Just after I moved to Florida in June of 2008, I went on a date with a guy who lived down by Crystal River. He took me bowling, I fell on my ass, and he laughed. I paid him back by insisting that he accompany me on a drive to see the Atlantic Ocean. I figured that this would be a far less fun way for him to spend the rest of the afternoon than would be a naked romp around a motel room.
Just as we reached the Atlantic coast, the sky darkened. Soon, the storm intensified to the degree that it was not wise to get out of the car, so I drove down the A1A to Ormond Beach and then turned west towards Ocala.
Nearing Barberville, the sky briefly lightened up to reveal a mirage. On the north side of the road were rearing horses, bucking bulls, Statues (plural) of Liberty, giant clocks fit for Grand Central Station, metal chickens, plaster chickens, plastic chickens…
So this is Florida, I thought.
This was no hallucination brought on by the stress of the date or by the sudden move to the Sunshine State. No, what we had here was a splendiferous roadside attraction that was not a roadside attraction in the purely technical sense of the word. And yet, in these days of dwindling roadside attractions, this place on the edge of the Ocala National Forest fully deserves the title and a serious visit.
I am sorry to report that I have no idea what this place is called. I was so stunned by the display that I forgot to ask the local kid behind the counter for the name. All I can tell you is that it is located at the intersection of West State Road 40 and State Road 15 and that you must visit.
Mr. B. and I visited this week, while on our way to Daytona Beach. I am unable to edit my photo selection and once again I will have to turn one post into two. Such was the colorful cornucopia that I failed to notice that I had an engorging tick whose head was embedded in the middle of my back. I didn’t find out about this invasion until I stopped at the Kangaroo diagonally across the street. There, Mr. B. and I went inside so I could use the bathroom. When I came out, I didn’t see Mr. B. so I stepped outside to see if he had already gone out to the car. As I stood in front of the store, a man came out behind me. We had the following exchange:
“Excuse me, Miss, are you alone?”
“What?” (I will admit that I said this snappishly. A group of local types had been eyeing me as Mr. B. and I walked into the store. Yes, Bob, I did have on the white shorts.)
“I said, are you alone?”
Men. That’s what I was thinking. Men. Give me a break. He knows damn well I am not alone, because he was sneaking looks at me when I was sneaking looks at a Good Humor bar inside the store. Now, minus any semblance of good humor, I snapped back again.
“Why are you asking?” When I said this, I exhaled a bit of exasperation. This came out like “uppph.” I knew the man would think I was playing hard to get. I have yet to learn a happy medium between being foolishly coy and appearing arrogant.
“Because,” the guy said, “you have a big tick stuck in your back.”
Well, that changed things. My face crumpled and I sniffed my nose like the wimp that I am. “Take it off!” I demanded. “Take it off me!”
The guy then asked where my boyfriend was. This was the type of situation where women are permitted to say that their boyfriends are missing in men’s room action and therefore all other capable men must gallantly step in to help.
“I have no idea where he is,” I answered, “but he won’t mind one bit if you pick that tick off my back. Trust me,” I said, and I tried to smile but I think what I really did was grimace.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s in there pretty deep. You have to make sure you get the head out.”
“For #$*%’s sake,” I said.
Right then, Mr. B. came through the door and I explained about the tick and the man and then, while the man watched with what looked to be a mix of horror and delight, Mr. B. picked that blood-sucking tick off my back and threw it in the trash while I squealed like a girl.
Later on, we identified the culprit as a deer tick that was one-quarter engorged. The joy! There was no telling where I’d gotten it, since I’d spent the previous day in business meetings in Gainesville. Did it matter? What counted is that it bit me and that my back hurt for an hour or so after Mr. B. pulled it off.
I don’t hold it against Florida, but since I moved here I have been bitten more frequently and by a wider range of insects than I had ever been in the previous four decades. This is the price you pay for living in the swampy sunshine paradise, where every body of water is suspect and not every guy is trying to pick your body up.