloved Island Girl Cigar Bar and it boggles my mind I've been stationed in Jax for two months now and took so long to trying the seafood place next door.

I had, for the first time in my life, fried clam bellies - and yeah, it is exactly that. Did you know clams had bellies? I didn't. But they're delish. And so was the flounder sandwich for the main course, which was almost more than I could eat. (Especially after the appetizer of aforementioned bellies.)

Even more likely to get me back in the door again is their cocktail selection, but of course, you knew I was going to say that. The Uncle Val's Botanical Gin and Tonic (pictured above) opened me up a third eye, and then their Hang Thyme thyme-flavored cocktail (pictured below) showed it pretty pictures.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Florida Panther

This lovely statue of a Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) stands outside the welcome center at the Everglades National Park, celebrating one of Florida's most exciting and lively attractions. (And no, not the hockey team.)

Though the Florida Panther is an endangered species, their numbers are fortunately on the rise again, much like the Florida Black Bear. Their only natural predators, aside from humans, are alligators. I have yet to lay eyes on one, but I have been visited daily by their distant cousins, some of the estimated 5.3 million free-ranging cats in Florida.

Big Metal Orange

Spotted this thing on Highway 301. Evidently someone has taken a large metal industrial thingie of some sort (pressurization tank?) and painted it orange to resemble a you-know-what.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Florida Black Bear

All my life I lived in Kentucky and I was told that the woods are just chock-full of bears. Forest rangers swear Kentucky bear populations are on the rise so it must be true. But I never saw one.

In Florida, however, bears are everywhere; they're just falling outta trees, shambling towards your pick-a-nick basket, and wandering out into the road trying to hitch a ride to Mr. Bones' BBQ. The photo above, filched from Wikipedia, depicts one in Ocala, a city I spend a lot of time in. I reckon I need to keep my eyes open.

I still haven't encountered one yet, but the statistics are high that I will - the Florida Black Bear, the only bear subspecies to live in a sub-tropical region, is making such a thriving comeback in recent years, they've been taken off the Endangered Species List. But it isn't disease or famine or hunters that ever threatened the bear - the number one cause of bear death in Florida is being hit by a car on the highway, with 89.5% of bear deaths since 1994 being attributed to auto collisions.

Needless to say, do not feed the bears. Do not give them tree-fiddy if they ask. And for God's sake, don't wrestle them.

Public Chessboard

It's little touches like this that make Florida special. This picnic table in the park at Pass-A-Grille has a public chessboard/checkerboard installed. (Unfortunately, some fiend has stolen the container of pieces, so bring your own)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Jitney Lunch

Consider this casefile dated January 1, 1916, from the St. Petersburg Daily Times newspaper. A New Year's greeting from something called The Jitney Lunch, "and remember the price is 5 cents for everything." Even in a 1916 economy, I have to say that's a pretty sweet deal. But what IS this Jitney Lunch they speak of?

A "Jitney", it should be mentioned first of all, is an antiquated term for a type of bus, or more specifically, a minibus. So does this mean a Jitney Lunch would be a prepackaged meal to take with you to eat on the bus? There goes my imagination's mental image picture of old Mr. Jitney in his butchers smock and paper fry-hat, lovingly laying each piece of salami on the rye while you watch.

According to this etymology site:

Jitney entered the language from an undisclosed language before 1903. Some have speculated it came from French jeton "token", but no one knows for sure. In any event we do know how the meaning slid over to a vehicle. In San Francisco and other cities small busses that charged only a nickel to ride acquired the name "jitney bus". It didn't take long for that phrase to be shortened to jitney. By 1914 the shorter form was in common use. The word fell on hard times in the 20s and 30s, when it came to mean "anything dilapidated, cheap, or ramshackle" because of its implication of cheapness, as in jitney pianos, jitney paintings, or jitney houses.

Aha. So, since the advertisement notes the super-cheap price of 5 cents, I'm guessing they're also using "jitney" in this same sense of low-budgetude. And a commenter on that previous link also says, "as a boy in elementary school, once a month we had "Jitney Lunch" which everyone looked forward to, as it was hot dogs, chips, choc milk and some dessert."

