Sunday, June 30, 2013

Twistee Treat

I never fail to stop at this fine example of mimetic architecture, a Twistee Treat ice cream kiosk in St. Pete's Beach, when I'm passing through. All from this tiny cone-house, they offer super sundaes, typhoons, malts, milkshakes, smores, banana splits, smoothies, hand-dipped ice cream, hot dogs, corn dogs, mozzarella cheese sticks, hamburgers, french fries, pizza, chicken sandwiches, onion rings, funnel cakes, sno cones, soft homemade pretzels, and more - but for me, it's all about the double-flavored soft-serve twisty-cones.

Their website says they've only been there since 1984, but the mimetic cone surely hails from an earlier era, right? So who was the cone's previous inhabitant? I'm on the case.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

TV at the Table?

I'm not going to name the restaurant in question - because in the interest of positivity I won't (often) use this blog to specifically "call out" places I dislike even when they really really really deserve it - but who thought it was a great idea to have a television set at every table at this Anna Maria Island eatery? I mean, aren't we bombarded with video monitors enough already without having high-frequency radioactive tentacles trying to suck out our brains while trying to enjoy a nice distraction-free meal and conversation on a gulf coast island?

I almost turned around and left when I saw that. And when the poorly-made drinks arrived in the hands of a bored and uncaring waitress, I knew I shoulda gone with my instinct.

When I eventually open my own Steampunk-Tiki bar in Florida, the Pulcova Club, rest assured, there will be NO television sets. At all. Except maybe over the urinals I'll put little TVs that play nothing but random loops of Yma Sumac and Korla Pandit.

I will probably also eventually set up some sort of organization that seeks to convince as many Florida bars and restaurants as possible to go TV-free, or least cut back on turning their customers' brains to mush with nonstop broadcast crap. All in time.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Burn Notice

There are two major TV series filmed in Florida right now: one is Dexter, a creepy show glorifying serial killers which I don't really care for, and the other is Burn Notice, which is a peculiar little program about the wacky hijinks of a CIA agent who gets kicked out of the agency and finds himself stuck in Miami. As top-notch TV goes, it's pretty light action-intrigue fare, but I do appreciate it mainly for two of its qualities:

1. The expository voiceovers. The show is densely coated with tutorial talk-overs by our hero Michael Weston, giving the viewer explanations of the nuts and bolts of how to be a spy. It's like watching a training/orientation film thinly disguised as mass-media entertainment, which is a concept you probably know by now I approve of wholeheartedly.

2. Bruce Campbell. He's the man. Enough said.

The show is actually filmed in Coconut Grove, FL and was the subject of a major brouhaha last year when the city's planners wanted to evict the show. But diehard fans protested and the city was forced to reverse its thinking and allow Burn Notice to return and shoot its final seventh season.

One fan is so diehard, in fact, he's assembled a website to track, log, and display all known Florida locations seen on the show, pairing a screenshot of any given scene in the show with a photo he's taken himself at the actual site. We need more obsessives like this on our team.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cortez Time

Strange as it may sound, many people who come to Florida for a vacation bring their fried-out stressy demeanor with them and never really relax. I often see no'th'ners in Florida expressing frustration that their sandwich, drink, bellhop, rental car, rental girlfriend, whatever, isn't right here right now. More ominous of all to me is the growing Floridian propensity for aggressive, obnoxious driving (which is a growing problem nationwide, actually, and is infecting my beloved Sunshine State via tourists.) Repeatedly I've been subjected to angry Type-A personalities laying on the horn, giving me the finger, and flashing their brights in my eyes because I was going the speed limit. The speed limits on the islands are deliberately set to be what some would call agonizingly slow - 20-35 mph - and with darn good reason. You wanna be in paradise, Jack, you follow the rules. Unless you're on some sort of mission of colossal global importance, get calm or go home.

This sign in Cortez, FL exemplifies the necessary mood you should assume when in the 27th state. Dig it.

Mr. Bones

You know, many people come to me and they say "Hey, Jeffrey Scott Holland, what is the best BBQ on the gulf coast of Florida?" Okay, no one's actually asked me that, but if they ever do, I have my answer already prepared. It's Mr. Bones, located in Holmes Beach, FL on the ever-paradiscal Anna Maria Island.

