Homosassa Springs

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

I mentioned Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park in a previous post about the towns of Homosassa & Spring Hill Florida, including a photo of its mascot, and roadside attraction, Bubbles the Manatee: Bubbles the Manatee

I stopped specifically to take a picture of the cement manatee, but I was curious and went inside the visitor center. It turned out that the visitor center was just the entrance to a large nature park. From the center, I boarded a boat along with 5 or 6 other folks. The boat captain/park ranger talked about the various birds and plants along the way. It was similar to the Weeki Wachee boat tour, but the vibe was different because it was later in the day — more shadows — made Florida wilderness seem more like a jungle (which it more or less is).

Once on dry land, you’re free to explore the wildlife park, featuring animals native to Florida, and a one that is not (a hippo). Walk the grounds and you’ll find herons, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, flamingos, ibis, pelicans, snook fish, Florida panther, Sherman’s Fox squirrel, vultures, deer, alligators, lizards, snakes, and of course manatees.

A hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and her squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) buddies.

The park is almost entirely devoted to animals native to Florida. I forgot the exact story, but if memory serves, the hippo came with the property when it was turned into a park.

Hippo

Pink Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber):

Pink Flamingos

A Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja):

A different shade of pink than the flamingos.

Spoonbill

 

A manatee (Trichechus manatus) eating lettuce:

The Homosassa area is known for manatees that frequent local streams & springs. The wildlife center had two … my first time seeing these amazing creatures (and possible inspiration for mermaid tales).

Snook Fish viewed from the “Fish Bowl”:

The “Fish Bowl” is unique. It’s a submerged room on the shore of a lake with windows that allow you to observe fish, and presumably manatee & alligators. When I visited, there were hundreds of Snook (Centropomus undecimalis) swimming around the Bowl. It was quite a sight, and unexpected.

Snook Fish

Sherman’s fox squirrel (Sciurus niger shermani):

A very big squirrel. Prefers fire-prone pinelands.

 

Sherman's fox squirrel

Once you’re done exploring the park, you can stop at the gift shop and load up on alligator and manatee souvenirs. From there, you take a trailer pulled by a truck back to the Bubbles the Manatee statue.

Scope Miami 2019

It took me a year to write about Scope Miami 2019. Nothing was preventing me from writing, but since I did nothing cool in 2020 (I think you know why), it feels good to reflect back on the fun I had last year.

The Scope contemporary art show in Miami Beach…

So what’s it like? A huge gallery of galleries on the beach in South Beach, Miami, filled with contemporary art from around the world. Like a museum on the beach. With a bar, and a dancefloor with a DJ. Some of the best art you’ll ever have a chance to see, and buy, and some of the most beautiful people on earth (that’s South Beach in general). Much of the art is similar to what you’ll see in magazines like High Fructose & Juxtapoz. It’s a candy-coated feast for the eyes.

Here’s the entrance, with the color-gradient yard art by Hot Tea:

Scope Entrance

The highlight of the show was by Asbury Park, New Jersey artist Porkchop, presented by  Jenn Hampton of Parlor Gallery:

Sculpture by Porkchop

Colorful money & a mirror ball in the party room. I don’t know the artist, but the gallery representing them was in C15.

Mirror Ball

Don’t sit on the King’s Tongue!

King tongue

Balloon Heads (I don’t remember the artist) on the beach.

Balloon heads

Metal & fur Moth. (I’ll add the artist and gallery when I figure that out). I liked this one quite a bit.

Moth

Teacup motorcycle helmet ladies by Lucio Carvalho were memorable. Gallery link.

Tea Cup Helmit

Laurina Paperina’s cartoon-based art was excellent & hilarious, and her parody of Maurizio Cattelan’s $120,000 duct-taped banana was funny as well:

I don’t have a photo here, but I liked artist Yuka Mitsui’s Japanese-style woodcuts of Eddie from Iron Maiden and Tim Conlon’s graffiti train car models that Roman Fine art had on display.

Here’s the full list of exhibitors and the virtual tour. There were other art fairs happening in Miami at the same time: notably Art Basel & Design Miami (which still happened in 2020 regardless of the pandemic).

Sunrise Miami Beach

South Beach Miami in 6 (or more) Images

December 5-8th, 2019, I visited Miami Beach for the Scope and Art Basel art fairs. I stayed at the El Paseo Hotel (clean, cozy, homey) on Española Way. I got breakfast from a local bakery, dinner from 5 Guys. When not at the art fairs, I enjoyed the beach and exploring the town. I recommend it, but definitely bring someone with you to enjoy it with.

