The surprising thing is that Serge Storms never thought of it before: making a reality show about Florida.
What could be a more natural habitat for the fiesta of bad behavior and tacky lifestyle choices that is reality television? And who would know that soft, sticky underbelly of the state better than Serge, a passionate connoisseur of all things Florida, the weirder the better (and that can be pretty weird)?
So Serge revs up his camcorder, and his 1976 orange Gran Torino, for reality TV high jinks in The Riptide Ultra-Glide. This is Tampa author Tim Dorsey's 16th novel about Serge, a brilliant cultural historian of the Sunshine State and a — well, don't call him a serial killer. It hurts his feelings. He sees himself as a "victim of circumstance. ... What are the odds all those a--holes would cross my path?"
Serge punctuates his manic road trips around Florida with the occasional offing, but only when the victim's really asking for it: the rude guy who picks a fight at the ATM, the dance instructor who rips off nice old ladies, the showoff jock who tramples kids at the beach while trying to pick up babes. We all have revenge fantasies, but Serge acts on them.
He prides himself, as always, on creativity. Guns are for the unimaginative; in The Riptide Ultra-Glide Serge does people in by repurposing instant sandbags, auto air bags, Tabasco sauce and pelicans — not to mention the exploding sand castle.
Serge and his stoner sidekick, Coleman, run afoul of some especially nasty characters this time around, warring forces trying to control one of the most flourishing sectors of Florida's economy: the pill mills that hand out OxyContin like bar peanuts. One gang leader is Mexican, the other "one of the top bosses in the Kentucky Mafia. Which didn't exist. But anytime three or more people of any ethnic or geographical group commit three or more crimes, it's the Polish Mafia, or Albanian Mafia, or Eskimo Mafia. And since the nicknames appeared in the newspaper, it had to be true."
Those drug dealers are so dreadful, in fact, that their too-real violence dampens the comic tone of Serge's shenanigans. But there is still plenty of fun to be found in The Riptide Ultra-Glide, much of it from Serge's miffed reaction to Coleman's sudden celebrity, thanks to his recent appearance as the cover boy of High Tides, a magazine for potheads. Every time the pair hit the beach, Coleman is accosted by fawning acolytes gifting him with bongs and asking his advice on the Keynsian economics of Bogarting a joint.
We also get the patented Serge tour of Florida oddities, from Spook Hill in Lake Wales (where he puts the optical illusion that makes downhill look like uphill to novel use) to Howard Hughes' former private plane, converted to an odd but handy watercraft. The icing on the cake is Serge's trenchant commentary, like this observation about strip clubs: "And I can't get enough of that name. Gentlemen's club. It's Orwellian for the new chivalry: 'Please, let me hold the door for you, right after I finish staring at your (crotch) for a dollar.' That's the exquisite psychology of advertising, like calling a fried-chicken buffet restaurant 'Skinny Boys'."
The Riptide Ultra-Glide veers off into side trips from Tampa to Key West, but most of it takes place in Southeast Florida, including Riviera Beach, Dorsey's boyhood home. Serge and Coleman's path keeps crossing that of an incredibly hapless and monumentally optimistic pair of tourists, Pat and Bar McDougall, who head for Florida after budget cuts erase their teaching jobs in Wisconsin. Their vacation of a lifetime swiftly turns into one they can only hope to survive — and their only hope may be Serge. Heaven help them.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.