Monday, June 30, 2014

St. George Island

Oh, that Wikipedia! I consulted its article about St. George Island to find this convoluted conundrum reported as fact:

St. George Island was first inhabited by the Creek Indians between the 10th and 15th centuries, who were all killed off by disease. With the arrival of European colonists to the area in the late 18th century came an intense struggle for control. In 1803, the Creek Indians ceded a large tract of land, which included St. George Island, to trader John Forbes and Company, known as the Forbes Grant.

Okay, so the Creek (Muscogee) were all killed off by disease in the 15th century? What disease? From where? Most such cultural wipeouts came from the intrusion of European settlers, which the article says didn't occur on St. George Island until the late 18th century. And if the Creek were wiped out, how did they cede the land in 1803? (The fallacy there is the article's implication that there weren't more Creeks elsewhere. They were actually quite widespread.) Wikipedia's separate article about the Creek doesn't really make it any clearer.

Be that as it may, St. George Island is a lovely place today, and one of Florida's lesser-known paradises. The area boasts the Cape St. George Lighthouse, the Apalachicola Nature Center, the fantastic fishing pier, Captain Dwayne's charter boats, great grub at Indian Pass Raw Bar and Eddy Teach's, fine wine and cocktails at The Owl Cafe, and live music/karaoke at Harry A's.

Other nearby islands include Little St. George Island, St. Vincent Island, and Dog Island.

The Grapes of Roth

Check out The Grapes of Roth, my friend Elizabeth Roth's kick-ass bar band in St. Augustine! In addition to the full band, she also does solo acoustic gigs at A1A Ale Works and Tradewinds in St. Aug.

Coquina Beach

It's funny that after over a year with this blog, I haven't written about Coquina Beach yet, even though it's one of my favorite places in the Bradenton-Sarasota area and I've been coming here for years before the move. But some things just can't be described in words. It's just this beach, you know? What makes it different from nearby Bradenton Beach, Cortez Beach or Holmes Beach? I dunno, man, I'm just reporting the action live from the front lines, I'll leave the qualitative analysis to others.

It does have a splendid snack bar, if that helps. (But so does nearby Manatee Beach.) And Leffis Key is right across the street.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Coconut Heads

The hallowed tradition of carving faces into coconuts is alive and well in Interzone. I spied these specimens on John's Pass recently.

Back in my rovin' ramblin' rogueish antique-dealer years, I used to collect old 50s/60s/70s examples of these tourist-trap trinkets. Often they'd have the hotel, resort or island they came from carved into the back or labeled with a sticker on the bottom. Nowadays these once-sought-after souvenirs are easily obtained on eBay and Etsy.

Pet'r Pan Diner

Clipped from the Ocala Star-Banner, Oct. 6, 1957, this fragment of a simpler time indeed.

Is it merely a matter of economic inflation, or overt greed in the hearts of restauranteurs, or some other factors that have led our society to the sorry state wherein you can no longer get a meal like this for one American dollar? Think about it.

Even with the 1957 value of currency, we're talking about a turkey and dressing dinner here (and let's even assume that the portion doled out is chintzy) and with gravy and cranberry sauce on the side. That right there is worth a buck alone in any economy, right? But wait - there's more: you also get string beans, rolls, and mashed freakin' potatoes as well!

How can this be?

And there's still more: you get a salad, yes, a salad as part of the deal. You get a dessert (let's say it's just a cup of banana pudding with one lone vanilla wafer sticking out of it, or perhaps a small dish of ice cream, this is still a bargain beyond comprehension!) And finally, you get a drink, which nowadays, can cost as much as the meal in some burger joints.

All of this, dear friends, for the low, low, zombie-killing price of one dollar. How is this even possible? How much profit could they possibly be making - a nickel? I'd like to see this sort of thing come back into vogue (in a non-fast-food setting) and have diners competing to see who can offer the most fulfilling meal at the lowest, most rock-bottom, impossible price.

(My investigation of the mysterious Jitney Lunch last year has still not yielded an actual description of what said meal contains, but I am certain it is in the same spirit.)

