David Grimes � Jun 12, 2003'Florida for Dummies' cites obvious
Considering that it is the home of six species of poisonous snakes, two species of poisonous spiders, sharks, stingrays, fire ants, hurricanes, sinkholes, tourists from Ontario and the kind of merciless summer sun that turns dashboards into puddles of goo, the book title "Florida for Dummies" would seem to be stating the obvious.
Still, I thought it would be interesting to leaf through the latest installment in a series that has given us such classics as "Parenting for Dummies," "Sex for Dummies" (presumably you would want to read this before the other), "Feng Shui for Dummies" and the unforgettable "Pilates for Dummies."
Written by Florida natives Cynthia and Jim Tunstall, "Florida for Dummies" is mostly a travel guide for tourists, offering advice on where to eat, where to stay and what to see. I was particularly interested in chapter 17 which deals with our little slice of paradise. Sarasota is described as an "upscale retirement community" while its neighbor to the north, Bradenton, is described, rather curiously, as a "casual fishing village" and, somewhat more accurately, a "blue-collar town." Port Charlotte, and for that matter all of Charlotte County, does not exist, at least not in the pages of this book.
"Florida for Dummies" recommends only five restaurants in our area and most of them are hoity-toity places like Michael's On East and Euphemia Haye. My two favorite places to eat, the Hob Nob Drive In and Council's pool hall, were inexplicably omitted from the list. Likewise, under the category of hotels, the book favors places like the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and makes no mention of any of Bradenton's fine accommodations like the Blue Boy Motel.
But my main problem with "Florida for Dummies" is that it portrays our state as a great place to visit, which will only serve to attract more tourists, making life even more miserable for those of us who live here. Instead of bragging about our many theme parks, museums and golf courses, I wish the authors had spent more time warning people about our horrible traffic, dangerous weather and various other aspects of nature that are bent on doing us in.
People need to understand that the stomach-churning thrills found on the roller coasters at Busch Gardens are nothing compared to the heart-in-the-mouth fear that comes from navigating U.S. 41 at rush hour. There is a section in the book called "Minding the Road Rules" which focuses on predictable stuff like buckling your seat belt and obeying the speed limit. The authors fail to mention that it is customary in Florida for tourists to turn on their left-turn signal when they cross the Florida/Georgia line and leave it on until they return home the following spring. They also omit the fact that Floridians interpret traffic lights differently than people do in other parts of the country. In Florida, green means "go," yellow means "go faster" and red means "go faster still while at the same time ordering a pizza over your cell phone."
Potential visitors to Florida also need to be made aware of the fact that summer in Florida begins in early March and continues through mid-December and that temperatures during that time are high enough to cause birds to spontaneously combust in mid-air. Winter consists of four days in the low 30s when year-round residents go into the kind of panic state one normally associates with major earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Any time the temperature dips below 70 degrees, Florida residents run to the grocery store to stock up on Spam, tuna fish and bottled water and just generally act like they are preparing to join Admiral Peary on his trek to the North Pole.
Prices in Florida are outrageous, a fact that the authors of "Florida for Dummies" barely bother to mention. A week-long vacation at Disney World basically means that your son's or daughter's dream of a four-year college education will be downgraded to six months at a vo-tech on the outskirts of Lake City. The sales tax in Florida is something like 94 percent, give or take, which means that a bowl of soup and an iced tea will cost only slightly less than your plane ticket from Toronto.
Still, if you are absolutely committed to a vacation in Florida, "Florida for Dummies" offers lots of useful tips and information, things that you are unlikely to find elsewhere, most specifically in this column.
But if you go, keep an eye peeled for swamp apes. They think tourists are delicious.