Friday, January 22, 2010

From The Past To The Plastic Present

Well, all I can say this morning is thank all the powers that be that dog vomit doesn't smell like human vomit or I'd be dead. I mean really- holy mother of God- what did that dog eat?

So okay, I have that to say and also that Cypress Gardens is about to become Legoland.

Legoland? Really? I can't even begin to process this information.

Cypress Gardens as I knew it has been gone a long time and that alone makes me sad. Begun in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope who planted the gardens themselves on a beautiful lake in Winter Haven, Florida, it was for many years one of the biggest tourist destinations in the state. Back in the simpler times I grew up, it was a fine place for a school to take a field trip, for a family to visit. I remember going there sometime in the early sixties before I lived in Winter Haven. We piled onto the school bus and Aunt Flonnie, our lunch room lady AND our bus driver drove us from Sebastian, Florida, to Winter Haven, our little grade-school bodies trembling with excitement and anticipation, our brown-bag lunches in our hands. We had been on two other field trips in our elementary school career- one to McKee Jungle Gardens which was pretty damn exciting and one to a local dairy where they gave us chocolate milk and led us out to the fields to see the cows. Even that was exciting to a bunch of kids, most of whom were dirt poor and never went anywhere but to school and the local corner store.

So...Cypress Gardens! That was just unimaginable. And it did not disappoint. The gardens were beautiful. Even a fifth-grader could recognize that.

But the water ski show! Women and men doing amazing things on two skies, on one ski! on NO SKIES! Jumping and twisting and turning and flying through the air! Oh my.

And the Southern Belles in their beautiful dresses posing under trees in front of banks of azaleas,

but I have to admit that the thing that stuck with me the longest was the gift shop.

Yes, the gift shop.

Shopping where I grew up was limited to the grocery store in nearby Sebastian and the little store in Roseland where Ralph and Joy Holtzclaw lived behind the store and when you came in with your six cents to buy a popsickle, Joy would come out from the mysterious world where she and Ralph lived and cut it in half for you and your best friend with the same knife she used to cut bologna with. For real shopping you had to go fifteen miles down the road to Vero where you could buy clothes and go to the A&P or the McClure Drugstore where you could also sit down and order a BLT and a coke. And that was it, babies.

So the gift shop at Cypress Gardens was a thing of wonder indeed. I don't even remember what they sold. Cream orange blossom perfume, I am sure because I bought some and wore a tiny bit every Sunday to church.

I actually lived in Winter Haven from the sixth grade through high school and C-Gardens, as we called it, was still very much a big part of the community. I knew people who worked there, we visited it occasionally, it was the backdrop for many of the group pictures in my high school album, but when Walt Disney came on the TV and told the world he was building a new Disney Land, right there in Orlando, the simple world as we knew it began to slowly die. And of course, eventually, the Mouse did eat Florida and that was that. The Snake-A-Toriums, the Parrot Jungles, the Monkey Jungles, the Alligator Farms, Weeki Watchee, Silver Springs- all of those beautiful old places faded as all the old tourist roads were abandoned for the one Big Highway that led directly to Walt Disney World with its monorails, it's huge hotels, its A-Ticket rides and its Cinderella's castle. Cinderella? I don't know. One of those damn princesses.

And Cypress Gardens lost its luster. The Southern Belles dresses grew more tattered. The water ski show looked silly and dated. And who wanted to see a real garden with plants and trees from all over the world when they could go to Disney World where the boxwoods had been tortured into Plutos and Goofies and there was an entire giant plastic tree with the Robinson's Tree House in it? Who wanted to hear the corny ballpark organ playing behind the ski show when Disney put on a real parade with a marching band and fireworks every night?

Who needed a junky gift shop when Disney offered a shopping opportunity on every corner of Downtown USA in the Magic Kingdom?

They tried to keep it open, Cypress Gardens. But there were no more Van Johnsons and Esther Williams to come and film movies there. The Magic Kingdom ripped all the enchantment of the Old Florida right off and sucked it into itself and left the old tourist destinations which had enchanted and delighted kids and their parents for decades looking decidedly dowdy. Real parrots shit and real monkeys do too, but there is no shit on the streets of Disney World. There is no litter at all. And who needs to see a genuine Seminole Indian fighting a genuine Florida Alligator

when you could get on a boat and ride around the fake and plastic jungles of Disney's Jungle Cruise where fake, plastic crocodile animatronics threatened you from the bank of the fake river

or when you could stand in line for hours to get on a little boat that took you through a Small World and where you could be reminded that yes, it's a small world after all, and here it all is, right here in the maddening world of constantly singing puppet dolls, dressed to represent all the peoples of the world?

Yeah. It's a small fucking world and you can see it all in one day at one location. Past and present, future and foreign. Pay your admission to Disney and you don't have to worry that you've missed a fucking thing.

Ah yah. So now Cypress Gardens is going to be Legoland and I can't even imagine how that's going to work. I guess it's going to look something like this:

I have nothing against Legos. I really don't. I think they're swell. But what in god's name do they have to do with Florida?

