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The Sunshine State became the Surreal State during a weird 2016

Mary Thorn takes her 15-year-old alligator, Rambo, to charity events in the sidecar on her motorcycle. The Lakeland woman rescued the gator 11 years ago.
Mary Thorn takes her 15-year-old alligator, Rambo, to charity events in the sidecar on her motorcycle. The Lakeland woman rescued the gator 11 years ago.
Published Dec. 25, 2016

Florida weirdness went national this year.

A part-time Florida man was elected president, despite his campaign manager getting busted for grabbing a reporter during a campaign event here.

We had no hanging chad in this election, but at least two fights broke out at the polls. Also, at a Tim Kaine rally in St. Petersburg, a car crashed into the press bus — a police car, that is.

This could explain why Merriam-Webster's official word of the year is "surreal."

The Sunshine State remained a surreal place to live thanks, in part, to all the naked people. There was the naked woman in Lauderhill who climbed atop a fountain as part of her Thanksgiving celebration; the highly regarded Flagler County school administrator caught running naked down the road yelling, "I like grass!" and the naked Boynton Beach man who police caught driving around with an electronic device attached to his private parts.

• • •

You knew it was a landmark year for Florida freakiness when the winner of the Miss Florida USA pageant was forced to give up her crown because of a makeup controversy on social media.

Disaster loomed everywhere, as usual. On a single day — Sept. 1 — Hurricane Hermine took aim at the state, an alligator was seen swimming down a Bradenton street, a truck crashed in Lake County and spilled its load of millions of bees, a Space X rocket blew up at Cape Canaveral and the first mosquitoes carrying Zika were found in Miami Beach.

Weirdness was in the air around us. "Fight over fart leads to blows at Sloppy Joe's," noted a June headline in the Miami Herald, while an August one in this newspaper reported, "Man punches fellow bus rider over stinky yawn."

Sometimes strange things went flying. A Largo man threw his glass eye at a doctor and nurse. A model on a Miami Beach photo shoot was hit in the face by a drone. A guy tossed a 3-foot alligator through the drive-thru window at a Loxahatchee Wendy's. He was charged with, among other things, assault with a deadly weapon — to wit, the gator.

As usual, we saw a lot of weird weapons. A North Palm Beach man was accused of using his oxygen tank to batter a tow truck driver. A Pinellas Park man was charged with attacking his boyfriend with ramen noodles. A Madeira Beach man allegedly slapped his girlfriend with a sex toy.

Two Miami Gardens women stocking up at Walmart for Hurricane Matthew wound up ramming shopping carts and hurling canned goods. A rhubarb at the Orlando World Softball Tournament blossomed into a brawl involving 20 people when both teams wound up at the same Hooters. Nobody swung a bat, but one man was stabbed.

The usual weapons — i.e., guns — racked up some odd headlines. A Laurel Hill couple used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle as a prop in their wedding photos, then discovered it had been stolen. A Lake Panasoffkee man in a pickup truck threatened to shoot another man, but accidentally shot himself in the crotch. A Bay County woman who thought her party guests had stayed too long was told by her boyfriend to shoot at their feet, so she did — and hit her boyfriend in the leg.

Then there was the Pensacola deputy who Tasered a woman during what he called "horseplay" over some tea. He later texted her a picture of a risque-looking apology cake that said, "Sorry I Tased You." She sued anyway.

• • •

Florida's animals, as always, got in on the action. We had squirrels biting people in a seniors complex in Deltona; red-shouldered hawks attacking a Spring Hill retirement community; a 2-foot-tall mama owl terrorizing a Lutz neighborhood; an emu named Taco that ran amok in Cape Canaveral; Brandon residents freaking out about frogs in their toilets; and a Casselberry woman whose walls produced more than a dozen snakes. Also, a 99-year-old woman in Miami woke up at 2 a.m. to find an exotic kinkajou lying on her chest. Its name was "Banana."

In turn, some people didn't treat animals well. A man punched a swan in front of two off-duty Orlando cops. A Gasparilla paradegoer punched a police horse. An Orlando man killed Pinky the flamingo at Busch Gardens. A guy in Islamorada jumped on a manatee's back and shouted, "I'm riding it!" A shoplifter at a St. Petersburg pet store tried to stuff a python down his pants. In Hypoluxo, someone snuck a live 5-foot shark into a condo's swimming pool.

Somebody stole an alligator from a trapper in Sarasota and turned it loose. Perhaps it could have been handed over to the Coconut Grove man who's been fighting to keep his 13-foot, cookie-eating gator, or to the Lakeland woman who in December won permission to keep her 6-foot, clothes-wearing, motorbike-riding gator. Its name is Rambo.

Speaking of transportation, who could forget the strange case of the Clearwater man driving home from work who was stunned to see a 6-foot snake pop out from the hood of his car?

"Worst part is, I'm not 100 percent sure if it fell off or went back under the hood," he told reporters. That was still better than the guy who live-tweeted his discovery in Fort Myers that his rental car was swarming with thousands of baby spiders.

• • •

Driving in Florida remained an adventure. A lane of Interstate 75 in Sarasota was blocked off because of a spill of pig parts. On I-4, a turtle crashed through an Orlando woman's windshield. A Pensacola man who crashed into a strip mall said he was trying to time travel. A Mary Esther woman who closed her eyes to pray while driving missed a stop sign and crashed into a house.

Speaking of religion, a man in The Villages walking down a road carrying a wooden cross was asked by police to put down his cross. When he did, a bag of drugs fell out of his pocket. Meanwhile, in Bradenton, a voodoo practitioner told police that a dissatisfied customer had threatened to kidnap him because his "services" failed to fix the man's marriage.

Death in Florida is seldom accompanied by dignity. In Indian Harbour Beach, a man was killed when his motorized bike hit a turtle. A missing man in DeLeon Springs was found dead, jammed head-first in a gopher tortoise hole on land where he kept caged alligators. A woman in Royal Palm Beach forgot her husband's ashes at the post office, prompting police to evacuate the place.

• • •

The Florida men and women who got mentioned in police reports often scored points for creativity, if not taste. A man dressed as Chewbacca was accused of stealing from some Largo vending machines he once serviced. Rival paramedics got into a selfie war in which they competed to see who could snap the wildest pictures with unconscious patients. A dispute at a Pinellas Park senior center led to an incident characterized as "shuffleboard rage." A drug suspect tried fleeing Clearwater police on a hover board.

In Mount Dora, someone stole a 3½-foot bunny statue that had been erected to replace another one that had been stolen. A thief dressed as a gumball machine repairman was able to walk out of a Winter Haven store with its gumball machine. The queen of creative crime may have been the woman from Choctaw Beach charged with stealing a shovel, a chainsaw and a prom dress.

Finally, in legal news, an Orlando man sued police for arresting him for possession of crystal methamphetamine because they had found a flaky white residue in his car.

Turns out the "residue" was from some Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

You'd think the police would have recognized that.

Craig Pittman covers environmental issues for the Tampa Bay Times. His latest book is "Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country." Contact him at Follow @craigtimes.


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