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Cannonball Read V: Fringe Florida by Lynn Waddell

By The Mama | Book Reviews | October 2, 2013 | Comments ()


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Confession: I was born and raised in the weirdest county in the weirdest state in the country. I still live here. That’s right - my claim to fame is that I live in the nudist capital of America. (I, however, am not a nudist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

As a kid, I never thought my state was weird. Even now, as an adult, I’m not entirely sure everyone else is right. I mean, sure, I suppose we have some crazy stuff: Fantasy Fest, Fetishcon, The Holy Land Experience, Disney World, hanging chads, pirates, sideshow freaks, cowboys, acres of oranges, festivals honoring corn, strawberries, pirates, rattlesnakes, a pirate invasion, an Indian invasion, and kumquats, the most famous strip club in the world, circus perfomers, six-toed cats, aliens, sharks, nudists, naturalists, hurricanes, tornadoes, water spouts, sinkholes that swallow homes and people, over-sexed teachers, over-sexed cops, over-sexed retirees (did you know that for a time, one of the most popular retirement communities in the state was considered the place where one was most likely to catch an STD?), and alligator-eating pythons. We’re also home to Travis McGee, Archy McNally, Serge Storms, and Carl Haissen’s menagerie of characters. Huh. Okay, well, maybe we are a little different. Must be all the heat and humidity down here that makes us a little nutty.

Fringe Florida takes a tiny bite out of our weirdness. In ten chapters, Lynn Waddell, a former writer for the now-defunct Weekly Planet (the Planet is now Creative Loafing) details just a touch of the fringe of Florida, some of the things that make us who we are down here. She starts off gently, telling us about a big cat resuce in the Tampa Bay area and an exotic animal amnesty program, and then moving just a few miles further in to Tampa to introduce us to Joe Redner, a staple of Tampa Bay history, and the Mons Venus, the strip club that is quite literally the most famous in the world. We drive out to Daytona to meet motorcycle mamas, and here’s where I learned that there are actually motorcycle gangs, true bad guys like from the movies. She introduces us to circus performers (Ringling still winters down here), to mud boggers (North Florida is often referred to as the Redneck Riviera), and to aliens (Pensacola used to be a hot bed of sightings). She unironically points out that the Holy Land Experience, where one can see Jesus singing as he is crucified, is located just an hour away from Cassadega, a community of healers and spiritualists. And then she circles back to my stomping grounds, the nudity capital, where the communities range from swinger clubs that hold coleslaw wrestling to country-club like places where they run 5Ks in the nude.

Waddell jumps in to her assignments with gusto. The same cannot always be said of her husband James who accompanies her on a few of her research trips, particularly the ones that involve sex and other potentially sketchy scenarios. But James is a supportive research assistant, even if he clearly finds the whole experience beyond weird. In his defense, I’m not sure there are many husbands who would leap without hesitation when their wives propose a trip to see naked old guys sing karaoke.

Fringe Florida is simultaneously gruesome and fascinating. The small town girl in me loved when I recognized places and yes, even characters. I’ve seen Peter Pan, and although I’ve seen photos of The Senator (a man who wanders Ybor City in little more than a thong), I haven’t yet had the pleasure of sharing a cocktail with him. The Florida girl in me wanted to stand up and defend my home state, but then I realized that Waddell wasn’t making fun of our wackiness, she was celebrating it.

*Note: I read Fringe Florida as an uncorrected proof from NetGalley. For some reason, the file was a little wonky and the pages with the photos wouldn’t load, which was disappointing, because I’m sure they were fantastic. The book is due out in September. You’d better believe I’m picking up a copy.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and for more of The Mama’s reviews, check out her blog, Our Life in Books.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • Dr. Strom Kilwell

    I grew up about a mile away from Sunsport Gardens, a nudist colony smack in the middle of Loxahatchee Florida. The same area where Tarzan keeps his tigers (except for that one time one escaped into the neighborhood.). Is SoFla or Palm Beach County represented, or is this all the endless weirdness on the central state?

  • The Mama

    I never realized how weird people thought Florida was till I got older and started expanding my horizons.
    And also? I think I'm a little fascinated by naked coleslaw wrestling.
    Seriously. though, this is a FANTASTIC book.

  • webelos8

    Transplanted out of Florida, here. however, all of this rings familiar to me. I can't wait to read the book myself!

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I still haven't read this book, although I need to. I live a couple of counties south of the nude county - but my parents live right nearby, and know a bunch of the people who go there (they are not, and never will be, nudists). I represented someone who was sued by the whackadoodle Big Cat lady, and have also been tangentially involved in a couple of Joe Redner lawsuits. So I guess I'm maybe one degree removed from the weirdness.

  • BWeaves

    My sister has a similar book on her coffee table, but it's all photos of the weird stuff in Florida. I think it's called Weird Florida, or something like that. Yeah, I live here, too.

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