Come for the sunshine; stay for the insanity

COME FOR THE SUNSHINE; STAY FOR THE INSANITY…. Having been born and raised in Miami, I look back at Florida with some fascination. In fact, I’ve long harbored a silly notion that all bad things that happen in this country have an almost direct connection to the Sunshine State. After the Elian Gonzalez controversy, the 2000 election debacle, the original anthrax letters, the flying lessons for the 9/11 terrorists, and the Terri Schiavo matter, it’s hard not to notice that Carl Hiaasen doesn’t have to exaggerate much for his novels.

And in case Florida’s “eccentricities” weren’t obvious before, publishers of non-fiction are helping educate the rest of the country.

How weird is Florida? So weird that not one, not two, but three different books have been titled “Weird Florida.”

The first, written by Palm Beach Post reporter Eliot Kleinberg, hit stores in 1998 and detailed years of strange news stories. Charlie Carlson published his “Weird Florida” in 2005 documenting unusual sites around the state. Now Kleinberg is coming out with a “Weird Florida II” in January with more true, offbeat stories.

“I’m already putting together a file for book three,” Kleinberg said of his works. “If I thought for a second that Florida was going to stop being weird, I’d be worried. There’s no signs of abatement.”

Florida did indeed have scores of weird stories in 2005, from the woman who concealed a stolen parrot in her bra to a beagle puppy that was trained to sniff out pythons to a Key West man who robbed a bank with a pitchfork.

I can appreciate that people in across the country are prepared to argue that their state is bizarre. It’s almost a matter of civic pride. But as Tom Tomorrow noted earlier this year, there’s just something about Florida that makes it a “cauldron of craziness.”

My question, for anyone who might be able to explain it to me, is how this tropical state managed to become such an attraction for disaster.

Is it the influx of immigrants from around the world who don’t always get along with one another? The competition between cultures and languages? Too much sun?

Mike Wilson, the Floridian editor of the St. Petersburg Times, wrote an item (which is no longer available online) suggesting that it’s more of a genetic problem.

Friends in other states expect me to defend Florida in times like these. But like a parent making excuses for an aberrant teenager, justifying it is the best I can do. Look, this isn’t Boston, founded on intellect and the principles of religious freedom. This is Florida, founded by hucksters and luckless dreamers. Eccentricity is in its DNA.

Wilson was Guatemala in the early 1990s on assignment. While there, he spoke with locals who said they couldn’t imagine living in Florida. It was, in their minds, “too dangerous” and too overwrought with “bad people.”

Guatemala was in its 25th year of a civil war at the time.