The term must have already been quite in vogue, judging from this similar ad spotted in the December 28, 1917 edition of the Norman, Oklahoma Transcript:

Whatever building housed this Jitney Lunch, it's apparently long gone. A glance at Google Maps shows a modern office building. A more hopeful datum: there exists evidence that a theatrical play entitled "Jitney Special Rare; or, Gert of the Jitney Lunch" existed in 1923 and most certainly must be made to exist again, by any means necessary.

But wait, what's this? In the December 2, 1919 edition of the Evening Independent one can see, if they squint, this tiny brief mention of one J. G. Nottage, "a popular restaurant man of St. Petersburg who made the words "Jitney Lunch" so famous in that city." Apparently Mr. Nottage was moving on from Jitneydom and going into the pie business. In Gainesville, as the squib suggests? I must know. Search engines provide us nothing else about Mr. Nottage, but a slew of other Nottages from the St. Pete area are indicated, and some are surely related. Could it be that one of them has, tucked somewhere in a dusty, forgotten and yellowing scrapbook of family pictures, an old photograph of Mr. Nottage and his Jitney Lunch counter?

The Walkout King

One from the Victorian Squares blog:

You don't have be a new-ager or a transdimensional seer to grasp the basic idea that life's too short to surround yourself with junk that's bringing you down. This of course applies to people, but it also applies to products and businesses. Too many people out there are eating food they don't like and buying stuff they don't need, out of some sort of I-don't-even-know-WTF-to-call-it that makes them allow the will of others to supersede their own.

I gained something of a reputation back in Louisville as being "that guy" who gets up in the middle of a play and walks out. I don't mean to cause a scene about it, and I try to find a dimly-lit moment to make my exit as inobtrusive as possible, but I've been dragged to too many horrible plays that I politely sat through and then went home in a bad mood and grumbled about how that's two hours of my life I'll never get back. So I don't do that anymore.

Dr. Bill: I never did understand why you walked away.
Nick Nightingale: It's a nice feeling. I do it a lot.

One of Florida's biggest problems is customer service, and I find myself once more becoming "The Walkout King" as I find myself sitting at tables in restaurants that I'm just not feeling. (Much to the weary irritation of my dinner companions.) But you know, why settle for anything less than greatness? If a restaurant can't be bothered to give me their A-game, I can't be bothered to whip out the American Express card.

Today in Jacksonville Beach, we stopped into a place I won't name; one that presents itself as a Tiki Bar (and I suppose it is, in a sort of lowest-common-denominator frat-boy way.) It got bad reviews on the Internet, said one of my dining companions. I don't put stock in Internet reviews, but it must be said the place was completely empty when we walked in. Not a soul except a bored-looking waitress who, 20 seconds into taking our order, started arguing with us about the coupon we tried to use from their website. "Oh, that one doesn't apply to this location," she said, despite having it pointed out to her that the coupon made no such distinction. Then she said there were no frozen drinks. She didn't say why, but I have a suspicion it's because business was so non-existent, they didn't bother firing up the machine today.

All eyes at the table looked over to me, watching my enthusiasm for this place plummet, waiting for the inevitable words.

"We're leaving."

We went across the street to a fantastic place called The Pier Cantina. As it turned out, they had no frozen drinks either this day - their machine was down (protip: always keep a spare, boys.) But the server apologized profusely and did a kick-ass job at his post. The food was delicious. The ambience, overlooking the ocean, was superb. The drinks were excellent. But most importantly, customer service was top-notch. As my pal Grant Cardone has noted, and you better listen good to him:

I once told a salesperson that I wanted to pay cash for the product, at which time he said, “You don’t want to pay cash for it; you should finance it.” His response created a block to my power of decision and lessened my enthusiasm for continuing to do business with him. By disagreeing with me, the salesperson created a barrier to what should have been an easy sale. He could have simply said, “Cash would be great, sir.” Then as he was taking my cash, he could have shown me both the cash price and the alternative if I financed, at which point I would have at least considered the alternative as a choice, not a “make wrong.”

A business that has zero customers had damn well better cheerfully honor all coupons if they want to stay in business, instead of giving a convoluted explanation to the customer why he's wrong and why this coupon "doesn't count for this location." The Pier gets ALL my business now when in this part of Jax Beach, baby.

