Friday, December 20, 2013

The Chicken Church

This year, the Church By The Sea in Madeira Beach inadvertently gained national fame and became something of an Internet meme.

Basically, because their church looks like a giant cartoon chicken.

As a longtime aficionado of anthropomorphic buildings myself, I love it - but I hear that the people who run the church unfortunately aren't as thrilled about the newfound attention. Come on, people, lighten up. It could have been a lot worse.

Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay

A rhesus macaque, dubbed "Cornelius" (after the Planet of the Apes character) and "The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay" by fans and the media, roamed the streets of St. Petersburg and evaded police and animal-control squads for years until its capture in 2012. As news reports of the macaque escalated, a growing segment of the population cheered on the monkey's constant narrow escapes, and saw him as a sort of anti-establishment hero; a fugitive whose only crime was being a monkey in a man's world.

The "mystery" about the macaque is not so much "Where did he come from?", because feral rhesus macaques are actually increasingly common in Florida. It's estimated that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 of them living in the wilderness surrounding the Silver River near Ocala. Reportedly, a tour-boat operator called "Colonel Tooey" released a few macaques along the river to help jazz up his "jungle cruise" tourist attraction in 1938, and they ended up thriving and multiplying. So the real mystery is why Cornelius left the rest of the macaques (they tend to travel in close-knit groups) and how he ended up in urban St. Pete.

But Florida's wild monkey problem doesn't stop there. A band of vervet monkeys has lived near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport for decades, and no one's quite sure how they got here. Some say they're the descendents of long-lost escapees from a roadsize zoo attraction, while others trot out the perennial sounds-good-but-is-probably-specious rumor that old Tarzan movies filmed in Florida are what's responsible for all this monkey business. According to a 2010 article in the Miami New Times, the vervets have adopted a raccoon into their group, allowing it to travel and live with them and treating it as "a long-lost family member."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tube Dude Surfboard Holder

A Tube Dude surfboard holder, spotted at Siesta Beach.

The Three Graces

Of the many statues that decorate St. Armand's Key, I'm fondest of the one that greets you as you first enter from the Ringling Causeway Bridge from Bird Key - Antonio Canova's The Three Graces. This one is a copy; the original is in the Hermitage Museum in Russia.

The Three Graces are the daughters of Zeus & Eurynome (his 1st wife): Euphrosyne (Beauty), Aglaea (Charm) & Thalia (Joy).

Ted Stevens and the Doo-Shots

Last week I was walking down the street on Siesta Key and heard some amazing reverby surf instrumental music coming from one of the joints. Aa I got closer, I realized it was Gilligan's and the band was Ted Stevens & the Doo-Shots, one of Florida's greatest surf-rockabilly-blues treasures. I wasn't up for any eatin' and drinkin', but loitered around Gilligan's as a non-paying customer anyway, just to catch more of Ted's act.

Ted and the boys are constantly out there performing in Florida, and you can follow their gig schedule here.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tiki Joe's

In a perfect world, every place using that overused term "Tiki Bar" would have beautiful women in sarongs bringing you exotic food and bizarre umbrella drinks, with an enormous stone Tiki head overseeing it all. And of course, a healthy mix of exotica, lounge, space-age-pop and uncategorizable retro ephemera on the sound system. But I'm not a Tiki Bar snob, dear reader, I'm really not.

To me, a Tiki Bar must, at the very least, though, offer some classic Tiki Culture beverages, even if they didn't go all-out on the trappings and the decor. There's a point I've often belabored in print, and bear with me now because I'm going to belabor it again:

This may seem overly harsh, but here's my position: any upscale bar that claims to be a true "full bar" and doesn't have a specialty cocktail list is immediately suspect, and to be avoided.

I've never met a bartender yet who says "we can make you anything" who really could. And that's where the specialty-cocktail drink list comes in - even if I don't order anything off it, I want to see it be there. Because it proves to me that these people are really bartenders and not just randomly-assigned pourers of liquid. Having house-specialty mixed drinks shows me that, at least, someone was enough of an artisan to come up with these ideas. It also shows me that there are drinks that even a novice bartender there might have fixed often enough to be familiar with. Feel me? If you don't make Mojitos very often, I don't want you fixing my Mojito, capish?