Corner of Dante and Open MRI

In Jacksonville they gave a street sign to some Open MRI place for some reason. Now, especially with the sign bent, it feels like you're standing at the corner of Dante and Open MRI, which is a pretty fair metaphor for life in Florida.

Daytona Beach Bandshell

This rather Arc de Triomphe-lookin' structure along the Daytona Beach boardwalk is actually an enormous bandshell, built in 1937. It's sufficient to hold a small orchestra, a choral ensemble, or the cast of a theatre production.

The people who put on concerts here have a website which refers to it as "the world's most famous bandshell". I might be able to counter that claim if I thought about it hard enough, but not too many other bandshells come to mind right now.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Corpse Flower

In Jacksonville, a man named Calvin Beaver is excited after 12 years of cultivating rare and exotic plants, to finally see his "Corpse Flower" - Amorphophallus titanum - bloom at last.

The plant usually requires seven to ten years before blooming for the first time. And after the initial blooming, it may not bloom again for another decade, while others may bloom every couple years. There's no second-guessing these critters. It's called the Corpse Flower because it smells like decomposing flesh to attract pollinators.

The Corpse Flower grows in the wild only in the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, where was discovered just prior to its classification in 1878, and it was not successfully cultivated to bloom in American until 1937. If you want to try your hand at growing your own, learn how here and buy seeds here.

Pensacola's Futuro House

The Futuro House was a short-lived fad during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Okay, maybe it wasn't even a fad, because they only ever built 96 of these things.

With 525 square feet of living space, the Futuro House could supposedly accommodate 8 people, its press releases said. Hmmmm... maybe, but only if you're cozy and unclaustrophobic. These things seem more like children's playhouses to me. While it lacks the size and majesty of Orlando's Spaceship Earth or Sarasota's multi-domed Bishop Nevins Academy, it still possesses a certain space-opera charm.

The official reason given for the failure of Futuro is that the rising price of plastic during the mid-1970s oil crisis made production of the domed domiciles too expensive. Personally, I think the real reason is simply that no one wanted to live in a tiny plastic space pod.

Of the 96 Futuro houses originally sold, Wikipedia estimates only 60% still exist. We're fortunate to have one of them still intact in Pensacola Beach. Of course, you'll notice they aren't using it as a house - they keep it on display on the roof of their house!

Rod Ferrell's Vampire Clan

Turn to page 44 in your copy of Weird Kentucky and you may recall the sick sad story of a gang of teenage wannabe-vampires that formed a wannabe-cult in Murray, Kentucky, circa 1996.

The group's mastermind, such as it was, was named Rod Ferrell by his parents but preferred to be addressed by his fantasy role-playing name, "Vesago". If that sounds stupid already, consider it compounded by the fact that he apparently meant Vassago, a demon mentioned in an old occult grimoire called The Lesser Key of Solomon but he couldn't spell so good.

The group traveled from Murray, Kentucky to Eustis, Florida for the purpose of murdering the parents of fellow cultist Heather Wendorf. Ferrell and his accomplice, Howard Scott Anderson, entered the Wendorf residence through an unlocked garage door and bludgeoned the sleeping father to death with a crowbar. When the mother emerged from the shower, Ferrell killed her with the crowbar as well. Ferrell told police that his original plan had been to allow the mother to live, but she fought back and threw a hot cup of coffee on him. Before leaving the house, Ferrell burned his cult's symbol - the letter V with a dot - into the father's corpse.

One of the young girls in Ferrell's group, Charity Keesee, called home to ask for money on their way to New Orleans and ended up tricked by her mother into going to a Howard Johnson's, where law enforcement were waiting thanks to Mrs. Keeseee's tip-off. Ferrell was, for a time, the youngest prisoner on Death Row in the Florida system, but in November 2000 the Florida Supreme Court inexplicably reduced his sentence to life in prison. I say inexplicably because, Ottis Toole aside, Florida is notorious for its lack of leniency on felons.

