Friday, November 28, 2008

Camping (Slummin' it) in Yeehaw Junction, Florida

So I finally get bamboozled into going on this famous "camping" trip with my dear friend whom I'll call "Lip Gloss", her husband I will call "Taz" and her two young boys. She'd been at me for months to experience this place with her and where she promised an enriching experience for my nephew Diego, now age 7. Jason Mraz's song, "I'm Yours" is playing on Lip Gloss' Ipod and I mention notice of Florida Gator license tags on the cars passing us by. Her husband quickly retorts, "This is gator country boy!" My inner voice was yelling "yeehaw! I can't wait! in an ever-so-sarcastic tone. I get a text from my sister (Diego's mama), "feel fear" and my mind fills with images of the movie Cape Fear. I think to myself what have I gotten my ass into this time and are there any train stations nearby so I can get back to Miami? We exit at Yeehaw Junction, where Lip Gloss explains, "The locals call it a place where people meet and where US 441, State Road 15, State Road 60 and Florida's Turnpike all intersect.,_Florida

A quick search later on wikipedia tells me that it used to be called Jackass Junction and that's what I felt like when we pulled in to the Pilot gas station for some grub in the form of subs. I was a little drunk so that didn't help the surreality of this station-situation. There was some strange characters up-in-that-bitch. There were cowboys, a woman that looked like she was either a bull-dyke or a real truck driver, a guy that had a beaver skin hat with two toothpicks sticking out of it's side (i guess it's a trucker fashion statement), a couple of hunter guys with full camouflage gear even their boots were camouflaged (apparently deer check you out from head to toe). Any-yoo-hoo i get my sub and even get real crazy and serve myself a real Coke from the fountain. That's right, no Diet green tea for this brave soldier! Suddenly, I get a full glimpse of my girl friend Lip Gloss in that blinding flourescent light that only gas stations and prison holding cells seem to have. I rush to tell her that her camping fashion statement is going to ruin her marriage and that her husband will never want to have sex with her if she keeps wearing huge, red minnie mouse Croc's, black tights and a purple, oversized, Harry Potter style sweatshirt. Seconds later, the young clerk tells Lip Gloss how much she likes her outfit. I almost burst my lung from holding back my laugh. I guess she was a hit at Jackass Junction.

Eating outside the Pilot gas station, freezing my fingers off because Taz said it's part of the experience. Little Diego notices the desolation of the gas station and shivering, "I miss Miami-Miami is better than this." Taz quickly replies-"This aint no lala-land, shangrila boy!" I ask Taz "These cabins we're going to, are they like real wood or are they like Lord of the Flies huts made out of coconut palms and straw?" Taz-"No dude, There's 2 cabins and one Airstream trailer. You don't know how difficult it was to build it all out here. It's like building on the moon, there's rivers all over and lake Okeechobee." I spot a Panther Crossing sign and ask if they have ever actually seen a Florida Panther since I've read they are extremely endangered. Taz-"Never but the squirrels out here are mean and rowdy! They are like the squirrels in Manhattan. Everyone knows they aren't afraid of humans anymore. One time these crazy fox-squirrels ran through our camp while we were sleeping and ate our food! They jumped like 6 feet from the ground to a tree with bags of chips in their hands. They're so big they look like beavers" The conversation in my head was like "I can't wait-Yeehaw!" with an even more sarcastic tone than the last time. I looked up this mythical beast and it turns out they do exist.
Taz-"Here we are, you turn left at the triangle sign on the mailbox. River Ranch, for the ultimate country experience-don't put the name in that blog of yours, I don't want people to know about it!" (how could I resist it?)
Lip Gloss proudly claims-"It's like Disney without the on/off switch and security."

My mind-"Yee-friggin-haw!"

Taz- "Now duck down so we don't have to pay for you to get in."
Lip Gloss-"You gotta get through this gate before you make it in. It's like the troll gate, pay the toll."

My mind-"I smell pigs shit!"

