Thursday, March 16, 2023

Spring Fever

“Why should I have Spring Fever when it isn’t even Spring?”---Rogers & Hammerstein

The Comeback Kids

Springtime is near and Reunion is in the air.  Every day in May, there will be a high school reunion somewhere celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Class of 1973.  Even California Girl Nancy Luca is not immune, returning to Gainesville to celebrate on May 20th with her gnarly old Buchholz High codgers.  Don’t tell anyone, but after the confetti falls, Nancy will be bound and gagged by Anna Marie Kirkpatrick and vanned over to First Night at the Hogtown Opry, where she will be forced to wear cowboy boots and yodel.

Two weeks earlier, on the first anniversary of The Last Tango (May 7), Heartwood Soundstage will have a huge celebration on the sacred date in the same open field where the magic reined in 2022.  Shortly after that (May 11-13), the Spirit of the Suwanee music park calls the regulars back for its Echoland Music Festival with more bands than you can count.

While all this is splendid news, nothing compares with the shenanigans being planned by Bill Killeen and his merry men for First Night of the Hogtown Opry at University Auditorium on the Florida campus.  While we think the Opry band will be good enough to rate as a headliner in its own right, the incoming performers will be among the most talented performers in country music, famous or not..  If that’s not enough, local showoff Gina Hawkins will lead her tribe of rejected Rockettes in a concert-closing conga line.  Be there or be square?  No.  Be there or be forever chagrined.  For those of you who missed the hallowed Tango, this is your opportunity for atonement.  Nobody wants to be a two-time loser.

Hannibal Crosses The Alps

Our first experience with Spring Break on the beaches of Florida came in 1963, when Marilyn Todd and I loaded 10,000 copies of Jack Horan’s Old Orange Peel into the back of my fine Cadillac hearse and headed for the wilds of Daytona.  Horan and his comrades had sold beaucoup amounts of advertising to beachside merchants and temporarily converted their Gainesville off-campus humor magazine into a Spring Break party guide before realizing they had no way to carry that much weight all the way to the Atlantic.  Jack glibly offered gas money, free room and board and a few other frills to entice us to take on the challenge.  Being dead broke and not particularly busy, we took him up on it.

Now, the average fellow might surmise that a formidable vehicle such as ours, built to transport the heaviest of humans in the weightiest burial boxes might have no issues trucking a mere 10,000 little magazines a couple of hours down the road.  After all, this was a machine which had once carried over a dozen curfew-threatened women through the streets of Boston and back to their Tufts College dormitories without breaking a sweat.  What the average fellow doesn’t know, however, is that budgetary concerns prevented the hearse from receiving the requisite oil changes, tire rotations, et al, which determine the health and soundness of any vehicle.  That is to say, we took it in for maintenance in those years in which February had 29 days, whether it needed it or not.

The brakes on the beast, alas, could have been better.  Maneuvering the thing with that much weight in the back required driving at moderate speeds and trying to anticipate light changes along the way, the better to stop as few times as possible.  Nonetheless, by the time we rolled over a bridge and down an incline into Daytona Beach, the hot brakes had given up the ghost and we were forced to circle around a used car lot about fifteen times til we came to a stop.  After a sufficient wait, we gathered ourselves up and proceeded on to Jack Horan’s unloading dock, the hearse offering up a great sigh of relief.  The hard part was over, now it was time to see what this Spring Break business was all about.

Spring Break 

Now, I was no complete rookie.  I had read Glendon Swarthout’s Where The Boys Are in 1960, following the Fort Lauderdale adventures of “Merrit of the U.,” a Michigan State female of reasonable sanity, who carpooled to South Florida with a gaggle of friends.  I knew about the serial drinking, the indecent exposure, the tiffs with police, the riotous behavior.  Reading about it and seeing it live, however, were two different things.  The day we arrived, one overloaded customer fell from his second-floor hotel balcony into an unsuspecting beach umbrella, injuring both, and at least 28 people were arrested for assorted crimes.  The usually grouchy Daytona cops were obviously short on happiness pills and were brooking little foolishness.

The bars where Horan was selling his Orange Peels were dens of iniquity.  Besotted students at various levels of consciousness lost wallets, car keys and cheap cameras.  One saloon, which gave out free t-shirts to any women who would change into the things while standing on the bar had more customers per square foot than Time Square on New Years Eve.  If you ever got into a position where both feet left the floor, you were carried off in a whirl of humanity and deposited somewhere down the block.

Automobile traffic was completely ignored as the kids took over the streets.  One drunken genius, crossing the avenue in the face of oncoming traffic, was bopped in the hip by a pink Chevy, flipped over and dumped on a sidewalk.  He laughingly got up, raised both hands in the air and celebrated like he had just won the heavyweight championship of the world before limping off.  The cops showed up and started giving out tickets for jaywalking and topless volleyball.  One inebriated senorita grabbed an unprepared officer, planted a smooch on his mouth and pinched him on the butt.  He eventually shook her off and wandered around with a shit-eating grin on his face and without his badge.  If anyone filmed a highlight reel, I’d like to see it.  At least some of the people at Burning Man are sane and sober.  Marilyn, a sensible women of good comportment looked at me and said, “We’re not staying for the fireworks, right?”  Daytona was like opening the floodgates of the loony bin and handing the escapees a beer on the way out.  It was incredibly great.  We definitely didn’t go back the following year.

