Alas Florida!

Helpful hints if you are sitting out the apocalypse in rural Florida.

1. While it’s true that armadillos are not native to The Sunshine State, now that they are here they sure make for tasty eating.

3. Honey is going to be liquid gold. Too bad you didn’t pursue that beekeeping certification at the agriculture college in Gainesville.

2. And gators? Listen, Seminoles were cutting up their tails for steaks long before there was a chicken in every Florida pot.

4. Grow lots of cane and corn. Always a popular sugar-and-spirits combo. (P.S. Just don’t guzzle all your cane/corn liquor. Might need some for medicinal purposes.

5. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, go ahead and cannibalize that now-useless Buick sitting out in the back yard. Turns out it’s got considerable tubing and other components you’re gonna need to build a distillery to produce said spirits.

Speaking of which, I just ran across my all time favorite classified ad ever: Anybody want to swap a luxury Caddy for a couple of bicycle tires and a pump?

I knew that, sooner or later, the world was gonna come around to my point of view!

Alas, it was just a work of classified ad science fiction. Which brings me to the point of all this musing.

The first time I ever read “Alas Babylon,” I was probably 12 or 13 years old. And I was a sci-fi maniac. I ran through books about “the end of the world and the day after” like they were literary junk food.

Anyway, I just finished reading Pat Frank’s post-apocalyptic classic again. Probably for the first time in 25 or 30 years.

And guess what? I love that book today just as much as I did back in my pimply teen years.

Although for entirely different reasons.

When I was a kid, I loved “Alas Babylon” for its blow-up-the-world-and-everybody-for-himself savagery.

This time around I loved it for its treasure trove of, um, Floridiana (is that even a word? I care not).

Frank published “Alas Babylon” in 1959, when I was just 11 years old and living in Hollywood, Fl. On reconsideration, I’m not sure how much Frank really knew about the real-world impacts of nuclear warfare – fortunately, such insight remains speculative to this day.

But as it turns out, he certainly knew his Florida.

Frank’s protagonist, Randy Bragg, had run for the state legislature but lost because his opponent out good-old-boyed him and made Randy out to be a pointy-headed liberal.

Randy lived in Ft. Repose. Which, by all accounts was really Mount Dora.

His Timucuan County is a stand-in for Lake County. But I give Frank props for knowing that Timucuans lived and prospered in Florida long before the Spanish wiped them out.

Ft. Repose’s business district was on Yulee Street (after Florida’s pioneer railroad tycoon). But lesser townsfolks lived out on St. Augustine Street or Pasco Creek Road.

Oh yeah, and the town’s scoundrels and miscreants congregated in Pistolville. Because of course they did.

Here’s my all time favorite quote from “Alas Babylon.” Introducing one of the central characters, Frank wrote:

“Her ancestors included a Spanish soldier whose caravel beached in Matanzas Inlet before the Pilgrims found their rock, and Carib Indian women, and the Minorcans who spread inland from New Smyrna in the eighteenth century.”

Wow! How Florida was that woman?

Anyway, in the book the Rooskies blew up Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami and other Florida metros. That was bad news for almost all of the remaining homosaipans.

But maybe not for other living things.

As Bragg observes, there used to be “plenty of panther in Timucuan County until the first boom brought so many people down. Now there aren’t so many people, so there will be more panther.”

Hey, when you are assessing the apocalypse you gotta take your plus points where you can find them. Right?

Oh, and if you live in South Florida and stressing out over all those iguanas falling out of the trees every time the temperature takes a plunge, just remember that they are relative newcomers when it comes to exotics invading the Sunshine State.

“Some real estate promoter on the East Coast had imported two from Texas for a roadside zoo,” Frank wrote of a much earlier invasive species.

“Knowing nothing of the habits of armadillos, the real estate man had penned them behind chicken wire. When darkness fell, the armadillos instantly burrowed out, and within a few years armadillos were undermining golf greens and dumping over citrus trees from St. Augustine to Palm Beach.”

And talk about your silver lining: “Since the automobile had been all but exterminated by the hydrogen bomb, the armadillo population was certain to multiply. Soon there would be more armadillos than people in Florida.”

Heck, maybe even the land crabs bounced back.

Also, Frank turned out to be oddly prophetic when it came to the predicting the excesses of modern politics.

“There are odd similarities between the end of the Pax Romana and the end of the Pax Americana which inherited Pax Britannica,” Frank mused. “For instance, the prices paid for high office. When it became common to spend a million dollars to elect senators from moderately populous states, I think that should have been a warning to us.”

“For instance, free pap for the masses. Bread and circuses. Roman spectacles and our spectaculars. Largesse from the conquering proconsuls and television giveways from the successful lipstick king.”

“To understand the present you must know the past.”

Listen, far be it from me to compare, oh, I dunno, Gov. Ron DeSanitizer to Nero. Turns out Frank did that for me when I was barely a teenager.

Which brings me to one more point that seems even more relevant today than it may have in 1959.

Gov. Anti-Ron and other Florida politicians are going to great lengths these days to try to, um, sanitize the more negative aspects of Black-white history in this state and elsewhere. They are banning books and making teaching of Critical Race Theory (whatever the hell that is) illegal.

Guess what happened in “Alas Babylon” when surviving Floridians discovered that they had to live off the land or die? They found out that the “laws of hunger and survival…honored no color line.”

I didn’t think of any of this stuff when I was a kid and reading “Alas Babylon” for the first time. I guess I must have grown up.

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