Monday, February 23, 2009

My Trip to Florida - The Last Installment

Time to wrap up my blog on my trip to Florida. Tomorrow I am blogging as part of the Romancing February group promotion, and Wednesday we have an interview with TWRP author Melissa Blue. Then it will be time for FWL again. How fast the weeks go.

I spent a full day with Dayana Knight before having to return to the frigid north. Her DH, Dayana and I started out with a leisurely breakfast at a real diner—I love diners and was thrilled to go to this one, which I had seen from across the street when we had our FRW cruise kick-off party at the Ale House. I had an awesome Mediterranean omelet (yes, I can still remember it weeks later, it was that good) and probably some home fries. Sorry, the omelet caught all my attention. I am definitely going to start using more feta cheese when I make eggs. The combination of flavors is…making me hungry again.

Then Dayana and I drove back up the coast for a boat ride on The Jungle Queen Riverboat, which took us through the intercoastal waterways of Ft. Lauderdale, where we saw rows upon rows of up to $30 million dollar mansions and $15 million dollar boats, some of them three stories high—like mini-cruise ships, they were—docked next to the houses. Houses and boats owned by federal judges and actors and the heads of mega-companies like Firestone, Waste Management, The Sunglass Hut and some Miami Dolphins. Houses used by film crews as locations for Al Pacino and Jim Carrey movies and others I can’t remember. Menopause, you know. It fogs the brain.

But now and then, in between these magnificent mansions, were these little flat-topped summer cottages from the 50s and 60s before big money decided to take over Florida, so you could get a glimpse of what was there before the mansions multiplied. I got the sense that before it became so developed, Ft. Lauderdale was just a place where the family went for vacation or to get away for the weekend and do a little boating to relax.

What was really surprising was the number of for sale and foreclosure signs on both the houses and the boats. The big ones. Not the little ones. The families who own the little ones, I am sure, are aware that they are sitting on potential gold mines when they finally decide to sell.

Still, I got the feeling the people who owned those humongous houses were so busy off making money to support them (the taxes alone on one house was $200,000) that they didn’t have time to enjoy them. The countless colorful iguanas sunning themselves on the docks and tree limbs had more life in them than I could see stirring in those houses.

The cruise took us to a little island where we could get something to eat and drink, stretch our legs and witness some alligator wrestling. We were directed to a pit where there were two alligators and a wrestler. The wrestler grabbed the alligator’s tail to shake it out of its somnolent state, and to show us how dangerous they could be when riled.

After a few vicious snaps, the wrestler approached the alligator from behind and in a very Zen, breath-holding for the audience way, climbed on its back and secured its legs with his own. Then he managed to reach around and slowly pull the alligator’s head up until its snout was pointing in the air and the man could tuck the snout beneath his chin and hold out his arms and keep the alligator immobile using his strength and chin.

At that point, the wrestler said there was no good reason for him to be doing what he was doing, and he lost me. I’m not into animal cruelty, even for alligators. Dayana and I wandered off to a nearby booth, where another man was selling Indian jewelry and dreamcatchers and sunscreen and photo ops for people wanting to hold a baby alligator.

That was where we learned that the reason they pull the alligator’s head up so high is to shut off the blood flow to the walnut-sized brain, and the real danger is when the blood flow returns and the alligator emerges from his man-induced fog in a reptilian fury.

He told us before the advent of casinos, alligator wrestling was the primary tourist attraction to generate income for the Seminole Indians. Now, the alligator wrestlers are hired by the state to go out and remove alligators when they wander too far from what little is left of their wild, and start scaring people. It’s either call in an alligator wrestler or shoot the damn thing. So they consider it a rescue mission of sorts. They’re saving the alligator from certain death.

He paused often in his story telling to listen to what was happening over at the pit. He said he needed to be on alert in case something went wrong and he had to jump in and wrestle the alligator. A couple of weeks ago, a wrestler lost part of his hand. Young kid, he said, thought he knew everything. He said part of the problem was they weren’t allowed to go all out in wrestling the alligators like they do in the wild. Then, it’s just man vs. beast and all bets are off, because both of them are fighting for their lives.

He said he does it for the adrenaline high, because there’s no money in it anymore, and no company will insure him—would you? He said he lives in downtown Ft. Lauderdale and has four alligators of his own, at least one raised from a baby. Kinda makes you wonder what the neighbors think about that :).

He also said the animal rights people are always coming to the island and giving them grief about the alligator wrestling, to which he says, “Did you arrive here by boat?” Because there are signs posted everywhere that this is a manatee zone, and, “I can’t tell you how many manatees I have seen with slash marks across their backs from propeller cuts.”

I, unfortunately, didn’t see a single manatee, but I can’t imagine how they survive with all those monster boats trolling up and down the canals.

Time to go back down the river, and see downtown Ft. Lauderdale and the prison and lots of fun-looking restaurants. But we were headed home, where Dayana’s DH had been slaving away making dinner and we had another fine meal of rice, steamed veggies, salad, and the best roast chicken I can remember tasting. Melt in your mouth tender, it was. A little classical music, some wine before the fire—I could have watched that fire all night—a leisurely walk around the block with Gypsy, and then we settled in to watch The Lake House, with Sandra Bullock.

Dayana’s DH couldn’t help but laugh at the way Dayana and I tore that movie apart, being writers, you know. We analyze everything.

We also made plans to do it again sometime, maybe take a long weekend and visit the Keys.

The next morning it was off to the airport, and back home to the frozen tundra. But as the plane flew over Florida, I couldn’t help but think, that with all the pink and coral and blue painted houses down there, the landscape looked like one of those beautiful beaded jackets, with soft pastel colors and sparkly baubles.


Hywela Lyn said...

I loved reading this Liana - like another world to a Brit like me! Can't help feeling sorry for the manitees - and even a little bit for the aligators. What gave mankind the right to think we can take over the whole of the Earth and drive out the creatures who had their homes in the wilderness long before we moved in?

Dayana said...

Hi, Liana!
Wow! All these weeks later and we're still on your mind. We did have a wonderful time, didn't we. DH and I enjoyed having you here with us and do look forward to doing it all again.

Yes, Hywela, Liana were quite put off with the alligator show and I do want to tell you that the manatees are under strict protection here. They are the gentless creatures you would ever come across. As well our dolphins and many other animals but there are always those who lack respect for these wonderful creatures.'s off to the day job for me. Wonderful memoirs, Liana, of a very nice visit.