This ain't no roadside dude with a rusty smoker and a bag of Big Lots wood pieces, nossir, this man is serious. There's a prominent sign up warning you not to ask for salt or pepper or ketchup, because his formula is such a pinnacle of barbecue achievement that it needs no doctoring up. And he's right.

Initially his stringent no-nonsense policy threw me off my game, because I'm one of those guys that likes his barbecue served naked so that I may dose it myself with various sauces provided on the table. But this isn't one of those places; there are no sauces on the table. You'll eat what he's cookin'.

Don't let the prominent "vegan - vegetarian" sign out front throw you off - most of Mr. Bones' wares are all meat, all the time. There are some veggie offerings on the menu for you sprout-biters, though. I'd love to tell you in copious detail all about his various exotic offerings, but fact is, I just keep going back for that BBQ Pork Plate again and again and again. Wowzers. Do it. And tell him I sent you by.

There's 60 varieties of beer in stock, and he keeps a coffin - that's right, a coffin - filled with ice and beer and soda up front. Why I didn't photograph it is a mystery even to myself. Next time...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Segs on the Beach

I don't see many people rolling around on Segways in my other home base of Louisville, but man, Florida is on it, and in a big way.

Florida's one of the nation's most Segway-friendly of the 50 states, and even though the thing's been around for years now, I'm embarrassed to admit it took a trip to Bradenton to actually get me on one. And though a lot of people - including me - gave President Bush Jr. a lot of ribbing for falling off a Segway (they say it's so simple to ride, you have to be a real cabbage-head to fail at it), I have to confess it took me a couple tries to get the hang of it. But once you get rolling, it's some real funambulation.

Manatee County has a special trail running alongside Bradenton Beach, Cortez Beach, etc. expressly for users of the futuristic transit device. And Segway of Central Florida offers Segway tours of Mt. Dora, FL and Dogwood Mountain, FL - both of which are curiously named communities considering they have no actual mountains.

St. Augustine will set you up with your very own Segway and send you spinning 'round the old town via Glided Tours, Sanibel Island offers a similar Segway-only trail (which is good, because we don't want people doing it too near the beach and messing up Sanibel's fantastic shell-collecting grounds!) and so does Miami and Pensacola and Daytona and Duck Key, just to name a few.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Didgeridoo Dog

During my recent fact-finding mission into St. Augustine, I kept encountering the surreal sight of a man playing an Australian didgeridoo on the streets, with a implausibly upright dog wearing a hat, kerchief, and sometimes a jacket. Just one of those little everyday touches that makes the old district of St. Augustine every bit as interesting as NOLA's French Quarter is cracked up to be.

I also ran into them on Anastasia Island, where they were set up with a booth at the island's Farmers Market, selling miniature curved French Horn-like didges. Clearly, this man and his dog have got it going on.

Curious, I just now did a quick Googling and found that I'm not the only one enamored by the peculiar pair; I found this and this and this and even this.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Polynesian Putter

Someday when the giant radioactive cockroaches that inherit the Earth look back on what the mammals achieved, I'd like to think that they'll smile (or whatever it is they do with their insectoid faces to express pleasure) at the idea that mankind, at the pinnacle of its culture, merged Tiki culture with miniature golf.

Polynesian Putter is located at 4999 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, FL. When I took these photos last Spring it still defied the odds by surviving into the age where its own half-century-past zeitgeist is now seen on Mad Men by a generation who never knew - and still don't - what it was all about. But hurry if you wanna get puttery wit' it, because everything awesome from the past eventually gets torn down to build a bank or a gas station sooner or later.

The Polynesian Putter is actually part of the Sea Palms Motel complex, but you need not be a resident to play the putt-putt. My favorite aspect of the whole course is, of course (heh), the 30-foot large Moai statue which can be putted through. It also has a staircase inside it which allows courageous seekers to climb to the top and get a nice view surveying the entire course.

The Moai were carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island between the years 1250 and 1500 and were reportedly intended to symbolize their deified ancestors. I wonder what the specific ancestor they modeled their copy after thinks about being celebrated centuries later on a roadside tourist attraction?