The Rites Of Spring (and a few of the wrongs)

Will Thacker will be heading for Cocullo, Italy on May 4 for the eagerly anticipated Festival of the Snakes, celebrating St. Domenico Abate’s clearing of the area of reptiles back in the day.  The formidable Processione dei Serpari starts with a Mass, of all things, and then a statue of Domenico is paraded through the streets.  Along the parade route, snake charmers wrap the statue with reptiles, which occasionally get loose and slither through the crowds.  Serpent worshippers can even buy a specially made bread shaped like an ouroboros (a snake eating its own tail).  After the ball is over, any remaining captive snakes are let loose in the area around Cocullo, which seems to defeat the poor saint’s efforts.  Thacker will be waiting for the little buggers with a snake hook, plenty of nets and a fast truck.

You probably didn’t know this but the region around St. George, South Carolina consumes more grits per capita than anyplace else in the country.  Some of us unaware Yankees think this creamy cornmeal staple of Southern cuisine is a morning-only dish but South Carolinians beg to differ, serving it with just about anything and at all times of the day.  Naturally, the local folks are proud of their consumption record and celebrate each year at the World Grits Festival (April 21-23).  The highlight of the day is the exciting “Rolling in the Grits” competition, where an inflated kiddie swimming pool is filled to the brim with grits and contestants slopping around deliriously.  The idea is to trap as many grits on your body as possible in ten seconds.  There are many approaches to maximum absorption taken by clever contestants, most of whom duct tape their cuffs and sleeves shut to trap the grits inside.  Others wear backward hooded shirts, scooping the grits with their hoods.  In 2015, an all-time record was set by wily Tiffany McGirr, who wore extra-baggy pants held up by suspenders and collected an awe-inspiring 66 pounds.  Who says girls can’t play?

Beam Me Up, Karellen!

Leave it to the Canadiens.  On May 20, Toronto turns the chimes up for Alien Abduction Day, its thirteenth annual such festival.  The Canucks have been doing this sort of thing since 2008, when a garage full of auto-body repairmen was scooped up near the village of Punkeydoodle Corners, Ontario and swept off into the twilight by a saucer-shaped object with an Alf bumper-sticker attached.  Reddick resident Gary Borse was dispatched to arrange a prisoner swap but the aliens didn’t want E.T. back or hotdog Florida senator Matt Gaetz either.

Hosers will gather beneath the bronze statues of early abductees Betty and Barney Hill to watch abduction movies, discuss their own kidnappings and gag down cheese curds.  Few of the victims have any idea why they were detained and returned but most speak of being medically examined in a very bright high-tech room by bug-eyed midgets with sharp instruments.  There is nakedness, pain and a loss of control while the body’s boundaries are being probed, but no surgeries.  More than one woman has testified to consensual sex with the aliens, which they universally regret.  “Pencildicks!” is the usual complaint.

A Menu

In early Spring, gray whales and their calves can be seen migrating off the Big Sur coastline and past Oregon and Washington.  These giants, which can grow up to 45 feet long and weigh as much as 33 tons, head north from Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic, the Bering, Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

While ospreys can be observed in multiple places including New York and Seattle, the Chesapeake Bay area in Maryland is home to the largest known concentration of ospreys in the world.  Visitors have an excellent chance of spotting ospreys flying overhead if they visit the region.  Ospreys migrate to the area to mate, nest and raise their young.  The eggs are usually laid by the third week of April and hatch thirty to forty days later. 

Spring is the ideal time to visit Yellowstone National Park, where you’ll get an opportunity to spot a range of new babies, including black bear cubs, bighorn lambs (usually born in May), elk and bison calves, bay pronghorn antelope and gray wolf cubs.  Keep your distance, mom has teeth and/or claws and knows how to use them.

The arrival of the cranes on Nebraska’s Platte River, along with millions of other migratory birds such as ducks and geese, is one of the country’s greatest wildlife spectacles.  About 80% of the world’s population of sandhill cranes descend on the area every Spring, covering the vast expanses of sky with millions of flapping wings.  The first arrive as early as late February or earl;y march and leave in mid-April after they’ve rested and restored their body weights.

The best time to see Yosemite National Park’s waterfalls is in Spring, when most of the snowmelt occurs and the falls are most impressive.  Peak runoff is typically in May or June, according to the National Park Service.  Some of the falls, including the famous Yosemite Falls, can be down to a trickle by August.

Last and least, Jonesville, Florida curmudgeon Chuck LeMasters exits his rural cave after a winter of hibernation and cruel dreams, now ready to till the soil, spread the seeds and fuss over his new plants like a nervous mother hen.  Unlike the welcoming places earlier mentioned, Chuck would prefer you stay home and mind your own business.  When everything is in readiness, he will set up his usual booth on Newberry Road and turn on the Hempsignal.  Celebrate!  It’s beloved Spring, when the azaleas rise, the dogwoods bloom and the reprobates come out of hiding.  Makes a body want to run naked through the woods, ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair, rustle up a new romance, abscond to the beach.  The year is young again, and so are we....if only in our minds.

That’s all, folks….