Sunrise, Lummus Park.

Sunrise, palm trees, a big beach with coral & shells to beach comb, swimmable & crystal clear water: what more can you ask for? Miami Nice (yeah, I said it).

Sunrise

A Lifeguard Station

The lifeguard stations are a trademark of South Beach. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they’re all pink.

South Beach - Lifeguard Stand

Española Way

Where my hotel El Paseo is. Lots of restaurants & a gelato shop.

Espanola Way

Mannequins in the Surf Style window

There are a lot of souvenir & bathing suit shops in town.  The mannequins accurately reflect the local visitors of South Beach. Nearly everyone looks like a model — I felt like an ogre next to them (but also, I do not care).

Mannequins

man

Chicken advertising Chicken

Chicken

Ocean Drive Bars, Hotels & Restaurants at night

Each bar, hotel & restaurant in the Art Deco district was illuminated with a different color of light: orange, green, purple, blue, red — like a pack of colored crayons. The hum of celebrating people, dance music, and the roar of supercars filled the air.

Ocean Ave

And of course, there’s the Egg.

Not part of the photo set really, but this was the coffee/library room from the El Paseo hotel circa December 5th, 2019.

El Paseo coffee room

Half-wit

New Jersey Half-Wit

New Jersey Half-Wit — no, I don’t mean New Jersey residents. Not us (I am one) — we’re all geniuses. I mean the Half-wit style muffler man poised/posed/paused in front of the Intergalactic Pizza and Dracula’s Domain paintball range on Monmouth Road in Jackson Township, New Jersey.

Half-wit muffler men remind me of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Numan. Interesting story about the inspiration for Alfred E Numan. Worth noting that Dracula’s Domain has a Dracula muffler man, but he’s only around at Halloween time.

A Half Wit

 

Cabana Bay

Cabana Bay

During a normal year, I spend about 45 days in hotels. Some ancient, some brand new. Some clean, some crusty. Some fancy like a peacock, some plain as white bread. But nothing ever as unique as Cabana Bay in Orlando, Florida.

December 3rd, 2019 I was driving from Fayetteville, NC with the goal of reaching Miami by the 5th. I had time to spare. I crossed the Florida border around 6 pm, with 5 more hours of driving ahead of me, and no hotel booked. So I had the bright idea, “I’m in Florida, let’s go to NASA”. Bad idea. Elon Musk was launching a rocket the next day, so every hotel room in a 30-mile radius of Cape Canaveral was booked up.

Scrolling through some travel apps, it appeared the closest hotels with vacancies were in Orlando. “Okay, I’ve never been to Orlando, let’s check it out.” Searching, scrolling, searching, scrolling, and a listing comes up for a hotel called Cabana Bay, with images — as I remember it — lots of oranges, teals, maybe some yellows, maybe some greens. Colors that shouted “1960s mall decor”, “Eames molded plastic chair”, “tangerine cafeteria tray”. It’s weird. I’m tired. I’m almost desperate to find lodging. I booked one night — just one night.

Then I arrived…

The Entrance of Cabana Bay

I arrived and all the orange, yellow, green & blue neon, palm trees, and the wild 1950-60s architecture captured my mind. Where was I? Vegas? 1959? I parked illegally. Grabbed my bags. Got in a line. And immediately added 2 days to my stay. And a free pen. Got that too.

So what is Cabana Bay? It’s a massive mid-century Americana-themed hotel that’s part of the Universal Studios theme park. Read about it on the architecture firm’s website. Primarily, it’s patronized by families going to Universal Studios to ride the Harry Potter roller coaster. Aside from the hotel rooms, there’s a massive cafeteria (designed to look & feel like a mid-century cafeteria), a bowling alley, a few bars, an arcade, a huge pool area, a gift shop, and a Starbucks (of course). If you see a mid-century looking hotel in a movie, it’s usually Cabana Bay.

I stayed in the Continental wing. Look at that neon. Look at that font. Check out the tangerine-orange, pool-bottom turquoise, appliance green, beefsteak crimson.

the Continental Cabana Bay

A Hanna-Barbera-style cartoon mural at one end of the cafeteria (Christmas tree because it was December):

Cartoon Character Mural at Cabana Bay

A lot of the photos I took were at 1 am or later — that’s why it looks vacant. The cafeteria:

The Cafeteria.