The place is densely wooded, but you can just barely make it out through the foliage on Google Maps here.

North Atlantic Right Whale Season

Every winter, pregnant North Atlantic Right Whales migrate to the coasts of South Georgia and Northern Florida to give birth in warmer waters. The public is urged to help watch for them and report sightings of this endangered species (there are now less than 500 of them known to exist.) Their life span used to be approximately 50-75 years, but thanks to environmental factors and collisions with boats, has been diminished to about 15 years today.

Presently, North Atlantic Right Whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Most of the remaining ones occupy the western North Atlantic Ocean, but in the eastern North Atlantic, with a total population reaching into the low teens, scientists consider them already functionally extinct.

(Top: Sign on pier, reminding the public to watch for whales, St. Augustine, FL. Bottom: Video of mother and its calf, Marineland, FL.)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

State of Smoke

It's fitting in a way that the two states which I declare my home are both hubs of the tobacco industry, but in two very very different ways. Kentucky, on the one hand, has long been synonymous with Big Tobacco's little death utensils called cigarettes; Florida, on the other hand, is the land of the cigar, the gateway to ancient tribal tradition, the door into summer. The dichotomy couldn't be more pronounced.

I've expounded elsewhere on why cigars are not even close to being comparable to cigarettes in any way, so I won't belabor the point here. Suffice it to say, the tobacco in common man's cigarettes is laden with additives, weird chemicals, radioactive tailings and God knows what else. The tobacco in cigars may not exactly be "healthy" (as opposed to, say, car exhaust, factory air pollution, aluminum and benzene-laden personal care products/fragrances, BPA-tainted receipts, or Fukushima fallout?) but at least it's 100% real compared to the crap Philip Morris pushes - like the difference between farm-fresh organic Amish cheese and a box of Velveeta.

You either get the cigar thing or you don't, and I have long since lost patience trying to explain it to the non-getters.

Cigarettes are a very modern innovation, not gaining traction among smokers until the 19th century and not outselling cigars until the early 20th. Unlike cigars - which are whole pieces of leaves rolled together - cigarettes have almost always been tubes of paper filled with tiny fish-food-like flakes of effluvia purported to be tobacco but could really be anything and who would really know? The smoking of a cigar is a very old practice, hallowed by usage and consecrated by time. It goes back at least to the Mayan era - the very word cigar is ultimately derived from the Mayan sicar (verb meaning "to smoke tobacco".) Wikipedia says:

Explorer Christopher Columbus is generally credited with the introduction of tobacco to Europe. Two of Columbus's crewmen during his 1492 journey, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, are said to have encountered tobacco for the first time on the island of Hispaniola, when natives presented them with dry leaves that spread a peculiar fragrance. Tobacco was widely diffused among all of the islands of the Caribbean and therefore they again encountered it in Cuba where Columbus and his men had settled. His sailors reported that the TaĆ­nos on the island of Cuba smoked a primitive form of cigar, with twisted, dried tobacco leaves rolled in other leaves such as palm or plantain. In due course, Spanish and other European sailors adopted the hobby of smoking rolls of leaves, as did the Conquistadors, and smoking primitive cigars spread to Spain and Portugal and eventually France, most probably through Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, who gave his name to nicotine. Later, the hobby spread to Italy and, after Sir Walter Raleigh's voyages to the Americas, to Britain. Smoking became familiar throughout Europe—in pipes in Britain—by the mid-16th century and, half a century later, tobacco started to be grown commercially in America.

Commercial cigar rolling first came to Florida in the 1830s, but it wasn't until 1869 when Florida became the cigar capital of the world. That's when Spanish cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his business from Cuba to Key West to escape the Ten Years War. Other cigar manufacturers quickly followed suit, and for a short time Key West became the world's cigar manufacturing center. But in 1885, Mr. Ybor moved again, buying up land near Tampa and building what was then the world's largest cigar factory. After an 1886 fire destroyed much of Key West, all the other cigar companies once again followed Ybor's lead and made the move north to Tampa. Ybor's cigar empire no longer exists, but his majestic Ybor Square still stands today.

