Fringe Florida

Bud Lee, Picturemaker, An Eye For The Fringe

Bud Lee picturemaker

Photo by Todd Bates

I’ve always been interested in eccentric people whether it’s those who are into strange things or those who fixate on the ordinary to the extent that it becomes strange – the Disney fan who lives in a faux Cinderella’s castle; the woman who has a hand towel collection that could fill a barn. It wasn’t until I worked with noted photographer Bud Lee at Tampa’s alt-weekly the Weekly Planet, now Creative Loafing, that I began to embrace this fascination. Bud’s talent for capturing these worlds far exceeded my own, but with his encouragement I began to take risks in my work and see beauty in the shadows.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about Bud since he died on June 11, 2015  He suffered a stroke in 2003, about a month after he shot my wedding photos. He was confined to a nursing home until his death. Since my tribute to him that ran in Creative Loafing, I discovered old proofs from some of our projects. I hadn’t realized how profoundly he impacted my book Fringe Florida. During my research I often wished that he was well enough to work on it with me. But I see now he was there, inspiring me to not only pursue the unusual, but to also to see the ordinary in the most bizarre.

Here are few images from our photo essay on people and their closets. You probably think, closets, how boring. But, take a look. Note: the original words I wrote for these are lost in the bowels of some long disposed computer.

Bud Lee picturemaker

My idea for the project was sparked by a Florida Trend staff Christmas party. The parties were legendary for the view they invited of the then publisher’s closet, which was always protected behind a velvet rope. She graciously allowed Bud to capture it.


Bud Lee picturemaker

With the idea being that closets tell much about a person, Bud offered that he knew a clown in nearby Gibsonton, a home to sideshow performers. On the way he took me to Giant’s Camp, a dive of a restaurant started by a sideshow giant and his wife, billed as “the half-woman” Later I explored Gibsonton for my book, but Bud’s introduction and images gave me a colorful insight to the quirky community.

.Bud Lee picturemaker

Bud knew just how to stage a shot.


We also worked on a photo essay about Tampa’s adult entertainment industry that upset a few advertisers and got the paper banned from Barnes & Noble. However, the ban was due to a quote I used, not his images. The contrast of the words and black and whites images expressed a duality of the subjects. In true Bud irony, his images captured the normal in those who worked outside the bounds of propriety.

Bud Lee picturemaker

Pictured is an Tampa area Madam, her boyfriend (a paralyzed former Navy seal) and their pet by the pool of their new new home.

.Bud Lee picturemaker

A male escort off-duty in his kitchen.

Without Bud’s influence, I’m sure that Fringe Florida would have been a different book. Maybe less sensitive, maybe more reserved. I don’t know. But I’m sure less interesting.



“Cassadaga” Horror Flick Plays off Florida Spiritualist Community

spiritOn it’s face, Cassadaga has long been ripe for a horror flick. After all, I was told by the desk clerk at the community’s only hotel not to be alarmed if a lingering spirit left toys in my room; the historic hotel is said to be haunted by former guests which include a young boy.

At long last, a horror film uses the town as a setting for a story of closure gone bloody wrong. In “Cassadaga,” a young girl tries to connect with her murdered sister, but instead resurrects a deadly demon — a serial killer, no less. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi and starring Kelen Coleman (from “The Newsroom” and “The Mindy Project”) the film debuted in limited markets including Orlando on Oct. 11. Mainstream reviews are mediocre at best.  New York Times critic Miriam Bales called it “sloppy” and “humorless,” but still sufficiently frightening if only because it plays on the fears of  “evil puppetry, haunted homes and overly generous hosts.”


True to horror flick fashion, the real Cassadaga community far differs from its depiction. True, the community is home to dozens of mediums who communicate with the dead and the official Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is so quaint, yet strange, that residents characterize it as “where Mayberry meets the Twilight Zone.”

DiBlasi told that he shot the film in and around Cassadaga, even though his interpretation of the locale is a little loose. Cassadaga is an unincorporated community dominated by the 57-acre Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp and no film was shot there.

 Not surprisingly, some residents are insulted by the film’s characterization. One commented that the movie is the “biggest bullshit I’ve ever seen put to film.” Another just laughed.