I spend hours taking photos. Check out this lighting fixture:

Light Fixture

Check out these chairs (yeah I sat in them):

Aqua Chairs at Cabana Bay

And the neon sign for the bowling alley. Yeah, I… went to the bar.

Galaxy Bowl at Cabana Bay

Check out this fancy Christmas drink:

A refreshing holiday drink at Cabana Bay

Even the parking deck looked awesome:

Parking Deck

What else? The staff was excellent. The lady in the gift shop who spent 10 minutes to tell me about the history of the place — she was awesome. The main bar and the bartenders were fantastic. The cafeteria food was… cafeteria food — lots of choices, but nothing too fancy. My room was clean — it came with a bar of Zest soap. There are a free shuttle and free admission to Universal City Walk (kinda boring unless you’re a family).  None of the families and their kids were annoying. Just a great, very memorable hotel.

Zest

 

A dinosaur by the bridge near Little Italy in Cleveland

There’s a dinosaur mural near the bridge near Little Italy in Cleveland. Mayfield Ave.

Cleveland Dinosaur Mural in Cleveland

The last time I was in Cleveland, I decided to check out Little Italy. It was hot – almost 90 degrees. 3o minute walk. When I arrived in Little Italy I was a hulking, sweaty mess. I paced Mayfield Ave, trying to decide which restaurant or pizza parlor to pick. I chose the one with a visible bar. The bartender looked at me with wide-eyed panic. I imagined he was thinking I was about to have a heart attack. I ordered a pizza and a large beer in a large glass. We both relaxed. Beer, pizza. I was happy.

Homosassa & Spring Hill Florida

While I was in the Weeki Wachee area for the Mermaids, I decided to stay an extra day and check out other local attractions.

My hotel was kind of crusty, kind of weird. Red/orange carpets. Stucco & a spray-on ceiling to cover stains, leaks, & burns. Cigarette burns on the sink countertop in my room. I shared an elevator ride with a brunette woman in a crimson nightgown, holding a lit cigarette. She said, “God bless you”. I did not sneeze. I don’t remember the hotel room having lights, except in the bathroom. The air conditioner was making a racket. I tried to fix it. The filters were caked with gray-brown filth. I rinsed them off in the shower. The noise persisted, but the room smelled better. I looked out the window. Old gray macadam, Florida vegetation, saw palmetto, anole lizards everywhere. There was a bar & bowling alley across the highway. Why didn’t I go? I’m a fool. Instead, I watched videos on my phone. Watched the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 — the one with music by New Order — and thought “that looks good”. The front desk clerk was sassy, humorous — the kid needs to get out of Florida and move to LA or New York. Be a stand-up comic, find more people like you “sassy front desk man”! Plenty of local magazines featuring gun ranges & stores. Good bedtime reading to remind me where I am.

Some of the local sights:

Bubbles the Manatee. Bubbles the Manatee resides at the entrance of the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, which I recommend you visit. They have actual manatees.

Bubbles the Manatee

The Manatee Tours – Weird Statues as Roadside America calls them. They have a great white shark, mermaids, a Mer-Goofy, a collapsed dragon, a giant mushroom — and mermaid tours.

Manatee Tours Weird Statues

Pepto-Bismol Dinosaur. Big pink dinosaur outside a massage parlor. I did not partake. The dino was decorated for Christmas. Nice pink sunset to compliment the pink dinosaur.

Pink Dinosaur

I stopped at a Checkers fast-food joint. I got a chili hot dog, a fish sandwich, fully loaded fries, and a Mr. Pibb. Enjoyed a sunset over a fan store that shares my name.

Dan's Fan City

What else?

A shack that sold mullet fish and boiled peanuts! Yeah, I wanted some. Yeah, showed up after it closed. I’m not happy about that.

Mullets and Boiled Peanuts

There were these mysterious places like Spinners & Fish Games.

Surf the Web and make friends? Fish games? Go fish?

Spinners Fish Games

I kinda didn’t want to leave.

3 Mermaids

Weeki Wachee Mermaids

Weeki Wachee is a Florida state park located in Spring Hill (formerly Weeki Wachee), Florida. The park offers kayaking, a spring-fed water park, wildlife shows, a riverboat cruise, and — what it is famous for — Mermaids.

I visited the park on December 9th, 2019, during my grand tour of Florida. Weeki Wachee — like the House on the Rock, Graceland & South of the Border — makes the bucket list of most fans of roadside attractions & tourist traps, so I had to check it out. Plus everyone likes mermaids, right?