Nowadays, practically all of Florida is a hotspot for cigar action. Tabanero is keeping the hand-rolled tradition alive in Tampa, while my friend J.C. the Cuban Roller stays busy rollin' 'em up one at a time in St. Augustine, Alec Bradley's got it goin' on in Ft. Lauderdale and my all time favorite cigar maker, Drew Estate, is based in Miami.

Funny thing is, I don't even consider myself a smoker. Even though I reluctantly take part in the Twitter hashtag #nowsmoking, I prefer the term "cigar tasting", similar to that of wine tasting - meaning you're just sampling small quantities and not seeking to get falling-down-drunk on wine nor frantically herfing down a stick as fast and as hard as possible seeking a make-the-room-go-spinning buzz. My doctor and my insurer would probably disagree with my philosophical position, that is, if I had any interest in having a doctor or an insurer. Which I don't. They work their side of the street and I work mine.

Sign of the Seahorse

Just how beloved and well-known a local landmark is the Seahorse Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille, FL? It's so beloved and well-known, they don't even have to put their name on the sign.

Not only do I approve of their minimalist sign, I also approve of their grub. Last time I was in Pass-a-grille, I stayed three days and ate at the Seahorse four times. And if that's not enough for you, hey, they have these awesome giant birds dangling from the ceiling:

The Seahorse Restaurant is located at 800 Pass-a-Grille Way, but don't sweat the directions - it's virtually impossible to get lost in Pass-a-Grille.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Caesar's Rock

Caesar's Rock is a small island in Biscayne Bay on the southeast coast of Florida, nestled amongst Elliott Key, Adams Key, and another island without a name. (Come on people, what year is this? We simply cannot have unnamed islands. I'm of a mind to march down there right now, plant my flag, and declare it "Grillo's Island".)

The mangrove-dense key is so named because, legend has it, it was once the world headquarters of Black Caesar, an 18th-century African pirate who served as one of Blackbeard's right-hand-men aboard the pirate ship Queen Anne's Revenge. Caesar was one of the surviving members of Blackbeard's crew following his Captain's death during battle in 1718, although his loyalty to Blackbeard in the end proved his undoing. Exciting as his legendary exploits are, he wasn't one of the nicer pirates; according to Wikipedia:

He apparently had a harem on his island, having at least 100 women seized from passing ships, as well as a prison camp which he kept prisoners in stone huts hoping to ransom them. When leaving the island to go on raids, he left no provisions for these prisoners and many eventually starved to death. A few children reportedly escaped captivity, subsisting on berries and shellfish, and formed their own language and customs. This society of lost children give rise to native superstition that the island is haunted.

During the early 18th century, Caesar left Biscayne Bay to join Blackbeard in raiding American shipping in the Mid-Atlantic serving as a lieutenant on his flagship Queen Anne's Revenge. In 1718, after Blackbeard's death battling with Lieutenant Robert Maynard at Ocracoke Island, he attempted to set off the powder magazine as per Blackbeard's instructions. However, Caesar was stopped by one of the captives who tackled him as prepared to light a trail of gunpowder leading to the magazine. He struggled with the man below decks until several of Maynard's sailors were able to restrain him. Taken prisoner by Virginian colonial authorities, he was convicted of piracy and hanged in Williamsburg, Virginia.

According to some historians, his 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.

I know of no serious archaelogical expedition to find any of Black Caesar's treasure or artifacts on Caesar's Rock, but rest assured, dear reader, it's on my to-do list. All in time.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Grandma the Clown

Among the many circus-performer tribute plaques on St. Armand's Key, there's one to circus clown Barry Lubin, aka Grandma the clown, on the "ring of fame".

Why are there so many tributes to clowns in an upscale shopping center on a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico, you might ask? Because the island was once owned by circus magnate John Ringling, who purchased it in 1917 and deliberately had St. Armand's Circle constructed in a ring shape (a subtle nod to the circus ring.) When the Depression hit hard in the 1930s, Ringling decided he could no longer afford to maintain the island and so he gifted it to the city of Sarasota.

