Monday, December 3, 2012

Part 2; swimming with manatees & drinking with carnies.

In the morning the hitchhiker and I wake early and make coffee. I perk my coffee in an old perk given to me by a friend. Larry usually lives off of instant so it’s a big treat for him. While I’m packing up the van he brings me the only thing he has that resembles a birthday cake, a strawberry newton,  and tells me to make a wish. This small gesture means more to me than he knows.
birthday cake
Packed up and ready to go, we head into the small town of Crystal River. A friend informed me about the opportunity of swimming with manatees there. The first place we find is way too expensive so I decided not to give myself that birthday present. Funny how things work out. I turned onto a side street to get us traveling back in the right direction and in front of me is another dive shop. I think, what the hell, I’ll check their prices. Right off the bat they were much nicer than the first place and so eager to have us join in. Their price was extremely reasonable so I sign us both up. Needless to say Larry is up for it.

By this point I’m literally jumping for joy and can’t wait to get my wetsuit on. Neither of us have ever done anything like this before. Once out in the water we are told to spread out and simply float on the surface, letting them come to us. Manatees are amazingly big and graceful animals. They are friendly and curious about us. I have no photographs to share of this experience but the memories and images in my head will never fade. I can tell you they feel like an elephant, with rough skin and bristles. Our guide made sure I had some quality time with one of them for my birthday. He called me over and showed me if you rub their belly they will roll on their back for you. I believe I also got a kiss from one. What a wonderful and peaceful way to start my birthday day.

From there we drive and drive further south down the coast. My folks asked me to pick up some Danish schnapps for our Christmas dinner at one of the towns along the way. I was having trouble finding the store so we pulled over at a Krispy Kreme to grab a coffee and ask for directions. At the liquor store I go for my wallet and it’s not there. It’s at Krispy Kreme, seven miles back!! Needless to say I am not impressed with myself. I had just taken out a bunch of money and not only that, I have everything I need in my wallet. Speeding back, Larry is convinced my wallet will still be sitting in the bathroom. He says, “someone as nice as you ought to have racked up enough good karma. It will be there.” And it was. All the money still in it.

For my birthday I wanted to be at a place called Gibsonton, otherwise known as Showtown America. It has a long history of being the vacation spot of carnival workers. I loved the idea of being in a small town with an interesting history to celebrate getting one year older. Gibtown looks just like any other nondescript small town along the highway except for this bar. Even if I hadn’t read about this place years ago I would have stopped to take photos. I won’t go into a lot of detail here about the history of the place but you can follow the link above or watch this video made by Seth Gadsden.
showtown front showtown1
Showtown ovals showtown side
showtown door
Painted to look like a half-door.
showtown door2
Another fake door. It's hard to find the real entrance.
showtown chef
Gibsonton has been described as a rough place, and maybe it is, but I can say we were welcomed with open arms. Ok maybe not right away but as we struck up conversations with Kim the bartender and Mr. Ozark, third generation owner of Showtown Bar, they became curious about us. Why were we there? Where were we from? Did we know the history of the town? It was fun to see the look on their faces when I told them I’m from Nova Scotia and this guy to my left is a hitchhiker I picked up the day before. Four beer in I hear the DJ announce, “This one goes out to the birthday girl, Angela, who turns 21 today!” 50 Cent, In Da Club (it’s your birthday) comes blaring out of the speakers.

I couldn't have asked for a better birthday on the road. I had a fun and interesting person to celebrate with and I was where I wanted to be. Before the night was over the owner of the bar took this shot of Larry and I. It's the only one I have of the two of us.
showtown drinks
Next, saying goodbye to my new nomadic friend.
To be continued……..

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