Florida has enough of its own home-grown loonies running around with having some imported from Kentucky, and the entire incident was very bad PR for both states. Unfortunately, the mitigating factors - poorly raised children and America's infantile obsession with vampires and RPGs, remain.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Angel Hair in Florida Keys

All too often when something really weird and unexplainable happens, the lone witness is some guy with a drinking problem or a gambling debt or a police record, and the skeptics inevitably try to impugn his character. And if the witness has no skeletons in his past to mock, then they simply shrug and say, "Well, you don't know what you're talking about because you are not a scientist."

And so it was fortunate indeed that when a Fortean rain of weird gelatinously stringy "angel hair" substance fell from the sky on May 28, 1957, the main witness was... a scientist. Dr. P. Craig Phillips, who worked for the Miami Seaquarium (and eventually became Director of the National Aquarium), was on a boat around Biscayne Bay near the start of the Florida Keys when the strange skyfall occurred. He and his team immediately began saving as much of the stuff as possible in Mason jars, but when they arrived back to port in Miami, the substance had disappeared from every jar without a trace. Though the evidence had vanished, people nevertheless had to give Dr. Phillips and his team the benefit of the doubt, for they had no reason to conspire to lie about such a thing.

Project Blue Book, the US Govt bureau tasked with investigating UFO sightings, looked into the matter and, as was their modus operandi, assigned a plausible-sounding but unprovable explanation. The material, they insisted, was a "side effect" of military planes firing chaff during routine operations. Chaff is a term applied to a variety of materials designed to be expelled by planes to create a radar-confusing cloud in their wake. (Wait, isn't that, by definition, "chemtrails"?)

However, this concocted official story does not explain why the gooey gossamer filaments disappeared and left absolutely no residue in the jars. And the fact that the Government felt the need to put the matter to rest with such an obviously bogus story leads one to suspect that disinfo was definitely being seeded. The incident was never solved - at least, not in any way that makes sense - but similar incidents continue to happen in places as far away as Italy and China.

(Unfortunately, very few photos of alleged angel hair even exist. The one above is not from the Florida sightings - they apparently didn't have cameras - but of a different proposed fall of similar so-called star-stuff.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Brunswick Magnetic Anomaly

As if any further proof was needed that Florida's soil has a strange and different vibe, looky here: scientists are abuzz about the Brunswick Magnetic Anomaly, a line below which encompasses all of Florida, a bit of Georgia, and a tiny bit of Alabama. The leading theory is now that the magnetic anomaly was caused by a part of the supercontinents crashing during the wild and wacky plate tectonic movements of early Earth.

Says Live Science:

A new look at one of these clues reveals that a weird magnetic signal near Florida shows the peninsula stuck to North America's heel like a piece of old tape about 300 million years ago, when the central and southern Appalachian mountains were built.

The rocks beneath Florida suggest the peninsula originally wasn't part of North America. Rather, it's a fragment of either Africa or South America, sutured onto the southeastern United States near an unusual feature called the Brunswick Magnetic Anomaly, researchers say.

So what, if anything, does this mean? Well, it just might provide fodder for the Keyhole Vortex concept, and it might even have something to do with the Bermuda Triangle.

In 2011, the Department of Defense conducted vague and mysterious "GPS tests" at great danger to airline flights, warning pilots "During testing, GPS will be unreliable and may be unavailable within a circle with a radius of 370 NM and centered at 304906N/0802811W. According to the usual "intel from my uncle's sources" type internet chatter, it's been theorized that the US Govt "GPS tests" were really a cover for investigating something not man-made, that was causing radar/GPS/magnetic/seismic anomalies with that same point as an epicenter.

But me, I just think it's cool to ponder that Florida was originally part of the area of Africa ranging approximately from the Western Sahara to Sierra Leone.

VFW Missile

This cheerful sight - what appears to be either an antique missile or a replica thereof - adorns the front yard of a VFW hall on Central Avenue in St. Pete.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Soreno Hotel

In downtown St. Petersburg, there's another one of those infuriating historical signs that, like the Vilano Beach Casino, tells us basically that "a really cool building used to be here, but they tore it down."

