Let’s face it, folks. Florida had a rough time of it in 2018. We had a major hurricane, a mass shooting and three, count ‘em, THREE election recounts. Then, as if we hadn’t suffered enough, MTV announced the second season of its reality show “Siesta Key” begins in January.
Despite our many calamities, Florida has remained steadfast in upholding its reputation for producing more weird news than any other state. If Florida had a Weird News Hall of Fame, several of this year’s headlines would be voted in on the first ballot. I am thinking here of such instant classics as “Man enters Jacksonville store and chases people with live alligator,” and “Monkey clings to Pasco man’s chest during stolen vehicle arrest” and “City commissioner accused of licking former city manager’s face.”
Although the weird news covered a lot of diverse topics, a few trends stood out. For instance, this was a big year for naked people in the news. And I don’t just mean the dispute between the residents of a Hudson nudist resort and the U.S. Postal Service over the handling of packages.
In August a naked woman ran around a St. Petersburg park because she said she was fleeing a giant spider. In September, a naked man in Niceville set fire to his house while trying to bake cookies on a George Foreman grill. Meanwhile a Stuart neighborhood complained about a man gardening while naked, but the cops said there was nothing they could do about it (leading to one headline that declared, “Plants, but no pants.”) Then, in December, a naked man with a crossbow aimed it at deputies because he was worried about aliens who wanted to seize his meteorite.
The best one, though, came from St. Petersburg in November. A naked burglar broke into the Chattaway restaurant, played the bongos, ate ramen noodles, did a little light spray painting and then put everything back where he found it and rode away on a bike. Nobody even realized there had been a burglary until the police reviewed surveillance videos looking for evidence in a second, separate burglary in which the thief wasn't naked, but did eat chicken wings and drink beer in the kitchen.
Some nearly naked people made news, too. Take the man who, in November, broke into the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, stripped down to his boxer shorts and jumped into the Nile crocodile exhibit. He left behind his shoes – Crocs, of course. Perhaps that’s why the real crocs bit his foot.
Plenty of Florida animal encounters went awry. My favorite was the woman who got booted from a Frontier Airlines flight in Orlando because she wanted to bring along her emotional support squirrel. The authorities didn’t just remove the lady with the squirrel. It removed everyone from the plane. The squirrel, by the way, is named Daisy, and appeared to be okay despite missing its connecting flight.
Other naturally occurring news stories included a restaurant that ended a promotion called “Monkey Mondays” after a customer’s Capuchin bit a child; a woman in a bikini who rode a horse onto the dance floor of a popular South Beach club where everyone, including the horse, freaked out; and a driver who was stopped on suspicion of stealing fishing gear from Walmart and turned out to be hauling two dead alligators in his trunk.
Florida’s temperatures are so warm that people here sometimes have trouble keeping their cool. Last month someone complained that a woman standing in a checkout line in a Dollar General in Dania was passing gas too loudly, and she responded by pulling a knife on the complainant and threatening to gut him like a fish. In October, a man in Port St. Joe attacked his girlfriend because she didn’t want to go to a Halloween party. PS: He was wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume. The best example of an overreaction, though, is the Pensacola homeowners’ association that said a woman keeping a butterfly garden was violating their rule against raising livestock.
The police continued to benefit from Florida’s lack of criminal masterminds. A Cape Coral man fleeing cops dove into a canal and then needed to be rescued because he was overcome by the toxic algae bloom in the water. A man in New Port Richey used a template he found on Pinterest to print up counterfeit money at the library. A man in Coconut Grove was caught on camera stealing a peacock and then running away very fast because the rest of the peacocks were pursuing him. I hope the thief was the same guy who crashed a stolen car in a rural area near Sanford and was promptly surrounded by a herd of cows which held the suspect until the cops arrived.
My nominee for Officer of the Year, by the way, is the deputy in Panama City who subdued a would-be grocery store robber by throwing cans of Bush’s baked beans at him.
Florida’s headlines were full of people taking an unusual approach to problems. A bored Polk County security guard nicknamed “Paul Flart” began Instagramming the sounds of his farts while on the job, until viral fame brought the inevitable firing. A gas station owner in Jacksonville posted a sign that said, 'Don’t microwave your pee” (the store is near a drug-testing lab, and apparently a lot of folks with fake urine samples figured warming them up made them more credible). A Fort Lauderdale funeral home dealt with a customer who was too big for their hearse by renting a U-Haul van to cart him to the cemetery (the family was not happy about this outside-the-casket thinking).
Speaking of innovation, angry Floridians often turned unusual items into weapons. An 81-year-old man in The Villages attacked his tennis partner with a banana. A Holiday woman on a 3 a.m. cleaning binge bopped her complaining hubby in the nose with a vacuum cleaner attachment. A Sebastian man battered his boyfriend with a Big Mouth Billy Bass singing fish. Alas, the news story does not mention whether the fish was singing during the altercation.
Florida’s politicians hit new highs (or lows, depending on your viewpoint). In August, the Miami Herald endorsed a candidate for Congress who said she’d been abducted by aliens, which should give you an idea of the quality of the other candidates in that primary. (She lost.) The mayor of Hallandale Beach accused a city commissioner of making a living off of bleaching her anus. (She did not.) A candidate for a state House seat whose claim of graduating from Miami University was debunked by a conservative website called the story "fake news" and then posed for a photo with a diploma – which turned out to be a fake. (She dropped out.)
My favorite, though, was a Lee County candidate for state attorney who was arrested for running an illegal lottery after he was caught on video selling raffle tickets at a campaign fundraiser. He then told a reporter that his campaign was “going great.” (He lost.)
Yes, 2018 was a rough year for us folks in Florida, and I’m sure many of us would like to treat it the way a 72-year-old man from St. Johns County treated one of his neighbors: by climbing onto a tractor and chasing it away, the whole time yelling, “Run, fat ass!”
We know the new year will bring fresh challenges. But Floridians are tough, and we will find a way to survive and even thrive — just like one Hurricane Michael survivor in the Panhandle who carefully arranged the debris in his yard to spell out a special message for all the rescuers flying overhead: WE NEED BEER.
Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] . Follow @craigtimes.