Although one of the fringier places I visited while researching for my book “Fringe Florida,” I found it a cheerful New Age backwoods, a place more likely to be home to wood nymphs than creepy demons. Furthermore, although Spiritualists believe in God, they don’t believe in Satan. Death isn’t creepy or scary in Spiritualism. It’s merely a passing from one form to another. But hey, a late plumber floating around as an orb isn’t as theatrical as a surreal killer coming back to life and turning people into marionettes.

Think I’ll pay psycho Cassadaga a visit for Halloween. I’m referring to the film, of course.








No Fringe Like Florida Fringe




Fringe doesn’t respect city limits or state lines. Sometimes it showboats where you least expect it. Other times you anticipate its slap and it lands like a light breeze across your cheek.  Taking Fringe Florida on the road to New Orleans, I found Crescent City filled with the breezy variety, albeit one that carried the scent of stale beer and bodily functions I prefer not to think about. Shirtless men painted silver head-to-toe, a skeleton-face mermaid, Satan in platforms — they all literally worked a fringe look, hustling for dollar bills, change, cigarettes, and beer on and around Bourbon Street.

I stayed in a small guest cottage in the French Quarter, nearly a mile from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Trade Show where I was a featured author. I wanted to soak up the fringe of the hedonistic, historic enclave

silver manof the European-style architecture, gritty jazz and blues bars, and voodoo shops selling rabbits feet and tarot card readings. But in short order, I discovered the fringe was authentic as Mickey Mouse, or perhaps more appropriately, Duval Street in Key West.

satan with irish

After an inspiring day at SIBA meeting talented authors and friendly small bookstore owners and signing books, I trudged through the cacophony of Bourbon Street bar bands and drunken football cheers to our temporary abode. Along the way I shot photos of the fringe-for-hire until I ran out of dollar bills.

In case you missed yours truly’s interview with Rob Lorei about the book last week on WMNF 88.5 FM RadioActivity show, you can catch it here on podcast.



University Press of Florida’s Q&A with Fringe Florida Author

Take a Walk on Florida’s Wild Side with Lynn Waddell

Posted September 17, 2013 by flpresspr in Arts & CultureAuthor InterviewFlorida HistoryFlorida TourismNew BooksPublication Announcement. Tagged: . Leave a Comment

Photo by James Harvey

Photo by James Harvey


Q&A with Lynn Waddell

author of

Fringe Florida: Travels among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles

“I can’t tell you how many times I heard something like, ‘Don’t use my name because my relatives don’t know I’m into this.’” – Lynn Waddell

University Press of Florida (UPF): When did you know that you wanted to write this book? What led you to this subject?

Lynn Waddell (LW): It was a long evolution. More than 10 years ago an editor asked me what I wanted to write about and I told him people with extremely focused passions; interests that they obsessively pursued, be they collecting hand towels or building a multi-billion-dollar casino empire. There’s no such beat in most, if any, newspapers and perhaps not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job.

Without realizing it, I began gathering string for this book not long after I decided to make my home in St. Petersburg, after graduate school in the late ‘90s. I wrote about a few of the book topics for a Tampa alternative newspaper. Since 2001 I’ve freelanced for a wide variety of national daily newspapers, weekly news magazines and travel publications, including Florida travel guides. During the course of my paying gigs, I stumbled across some amazingly interesting people whose stories never fit within the pieces I wrote.  The idea for the book grew from that frustration. It wasn’t until I met then-University of Florida Press Editor Jon Byram at a travel writers’ conference that I realized it could become a reality. He showed great interest in the idea.  I got serious and crafted a proposal.


Available now!


UPF: How is your day structured when you write? What’s your writing routine?

LW: My work days vary widely depending on the type of writing I’m doing. I still jungle some freelance news assignments which disrupts my book work. News editors typically want stories the day before they assign them, so there’s little time to deconstruct a sentence or daydream about where to plant the petunias.

When it comes to long-term projects, I’m one of the world’s most unstructured working writers. I’m so skilled in procrastination that I’ve done taxes to avoid writing.  But that’s no way to complete a book, and I’d sooner stand on my head for 10 years than fail to complete a committed project.  With this my first book, I evolved to a state of time management just slightly better than a slug’s.

Having gained 20 pounds while working on Fringe Florida, I’m now incorporating exercise into my work day else I lose the ability to stand up.


UPF: Does Florida tend to lend itself to the fringe lifestyle more than other places? If so, why do you think that is?