It makes it all the more a sore point to learn that the Soreno was demolished by a developer who couldn't develop: the super-important whatever-it-was project that the Soreno was blown up to make room for never came to fruition.

The producers of Lethal Weapon 3 (starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) got wind of the building's impending destruction and got in on the action, working the explosion into the film and shooting numerous scenes on the hotel grounds prior to - and even during - the demolition blast.

It's fascinating to watch it go down on this recorded live footage from TV channel 13; note how evenly the building collapses neatly into its own footprint... which of course, as you know, only happens with deliberate controlled demolitions such as these. *cough*


Daytona, like Jacksonville, is one of those Florida cities that can't seem to get its act together in the restaurant department. I have no idea what Jacksonville's excuse is, but I reckon with Daytona it's the usual "Tourists are going to come here whether we make an effort or not, so we don't have to make an effort" thing. But one place that I can definitely give high marks to is Riptides, which, if memory serves me right, is actually just over the border from Daytona in Ormond Beach. (Like many, though, my usual Manual of Style M.O. is to refer to the whole area encompassing Ormond Beach, Holly Hill, Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Shores, and Port Orange as simply "Daytona.")

Just about every positive box was checked here: delicious grouper sandwich, strong and well-made cocktails (especially the Mai Tai, which is a very good litmus test of bartender competence), friendly and knowledgeable servers, and indoor/outdoor seating. All they lacked to make me truly ecstatic, really, was a giant stone Easter Island head.

After I got back home from my Daytona visit, only then did I go through the goody bag provided by my hotel - it contained a gift certificate for a free shrimp dinner at Riptides! Argh. Next time.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Aku Tiki / Traders

In a world where most of the glorious Tiki-themed businesses of yesteryear are gone, it's refreshing to see that the Aku Tiki Inn still survives in Daytona Beach. Somewhere along the way it was conglomerated by Best Western, but kudos to them for retaining much of the place's original character. A giant Moai with red glowing eyes greets you at the entrance, and it's a replica of the original which was destroyed by Hurricane Charley in 2004. Other Tiki decorations, many by the great Witco, still remain on the premises.

The hotel's restaurant, Traders, doesn't quite recreate the splendor of old. There are no waitresses in coconut bras and grass skirts bringing you wooden platters of Ono and Dr. Sam Tee cocktails.

More photos of Aku Tiki here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Hut

In wondrous John's Pass along the boardwalk, there's this restaurant called Sculley's, see. And right next door there's another restaurant called The Hut. They're separate places. But they're not. They're connected. They're the same place. But they're not. They have separate websites and everything. I don't get it. But I don't need to get it, I guess. Just shut up and drink, Jeff.

The Hut comes closest to being "a real Tiki Bar" around here amongst all the places I've seen, and interestingly, they don't even advertise themselves as such. Of course, they play Tom Petty and Jimmy Buffett over the loudspeakers and not Don Ho, but hey, they carry Bell's Two Hearted Ale and after a couple of those you don't even mind.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Bradenton Beach, FL.

West Central Shopping Center

I love these old 40s-50s neon signs that are quickly a vanishing species. Best of all, this one still works and still lights up at night.

Stalkers may note this sign turns up sometimes in the background of my morning coffee twitter photos. That's because it's right next to door to my current Starbucks of choice and necessity, on Central Avenue in that part of St. Petersburg that I consider to be Pasadena and I don't care what the map and the zoning board says.

Kohr Family Frozen Custard

One of the best treasures of John's Pass is this amazingly untouched-by-time ice cream joint. It's called Kohr Family Frozen Custard and offers "swirly cones" with a heaping portion of double-flavored goodness. Every time I'm in John's Pass I can't resist grabbing some of their fine wares.

Be warned of several things - one, the seagulls around here will swoop down and try to eat your cone if you take it near the boardwalk, so be vigilant.

Two, it's not really "frozen custard" in my estimation, it's more like a highly air-puffed soft-serve. I don't care. I still think it's great.

Thirdly, Kohr's is expensive. I say it's worth it and so am I and by golly, so are you.