Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland
Dave Barry is one of the funniest men alive, and his essays, articles and quips are spot on. He is my favorite regular contributor to the humor magazine Funny Times, and snippets of his articles even make for his very own day calendar. Additionally, he found success writing alongside author Ridley Pearson, with their most memorable contribution being the Peter and the Starcatchers series, which spawned a Broadway play.
As a recent transplant to Florida by way of New York --- similar to Barry's move from Rockland County, NY to Southern FL --- I can relate to his latest effort, BEST. STATE. EVER. Outside of the tourist attractions and great restaurants located in Central Florida, the state features a number of odd characters and places.
Nearly every national broadcast can carry a story of some weird circumstances participated in by someone from Florida. For this reason alone, Barry has chosen to take up the mantle and defend his home state and all its quirky residents. The back cover of the book states that more than a thousand people move to Florida every day, nearly eight of which understand the purpose of the turn signal.
"BEST. STATE. EVER. is a fast and delightful read with many laugh-out-loud moments. Barry admits there was so much more he could cover about this unique state --- and hopefully that will be left for another book."
With witticisms like that, readers will know they are in for a wild, humorous ride. BEST. STATE. EVER. spans the entire state, and each chapter focuses on a different place or subject. Barry points to the Presidential election of 2000 and the infamous hanging chad scandal as the event that put the bizarre side of Florida on the map. Florida is one of the least boring places on the planet, and most things that take place there are bizarre, stupid or dangerous --- and typically involve drugs and/or alligators.
We venture into some of the areas of Florida that have long, Native American-influenced names featuring many vowels. On the way to the place named Weeki Wachee, Barry indicates that Route 19 can validate every negative stereotype about Florida culture. It is described as a cavalcade of strip bars, porn stores, pawn shops, trailer parks and billboards for personal injury lawyers. This is certainly not the Magic Kingdom!
Cassadaga, FL, known as the Psychic Capital of the World, is covered in a chapter in which Barry states that you might have trouble finding a plumber on the weekend, but if you need an emergency tarot card reading, help is only seconds away. He shows us the area known as The Villages, an over-55 community that has grown into the size of a city with nearly 115,000 residents. The descriptions of the place he calls the Fountain of Youth are side-splitting as the rituals and activities he reports on border on the surreal.
Barry sends up the theme park Gatorland as an ironic place that advertises the work they do to save alligators while the quick-service restaurant there has gator bites on the menu. His hometown of Miami is exposed as a place of high-powered weapons, rich cars, scantily clad beautiful people, and nightclubs you can only dream of entering. He saves the best for the last chapter, which features Key West. Key West is Florida's Florida, the place way down at the bottom where the weirdest of the weird end up, where the abnormal is normal.
BEST. STATE. EVER. is a fast and delightful read with many laugh-out-loud moments. Barry admits there was so much more he could cover about this unique state --- and hopefully that will be left for another book. I write this review just hours after passing a man riding a bicycle on the side of the highway while wearing a full horse head mask. Only in Florida!
Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 23, 2016