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Florida myths

I've never visited Kansas. And I'll never go either. Too doggone dangerous. Kansas must have the world's worst tornadoes. I saw Wizard of Oz. I avoid New York City for similar reasons. Too scary. Visit New York City and you'll be murdered in your bed. As if rude taxi drivers weren't bad enough.

I have doubts about San Francisco, too. Sure, it has cable cars. But the earthquakes will getcha. And forget about Los Angeles: The city of "Angels" is so polluted residents have to cut their air with sushi knives.

Yes, I'm being unfair. I'm stereotyping. But it's revenge time.

For the past year or so, I've been reading stories in out-of-state newspapers and magazines about the horrors of Florida living. I'm sick of such yellow journalism. Yes, we have our little problems. But we ain't no Halloween joke. Florida is actually a pretty good place to live.

But out-of-staters don't know that. They know only what they read or see on TV. And what they are learning frightens them: Florida is a state menaced by deadly mosquitoes, hot weather, giant snakes, gun-toting goons, hungry alligators and rapacious developers who will sell you a nice little piece of property in a swamp. Whooeeeeooo.

Let's debunk some myths right now.

MYTH ONE: Florida's weather is unbelievably hot.

Death Valley, and the deserts of the Middle East, are actually hotter. Seldom do our temperatures exceed 100 degrees. This year, we topped 90 only 135 times or so. Floridians are used to balmy temperatures. We even grow to like them. We drink the recommended 10 gallons of water daily, cool ourselves with frequent sponge baths and take naps from 11 a.m. until about 3. A few Floridians do resort to air conditioning, but they are in the minority.

MYTH TWO: Florida has no culture.

Florida has more culture than you can shake a stick at. For example, our streets are alive with the sound of music. The other day, while downtown, I was treated to the latest in pop, rap, heavy metal and reggae music. A concert in the park? No, the music was broadcast, in the most generous fashion, from passing cars. My favorite lyric: "Now I'm gonna have to tell 'em/ That I don't got no cerebellum." I was so delighted I almost swallowed my chewing tobacco.

MYTH THREE: Florida's streets are especially mean.

People are especially friendly in Florida. The ones who aren't we put in the electric chair.

MYTH FOUR: Florida has big bug problems.

Well, the bite from a certain nighttime mosquito species has made about 65 people sick with encephalitis this year. But more than 12-million other Floridians have not come down with the potentially deadly brain fever. Most of us are taking a few simple precautions these days: We stay inside after dark, sleep with mosquito netting draped over beds and keep insect-repellent companies happily in business. Some of us are even bringing brown bats into our homes. The cute little flying mammals eat their weight in skeeters every night. However, bats are afraid of roaches.

MYTH FIVE: Things in the water will eat you.

Not more than a half-dozen alligator attacks are reported in Florida every year. And seldom more than 15 shark attacks. That's a small number when you consider the millions of swimmers, surfers and jet-ski jockeys plowing through the drink. I have spent nearly four decades on Florida's waterfront and the worst that happened was a bad crab pinch. The once or twice I had to outswim a ravenous shark or gator, I did. Now I never, never swim where litterbugs have been throwing raw meat.

MYTH SIX: Developers are destroying Florida.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While a few developers might chop down the Earth's last eagle's nest if they could sell the land under it, 99 percent just want land nearest the nest. Florida's developers are actually famous for their love of wilderness and wildlife, and for fighting any law that threatens the environment. Developers have to live here, after all, unless they have second homes in Montana or Montego Bay.

MYTH SEVEN: Florida is being overrun by weird exotic animals.

Okay, so this guy did pull a 22-foot Asian python from beneath a house in Fort Lauderdale. But who was the snake hurting? It was just eating raccoons. And about those poisonous marine toads from South America: Simply keep them away from pets. Kill 'em with a hoe if you must. Just don't do what one South Floridian did. When he tried to cut a toad in half with hedge clippers, poisonous toad juice squirted into his eyes. If you get toad juice in your eyes, call Poison Control. Then let cold water run in your eyes for an hour or two, or you may go blind. But really, it's not a problem for normal people. Trust me.

MYTH EIGHT: A giant hurricane one day is going to wash away most of coastal Florida, and old-time Floridians won't talk about it, won't say a word about it, because they want to sell their waterfront property to unsuspecting Yankees.

(Hard swallow.)

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