And so my face fell just a little when my entourage and I stumbled into Tiki Joe's in Sarasota recently and it not only didn't really look very much like a Tiki Bar, they were playing modern rap music in the restaurant. Then I asked the million-dollar question, "can I see the specialty drink list?" and received the million-dollar wrongest of all wrong answers: "we don't have one, but I can make you anything."

All eyes at the table looked at me, and one friend, well aware of my Walkout King ways, hadn't even let go of her purse. But this time, I stuck it out - mainly because it was a Groupon deal, heh.

And I'm glad I did.

As I turned out, the meal was among the best I've had in Florida, no lie. The angus burger was 100 percent real, homestyle, patted out. The cheese fries were hand-cut from actual potatoes - you know, like they used to do in prehistoric times? I haven't had fries so friendly since the late lamented Taylor's Billiards in Richmond, Kentucky, what seems like another life now. The guy who waited on us turned out to be Tiki Joe himself, a real nice guy and he did indeed fix a heck of a frozen pina colada.

Tiki Joe's is hidden way, way out in the suburbs of northeast Sarasota - 5802 Longwood Run Blvd, to be precise - but I tell you what and I kid you not, it's worth the drive.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Siesta Key Drum Circle

Siesta Key's drum circle on Siesta Beach starts every Sunday evening, one hour before sunset. Be there.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An Empirical Assay of Unimaginative Floridian Nomenclature, Part I

I can't help but notice, as I drive up and down the winding streets of our fair state, just how ridiculously generic the names of most of the resorts, motels, hotels, and subdivisions are. I mean, you could write down every remotely-ocean-location-related word in the thesaurus on scraps of paper, then pick them two of them out of a hat, and the result would probably be a real existing actual place. I can be often heard shouting in the car while driving, with no one to hear me except the Ocho brothers on the dashboard, "Come on, people, show some imagination! You spent three quarters of a million dollars on this place and the best freakin' name you could come up with was "Sea Breeze"??"

I'm not wrong. Submitted for analysis:

Siesta Key:

Island House, Island Reef, Banana Bay, Siesta Sands, Siesta Sandcastle, Siesta Sun, Siesta Sunset Royale, Beach Palms, Siesta Pearl, Siesta Palms, Siesta Dunes, Siesta Breakers, Tropical Breeze, Tropical Shores, Tropical Sands, White Sands, Crystal Sands, Beachpoint, Sea Crest, Sandbox, Sandy Cove, Parrot Beach, Palm Bay, Sea Club, Beach Bungalow, Sea Shell, Tropical Sun, Sunsets, Bay Oaks, Harbor Towers, Gulf Beach, Gulf Haven, Fisherman's Cove, Fisherman's Haven, Fisherman's Village, and possibly the prize-taker of them all, A Gulf View At Midnight Cove.


Sarasota Sands, Sarasota Lakes, Beach Club, Three Palms, Sun-n-Fun, Surfview, Suntide Island, Coral Cove, Sundial, Flamingo Colony, Horseshoe Cove, The Dock On The Bay, Seabreeze Inn, Tides Inn, Islander, Coquina On The Beach, Palm Place, Orchid Oaks, Seaboard Oaks, Pelican Cove, Sunset Towers, Citrus Square.

Venice/Casey Key:

Island Breeze, Island Sun, Inn At The Beach, Venice Beach Villas, Venice Palm Inn, Suntan Terrace, Island House, Gulfside, Gulf Sands, Gulf Surf, Beachcomber, Quarterdeck, Bird Bay, Gulf Horizons, Casa Del Mar, Villa Del Mar, Hacienda Del Mar, Fountain View, Island Park, Venice Sands, Inlets, Fairwinds, Gulf To Bay, Blackburn Cove, Blackburn Harbour, Venice Vacation, Suncoast Plaza, Casa Del Sol, Fantasy Island, Ocean Sands, Heron Cove, Harbor Isles, Paradise Cove At Lemon Bay.