Well. I'm stuck in the old Florida, let's face it. I grieve for its passing. I live in in a house which has stood witness to that passing and yet remains.

And I suppose that right now there are children everywhere who cannot wait to go visit Legoland. I'm sure the gift shop will be mind-blowing.
But there will be no cream orange blossom perfume to be found. Not one tiny orange tube of it. I don't know if there will still be gardens and I seriously doubt there will be death-defying water skiers but there sure will be plastic.

And that's what the world wants now. Plastic and plenty of it and that's what we're going to get. I'm just glad I won't be around when that's ALL there is. When the planet is buried in plastic. Plastic trees, plastic jungles, plastic crocodiles, plastic titties, plastic houses, plastic flowers.

Well. Welcome, Legoland. God knows Winter Haven needs the jobs and tourist business you will bring. We move on, we move on.
And some of us are stuck in the past. Me being one of them.

Little girls will go to Legoland and beg their parents to buy them amazing Legos to build their dream worlds and that's not so bad. But I remember when little girls went to Cypress Gardens and wanted to become this:

Or this:

Or went to Weeki Watchee and wanted to grow up to be a mermaid.

Magic? Enchantment?
Yeah. There used to be some here.
There still is. You just have to know where to find it.

And right now I need to go take a walk in the woods of Lloyd while the woods are still here. And maybe I'll pick up some of the damn plastic on the side of the road on my way home.

I do what I can. It ain't much but it's what I can do.

Happy Friday, y'all.

Love....Ms. Moon


  1. We should all do what we can. Change starts small and it begins with one person.

  2. I absolutely loved this post and I am nodding in agreement. One could just cry alligator tears over the loss of the old Florida.
    We have never taken our kids to DisneyWorld or SeaWorld. I am glad to have been a visitor of the old Marineworld—at least it is on the coast and not inland!
    We are sort of biased when we ask our kids, “Do you want to stand in line in the heat for hours with thousands of people, or do you want to go to a quiet beach where you have the whole place to yourself the whole day long”. And I swear for less money than a Disney vacation we have taken them to small islands near Florida where you can literally swim with “pet” nurse sharks and island pigs that swim out to greet you.
    I have to think that a whole lot of people would agree with what you have written, but sadly many do not know how to find the off the beaten path experience (which is indeed harder to find these days and in many places gone forever).
    P.S. Loved the pictures.

  3. That makes me so sad..... one of my best vacations was with my dad and brother visiting Cypress Gardens.....Wonderfully written article Ms. Moon!

  4. Where I grew up in Jax Beach, our field trips were always to St. Augustine and Marineland and I remember coming home with a little high heeled shoe with tiny seashells glued all over it and I was so proud of my little shoe I bought with my own money. I remember Cypress Gardens and Silver Springs too. My grandson will probably be really excited about Legoland though. Thanks for posting the old pictures. I really enjoyed them!

  5. IUt doesn't just make me sad, it pisses me off. Just sayin.'

  6. This is a real "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" post and I'm behind you 100%. Those quirky old roadside attractions are an integral part of the American countryside. Thanks for this touching memoir of the part they played in your childhood.

    It seems, a few of the old attractions are still around, in FLA and elsewhere. god bless the internet and google, here's a site dedicated to roadside attractions

    Hope you had a good walk. x0 N2

  7. Never in MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE did I want to go to Disney Land. No way, Jose. I want to see the damn mermaid! As Johnny Mercer would say, we're old fashioned, Mary.

    I don't want to see anybody's plastic damn titties either.

    Love you. Have a great weekend.

  8. What a wonderful homage -- and my condolences for your loss! I have to admit that my boys adore the Legoland that we have here in southern California, but they haven't inherited my distaste for amusement parks. I love the pictures you posted -- they reminded me of a trip my family took more than thirty years ago. We did a Western Tour and one of the main things I remember is Bedrock City, a Flintstones park in the middle of the desert somewhere in Arizona. I think, probably, our memories as children are what you are trying to preserve and that Legoland and Disneyland, etc. will be equally as potent for our children when they become adults (and bemoan riding rockets to other planets for amusement or something...)

  9. This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday -

  10. I have never been to Florida. Isn't that crazy? Maybe before I'm forty...

    When I go, I hope I can find a beautiful lady wearing shiny lipstick and perfect hair, water-skiing. How wonderful that would be.