LW: Most definitely. There are reasons unique to each lifestyle, but one common factor is the physical environment, the year ‘round mild weather and sunshine.  Exotic animals thrive here, so people who want to be around them move here. You can ride a motorcycle here year ‘round and Florida has more motorcyclists per capita than any state outside California.  Nudists can garden in the buff in Central to South Florida all year with only a few days of possible shrinkage. And on and on.

Florida is also the largest tourist destination in the world. Tourism hucksters have been selling it as a magical, exotic place to live your dreams for a century.  People come here to reinvent themselves and be whatever they thought they couldn’t be in the cloudier place they are from. I can’t tell you how many times I heard something like, “Don’t use my name because my relatives don’t know I’m into this.”

You also have to consider that two-thirds of Floridians moved here from somewhere else, which I theorize makes them more risk-taking, daring, than people who have spent their whole lives in Peoria or even the Bronx. It takes a special constitution to leave the people and places you’ve grown up with far behind.


UPF: How did you choose which Florida subcultures to feature in your book? How did you find out about them?

LW: I established strict criteria for including each subculture. First, it had to have prominence as compared to its cousins in other states.  Second, if it reflected a twist on iconic Florida such as the Holy Land Experience with theme parks and pony play with Ocala’s horse industry, even better. Third, each topic had to have a contemporary element and the ability to be experiential.

I came up with a list of about 20. Some didn’t pan out for various reasons. For instance, I spent a week in Miami trying to find an angle on drug culture. I ended up visiting a pill mill, which while interesting, didn’t fit within the tone of the book. I also probably over-researched the lifestyles that I did cover and ended up with such a wealth of material that I had enough for one book, if not a separate books on some topics. For the most part, I found the people through good old-fashioned reporting – going places and approaching them.


From Ch.4 "The Other Wild Kingdom." As evidenced by this bunny's bondage wear, sometimes one fetish is not enough. Photo by Lori Ballard.

From Ch.4 “The Other Wild Kingdom.” As evidenced by this bunny’s bondage wear, sometimes one fetish is not enough. Photo by Lori Ballard.

UPF: Craig Pittman recently made a list of theweirdest places in Florida” for Slate Magazine. If you had to make your own list of the weirdest places in Florida, which would be in your top 5?

LW: My focus is more on people who are extremely passionate about unusual things. I must add that for the most part I discovered that those people are pretty conventional in other aspects of their lives.

With very little digging and looking through a different lens, I’m sure you can find fringe anywhere in Florida. Fringe doesn’t respect city boundaries or state lines for that matter. I just argue that Florida has larger concentrations of it than most other states.


UPF: What was the craziest thing that happened during your explorations and research for Fringe Florida?

LW: Without spoiling the book, I’ll just say the pool scene at Swing Fest. Although I tried to prepare myself for it, there really is no way for a Vanilla to prepare for such things.


UPF: You were a research assistant on the movie Showgirls. Was that experience part of what got you interested in the offbeat and unconventional topics you gravitate toward covering?

LW: That certainly increased my interest and prepped me for exploring Tampa’s adult entertainment industry, but upon reflection, my interest in unusual characters and lifestyles probably drew me to Las Vegas, which, like Florida, has no shortage of fringe. I did learn quite a bit from working with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Watching him hang out with and smoothly guide conversations with dancers that I had already interviewed was reaffirming because I’m also not a confrontational interviewer. Despite Joe’s reputation as a hard-nosed reporter and sometimes difficult screenwriter, he was very disarming and fluid with his interview subjects. I also had a front row, and sometimes uncomfortable seat to the power plays in movie making, but that’s a whole other story.    


UPF: What do you hope readers will enjoy the most about your book?

LW: I hope that they not only have fun experiencing the unconventional side of Florida and getting to know people who do things that they may never do, but also enjoy learning the history of how these lifestyles grew here. Most of all, I hope that their awareness evolves with mine, that people aren’t always who they seem. Real people not so different than them live behind the late night punch lines.

From Ch. 3 "Sisters of Steel." Leather & Lace MC Founder and president Jennifer Chaffin takes a break from overseeing her club's weeklong gathering to show her bike.

From Ch. 3 “Sisters of Steel.” Leather & Lace MC Founder and president Jennifer Chaffin takes a break from overseeing her club’s weeklong gathering to show her bike.


UPF: What are you currently reading?

LW: I’m re-reading Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road as part of a great citywide book club called “Keep St. Pete Lit.” Kerouac lived and died in St. Petersburg. On the suggestion of a friend, I’m also reading something totally outside my normal library: Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam.

