LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info
LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info
LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info

LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA

For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.

Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”

And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.

But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.

Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”

"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.

It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.

* * *

Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE

SUGARLAND

A guide to Harlem, Florida, using Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939) as your map. 

You see the sign — Harlemand turn off the Sugarland Highway just past Clewiston. Unless you lived in it, you wouldn’t know Harlem, Florida. You drive up and are introduced by a white church outlined in yellow abutting a graveyard. So many of the structures are white: from the blindingly-so church to the faded, off-white houses up and down the streets. In the cemetery, white cattle egrets strut among the headstones, skittering off when you get too close. 

Your WPA Florida guidebook says Harlem was a settlement established by the transient blacks that worked in the U.S. Sugar Corporation fields. And, in the square-mile wide Harlem skyline, the U.S. Sugar plant is still there. It is the Harlem skyline. You get the feeling it always will be.

Today, the town remains almost all black, half live below the poverty line, and half still work in agriculture.

Florida-born Zora Neale Hurston, in her 1937 book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is quoted by your guide; describing the scene of itinerant pickers in and around Lake Okeechobee, not far from Harlem:

Day by day now, the hordes of workers poured in. Some came limping in with their shoes and sore feet from walking. It’s hard trying to follow your shoe instead of your shoe following you. They came in wagons from way up in Georgia and they came in truck loads from east, west, north and south. Permanent transients with no attachments and tired looking men with their families and dogs in flivvers. All night, all day, hurrying in to pick beans. Skillets, beds, patched up spare inner tubes all hanging and dangling from the ancient cars on the outside and hopeful humanity, herded and hovered on the inside, chugging on to the muck. People ugly from ignorance and broken from being poor.

In Harlem, take out the black glossy SUVs and beat-up pick-ups, imagine half the number of headstones in the church graveyard: sometimes years gone by can still leave things in stasis, just more of the same and the same.

Words - Tom McNamara; Images - Tom McNamara & Erin Chapman

* * *

Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman are co-editors of The American Guide.

Everglades Gatorland
Tracing an arterial route through the heart of Florida, US 27 begins in Miami’s Little Havana and ends in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The highway was a main drag of Florida tourism from the ‘40s to the ‘60s, but as the interstate system grew to connect the Gulf to the Atlantic and the Mouse to Miami, the distended polygon encompassing Lake Okeechobee and the northern Everglades increasingly became a locals-only landmass. Big Sugar thrived regardless, but the mom and pop tourist stands of old were not so fortunate.
On US 27, just south of the tiny town of South Bay, sit the crumbling ruins of Everglades Gatorland. J.C. Bowen—the former proprietor and ex-mayor of South Bay—started the joint as a gas station with his wife, Mary Lou. They moved into the live reptile sideline because snowbirds stopping to top off their tanks would often ask where they could catch a glimpse of a real Florida alligator. The menagerie eventually expanded beyond alligators to include deer, ocelots and a vulture, among other animals. Bowen also acquired a few rattlesnakes, despite the fact that they were not native to the swampy land of the ‘glades. In Bowen’s words: “The rattlesnake is a very nervous animal, and the muck soil vibrates for miles around if a tractor drives over a field. The vibrations are too much for him.”
With the tourist trade already on the wane, Everglades Gatorland lost a few of its alligators in 1965. The animals were shot with a .22 and carried off while the night watchman was off duty, likely by poachers eager to cash in on increasingly high prices for increasingly rare alligator leather. The American Alligator was declared an endangered species just two years later in 1967.
That same year, Florida enacted regulations mandating pen size, sanitation and animal care that put many of the state’s roadside zoos out of business. The Bowens’ establishment managed to hang on into the early ‘90s, but by then all the gators were gone. The only inhabitants left were a few peacocks and the Bowens–then in their 70s–still selling souvenirs to the rare tourist who wandered astray from the beaten paths of coastal asphalt.
Ten years later, the building sinks into a glorious ruin. The faded and peeling promise of “Live Alligators” may, in fact, still ring true if you wander far enough back on the property. Your Guide encourages you to visit, but takes no responsibility for your safety.
* * *
Erin Chapman is the co-founder/editor of The American Guide.
Zoom Info

Everglades Gatorland

Tracing an arterial route through the heart of Florida, US 27 begins in Miami’s Little Havana and ends in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The highway was a main drag of Florida tourism from the ‘40s to the ‘60s, but as the interstate system grew to connect the Gulf to the Atlantic and the Mouse to Miami, the distended polygon encompassing Lake Okeechobee and the northern Everglades increasingly became a locals-only landmass. Big Sugar thrived regardless, but the mom and pop tourist stands of old were not so fortunate.