But Grandma, yeah. She frightens me. But then again, she's a clown, so, duh. And in drag, no less. According to Circopedia:

Barry created his Grandma character at the Ringling Bros. winter quarters in Venice, Florida. Not strong on physical skills, Barry had to come up for the show with character that could stand out by itself. The "little old ladies" who strolled the boardwalk in Atlantic City—including Barry's own grandmother—provided the inspiration. Thus Grandma made her debut on January 1, 1975 in The Greatest Show On Earth, where Barry performed until 1979 in both its Blue and Red units.

Barry was featured in the movies Big Top Pee-Wee and My Life and has appeared in several TV shows, including four appearances on the Late Show With David Letterman. His directorial credits include comedy segments for music videos on MTV, the Snappy Dance Company in Boston, and CBS's Circus of the Stars. He was also a creative consultant for NBC's long-running sitcom, Cheers. His proudest accomplishment, however, remains his successful headstand on a whoopee-cushion on the illustrious stage of Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Most of the Kilwin's-slurping tourists and their cotton-candy-chompin' offspring walk right past Lubin's plaque without even noticing it, let alone pausing to read it. And even if they did, they still wouldn't grasp the anxiety-inducing awesomeness of Grandma from the meager information (and lack of a picture) on the plaque. Well, now you know. No need to thank me; it's what I do. Sorry in advance for your nightmares.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Skunk Ape" in Sarasota?

Since the 1960s, Florida's own version of Bigfoot - known as The Skunk Ape - has been reported roaming the swamps of the Sunshine State. And now, the latest sighting has been captured in video and still images by numerous eyewitness. Something was seen slogging with an apelike gait across the marsh in Sarasota's Myakka River Park, maybe a Skunk Ape, maybe a bear, maybe some drunk dressed in black motorcycle gear, I dunno.

The audio portion of the video below, taken from a Mysterious Universe podcast, is interesting, as it contains a discussion of people trying to photograph the creature being harassed by park rangers who literally give them the "move along, citizen, nothing to see here" treatment.

In 2000, two photographs seeming to depict the Skunk Ape were anonymously mailed to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department. They were accompanied by a letter from a woman who claimed to have photographed what she thought to be an escaped orangutan in her back yard, and that the creature had returned to her home four times to steal apples from her back porch. Consistent with Skunk Ape lore, the woman said:

"I judge it as being about six and a half to seven feet tall in a kneeling position... It had an awful smell that lasted well after it had left my yard. The orangutan was making deep "woomp" noises."

The creature in the anonymous photos is clearly not an orangutan, yet seems genuinely simian and feral, with matted hair and a patch of grey around its muzzle. Fortunately the woman used a flash for the photo which illuminated many details of the creature perfectly. Two clues point to the whereabouts of the woman's yard: the woman in the letter stated that she lives near I-75, which just happens to run along the very southernmost portion of Myakka River State Park, and paranormal researcher Loren Coleman managed to track down the developer source of the photos to the Eckerd Drugs photo lab at the intersection of Fruitville and Tuttle in Sarasota.

Rotten Ralph's

Those who have followed my musings on Floridious expeditions in the past have probably noted my fixation on the periphery of the state. Sure, I love the creamy center - and one of my favorite cities, Ocala, is dead center of the state - but whenever possible, I stick to the shoreline, the beaches, the offshore islands and keys, being in boats off the coast, and on piers. Bradenton Beach City Pier is one such pier, and you can often see me here, not fishing, not writing, just hanging out and enjoying the inherent pier-ness of it all. Find me.

Not every pier in Florida comes equipped with bars, restaurants, and restrooms, alas. But Bradenton Beach's does. Here you'll find the glorious Rotten Ralph's, where I've spent many a morning waiting for the doors to open at 7am so's I can get myself all breakfasted up after watching the sunrise. They also have a bait shop serving all your nightcrawler needs, and occasionally live bands like The Almost Famous Band which morphed into Hwy 41 which morphed into Renegade.

(Update! Just got word that Rotten Ralph's is moving inland, to the corner of 34th Street West and 60th Avenue in Bradenton under the new name Ralph's. Want to rent the Rotten Ralph's location on the pier? It's available for $5,500 a month plus 12 percent of the gross sales.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Open Season on Lionfish!