  11. My daughter who is four has never been to Weekie Watchie (however it's spelled) or even know it's possible to actually transform herself into a mermaid, but every single time she's asked what she wants to be when she grows up she says she wants to be a Mermaid and is 100% serious. I hope Weekie Watchie is around when she's an adult because I know she'll want to do that

  12. Oh I loved Cyprus Gardens. I wanted time to change and me to be wearing the hoops and parasol, wandering the gardens, watching the water show.... oh and the orange blossom perfume dabbed once a week to make the tiny, enchanting bottle last longer...
    I miss the old Florida too, Gatorland was another favorite, one I relived with my kids - I could ride around there all day in that little tram train thing.
    I do understand the kiddies fascination with legos, but it's sad to see the franschising of entertainment. There are parts of Florida that need to be preserved, though - amazing, fragile ecosystems, but we're choking them out with concrete. It is so nice to imagine you caretaking your piece of her, picking up the trash along the road, giving a damn and noticing what's around you.
    Happy Friday to you, Ms. Moon

  13. Sad, alright. The mermaid is magic. But those waterskiers remind me of THAT scene in JAWS...2? Whichever one it was.

  14. You'd think they could make the crocodiles look a little more realistic.

  15. Me and the kids just speant a whole rainy day building with legos. But Legoland out here was a let down.

    I have a different perspective on The Mouse, coming from SoCal. It's been here longer, and more a part of the history of California than a detriment to it. And here it's not so big, and they didn't destroy thousands of acres of wetlands to build it, and completely change the face of the state. So I get your animosity. I do.

    But Disneyland is fun for me and my kids. And the Jungle Cruise is one of my favorite parts. It's the announcers that make it. Sometimes dry, sometimes cheesey, it's all about the dialogue.

  16. One of those damn princesses... heheh!

    Yea, I remember Flamingo Groves where you could buy fresh non processed JUICY, NORMAL freaking citrus and see flamingos and climb trees and get a burger and soda at the counter with the swivel chairs... and yea, that gift shop rocked the tacky house pretty hard too!
    I'm with you on this one Miss Moon.


  17. Oh yea, and don't forget the peacocks and the gators! Woo! Good times.

  18. What an awesome story. I get so nostalgic, too (but not for that dog vomit).

  19. Long live the lazy, leathery gators at the Alligator Farm, and the sad, ancient fountain at the Fountain of Youth, and other Florida landmarks of yore. Beautiful post. We DO have a Cypress Gardens here just north of Charleston, with gators and a magical butterfly barn where it's always springtime and a black cypress lagoon which lacks synchronized water skiiers but has a mermaid or two, for those who have eyes to see.

  20. I feel this way about Marine World. It used to be all animals with animal shows and animal rides...

    Now it's a death-defying 6 Flags Theme Park with no more camel rides and a sucky butterfly house. Do they even KNOW how to keep butterflies??

    Beautiful/sad post, Ms. Moon- and I WANT that off-the-shoulder floral dress!

  21. Angie- Yep.

    Michele- You are a smart parent. Yes, that's what Florida should be about. And some of the old places ARE still around and the internet is a great way to find them.

    Lisa- Wasn't it a beautiful place?

    Kori- A lot of people here in Florida ares still angry at the way Disney bought up land for so cheap to build what so many think was not really great for the state.

    N2- Thanks for that link! And yes, I had a lovely walk.

    Ms. Bastard- When you come visit, we'll see some Florida. Oh yeah. We sure will.

    Elizabeth- You reminded me of when I was a child and we visited a place here in Florida called Six Gun Territory. There were gun fights in the streets and saloons and the bad guys fell off buildings after they were shot. It was awesome!

    Schmutzie- Why, thank-you, darling!

    Nancy- Write me before you come. I will tell you how to find mermaids, at least.

    Rebecca- I think the state has bought Weeki Watchee so for now it is safe. If you go to Amazon and search in books for Weeki Watchee, you will find a beautiful book about the park and its history with many, many pictures. Your daughter might love that and OH! how I wish for her that she can go and see those mermaids for herself.

    Mel- Yes. We are paving over the magic. There is a Gator Land still in St. Augustine and it's pretty awesome.

    Jo- Waterskiers, in real life, are rarely threatened by sharks.

    Mwa- No kidding.

    Steph- Well, my kids loved Disney World, too. Let's face it- for children, it's awesome. But Lord, it's hot at Disney World in the summer. God's revenge?

    Ms. Fleur- We were lucky. And satisfied with far less plastic glory than kids today.

    Pretty Things- I'm still thinking about that damn dog puke. It was a force of nature.

    Stephanie- Is it related to Florida's Cypress Gardens?

    Just Kate- That's what they have to do to get the people there. Sucks.

  22. There was a place in Houston when I was a kid called Aquamarina Springs (or Aquarina? not sure) that had mermaids like that, and glass-bottom boats, and trees and woods and animals and fish. I clearly remember watching the mermaids swim and wanting to be them. I don't think that place lasted even till the end of the 80's. Houston's Six Flags park closed down a few years ago, which was very sad for everyone who had spent their childhood summers riding the rides from the 60's on. My dad told me they're building a new theme park pretty much right in his front yard (even though he lives in what USED to be the country), and it's going to have a dinosaur/jurassic park type theme. Yikes!

    Wow, that was a long ass comment. Oh well!

  23. Haven't done Disney, but Universal was okay. We visited the Keys, Miami, South Beach is oddly cool, and St.Petersburg, where the Blue Jays spring train in Dunedin, there is a great Osprey preserve there, and the kids have been to the Ft. Lauderale are for soccer, and I've stay at the Don Cesar on a work trip. I love Florida. I hate plastic.


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