I've written quite a few, on a variety of topics, and enjoyed every one. I've eaten way too much key lime pie for one, stayed at the finest hotels on South Beach for another, and been overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality of people everywhere I've gone.
These are a few of my favorites.
(Reporter involvement. I'm not usually a huge fan, but a fun story is a fun story. And this one, most definitey, fit that bill.)
I’m tired. I’m sore. I’m gassy.
That, I’m told, is expected.
For three days, I have been stretched, scanned, pushed, and pampered. I’ve been stripped of salt, sugar, and most red meat. And I’ve eaten enough fruits and vegetables to make me a methane machine, which, according to staffers at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Doral, Florida, is commonplace.
Call it a side effect of the Pritikin Program.
(This one's special not just because it was fun, and not just because I got to see Austin for the first time, but because it set a Super Lawyers record: Not just one, but two "sons of bitches" in the same piece.
Of course, when they say it in Texas it can be a term of endearment and respect, because they know a smart son of a bitch when they see one.)
Shannon Ratliff says he left the small Texas town where his dad ran a mercantile store so that he wouldn't "always be known as Tom's boy."
Now he might be known as the only person from Sonora to have said "no" to a job at the White House.
Ratliff was an aide to Lyndon Johnson during the turbulent years when the U.S. senator rose to vice president, then president. Today, he is a Democratic powerhouse in a deeply conservative state, a key player in billion-dollar oil and gas disputes whose clients include ExxonMobil Corp., and one of the most succesful business litigators ever to argue before the Texas high court.
"At one point he was 10 for 10 before the Supreme Court," says Ratliff's former law partner and longtime friend Jack Balagia, ExxonMobil's vice president and general counsel. "There's nobody better than him, as far as I'm concerned."
(I'd been looking for an excuse to write about this fascinating place for nearly a decade. I finally got it, thanks to Preservation.)
When you first see it shimmering on the horizon, Fort Jefferson seems like a fairy-tale castle floating majestically on the aquamarine sea—a secluded home for Neptune's throne.
Drawing closer, you discover what's truly there: a squat, six-sided, imposing fortification surrounded by a moat. It hunkers at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, as menacing as a blocking guard, perpetually poised against anything foolhardy enough to present a challenge. The fort's massive walls stand eight feet thick and 45 feet high. They're about a half-mile around, made of more than 16 million bricks, composing the largest brick stronghold in the Western Hemisphere.
(Some of the most amazing horses, and most wonderful people, I've ever met.)
In the lush, green hills of Brooksville, Florida, the rumble of rolling thunder causes folks to cock an ear. It could mean rain is coming. Or it could be the proud Paso Finos of El Juncal ranch – heads high and necks arched like perfectly carved chess pieces, their hooves pounding out a unique, distinctive cadence like the chugging of an onrushing train.
(It's nice to get a chance to write about my home town for a national audience.)
Even the sign on the door lets you know life here marches to the beat of a different conga. “We open at 10 a.m. (Cuban Time!),” it announces – meaning it might really be 10:30 or 10:45.
The store is called Little Havana To Go. Inside, the rich, sweet aroma of Cuban coffee hangs thick in the air. It wafts over the shelves crowded with meticulously pleated guayabera (ghwy-ah-BARE-ah) shirts and mementos of bygone Cuba.
This is Little Havana, where the past and present converge and Spanish dominates. More often than not, you’ll feel welcome even if you don’t speak Español. Still, a sprinkling of the language couldn’t hurt.
(This one won a national travel writing award. That was the gravy. It was worth it just for the fun of planning and making the trip with the family.)
On the sugary sands of St. Augustine Beach, my wife and I look toward Spain. Surfers ply the blue waters where the galleons of conquistadors once sailed. They came chasing myths, of cities of gold and a fountain of youth. Arriving more than 100 years before the Pilgrims, they gave Florida its name—the place of flowers. Then they stepped ashore and discovered it was also a place thick with thorns, mosquitoes, and man-eating alligators.
Now, 500 years later, we are retracing the steps of those warrior-explorers and the settlers who followed, crossing central Florida in the shadow of Mickey Mouse.
(I wrote this one under a pseudonym, but I like it just the same.)
Life is good among the dead. Just ask the red-haired man. He's happy standing next to the body on the beach with the jagged gash in its neck.
Why shouldn't he be? He was dead himself, or almost, not too long ago. Anyone who gave him any thought at all would have figured it that way.
But now, standing in the blistering sun, his pale skin whiter than sand, eyes bluer than the ocean, he's cool ...
(The great thing about doing these SYWTLIs, as they call them at the magazine, is discovering places I never knew existed. And you'd be surprised at how much reporting they take. Usually, the file is about two inches thick when I start writing.)
When she saw two shirtless, shoeless boys gliding over a dirt trail on bikes with their arms outstretched like wings, Lisa Benton knew she had found a home on Pine Island, Florida: "I said, 'This is Mayberry.'"
In truth, it's four Mayberries. Located northwest of Fort Myers and connected to the mainland by a causeway, the island includes the communities of Matlacha, St. James City, Bokeelia, and Pineland. It's a place with no traffic lights, where you can visit your neighbors by boat. Although the island has few beaches, several exist on nearby uninhabited islands. Residents love the neighborliness, nature trails, and renowned fishing. Relaxing, they say, can keep you busy here.
Copyright 2010 Carlos Harrison. All rights reserved.