Florida Man Defends His Homeland With 'Best. State. Ever.'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Florida man writes book. Dave Barry has penned a defense of his home state against cheap caricature by the national press as a place for oddballs, blockheads and eccentrics. He's written "Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland," a book that caricatures oddballs, blockheads and eccentrics in the place that he calls home but lovingly - I think. Dave Barry, the author of many bestsellers, including "I'll Mature When I'm Dead" and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald, joins us from the studios of WRLN in Miami. Thanks so much for being with us, Dave.
DAVE BARRY: Thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: Why do you date the rise of Florida ridicule to 2000?
BARRY: Well, that was the year that we had a presidential election, and all the other states, the normal states, were able to determine within a matter of hours whom they had voted for. And Florida, that was beyond our abilities, and first they said Gore, then they said Bush, then they said Gore. Briefly, William Shatner was in the lead down here.
BARRY: But from then on, we became the joke state.
SIMON: And you think geography might have something to do with it too, this critical mass of unorthodox behavior.
BARRY: Yes. The issue is if we only have 6 percent of the nation's population in Florida and yet we produce - and this is a statistic, Scott - 73 percent of the nation's weirdness comes from the state of Florida.
BARRY: And it's on the radio now, so it's a known statistic.
SIMON: Yeah, it'll be cited, yeah.
BARRY: So the question is why does that happen, and the best way I think you can visualize it - picture a large box, a crate, with no top but high sides. It's rectangular except for the bottom right-hand corner where there's a little corridor going up. And you put rats in there, all kinds of rats, smart rats, dumb rats, crazy rats, drug-addicted rats, criminal rats. Now, the smart ones, if they don't like it down there, will turn around and get and go back out. The dumb ones are unable to figure out how to do that.
BARRY: And the crazy ones like it down there. And so I'm saying that, yes, we have a lot of weirdness in Florida, but a lot of it is other states' weirdness. We're like the Ellis Island for weird and stupid people. Give us your weird and stupid. And then they come here and they stay here because they can't figure out how to leave.
SIMON: I - OK - you take up a number of what we think of as urban legends in Florida in the book.
BARRY: There are no urban legends (laughter) in Florida. They're all true it turns out (laughter).
SIMON: Well, all right, a shark killed in a traffic accident.
BARRY: Yes, we had that happen. A shark was ejected from a truck carrying it to, I believe, Coney Island. But it had an accident and the shark flew of the truck and was killed. I'm sure there's no other state where there's a traffic fatality involving a shark. I ask you, Scott, would that happen in a normal state?
SIMON: We have a lot of good listeners in Florida, all right? I'm going to remain loyal to them even...
BARRY: They know. That's the thing about Florida is the people down here don't say, hey, you're offending my state. In Florida, we say, yep, that's Florida.
SIMON: You know, in journalism, we ought to avoid stereotypes, but on the other hand, where would we be without them?
BARRY: (Laughter) Exactly.
SIMON: They're just so convenient, you know? I think I know what a new York attitude is. I certainly know what a Chicago attitude is. Is there a Florida attitude?
BARRY: No, that's kind of the beauty of the state. There are so many Floridas. There's Latin America in Florida. There's deep South Florida. There's West Coast, which is basically Ohio, Michigan Florida. The only thing that sort of unites us all is that we all think Florida is a little bit different from wherever we came from, which is always somewhere else. The attitude is kind of we're not that surprised if something strange happens here. That's probably the only thing that unites us.
SIMON: You ranged all over the state researching this book, and as I read it, the only gift you got your elegant wife was a sponge.
BARRY: (Laughter) Yeah, but it was the Cadillac of sponges. I went to - and this may be, in some ways, the ultimate Florida tourist place to go. It's called Spongeorama, and it's in Tarpon Springs. And it's been there - I don't know - since the '30s. Nothing has changed. Everything is kind of yellow, and there's an exhibit on how they capture sponges, kind of like "Moby Dick" except you get a sponge.
SIMON: Now, I have to interject. You got a bunch of New Yorkers and Chicagoans staring at each other in our control room over the notion of capturing a sponge 'cause to us you walk into a drugstore...
BARRY: A supermarket, yeah.
SIMON: Right, exactly, yeah.
BARRY: Those are called artificial sponges, and the people at Spongeorama really look down on them (laughter).
BARRY: The real sponge comes from the sea floor. The men - Greek men, after they finish their cigarette, go down and capture them and bring them back up. And when I say capture, I mean, it's not like - they don't run away. They don't have arms, legs, mouths or brains. They are all legally registered to vote in Florida, however. No, I'm kidding (laughter).
SIMON: Well, that we do in Illinois. We register the artificial sponges in Illinois, though, and they vote, yeah.
BARRY: And that's how you get those governors you get, legislators. But we're not here to make fun of Illinois.
SIMON: Yeah, we certainly aren't...
BARRY: I do want to point out one thing that I note in my book about Florida, which is we have low taxes here.
BARRY: And you know what kind of government we get for that? We get incompetent and corrupt government. But as I point out, New Jersey, New York, California, Illinois, all have high taxes and they also get incompetent and corrupt government. So we're giving you the same government for way less money here in the state of Florida.
SIMON: You're Dave Barry. You could live in Manhattan. You could live in Brooklyn like every other author. You could live in the south of France. Why do you live in Florida?
BARRY: I really love it. When I first got hired by the Miami Herald, which was in the early '80s, I lived in a bucolic community in suburban Philadelphia, and I absolutely refused to move down here. They flew me down for an interview, and and they were like - it was the height of the cocaine cowboy era. I actually saw cars with bullet holes in the sides driving around on the streets of Miami. And I just thought I can't live here. This is a crazy, hot, confusing, mass of a place.
And I came down every couple of months to do stories. And each time I came down, I kind of got to like Miami more. And I still love it here. It is the most interesting place I've ever lived. I'm talking about Miami, although the state of Florida is pretty interesting also, but I love it just because it's never, never boring.
SIMON: Dave Barry - his book - "Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland." Thanks so much for being with us.
BARRY: Always a pleasure, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.