A man wearing only one flip flop, sits slumped over on a bench resting the side of his head on a oak tree about 20 feet from the main stage. He is wearing a black shirt with a red confederate flag on the front that says, “You’ve got your X, we’ve got ours.”
There are other men in only slightly better condition standing behind him drinking Budweiser from cans and smoking pot from a one-hitter that slides into a belt buckle. Behind them, a normal looking mom and dad with three young sons eat fried foods on extra-large toothpicks.
The weather is beautiful. It’s about 80 degrees, sunny with no clouds and very little humidity. The kind of weather that keeps the tourists around until the snow melts in their northern hometowns. The kind of weather that keeps the tourists clogging my streets while I try not to succumb to massive road rage.
“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me,” is the Lynyrd Skynrd song being played by the band. About 25 to 30 people attempt to dance to the country anthem, but really just sway back and forth spilling beer on their feet without a care. A rough, biker looking couple wades through the crowd with a pet python wrapped around both of their necks. Little children run up to pet it, while others run away and grab their mother’s legs.
This is Bradenton’s annual DeSoto Seafood Festival. The festival is organized and maintained by a local volunteer group who call themselves The DeSoto Historical Society. It’s an organization created to, as their website declares, “celebrate the historical significance of Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto’s landing near the mouth of the Manatee River in May 1539.”
Supposedly, DeSoto discovered Bradenton in 1539 after raping and pillaging a bunch of local Native Americans. The same Native Americans who had really already discovered the city years earlier, but did not bow to any kings or queens and had no flags to thrust into the ground.
But alas, now several local rich business men lead the DeSoto organization and put the festival on each year. They dress up in tights and wear giant plumed hats to memorialize DeSoto and literally drink their asses off at the event. Thankfully, I think they have yet to spread any smallpox although rumor has it that a few of the crew do infect some of the city’s hussies with syphilis.
The festival showcases seafood from several of the city’s local restaurants along the main strip that runs alongside the Manatee River. Surprisingly, it’s one of the not so nice areas of the city. The water in the river is black with a muddily bottom and littered with stray bits of trash. Once the sun sets, you have to step over homeless people and watch for hypodermic needles if you venture off the sidewalks. During the festival, the drunks outnumber the sober, the bad outfits outnumber the well dressed and puddles of vomit outnumber the spilled beer.
What’s funny to me is that the pictures of the festival in the local news media seemed to forget about the drunk guy on the bench and his stoned friends. The websites and magazines only showed pictures of pretty, young people with good skin and normal smiles. None of them with beer stained shirts or squinted red eyes.
None of them with unkept beards or pythons wrapped around their tattooed necks. But plenty of pictures of well-groomed men with $80 polo shirts and shiny, gold Rolexes. Plenty of men wearing expensive shoes and pressed designer shorts.
But this is Bradentucky Florida. And this is where I live. My city would rather take pictures of the pretty people for the magazines and websites so that our tourists won’t be scared to return and spend their money. I love Bradentucky and I hate it at the same time. I will keep returning the the Seafood Festival, but I will always manage to keep both of my flip flops on.