Friday, September 20, 2013


I first saw him in 2008, at The Shake Pit in Bradenton, and immediately portions of my brain screamed at other portions of my brain. This sign depicting an anthropomorphic ice cream cone named "FREEZY" caught my eye, like literally, and wouldn't let go of it, gripping it in a beam of pure silver radioactive-hot intention.

Freezy's gaze followed me everywhere I walked. Even when I walked out of range of his direct line of sight, I became aware that Freezy emanated a 3-D holographic spherical field of vision that swept up everything within it towards it. I looked around at my fellow ice cream enthusiasts, who obliviously and robotically extended their tongues and rubbed them in a vertical trajectory against their cones like cattle at a salt lick. Don't you see it too? Somebody, tell me you see it too! It wasn't the first time I've felt like the guy with the special sunglasses in They Live and it won't be the last, mark me.

But what did Freezy WANT? Perhaps nothing more than a tithe to his chapel of soft-serve. For, once I stepped up to the counter and made the purchase of a large Coke Milkshake (which the Shake Pit creates by squirting actual Coca-Cola concentrated syrup direct from their fountain-soda tanks - shades of Bart Simpson's consciousness-altering Super Squishy made entirely out of syrup) the man-faced cone quietly nodded his assent and acceptance, in almost Buddhist fashion, and gently released his psychic tentacles.

I've been there a zillion times since. You'd think he'd remember me. But no, we have to go through the same damn rigamarole every time. I say, "Wassup, Freezy? My man!" and he just starts in with the hypno-ray vibes and giving me that Bela Lugosi look with his unfathomable little crescent moon eyeballs all over again. Sigh.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pier 60

Given my Floridious druthers, I prefer to be on the islands. Failing that, I'll settle for piers. And if you can get a pier that's on an island, well, Bob's Your Uncle. Throw an awesome sea turtle statue into the bargain and heck, that's a trifecta. (Report From the Florida Zone reader Jack Thompson agrees: he tweeted us this great picture.)

Pier 60, just over the puddle from Clearwater on Clearwater Beach, is a great spot to get some shade when you've had a little too much sunshine on your state. And it's surrounded with fine restaurants and plenty of activities like The Calypso Queen tour boat.

Short and Sweet

Clever humans! Someone in Jacksonville decided to convert this mimetic Twistee Treat ice cream building (just like the one in St. Pete's Beach!) into a cupcake shop and take advantage of the fact that an ice cream cone does kinda resemble a cupcake if you put a candle on top and sufficiently flog your suspension of disbelief.

Then again, not everyone's adept at that. As this newspaper article notes:

Though customers still walk up and ask for a large vanilla cone, there is no soft-serve ice cream inside. Just cupcakes and cookies.

More importantly, the article gives us valuable new research insight into the background of our Twistee Treat fascination:

It looks like something from the 1950s, when buildings-as-kitschy-art lined American byways. There were giant oranges, hot dogs, milk bottles and motel rooms that looked like teepees.

But the Twistee Treat cones actually only date to the early 1980s. It was a Florida company, founded in Cape Coral. There were 23 Twistee Treats in the state when the company filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s.

A new company was formed a few years later and it’s believed that about 90 of the buildings were built over the years and about half have torn down.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Primitive Roadside Vendor Signs

Sure, you could go to the Warhol Museum or the Tate Modern (or just keep your eyes peeled for fake Keith Haring graffiti), but some of the best Outsider Pop Art can be found by simply trolling the backroads of Interzone.

If some young enterprising upstart or jaded old cultural appropriator hasn't already pounced on the idea yet, somebody should do a big NYC gallery exhibition of hand-painted boiled peanut signs from Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. Who can say it isn't beautiful?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Postcards from Daytona

Between the curtains of the veil of spacetime that separates now from then - 'cept it doesn't - falls the shadow of these stable constants in the form of postcards, bringing the Interzone of yesterday shambling into today.

People back then may have wondered what people later in the future would think of how things were back then, and if things in the future would have gotten so off-course that we'd reach back fondly to these portals of memory. Later is now.