Sandrift, Sandpiper Bay Club, Pelican Bay, Rum Bay, Avellino Isles, Blue Heron, Ibis Club, Partridge Point, Cypress Gate, Vista Palms, Bay Terrace, Four Winds, Baypoint At Naples Cay, Spindrift, Sandy Cay, Surfsedge, Coquina Club, Heron Club, Bayfront, Bayshore At Park Place, Naples Cay, Del Mar Club, Regal Point, La Villa Riviera, Admiralty Point, Solamar, Park Shore Landings, The Breakers, Indies West, Gulf Winds, South Bay, Bayswater, Twin Dolphins, Sunrise Bay, Sunshine Resort, Island Escapes, Water's Edge, Sandcastle, Hideaway Beach, South Seas, Lemon Tree, Cove Inn, Edgewater Beach, Bayfront Inn, Coral Falls, Players Cove, Cove Inn On Naples Bay, Del Mar At Coquina Sands.


Gator Lodge, Pelican Roost, Pelican Point, Seahorse, One Ocean, Casa Marina, Sun Suites, Baymeadows, Bay Villa, Green Cove, Casa Bella, Marsh Point, Oceania, Seascape, South Shore, Southbrook, Bermuda Bay, Water's Edge, Ocean 14, Florida Club, Sandpiper, Cabana Club, Villa Riva, Broadview, The Fountains, Ocean Grove, Vista Del Mar.

St. Petersburg/St. Pete's Beach:

Sundial, Dolphin, Palm Crest, Sea Chest, Beach Haven, Tahitian, Suncoast, Beachcomber, Hideaway Sands, Trade Winds, Sunrise, Windjammer, Island's End, Bayview Plaza, Beach House, Island Inn, Sunset Vistas, Crystal Palms, Gulf Beach, South Beach, Treasure Bay, Sea Jay, Ebb Tide, West Winds, Wide Waters, Waterside, Bayside, Oasis Palms, Sunrise, Voyager Beach Club, Algiers Gulf, Bahia Del Mar, Sand Pebble, Tropic Terrace, Gulf Side, Gulf Gate, Mariner, Sand Dune, Surf Beach, Treasure Shores, Swashbuckler, Coral Lee, Sea Breeze, Flamingo, Peninsula Inn, Barefoot Beach, Surfs Inn, Bayway, Surfsong, Shoreline, Sea Dawn, Holiday Isles, The Pier, The Commodore, Sea Turtle, Vina Del Mar, Holiday Island, Island Gulf, Changing Tides, The Schooner, Gulf Gardens, Grand Shores, Island House, Palm Bay.


Point Bay, Marina Blue, Seacoast, South Beach, Water Club, Lake Beach, Island Terrace, Terrace Towers, South Bay, Bay Court, Flamingo, Ocean Point, South Point, River View, River Breeze, Orange Manor, Coral Pointe, Sun Isles, Moonglow, Park View, Bay View, Miami Bayview, Venice Villa, Blue Bay, South Shores, Waterside, Sailboat Cay, Capri Gardens, Island Point, Bay Harborview, West Bay, Colony Bay Harbor, Surfside, Four Winds, Three Horizons, Seaway Villa, Surf House, Mariners Bay, Coral Towers, Bayview Palms, Bayview Towers, Star Lakes, Sand Piper, Summertree, Tall Tree, Jade Winds, Ocean View, Ocean Reserve, Ocean Three, Marina Bay, Eden Point, Eden Isles, Waterpointe, Point East, Admirals Port, Oceania, Harbor House, Beach Club, The Tides, Sea Edge, Harborside, Golden Surf, Golden Isles, South View, Castillo Del Mar, Ocean Palms, Orange Grove, Tropic Garden, Royal Palm, Coconut Grove, Blue Ocean Reef, Ocean Spray, South Seas, Surfcomber, Starlite, Altos Del Mar, Five Star Island, Grand Beach, Sun Harbour, Golden Bay.

Sand Key/Madeira Beach/Treasure Island:

Westwinds, South Beach, Gulf Winds, The Palms. Surf Beach, Gulf Strand, Gulf Beach, Three Palms, Dolphin Cay, Bermuda Bay, Hideaway Sands, Silver Sands, Sail Away, Island Inn, Boca Shores, Gulf Winds, Sandcastle, Beach Place, Tides Beach Club, Surfside Towers, Anglers Cove, Sea Oats, Tower Isle, Gulf Shores, Sand Dollar, Westshore, Vista Bay, Tahitian Towers, Sea Gate, Pier House, Sand Castle, Waterfalls, Water's Edge, Beach Way, Cay Pointe, Shipwatch, Gulf Manors, Sea Club, Dolphin Reef, Driftwood, Harbour Club, Reef Club, Harborage, Cabana Club, South Beach.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I mean, we can't expect everyplace to have as hip a name as El Presidente, but damn, y'all, let's try to be a cut above and at least try to come up with something a little less mundane and more memorable, mm'kay?

