On August 31, 2013, Diana Nyad jumped into the shark-friendly waters of Cuba and swam 110-odd miles—without the protection of a shark cage—to Key West, Florida, 53 hours later. Why would anyone stare down the ocean and risk death to face up its indomitable conditions? Who knows.
A Town in Florida Has Made It Illegal for Homeless People to Cover Themselves with Blankets
There’s a new Tumblr blog making the rounds called Selfies with Homeless People. Apart from the rare picture in which the homeless person is complicit in the act, the majority of the photos are posed next to a sleeping or comatose human. Cue snap after snap of the worst sort of millennial douchery, as fresh-faced youngsters exploit the impoverished, dispossessed members of society for Instagram likes and hashtag LOLs.
Although their young souls may be dog shit, they aren’t actually physically harming homeless people. But don’t worry, because Florida, the internet’s favorite affront to human decency and legal reason, is picking up the slack. Thanks to a “camping” ordinancepassed by the Pensacola City Council last summer, homeless people in the city will becriminalized for, among other things, sleeping outdoors while “adjacent to or inside a tent or sleeping bag, or atop and/or covered by materials such as a bedroll, cardboard, newspapers, or inside some form of temporary shelter.”
[Editor’s note: I met Paul a few months ago at a storytelling event, but he’s done some stuff for VICE in the past. He’s one of those smiley, overly posi Florida punks who’s covered in tattoos and is really nice to everybody, so I initially assumed he’d never been in “the shit.” Then he told me a story about being held up at gunpoint by Brazilian thugs in a botched bus robbery, and that shut me up pretty quickly. He just sent us this dispatch from a recent book tour for And Every Day Was Overcast, his terrific new photo novel about growing up among fishing tackle and drugs in Loxahatchee, Florida. If you’ve ever been on a book tour, you’ll know it’s more about wine and cheese and bad drugs, so kudos to Paul for pushing himself to the limit for this mind-numbingly boring responsibility. Enjoy!]
Rainelle, West Virginia
Kelly tries to Instagram a butterfly caught in the wipers. As she’s about to click, I spray the windshield with fluid. It’ll buy me another hour of silence. I’m driving from New York to Minneapolis for the start of my book tour, but the first stop is in West Virginia, to leave Kelly at her aunt’s.
I like people who know when to lower their standards. Kelly is the type of girl who helps pay for gas with rolled-up $20s flattened against her ass. Back in New York, we had sex one time and never again. She said my hands were too cold, that it was gross that I sleep with my socks on.
Today, we’re mutually parasitic. On occasion, when all our friends are estranged, we relapse on one another. There’s no common circle of friends between us, so whatever we do together has no repercussions.
Road trips are the ultimate test of any friendship. I’m relieved to drop her off.
Tonight, I’m staying at a nicotine-themed hotel room in Rainelle. The smell matches the shag. All night I watch the only working channel, ID: Investigation Discovery. An entire network of true-crime entertainment exclusively made up of lurid reenactments, courtroom footage, 911 calls, pan-and-scan video technology, crime-scene photography, ghoulish hosts, news clips, dubious interviews, home video, and family albums full of mementos. Back in the 90s, the prototype for these shows was America’s Most Wanted. It was my childhood filter for the social topography of Florida—as a series of grainy amateur porn stills and mug shots.
There is an enthusiasm for the counterculture in Orlando, with a strong punk scene and DIY community. You can end up in a mosh pit at a warehouse with no air conditioning, a local art show at a converted apartment located above a pizza shop, a dive bar feeling like you are back at a friend’s basement back in high school, or riding bikes to a sweaty house party full of flying beer cans and leather jackets. These photos capture the faces in the crowds, the rowdy party-going youth of Orlando.
Floridians Are Losing Their Minds on Synthetic Cannabis
The rumors are floating among bystanders in downtown St. Petersburg, where a body lies motionless on the sidewalk, covered by a plastic sheet. Was it over a stolen lighter? Or was it a bicycle? It doesn’t matter. Kenneth Robert Sprankle finally snapped. Just like he said he would.
