Reading Dave Barry's Best. State. Ever. - A Florida Man Defends His Homeland is a great way to visit the The Sunshine State without actually having to go there and be subjected to relentless sun, sand, and big bugs - unless, of course, that is your thing.
Mr. Barry, who is always hilarious, decides to tour his adopted state (he has lived in Florida for 30 years) and write about its many attractions - from a spiritualist community to a shooting range. No Disney World fantasies here. These are homegrown, albeit strange, places that he visits in an effort to highlight a few of Florida's charms.
So we are treated to the wonders of Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the underwater theater featuring mermaids performing aquatic ballets. It is a place, a little north of Tampa, where the fifties never ended, he notes, and makes for a pleasant, low-key outing. There is a Wilderness Cruise where one sees actual animals and fish and not the animatronic ones encountered on Disney's Jungle Cruise.
This is also where he comes across, to his delight, the classic Mold-A-Matic (which he adopts as the icon for his tourist site rating system), a machine that spits out a freshly baked plastic souvenir related to whatever attraction one is visiting: in this case a mermaid.
He makes other trips to livelier places: LIV, a nightclub in the Fountainbleau Hotel on Miami Beach where the young hip crowd dances till dawn, and The Villages where many of the residents of this popular retirement community also spend the evening dancing (although they are usually home in bed way before dawn).
In all, he checks out eight tourist spots including Key West where he and a friend spend a day and evening bar hopping which leads to the inevitable morning hangover.
He writes a fractured history of the state and includes photos of many of the sites which add even more pleasure to this literary journey.
If you are a native of Florida or are one of its many Snowbirds you might either be highly amused at Mr. Barry's take on the state or highly offended. I for one have never seen the attraction, but then I don't take to heat and humidity. I noticed that he made his tour during the winter months so as to avoid that double dose of discomfort.
Anyway, Mr. Barry is in good form here. He offered me a tropical trip that put me in the mood to reread Carol Ryrie Brink's The Pink Motel (here).
For my own Best. State. Ever. I would definitely have to include Mammoth Cave National Park (although I have only been there once and cave crickets scare me...they jump so high and so quickly!), and My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown that was the inspiration for Stephen Foster's famous song. If you have ever been to the Kentucky Derby or watched the race on television, you can't help but get chills when all in attendance stand and sing this anthem.
What places from your city/state/country would be on your list?