I should also note that most of these names are apparently conceived on crack, because they're not even close to being a descriptor of the property. If you're going to use "Isles" in the name, you really shouldn't be located twenty miles inland. If you're calling yourself something with "Palm" in the title, you really oughta go out and plant at least one palm tree, y'know, just to be official about it. And am I some sort of kook for thinking it's weird if you call yourself something-something-harbor or something-something-cove when there's no harbor and no cove?

It's the same everywhere you go, I suppose. I remember back home in Kentucky, one is confronted everywhere one looks by subdivisions with names like "Poplar Estates" and there ain't a damn poplar tree in sight. I imagine if pressed, the developer would say something like, "erm, well, you see, there were poplar trees here before we built these McMansions....."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monstera Deliciosa

Though originally native to the tropical rainforests of Mexico, the Monstera deliciosa (also known by such names as Ceriman, Cheese Plant, Monstereo, Mexican Breadfruit, Balazo, and The Penglai Banana) has somehow spread its way to Hawaii, where it's become something of an invasive species. And now it's increasingly popular in the only other U.S. state where it can grow: Florida.

According to Wikipedia:

The fruit may be ripened by cutting it when the first scales begin to lift up and it begins to exude a pungent odor. It is wrapped in a paper bag and set aside until the scales begin popping off. The scales are then brushed off or fall away to reveal the edible flesh underneath. The flesh, which is similar to pineapple in texture, can be cut away from the core and eaten. It has a fruity taste similar to jackfruit and pineapple.

I have yet to sample this alien-lookin' snack, but I'll file a report when that day comes. Fascinated as I am with exotic Floridian fruit (such as the Mamey and the rare Sugarloaf pineapple), hopefully I won't have long to wait until the opportunity knocks.

Dead End

I love that they still have "Dead End" signs in Florida. Back home, all the signs use the more palatable phrase "No Outlet".

Tool-Using Gators and Crocs

If you were creeped out by alligators before, prepare to have the creepy factor raised: new research demonstrates that alligators are far more intelligent than previously thought.

For most of mankind's existence, it has been held that humans were the only tool-using creatures. Then in 1964, Jane Goodall first recorded chimpanzees using sticks as tools. Over the years since, more and more animals have been discovered to be tool-users: apes, elephants, dolphins, birds. And now this latest announcement marks the first known instance of a tool-using reptile.

According to Naples News:

Vladimir Dinets, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee and an author of a new study describing this hunting technique, first saw a hint that crocodilians — which include crocodiles, alligators, and caimans — might use sticks as a lure in 2007. Doing research in India, he watched as a mugger crocodile lay motionless in shallow water with an array of sticks and twigs laid across its snout. When an egret flew by to grab the stick, the crocodile snapped and the bird narrowly escaped. Dinets had heard stories of similar crafty behavior by animals at Florida's St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoo.

But these were just isolated anecdotes, not subject to the rigors of scientific observation. "We needed to prove convincingly that the use of sticks was intentional," Dinets said. He started spending his weekends at two Louisiana lakes and discovered that the use of sticks as bait by wild alligators there was not haphazard. Alligators living beneath bird rookeries used them, while others didn't. Because the trees near the lakes don't regularly shed branches or twigs, this suggests that the gators were intentionally searching out sticks to use.

More significant, the alligators only used twigs as bait during the time of year that the wading birds were busy collecting twigs for their nests, from late March through early June.

This is the first report of a predator synchronizing the use of hunting lures to the seasonal behavior of its prey. And if tool use is rare in the animal kingdom, the use of objects as bait is even more rare. Until now, it has only ever been seen in capuchin monkeys, a few bird species and one insect.

There are at least 1.3 million alligators in Florida (and some sources put the figure at twice that), and while croc populations aren't nearly as great, it's estimated there are over 1,500 crocodiles in the Everglades National Park alone. Florida is so overrun with these critters, it's no wonder it has a thriving alligator-removal industry and a government-sponsored nuisance alligator report hotline. And the state has at least 30 alligator farms as well.

