Sometimes I find that I have images that are unclassifiable into any specific category. Generally, these are not pictures from destinations but random things that I find on the side of the road, hence “Random Roadside Florida.”
Judging by the number of blogs on the subject, roadside attractions are a hot ticket. They fall into the perverse, the comedic, the whimsical, the surreal, and the unfathomable. While they don’t provide much in the way of activity, they go the distance with amusement. Florida is chock-a-block full of special “attractions,” since businesses often relied on them to catch the eye and attention of the vacationing motorist, who would then stop and spend money. Many attractions are simply identifying features that in and of themselves offer nothing. The definition of “attraction” has been expanded from its original sense (a place where you could do, see, or buy something stupendous that you couldn’t do, see, or buy at home) to include things that are at odds with the surrounding landscape and are not “attractions” by design (e. g. old gas pumps). An attraction can be used for businesses that are otherwise unremarkable, like the pink bull used to lure customers to a place that sells storage sheds, or the attraction might be defined in the traditional sense (Weeki Wachee is an attraction). “Attraction” has a loose definition and what it signifies often depends on the person doing the defining.
The attraction might have no relation to the business it advertises. There is a link between a juice stand shaped as an orange and the product being sold, and the dolphins pictured below advertise the welder’s skill with a torch, but what can be said about the gorilla?
When I first moved to Florida, I thought I might have a special knack for noticing these things, as if they were magnets pulling me into their force fields, but later I realized this was not the case; fabulous finds are all over the state. All you need to do is to keep your eyes wide open and be willing to execute 180-degree turns in a split second.
Here, a few finds in and around Citrus County.
As if this dolphin weren’t fantastic enough as a stand-alone, it turned out it to be an advertising beacon for a welder. Although I don’t anticipate needing any welding jobs in the near future, you never know. I might just need a steel manatee for my driveway.
Two more of the playful creatures guarded the welding yard, along with a metal globe whose surface bore a resemblance to Swiss cheese.
In Dunnellon, a giant gorilla offered his hand for a seat. This beast was outside a small concrete office that was vacant and painted yellow. Where had the gorilla come from and how had it been integrated into the former business? Had anyone ever just pulled up and sat in the gorilla’s palm? Was this an attraction or an attractive nuisance?
In Old Homosassa stood this peculiarly shaped sign for ribs. It was at the same business as the patriotic mullet, so you can imagine how quickly I pulled over. This vertical sign has a tin roof that recalls a house, as in “House of Ribs” or “Rib Shack.” Had it been purchased along with the restaurant or had it been purpose-built in this shape? It looks to me as if it’s a housing for something underneath. What am I missing here?
This is a mullet hole in Crystal River. If you don’t live in the South, you’d probably mistake this for a small lake. And you’d be wrong. It is clearly identified as a mullet hole and as a bonus there is a special warning sign about alligators near the bank. The sign was a new one for me, so I took a photo of it, and then I walked down to the water’s edge and had a good look into the clear water. Walking to the edge means that I have now become a Floridian. Two years ago, I’d have sat in the car in the parking lot while straining to get a picture of the sign with my inadequate zoom.
At the southwestern corner of the mullet hole’s parking lot, there was an entrance to a trail. A sign there advised that cottonmouths liked to sun themselves on the trail in the colder months. I bet. Since the day was warm, I walked down the trail a bit, but only because it was white sand and I figured I could spot a cottonmouth taking a sun bath.
Crystal River and Homosassa are the prettiest places I’ve visited in Florida. I’m not much for the big Florida cities, which is a surprise since I lived in busy, congested San Francisco for years and rarely went outside of the city limits. I certainly never took a trail; I was terrified of mountain lions. But now…look what I got into a staring match with in Gainesville:
Alligators don’t always float on the surface of the water. They also tread water, and when they do this only the head shows. They also slip back down into the water like the sinking Titanic, only to reappear as eyes and snout a few minutes later. The following example is in Biven’s Arm in Alachua County, from the deck of Chopstix Cafe on SW 13th. Here, you can eat gator tail sushi while being stared down by the sushi’s second cousin once removed:
If you’re in Gainesville, I will highly recommend Chopstix Cafe, which is owned by my friend Titi Le. Here you can create your own sushi or eat one of Titi’s innovative and artistic creations, or try some of the more traditional Asian dishes.
Check out her menu here.