My wife and I are leaving for Weeki Wachee, Florida, on a sunny morning. It’s supposed to be fall, but the joke is on us. It is still 320 degrees Fahrenheit outside even though it’s October.
This morning, for example, after packing the car I had to change clothes because I was sweating worse than a chubby kid doing Zumba in the attic.
We’re traveling to Weeki Wachee, of course, because of mermaids. Real mermaids. They are legendary mermaids who have been performing underwater shows since Harry Truman was in office. They swim. They do backflips. They blow kisses to lucky schmucks in the audience. I am hoping to be one such schmuck.
All my life I have wanted to see these Floridian mermaids swim underwater from the famous 450-seat aquarium theater.
Once when I was a child, we got all the way to Hernando County and actually stood outside the attraction gates, but the doors were locked and the place was closed. So we ended up eating at a rundown buffet and buying a bunch of lacquered gator heads as Christmas presents for family members.
The ride to Middle Florida is a fairly uneventful one. My wife and I take turns driving. When she drives, I nap. When I drive, she gives me instructions on how to drive because I am male and therefore not smart enough to pull up my own underpants let alone pilot an automobile.
She shouts things like: “PUT ON YOUR BLINKER, DUMMY!”
“NO! NO! NO! STOP! IT’S A YELLOW LIGHT!”
“I THINK YOU JUST RAN OVER THAT OLD WOMAN AND HER LITTLE SHIH TZU!”
But there is nothing like a Floridian drive to put you in a good mood. Today, the scenery is unbeatable. We see open fields and fat oaks laden with moss.
Pretty soon, we are in the middle of nowhere and we lose cell-phone reception. I get a little excited about this because I know that nearby are quality vegetable stands. This is a law of nature. There are always good vegetable stands in places without cell service.
On our drive, we pass other interesting things, too:
—A man with his elbow hanging out the window of a rusty Pontiac Fiero. He’s drinking a beer and texting. At the same time.
—A woman riding in the bed of a pickup truck, playing on an iPad.
—Jerry’s Gator Lagoon.
—A billboard which reads, “Hell is real.”
I stop every few miles to get things like boiled peanuts and pecan rolls. I also buy a crate of oranges for eleven bucks. You can’t beat it.
We pull over at a gas-station-gift-shop. This is where I hit the mother lode. Lacquered gator heads for $11.99 each. I buy six because you never know when a deal like this is going to come along again.
I’m ready to checkout, but the women behind the register don’t notice me. They are involved in a conversation about something important.
One lady says, “So I told him, ‘You think I’m mad now, Jason? Just wait until I catch you around Sharon’s house again. They’ll put me in prison after what I do to you.’”
“Sharon?” said the other. “From church?”
“That’s the one.”
“Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?”
“He don’t know how close he is to meeting Jesus.”
Jason better hide the steak knives tonight.
More driving. We pass trailer parks, sod farms, vacuum repair centers, and used car dealerships. We pull over to get our picture taken with a large fiberglass manatee sculpture. The thing is the size of an elephant.
My wife and I have to do a selfie since nobody is around to hold the camera. This takes several attempts because, according to my wife, if you take a selfie while holding the camera at too low of an angle, you look like a fat garden slug.
We drive by a lot of newly constructed Floridian real estate. Which is hard for me to look at. I am not a fan of huge subdivisions that are big enough to have their own forms of civic government.
But that’s Florida for you, we’re always building new stuff. New neighborhoods. New shopping centers. Every day, somewhere in Florida, they bulldoze some kid’s fort to build another Red Lobster.
Mister Big Shot Real Estate Developer comes to town, probably from Jersey, or somewhere where they say “you guys.” He cuts a few hundred acres of pine and replaces it with one-story stucco houses and a ten-acre drainage ditch disguised to look like a lily pond.
But I digress.
We pull into the one-horse town of Weeki Wachee. It’s sunset. The old roadside motor-inns are evidence of an older age of tourism that’s gone now. After all these years, this place is still perfect. I knew it would be.
My wife is sleeping in the passenger seat. I do a little gesture that married people often do. It’s so small that you might miss it if you weren’t paying attention.
I place my hand on hers. I leave it there. I almost give her a kiss but I don’t want to wake her.
She opens her eyes. She gives a gentle smile. And she shouts, “STOP! STOP! STOP! THE LIGHT’S TURNING YELLOW, STUPID!”
It won’t be long now.
Bring on the mermaids.