On US 27, just south of the tiny town of South Bay, sit the crumbling ruins of Everglades Gatorland. J.C. Bowen—the former proprietor and ex-mayor of South Bay—started the joint as a gas station with his wife, Mary Lou. They moved into the live reptile sideline because snowbirds stopping to top off their tanks would often ask where they could catch a glimpse of a real Florida alligator. The menagerie eventually expanded beyond alligators to include deer, ocelots and a vulture, among other animals. Bowen also acquired a few rattlesnakes, despite the fact that they were not native to the swampy land of the ‘glades. In Bowen’s words: “The rattlesnake is a very nervous animal, and the muck soil vibrates for miles around if a tractor drives over a field. The vibrations are too much for him.”

With the tourist trade already on the wane, Everglades Gatorland lost a few of its alligators in 1965. The animals were shot with a .22 and carried off while the night watchman was off duty, likely by poachers eager to cash in on increasingly high prices for increasingly rare alligator leather. The American Alligator was declared an endangered species just two years later in 1967.

That same year, Florida enacted regulations mandating pen size, sanitation and animal care that put many of the state’s roadside zoos out of business. The Bowens’ establishment managed to hang on into the early ‘90s, but by then all the gators were gone. The only inhabitants left were a few peacocks and the Bowens–then in their 70s–still selling souvenirs to the rare tourist who wandered astray from the beaten paths of coastal asphalt.

Ten years later, the building sinks into a glorious ruin. The faded and peeling promise of “Live Alligators” may, in fact, still ring true if you wander far enough back on the property. Your Guide encourages you to visit, but takes no responsibility for your safety.

* * *

Erin Chapman is the co-founder/editor of The American Guide.

HARLEM, FLORIDA

A guide to Harlem, Florida, using Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939) as your map. 

You see the sign — Harlemand turn off the Sugarland Highway just past Clewiston. Unless you lived in it, you wouldn’t know Harlem, Florida. You drive up and are introduced by a white church outlined in yellow abutting a graveyard. So many of the structures are white: from the blindingly-so church to the faded, off-white houses up and down the streets. In the cemetery, white cattle egrets strut among the headstones, skittering off when you get too close. 

Your WPA Florida guidebook says Harlem was a settlement established by the transient blacks that worked in the U.S. Sugar Corporation fields. And, in the square-mile wide Harlem skyline, the U.S. Sugar plant is still there. It is the Harlem skyline. You get the feeling it always will be.

Today, the town remains almost all black, half live below the poverty line, and half still work in agriculture.

Florida-born Zora Neale Hurston, in her 1937 book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is quoted by your guide; describing the scene of itinerant pickers in and around Lake Okeechobee, not far from Harlem:

“Day by day now, the hordes of workers poured in. Some came limping in with their shoes and sore feet from walking. It’s hard trying to follow your shoe instead of your shoe following you. They came in wagons from way up in Georgia and they came in truck loads from east, west, north and south. Permanent transients with no attachments and tired looking men with their families and dogs in flivvers. All night, all day, hurrying in to pick beans. Skillets, beds, patched up spare inner tubes all hanging and dangling from the ancient cars on the outside and hopeful humanity, herded and hovered on the inside, chugging on to the muck. People ugly from ignorance and broken from being poor.”

In Harlem, take out the black glossy SUVs and beat-up pick-ups, imagine half the number of headstones in the church graveyard: sometimes years gone by can still leave things in stasis, just more of the same and the same.

* * *

Tom McNamara is the co-founder/editor of The American Guide.

Lawless: Loving It And Not In South Florida

For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.

Our guide—the WPA Guide to Florida, published in the 1930s—says it in plain words: ‘Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.

And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.

But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.

Just ask our guide: ‘Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick’—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—’Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.’

'Seekers of gold or of sunshine'—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital ‘F’—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.

It’s all the ‘seekers of gold or of sunshine’ where that lawless feeling comes from.