Watch your back and stay frosty out there, my fellow swampsters.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Urca de Lima

There are many shipwreck sites off the coast of Florida that are now underwater tourism sites, for those who have the gumption to strap on a scuba set and dive down below the murky depths. One example is the Urca de Lima, part of a Spanish expedition that sank off Fort Pierce during a hurricane in 1715.

According to this diving site:

The wreck is marked by an anchor bouy about 1400 feet off the beach at a 45 deg NE angle from the end of the path to the ocean at Bauman. It's in 10 to 15 feet of water. Several cannons are found here and a plaque commemorating the disaster is found on the mooring anchor. Ballast stones are scattered all around and many tropicals make their home here. If you look closely, you can make out the grain of the wood timbers and planks in the bottom."

GPS Locations of some of the prominent features of the shipwreck:

N 27 30.311 W 080 17.959 - Four cannons can be found here; three of them are in a row, and a fourth is just to the south of the center of the three.
N 27 30.313 W 080 17.978 - The ship's anchor is here, with its fluke end pointing towards the northeast.
N.27.50544 W. 80.29931 - A monument/buoy commemorating the wreck, and indicating to divers that you've found the right spot, is here.

The Breakers Hotel

The Breakers Hotel, in Palm Beach overlooking the Lake Worth Lagoon, was originally the Palm Beach Inn and opened in 1896. It burned down in 1903 and was quickly rebuilt in 1904. But in 1925 it burned down again and was once more rebuilt - this time out of fireproof concrete instead of wood - in 1926. The magnificent paintings on the ceilings of the 200-foot main lobby were done by a team of seventy-five Italian artisans, brought over to America specifically for the job.

On August 24, 2009 a large creature was caught on tape leaving a wake in the Lake Worth Lagoon as it traveled along, just under the surface of the water. The identity and existence of the creature remains unconfirmed, but all kinds suggestions have been made - ranging from burmese python to sea monster. It's been dubbed "The Muck Monster", but most cryptozoologists are a bit underwhelmed about an alleged creature that no one's actually seen.

Juvenile Night Heron

This juvenile Night Heron on Leffis Key was so mellow he didn't even mind me sticking my camera right up in his beak.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

St. Armands Tommy Bahama

Let me just dash what little credibility I probably have left with some of you hipsters who cringe at how much I love Starbucks: I also love Tommy Bahama. Not just the awesome Tommy Bahama faux-Tiki-beachwear fashion or the Tommy Bahama colognes, but the Tommy Bahama restaurant. More specifically, its drinks. And even more specifically, the drinks at the one on St. Armand's Key. And even now, just the mention of it makes me want to start the car.

What you see pictured above, dear reader, is a photograph, captured for the ages, of the finest Mai Tai it has ever been the privilege to pour down the big hole in my unworthy face. Though I've chased the elusive Mai Tai spirit over hill and dale and through swamp and strip-mall, nothing I've ever caught in the wild can compare with this here elixir placed before me by one of Mr. Bahama's minions.

(The worst Mai Tai I've ever had, in case you care, was at Seviche in Louisville. It tasted like kool-aid and the waiter who we asked to take it back was rather ungracious about it. Since Seviche is otherwise perenially flawless in every other respect, however, I can afford to cut them slack on this.)

All the beverages on their dance card are fine, most notably the Painkiller, which I became enamored with at the Tommy's location at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. But it's that Mai Tai that tops them all, even the ones from my beloved Roy's Hawaiian Fusion (which run a close second.)

You know, I hear Tommy Bahama restaurants also serve food. I dunno.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hurricane Grill & Wings

Hurricane Grill & Wings is a Florida-based chain, though it has locations in odd seemingly-chosen-at-random faraway locations as Elkton, MD; Hauppauge, NY; Surprise, AZ and Waterloo, IA. It was with a certain degree of desperation that I sat down at the San Marco (Jacksonville) location, because my luck with restaurants in Jax has traditionally been putrid. (Like the Tiki Bar that had no frozen drinks, or the Chili place that served me chili with practically no meat in it, or the Cuban place where I sat at the bar for an eternity waiting to be served and finally gave up and wandered back out into the night.)

Fortunately, there are exceptions to the Jax-area curse. The Chart House is one, North Beach Fish Camp is another, and, in a pinch, Hurricane Grill will do. Partially because they offer a superb Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, but mainly because their cocktails are quite potent.