On the afternoon of September 24, Sprankle “borrowed” a red and yellow firefighter’s axe from a fire engine responding to an alarm at the Princess Martha Apartments. He started his evening by smoking spice, grabbing the axe, and wandering through downtown. Surveillance video caught Sprankle clutching the axe across his waist as he walked purposefully through the frame, seemingly oblivious to concerned onlookers trailing him from a safe distance. Witnesses recalled seeing him in an agitated state, wandering around nearby Williams Park with the axe for nearly three hours. Nobody bothered reporting him to police until things began to unwind, and Sprankle began yelling incomprehensible threats and chasing terrified citizens down bustling sidewalks.
St. Petersburg police quickly responded to an emergency call. The small group fleeing his erratic pursuit rounded a corner and ran past the officers. Moments later, Sprankle followed, axe raised menacingly. His world was closing in. Ignoring repeated orders to drop the axe, he charged. As Sprankle closed the distance, axe held high, veteran officer Damien Schmidt leveled a pistol at his chest and fired.
Five shots later, Ken Sprankle’s body crumpled to the sidewalk. The holes in his chest were fatal. He was 27.
The Greatest Airport in America
As Americans continue to self-flagellate over the decrepitude of their transportation infrastructure, it has become more and more en vogue to demand improvements to our airports. Donald Trump, billionaire and professional asshole, recently referred to American aiports as “third-world” compared to Qatar and Abu Dhabi. Mr. Trump failed to realize that most Americans will never be able to afford to go to Qatar and think Abu Dhabi is either a character from the movie Aladdin or something you order at an Indian restaurant.
Congestion, delays, lack of luxury amenities, and poor customer service are some of themost popular gripes cited when travelers are surveyed about their trips. In the face of this criticism, airports across the nation are dropping big bucks to spruce up their digs. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta spent $1.4 billion to upgrade their international terminal, adding 12 new gates, a bunch of art installations, giant glass windows, and a separate entrance for international passengers.
Nowhere did I see anything on that list of improvements about “places to plug in your phone” or “restaurants that don’t charge people eight dollars for a bagel,” but I can report that Atlanta’s airport does have the finest smoker’s lounge in the entire American south. If you’re looking for great conversation, and even greater exposure to toxic chemicals, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is your first (and maybe your final) destination.
The Magic Kingdom Is Creepy
Dylan DeRose hails from Orlando, Florida, which sounds like it would totally suck, but Dylan has taken lemons and made lemonade. Or should we say oranges into orange juice. After getting the hell out of his hometown, Dylan bravely ventured back to create his project, aptly titled Orlando. In it, he documents the lasting effects of taking an empty swamp and building it into a mecca of tourism, consumerism, and fantasy. Dylan was especially drawn to the influence of themed experiences on the city as the whole. Check out his photos of the creepier side of living in the shadow of the mouse above.
Welcome to Christmas, Florida
It was hot enough to burn the dead lovebugs on my car’s hood. Farmland and pine trees were on the horizon, streets named after eight reindeer and brown wreaths hung on mailboxes. It’s not a holiday for the people of Christmas, Florida.
Christmas sits between Orlando and Cape Canaveral. The yuletide name of the community comes from the Second Seminole War. On December 25th, 1837, more than 2,000 US soldiers built a supply fort for the war. They never saw a day of battle. The place today seems like an outpost vibrating with its pioneer past.
Highway 50 runs straight into Country Craft ‘n Christmas. This year-round holiday store looks like a winter cottage airdropped into Florida-cracker land.
“First thing that I do in the morning, change out the numbers,” Becky Hamilton said.
Hamilton opened her doors in 2001, as owner and operator, always wanting to own a X-mas gift store.
Hamilton is more than just a business owner in Christmas, she is part of the historical association. She handed me some pamphlets for the Fort Christmas Museum.
“Why do I keep seeing the same last names popping up everywhere?” I asked.
“The town started with 21 pioneer families,” she said. “There are still descendants living in the community today.”
She then made a comment under her breath about cousins marrying through the years. As I left, she gave me a baseball-shaped gingerbread cookie and an “I Love My Cat/Christmas, Florida” nail file for my wife.
Up a couple blocks from Hamilton’s store is the Christmas Post Office. People come from all over to this post office to get their Christmas, Florida, postmark for their holiday mail.
The post office employee seemed caught off guard when I walked through her door.
“Do you get a lot of people during the holidays?” I asked.
She told me that there are lines out the door, so long that they run all the way around the side of the building.
I asked her about this mailbox which read: “LETTERS TO SANTA.”