Taz-"Check out the hog pen out here. They raise wild pigs for the kids to chase in a pen after they get bigger" We get out to get Taz's ATV and he let's me ride his. I gotta tell you, riding an ATV for the first time was a unique high like riding a motorcycle and a wild horse at once. Friggin awesome! I finally saw what all this hassle was for. It's all about the ATV riding. There's miles of dirt trails out here, pretty much made for ATV riding.

We go through about half an hour of mud and bumpy road to get to their camp. Lip Gloss tells me, "Small is the new big out here. These shacks and houses are all individual according to the owners income, no building codes and they're all off the grid!" She says it as if it's a good thing. I guess it's a good thing depending on how you look at it but my idea of being "off the grid" is a well-designed, contemporary structure with it's own water recycling system, solar panels and a windmill for auxiliary power.
We light a nice campfire while we unload our stuff into what i can only describe as an aluminum tube with no insulation but what they call their Airstream trailer. It's about 50 degrees and I guess it is better than a tent. At least it has solid walls and a door to keep them marauding, wild squirrels out. We drink some shots of Grey Goose vodka to warm us up. Little Diego is a little freaked out at the darkness of it all and asks for me. I tell him i'll be with him in a bit and to go to sleep with the other boys in the metal tube thingy. The next day we go to the nearest diner to grab some breakfast (thank god there's a bathroom there!) and i bring my toothbrush and face soap. We filled our bellies with some darn tasty and cheap American breakfast and high-tail it to their friend "Papa Bear's" house to spend the day. On the way we see a scene from Mel Gibson's Mad Max movie. There are about 30 ATV's with children and women all geared up, surrounding our jeep. I have to admit it looks like they were having a great time in the great outdoors.

A couple of joints later Papa Bear asks me to go with him to get some fresh deer meat from his neighbor. Papa Bear- "If he asks just say your my cousin from Atlanta." I ask-"Why he'll kill me if he finds out I'm Cuban and gay?" Papa Bear answers- "Just dont talk and play stupid...he just hunted some deer today." We pull up in the ATV to Larry's trailer and there is what I can only describe as a scene from Silence of the Lambs movie. A freshly killed deer hanging from a metal cage, lit from above by a spotlight, wrapped in a green tarp, blood dripping from it's antlers. Larry grabs the deer's lifeless head and proudly exclaims- "It's a 5 pointer! They said it was 3 but it's a 5 alright! I've been killing the fuck out of these deer. I've shot like 8 this week alone." My mind-"Nice real-nice...WTF am I doing here!! Mommy!"

Papa Bear- "Hey larry, thanks so much for the meat, it looks real good. Why don't you come over later and hang out with my wife and I? We've got beers and a barbeque going." Larry- "Well I dont know, I got my little lady coming over and were gonna rub-a-dub-dub you know. I gotta get some mud for my duck..ha-ha-ha." We get back to the camp with the two slabs of rear meat with two white bone knuckles poking out of the mass with some golden Bambi hairs still stuck to the side of it. Papa Bear cleans it up and slams it on the grill-"Hey Taz, wana try some deer meat? It's fresh and it's perfect off the grill here." Taz-"Hell no! I'd rather climb naked up that pine tree than try that shit!" I feel so relieved that he said that. Now I won't be the token pussy that didn't try the deer meat.

All in all, I got to know a part of Florida that I would never have otherwise. A place frozen in time (around 1892), with all that comes with it, unification with nature, living like a settler, lack of modern comforts, racism, homophobia, isolationist mentality, hunting for sport and good old dirty fun. It definitely wasn't my cup of tea but it was worth doing it for my nephew. He got to run around with his buddies in the dirt like a wild puppy and felt what it was to be truly carefree and one with nature. Something so few children in this modern world get to do. Even though I will probably never go back, it was worth feeling like a dad for a couple of days, for the long hug and quarter-second look of "thanks" my nephew flashed me before running off to his comfortably modern, permanent camp he calls home.

1 comment:

Lynn Schroeder said...

Very very funny! I love your story.
Thanks for the laugh..( I was laughing so hard I had tears)