UPF: Who are your favorite authors, and how have they influenced or informed your own work?

LW: I’m a big fan of Tom Wolfe, his fiction and non-fiction. He brilliantly captures personalities and situations representative of broader social phenomena. He’s so spot-on in his fiction that I’ve woken my husband to read him passages and say, “I know this person!” I wouldn’t embarrass myself by attempting to mimic his style, but I read everything he writes in hopes that some of his talent magically dusts off on me.

Being a child of the South, I’m a naturally big fan of Southern novelists. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book. I can dine on the irony of O. Henry.

I have no aspirations of being another Hunter S. Thompson or David Foster Wallace and would never compare my work to theirs, but I’m working on loosening my writing and find reading theirs helpful.

At the beginning of my research on Fringe Florida I read Evan Wright’s Hella Nation: Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe, Wingnut’s War Against the Gap, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America, and Warren St. John’sRammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip to the Heart of Fan Mania (I am guilty of being an Alabama football fan).  I found both particularly helpful in introducing first person without being intrusive and mocking of those they wrote about. I struggled greatly at the beginning of writing Fringe Florida with allowing myself to be in the book and on how to introduce humor without coming across judgmental of the people I had encountered.Rammer Jammer was an especially enjoyable example of how to accomplish the later.


UPF: What are you working on next?

LW: I’m revising a Las Vegas mystery/parody novel that I wrote a few years ago calledDesert Fish. It’s about a young, Southern, female casino beat reporter who investigates the murder of a casino executive and uncovers the biggest story of her fledging career. It’s actually not as autobiographical as it sounds.


UPF: Do you have one sentence of advice for new authors?

LW: Marry someone who loves and believes in you enough to feed you meat on a stick while you write and not complain about it.  


UPF: Were you tempted to adopt any of the lifestyles in Fringe Florida?

LW: Mentally and even emotionally, sometimes I could follow people down the rabbit hole and get a peek at things through their eyes. It’s intellectually intoxicating but not to the point that I couldn’t leave.

I’m not a joiner by nature. However, as I spent more time with the ladies of Leather & Lace Motorcycle Club there were moments when I forgot that I can hardly ride a bicycle and wished I could be a part of their tribe. But I can’t deal with regular meetings and must-do anything, except for my writing.

Lynn Waddell is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the Daily Beast, Budget Travel, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times. Follow her on Twitter @FringeFlorida

Contemplating Nude Biker Camping

It’s going to be all about talking, getting drunk and having sex- James says.

My husband isn’t looking forward to camping out with a bunch of bare naked bikers at a Pasco county nudist resort, (and I use the term “resort”  loosely. From what I’ve seen it’s a rustic campground with a pool and small pond filled with lilly pads, a baby gator and ramshackle houseboat).

I’m not ecstatic about it either. In fact, I’m questioning if I have the fortitude to witness things like a naked middle-age woman with sagging breasts on the back of a Harley grab a dangling hot dog with her mouth. The photos from a past Butt Naked Biker Bash at the Riverboat Nudist RV Resort Campground paint a pretty bawdy image of the event. Not to mention that it’s going to be hot 90 degrees  and we’re going to have no place to retreat to other than a second-hand tent I picked up at a yard sale last weekend.

Oh yeah, least I forget there’s the whole thing about walking around totally naked in front of strangers, not that walking around nude in front of friends would be any easier. I’m not so modest that I can’t walk around the house naked in front of my husband or strip down in front of other women at the gym, but even the idea of being naked in front of my husband and women at the gym is just too weird. Fortunately, we’re not required to go au naturale for the event, but we’ll probably stick out like an unwrapped Ken and Barbie in a sea of nude GI Joes and cabbage patch dolls. Not that we’re skinny or even slim, at least not me. But I don’t want to advertise my middle-age flabbiness to the world. Keeping it covered at least gives me the illusion that I’m hiding the ring of fat around my waist, to myself more so than others.

So, why are we doing this? The intrepid gonzo journalist (professional voyeur) in me must see it, talk to these people and try to understand their motivations. I want to know why anyone would put their bare ass on a leather seat above a hot engine, expose their most sensitive body parts to the possibility of asphalt burns, and, as if those weren’t puzzling enough, at the same time try to snatch a dangling hotdog with their teeth?