A breezy travelogue through swampland, strip clubs, and a retirement community reported to be rife with swingers.
As a humorist who has long found plenty of material in his adopted state, Barry (Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry, 2015, etc.) has come this time to celebrate Florida, though in the process, he recounts plenty of the sorts of anecdotes that have made the state such a national laughingstock. The author believes that the tide turned toward ridicule in 2000, when Florida’s pivotal role in the presidential election made the state seem particularly inept—and introduced “hanging chads” into the national parlance. Yet the more significant before-and-after where this book is concerned dates to three decades earlier, when Disney World transformed the state’s tourism in 1971. The Mouse remains the elephant in the room as Barry focuses his attention on Florida’s distinct identity as a tourist destination pre-Disney and what the behemoth has done to those attractions since. Typical is his visit to Weeki Wachee Springs, “which, of all the classic Florida roadside tourist attractions, is one of the Florida-est.” Its underwater theater and mermaid choreography may pale in comparison with the high-tech, heavily marketed Disneyfication of the state, but for those who love bargains and hate crowds, this is the Florida that Barry celebrates. “I concede that, by modern theme-park standards, it is dated, hokey and unsophisticated,” he writes. “In other words, it’s great. I mean that sincerely. Weeki Wachee is a time machine that takes you back to a different era.” The tour also encompasses the Everglades, Gatorland, and a ghost town with a haunted hotel. It ends with the back-to-back bacchanalia of an upscale Miami night club and Key West, “Florida’s Florida—the place way down at the bottom where the weirdest of the weird end up; the place where the abnormal is normal.”
Readers may not embrace Florida the way the author has, but they will understand why a humorist loves it.