The Longform Guide to Florida
Murder, Strippers and Disney World—a collection of stories about Florida.
There's always a time to be had in Florida
Photo by Kellie Warren-Underwood/Disney Parks via Getty Images.
Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from dozens of other magazines, including Slate.
In recent weeks Florida has been host to a number of national news stories that didn’t exactly burnish the state’s reputation: A Key West man killed himself ostensibly because of Barack Obama’s re-election; local Republicans bragged about voter suppression efforts; and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley inadvertently set off the Petraeus investigation. But the stories that follow are not odes to the Sunshine State’s dysfunction. Rather, they each document something about the place that is utterly singular. Other states have amusement parks, lap dances, and hurricanes, but none, it’s fair to say, are quite like Florida.
U.S. Journal: Pinellas County, Florida Attractions
Calvin Trillin • The New Yorker • January 1971
The author visits Walt Disney World with his niece and wife.
“She did not seem to react well to the ferocious friendliness of the young Disney World employees, particularly when it came in conjunction with the service problems that any tourist operation is bound to have in its first few weeks—problems complicated by the fact that the young people manning, say, the Polynesian Village seemed to owe their cheerfulness partly to not having had enough experience in hotel work to have been turned sullen.
" 'But attitude is everything,' I tried to explain to my wife one morning as we had breakfast at one of the restaurants on the old-fashioned Main Street of the Magic Kingdom. 'For them and for us. The next time our Serving Hostess asks me if I’m having fun, I’m not just going to say yes—I’m going to say, "I sure am, Serving Hostess! It’s real great to be here in the Magic Kingdom!" '
"My wife stared at her plate. 'If one more of those cute little girls smiles at me and asks me if I’m having fun as she serves me cold eggs, I’m leaving,' she said.”
Angels & Demons
Thomas French • St. Petersburg Times • October 1997
On June 4, 1989, the bodies of Jo, Michelle and Christe were found floating in Tampa Bay. This is the story of the murders, their aftermath, and the handful of people who kept faith amid the unthinkable.
“Moore did not fit any of the usual stereotypes of a cynical, world-weary detective. He rarely swore. He hardly ever drank. After 20 years of marriage, he was still crazy about his wife and spoke about her with unrestrained reverence. He was an involved father who cheered for his children at their school plays and football and baseball games. He loved to read and possessed a roving curiosity about everything from politics to sports to history to science. When he wasn’t talking shop, he would engage people in conversations about the nature of time and eternity, the origins of the universe, whether intelligent life truly existed in Washington, D.C.
"What defined Glen Moore, more than anything else, was his belief in God. Raised in the Baptist faith, he had been saved at the age of 12. All these years later, he prayed every day and served as a deacon at his church. Though he tried to avoid forcing his views on others, especially at the station, he found it hard to understand why everyone did not believe in God. To him, there was an abundance of undeniable, irrefutable proof of God’s existence; God, he believed, was an artist without compare whose works were on display for anyone with eyes to see. It was there in the staggering diversity of creatures multiplying across the planet. It was there in the brilliance of the stars exploding in the sky.”
The Bottle And The Babe
Gilbert Rogin • Sports Illustrated • July 1968
A profile of Robert Cade, a University of Florida professor and inventor of Gatorade.
“When you first meet friends and colleagues of Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade, Gator-Go, Hop-n-Gator, the hydraulic football helmet, the irradiated pecan and the hemispherical shoe-polish can, they invariably inform you that he is a genius; in the next breath they inquire if Dr. Cade told you about the time he got arrested for riding his bicycle while intoxicated. Alas, Dr. Cade would just as soon not verify this episode; nor, for that matter, will he mention the occasion when he threw his violin overboard while being shipwrecked. In fact, Dr. Cade will not admit to being shipwrecked. However, he is willing to talk about the time he got stopped for speeding on his bicycle on the campus of the University of Florida, where he is an associate professor of medicine and head of the Renal and Electrolyte Division or, as he calls it, ‘the wee-wee lab.’
"Perhaps Dr. Cade feels this incident reveals the intellectual climate or helps describe the field on which he, gently, does daily battle. As his wife Mary says: ‘He's such a rebel. He's surely an individualist. He's not going to do something the same way because it's always been done that way. He delights in stirring things up.’ ”
How Joe Redner Invented the Lap Dance, Built a Strip-Club Empire, Became a Model Citizen, Fought for Your Rights, and Beat Cancer
Sean Manning • Deadspin • August 2012
A local boy brings a touch of class to the city on the Bay:
“The following year, Redner and a bail-bondsman friend opened the Night Gallery, Tampa's first all-nude club. ‘They weren't the best-looking girls,’ Redner says, ‘but they weren't the worst-looking, either.’ The police raids started almost instantly and continued every day except Sunday and Monday, when the vice squad was off. Here, too, Redner showed his savvy. Rather than arrest one girl at a time, the undercover cops would wait for a dancer to take her second turn onstage, then arrest her and whichever dancers had come in between. So Redner made sure there were always nine dancers working. He'd send them to the stage in shifts of three. When the first shift was taken to jail, the second shift would begin. When those dancers were hauled off to jail, the third shift would begin. By the time that group was taken to jail, the first shift had been bailed out—Redner's partner was a bondsman, after all—and was ready to retake the stage.
"It was a costly process, but Redner was making it back and then some. 'Customers loved watching the girls get arrested,' he says. He even had a sign out front that read: 'COME WATCH YOUR LOCAL VICE SQUAD AT WORK.' 'We depleted the police force of undercovers. They had to use three or four a day.' According to the St. Petersburg Times, Redner himself was arrested 36 times that year.”
I Was A Teenage Freak
David Kushner • Rolling Stone • September 2003
Welcome to Gibsonton, Fla., the carny capital of the nation.
“Sideshows are the original reality television, stages that elevated real people into something extraordinary and even sublime. But today they're considered too bizarre and edgy for politically correct family fairs. And the better-known acts Jim Rose, the Enigma—descend not from generations of festival operators but from the urban underground. They're not carny kids, they're punk rockers.
"This never used to be the case in Gibsonton. With its warm weather and special zoning laws allowing carnies to keep midway rides and wild animals in their back yards, the town was the Hollywood of human oddities. For a time, the fire chief was a giant and the police chief a midget; when the midget had to stop someone for a traffic violation, he'd hold up a sign in his car that said POLICE PULL OVER. The carnies had their own traveling pastor. And they had their share of sensational press—mostly stemming from the 1992 murder of Lobster Boy, a notorious local born with claws for hands.”
What Went Wrong
Tom Mathews, Peter Katel, Todd Barrett, Douglas Waller, Clara Bingham, Melinda Liu, Steven Waldman and Ginny Carroll • Newsweek • September 1992
How the U.S. government mismanaged Hurricane Andrew, the costliest disaster in the history of Florida.
“The Big Blow started as a little pout of hot air in the summer sky over West Africa. It was only a tropical depression when the National Hurricane Center in Dade County, Fla., began watching it closely. Three days later, as it gathered strength 1,000 miles off the Leeward Islands, the NHC meteorologists named it Andrew. Seated at a blue desk surrounded by computers and weather monitors, Lixion Avila spent one midnight shift plotting the storm's path. At 3 a.m. he picked up a beige telephone and called his boss, Robert Sheets.
" 'Bob, I'm sorry to wake you up.'
" 'That's OK.'
" 'Bob, we have a hurricane.' "
Elon Green is a contributor to Longform.org.