Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Appointment With Mermaids

On the road again...heading south on Highway 19 to meet with some fish of the inedible kind.
The open bits of US Highway 19 are better than a freeway, because lacking the Interstate designation they are less traveled and thus much more relaxing, even if the views are hemmed in by trees and an absence of altitude. The bits in between the open stretches are fairly ghastly, classic absence of zoning and absence of architecture agglomerations of stores:Here as elsewhere the notion that "slower traffic keep right" goes by the board and vehicles cluster in little clumps traveling at three miles per hour below the legal limit in both lanes, which is tedious in a state that only allows for written warnings for speed violations five miles per hour above the limit. I like driving, not as much as I like riding, but I like to pay attention to the road and to be surrounded by people fiddling with their GPS units, or text messaging or fumbling with sandwiches while they try to control their two ton machines freaks me out. I'd rather speed and find myself a quiet piece of roadway between herds of heffalumps not paying attention to their driving. With all that highway commotion arriving in Weeki Wachee was a pleasant change.

My wife has seen several films, Full Grown Men being the most recent, featuring the bizarre attraction and she wanted to see the mermaids in person. The last show was at three, according to her iPhone so we were driving to get there and we failed in our mission. It's true the park was closing as we arrived. We flashed our State Parks pass which normally would get us a 33% reduction on the $13 admission fee but because there was essentially nothing to see they let us in for free to wander around (and spend money at the gift store). For those men who weren't breast fed in infancy and thus have a breast obsession in old age, there are topless women everywhere in Weeki Wachee State Park. Yes indeed, the Sunshine State took the park over in 2008 and it is no longer a private attraction. It operates quite nicely under government auspices too, and you get free parking courtesy of the Great State of Florida.

The origins of the mermaid myths are lost in time, but those historians of a practical bent suggest that sex-starved sailors saw manatees (in the Far East they are called, alluringly, dugongs) and mistook them for mermaids. Which has prompted the rather tart remark that for a man to confuse a manatee for an attractive woman-fish suggests the sailors must have been desperate. But who are we to judge.The mermaid theater was closed but we could hear the rather peculiar strains of music emanating, and they sounded like a 1950's soundtrack played on a Theremin. Clearly we will have to return to see the show and my wife has decided we will have to see the 1:30pm Underwater Spectacular, whatever that is.With an empty park before us we had time to goof around and stretch our legs. I found the photograph above to be rather disturbing and include it for reasons I cannot recall. August in Central Florida is water park time:
I suppose the advantage of a water park is that the water is supposed to be sterile and there aren't any animals in it for the comfort of the faint hearted, but I cannot but feel that a state with so much extraordinary coastline isn't well served by these artificial watering holes, even one called Buccaneer Bay which suggests bloodletting on a grand scale.
Weeki Wachee was a post World War Two invention of a former Navy diver who used the aqualung techniques developed during the war to stage a spectacular underwater show using the new breathing techniques. Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus was a French invention known by the rather more romantic appellation of aqualung rather than the modern acronym of SCUBA, and I expect that seeing beautiful young women swimming around like fish must have looked miraculous, and I dare say it was a pleasant relief from using aqualungs to blow up things. Nowadays the trick is known and the spectacle continues. The park itself is as cheerful and corny as the mermaid notion itself. Perhaps I am too suggestible but I find the empty black hole where Neptune's face should be, rather creepy:
Mermaids generate trash by the bagful apparently on a more down to earth note:
They also generate weddings by the bagful apparently. I thought this was a mermaid cage for air transport but my wife poked me and told me not to be silly, it's for brides to pose in:And some people just like to be photographed at Weeki Wachee. I'll bet there are bags full of pictures all over the country of people posing.
Then there is the main photographic event, meet the Mermaids: I daresay you could meet a mermaid-like young woman, lithe, blonde and with a vacant smile at any number of almost bankrupt shopping malls but here they are on display with tails for feet much to the delight of parents and their offspring: It almost restores your faith in human nature that people with 500 channels of cable TV can enjoy the simplicity of a world dreamed up in 1947 and keep it alive and well and full of fun. Of course you can take the mermaid theme too far in my opinion. A sign like this brings up all sorts of physiological questions in the mind of a curmudgeon like me. I wonder how parents reply to the questionings of eager young minds:But the gift shop alas isn't the place to find a reply to the burning question of how do mermaids pee, because this is the land of dust catchers and good cheer. My wife went shopping and I went outside to see how the mermaid photography was progressing:
An altogether entrancing State Park, not to be missed by anyone traveling US Highway 19 north of Tampa/St Pete:
A journey back in time.