According to Naples News, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has now waived all recreational fishing license requirements for divers harvesting lionfish using pole spears, handheld nets, Hawaiian slings, etc. The new rule also does away with commercial and private bagging limits - meaning you're all encouraged to haul away as many of these beautiful - but disastrously invasive - fish as you can!

They're indigenous to waters around India and China, but now their range is spreading widely out of control. According to Wikipedia (in its typically convoluted multiple-writers pastiche style):

The red lionfish is found off the East Coast of the United States and the Caribbean Sea, and was likely first introduced off the Florida coast in the early to mid-1990s. It has been speculated that this introduction may have been caused when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in southern Florida, It is also believed that six lionfish were accidentally released in Biscayne Bay, Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. However, a more recent report states National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ecologist James Morris Jr. has discovered that a lionfish was discovered off the coast of south Florida prior to Hurricane Andrew in 1985. It is also believed that the lionfish were purposefully discarded by unsatisfied aquarium enthusiasts. The first documented capture of lionfish in the Atlantic occurred in Dania Beach, Florida. In 2001, NOAA documented multiple sightings of lionfish off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Bermuda, and were first detected in the Bahamas in 2004. Recently (June 2013) they have been discovered as far east as Barbados, and as far south as Los Roques Archipelago and many Venezuelan continental beaches.

Although lionfish have poisonous spines, they can in the hands of a skilled fisherman be removed and the fish cleaned and prepared as a delicious meal.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Vilano Beach Casino

It always seems that historical marker signs tell us "A long time ago, something great once stood here, but it's gone now, sorry about your luck." And that's exactly how I felt after seeing this historical marker for the site where the Vilano Beach Casino once thrived on Vilano Key.

(A note here regarding the JSH Manual of Style: the island, strangely enough, actually has no name, but I cannot abide that and so refer to the island as "Vilano Key" or "Vilano Beach Key". There are people proposing it be called "San Pablo Island", but as of yet their efforts have gone unheeded by civic officials.)

The casino/resort, called Grand Vilano Casino, featured a salt-water swimming pool, a concept that intrigues me. The resort was destroyed by a storm and subsequent flooding in the summer of 1937. But before the remains of the place were demolished two years later, its ornate columns were saved and donated to the Florida Memorial College (now Florida Memorial University.) What I haven't been able to suss out in a cursory inquiry is whether the columns still stand at the University's original location in Live Oak, FL or if they were transported when the University moved to its present location in Miami Gardens.

Nowadays, there isn't much on the former casino's site - just the welcome center and pavilion, which are indeed quite pleasant, but man, I wish I could be hanging out at the casino now. Vilano Beach is already one of my favorite spots in the Sunshine State, and the idea that I missed out on this reportedly massive and luxurious resort in this lifetime really bites.

As Bruce Springsteen once wisely noted, though, "maybe everything that dies, one day comes back." I have certainty of it.

Tamiami Trail Evangelist

A couple years ago, I was driving north on the Tamiami Trail out of Sarasota, and saw this guy standing on a highway median exhorting people to wave and honk. I did so as I rolled up alongside him with my window down, and he said to me, "Brother, we may never meet again in this life, but we will in the next one."

Some may be confused by his usage of what is often mistakenly referred to as a devilish "sign of the horns", but in fact it is the sign language symbol for the word "love".

Monday, June 17, 2013

Meaney's Mini Donuts

There are many things on Siesta Key that keep bringing me back time and time again - not so much the baby-powder beaches or the beautiful clean resorts - but donuts. More specifically, Meaney's Mini Donuts.

From this small innocuous hut on 201 Canal Road comes some of the most amazing donuts, miniature bite-sized (well, bite sized if you're a pig like me) wonders freshly deep-fried right before the customer's eyes. And they come in an array of dazzling flavors, like peanut butter, Bavarian cream, chocolate coconut and strawberry cheesecake.

They also serve other stuff - soft serve ice cream, hot dogs, etc. - but who can think about such mundane fare when one is standing at the gates of donut Heaven?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Egmont Key

Egmont Key, a somewhat distant island in the keys off Florida's gulf coast, has had an illustrious past - much of it military.