I had the opportunity to purchase a ticket for the mermaid show and a riverboat cruise. I opted for both. The riverboat cruise takes you and a dozen other tourists down a vegetation-lined, spring-fed stream with a beautiful turquoise stream bed. The stream eventually connects to the sea, allowing manatees to swim into it, but we didn’t see any that day. The boat captain told a story about an island that was inhabited by monkeys. Not sure what happened to the monkeys. Didn’t ask.

The park grounds are decorated with dozens of sculptures of mermaids & nude swimmers. Sorry to disappoint/happy to relieve: the actual mermaids & swimmers in the exhibits and neighboring water park are NOT nude.

Weeki Wachee Park Entrance

Mermaid Gymnastics

The Mermaid Mold-a-Matic molds you a plastic souvenir in a matter of minutes. I got a blue mermaid. Yes, that’s the only choice. There’s also a souvenir shop in the main building.

Mermaid Moldomatic

On to the show!

I entered the Newton Perry Underwater Mermaid Theatre, then descended down a long cement ramp (sort of like descending into a cave) and entered the seating area. If memory serves, the seats were like high-school bench bleachers. The air was humid, but not hot. Everything felt almost moist.

Mermaid Theatre

The entertainment started with a park ranger who gave a talk about the local geology, fauna, and flora. Don’t be shy — ask a question, and the ranger will have an answer. Snakes, birds, lizards, manatees, what type of stone the grounds are made of — the ranger knows.

Once the ranger left, the Mermaid show began. The “ring leader” announced the start of the show, the curtain rose, and I COULD NOT BELIEVE WHAT I SAW. Yes, three beautiful mermaids & their ring leader/announcer, but also the amazing sight of a huge, bubbling blue natural spring… held back my three thick glass windows. EYE-POPPINGLY AMAZING! If memory serves, the mermaids & the ring leader performed about a dozen “dances” & skits — all underwater, with the help of air hoses, and a lot of athletic talent (you try swimming underwater for 45 minutes).

It’s definitely worth seeing the show if you’re in the area, especially if you’re a mermaid or mermaid enthusiast.

The ring leader fights off the alga monster (alga is a problem with the local springs):

Algae Monster Attacks

The ring leader and mermaid breathe oxygen through hoses:

Mermaid Performers

Since I visited in 2019, a lot has happened. The park was closed due to the 2020 pandemic, the town of Weeki Wachee was dissolved by the state, but the area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Egg aka the Betsy Orb

“The Egg” aka the Betsy Orb is a sculpture of an ovoid egglike entity wedged between two buildings on Ocean Court in South Miami Beach, close to the intersection of Ocean & 14th Place. It’s named for the Betsy Hotel that it is wedged against.

Update: the Orb is actually a walkway between the buildings!

Miami egg

I last saw the Egg on December 7th, 2019. I was impressed, but somehow expected more.

Wynwood Graffiti Mural

Wynwood Miami Art Murals

Wynwood Walls is an outdoor museum located in the Wynwood section of Miami, Florida. It was created by Tony Goldman to transform and revitalize a once bleak warehouse district. The museum features a courtyard surrounded by buildings covered in colorful pop-art murals and an indoor museum/gift shop. The museum itself is impressive, but the neighborhood is mind-blowing.

The art seems to have spilled over the museum walls and flooded the entire neighborhood, as every building, street sign, and even giant industrial hopper/feeder silos have been covered with art.

I visited Wynwood Walls and the Wynwood neighborhood on December 8th, 2019, after spending 3 days in South Miami for the Scope and Art Basel art fairs. You might think I would be tired of art, but Scope & Basel only primed me for the Wynwood experience.

Exploring the Wynwood neighborhood was like being lost in an amazing city-sized maze museum. Every street I wandered down, every inch of the town was coated with eye-popping, technicolor art. It was an Alice in Wonderland-like experience.

If you’re in Miami for a few days, give yourself 2 or 3 hours and check it out. Bring a camera. Get some lunch. The tip I got was to get there early before the tourist buses start dropping people off — so I’ll pass that tip along to you.

Here’s a small sample of the murals you’ll find in the neighborhood:

Wynwood Graffiti Mural

Wynwood Graffiti Mural

Wynwood Graffiti Mural

Wynwood Graffiti Mural

Scrooge McDuck:

Wynwood Graffiti Mural

Not art, per se, but half a pink cow:

Wynwood Graffiti Mural

A red rocket hiding in a private parking lot:

Wynwood Rocket