During the Seminole Wars it was used to detain Seminole prisoners until they could be transported to the reservation in Arkansas. Early in the Civil War, it was a Confederate base until Union forces captured it in July 1861. A cemetery for Civil War dead existed on the island from 1864 to 1909, when the bodies were moved elsewhere. It was a U.S. military position during both World War I (as a National Guard training center), World War II (as a radio beacon and ammo dump), plus the Spanish-American War - during which Fort Dade was built. Dade was decommissioned in 1921 and subsequently fell into ruin.

What I like best about Egmont is that it's deserted. No one lives there, and other than its historic lighthouse and the ruins of Fort Dade, there's not many signs of civilization. No stores; not even a bait shop or a snorkel supply. No restaurants, no bars. No nothing. And best of all, it's only accessible by boat, which really separates the shoppers from the hoppers. If you have no seafaring vessel to call your own, you can charter a ride with Hubbard's Marina out of Tampa Bay, Captain Snow from Pass-a-Grille, Captain Hal Batey of Charlie's Charters out of Treasure Island Marina, and my personal recommendation, Captain George's Mystic Dolphin Island Cruises.

But my interest in Egmont Key goes back to earlier times. According to some sources, it was first explored by the Spanish in the 1500s, and in 1759 it was called Castor Cayo after 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. Nothing remains of Castortown today.

Castor was, as legend has it, captured and beheaded by the Spanish government. I wonder where this took place. I wonder what they did with his body and head. I wonder if he was buried someplace, or dumped into the ocean. I wonder where Castor's spirit is now and what his next move is.

The Calypso Queen of Clearwater Beach

When in Clearwater, check out the Calypso Queen, a 65-foot triple decked cruise ship, specifically designed for the intra-coastal waterways. They offer lunch and dinner cruises, as well as just plain casual sightseeing.

The Caribbean-themed ship, capable of carrying 149 passengers, has two fully enclosed decks with air-conditioning and a third level is an open-air deck providing beautiful views. The vessel is complete with restrooms on both decks, two full service bars, full service galley and state of the art sound system.

The Calypso Queen is located at Clearwater Municipal Marina, 25 Causeway Blvd, Slip #18. It's kind of difficult to manuever around the confusing loop - especially if you're not familiar with the area - and even harder to find a place to park once you do get there. I suggest you do as we always do, park far away and make the journey on foot. You need the exercise anyway, and it'll make you appreciate those big colorful cocktails they serve when you get there. (I'll have three blue ones, please.) Pay for your tickets at the big blue building across the lot, not at the boat itself.

Other fun activities nearby include the smaller Little Toot dolphin-sighting tour boat, Chute-em-up Parasailing, and of course, the glorious Pier 60.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Route 666

If you ever plan to motor south, get your kicks on Route 666. Locally known as the Tom Stuart Causeway, it crosses a lagoon from Seminole to Madeira Beach. This particular sign was located just off highway 699 (Gulf Boulevard).

Street Musicians of St. Armand's Key

Florida is a great place for one of my all-time favorite noble pursuits, that of street busking. I spent much of my "lost years" during the 1980s bashing out primitive Creeps Music on a cheap out-of-tune guitar for many bewildered passersby across this great nation, and Florida was one of the most welcoming states.

Submitted here for your approval, friend, are just a couple of examples.

Pictured above are The Garbage Men, a young band of primitive wild-boys eking out some of the most wonderful Creeps Music on the planet. There's a youtube video of them here performing what I think may be a free-jazz cover of "A Hard Day's Night" but it's hard to discern through the fog and the frenzy and the froth.

And then there's "Blues". That's his name. Just "Blues."

This street musician was playing some delightfully atonal Captain Beefheart-like avant-garde jams at St. Armand's Circle when I encountered him awhile back. I asked him his name and he said, "just call me Blues". I'm not sure if he has multiple pieces in his repertoire, or he just does the same skrawk-boing-kachunka routine all day long - he was flying high on the same riff for at least twenty minutes while I observed him.

I do believe it's time once again to put on my busking hat, obtain a license (like that ever stopped me before) and begin a new golden age of caterwauling at Canadian tourists. And maybe even bring my barely-ever-existed lo-fi lo-talent band The JSH Combo back to shambling life, powered that by especial bolt of lightning that the Sunshine State provides. Don't say I didn't tell you so.