My parents are old. Thus, like pretty much all old people in the United States, they moved down to Florida. I'm a very helpful son, so I offered to drive their car from Chicago to just outside of Jacksonville, Florida for them. It seemed to be the least I could do after they spent so many years dealing with my nonsense. Little did I know that the car trip would end in the biggest disappointment of my life.
Starting somewhere around the Illinois/Kentucky border I started seeing billboards.
"Fifteen Foot Gator! Fresh Orange Juice! 700 Miles!"
"Holy shit, FRESH ORANGE JUICE!," I exclaimed. I had never had such a delicacy before... OK, that's bullshit. I've had fresh orange juice many, many times in my life. But I had never seen an enormous alligator. I'd seen gators, of course, but never one this frickin' big! And it was only 700 miles away, 700 miles that I had to drive anyways.
At the time I was a naive and hopeful young man, so I never even imagined that there would be a grift at the end of my journey. Sure, I had some doubts. Like, for example, why hadn't I heard about this massive gator prior to flying past this billboard at 88 MPH? Shouldn't this have been on my radar at some point? This gator is FIF. TEEN. FEET. LONG!
It was about 80 miles later that I saw another billboard, and my excitement rose. There was another billboard 50 miles later. This trend would continue for the bulk of my drive.
It was around this time that I really started to build up the idea of this 15 foot gator in my head. I was prepare to not only be awed but to have my entire concept of what nature was capable of completely obliterated. I was going to see a goddamn dinosaur and it just so happened to be located at the same exit off of I-95 that my parent's new house was. It wasn't just a coincidence, it was divine providence. I was meant to see this gator.
After driving past at least 20 billboards across four states, all with the same verbiage, I finally saw a new one. It was glorious.
"Fifteen Foot Gator! Fresh Orange Juice! THIS EXIT!"
A surge of adrenaline hit me as I put the pedal to the metal and cut across two lanes of traffic to make the exit. I'm pretty sure I hit the off ramp at such a dangerous speed that I almost rolled my Monte Carlo.
I rolled into the first parking spot I could find and leapt out of the car. I didn't walk into the visitor center, I sprinted in. And there it was. Right in front of my face. I was looking directly into the eye of the beast and the beast was... a ceramic sculpture.
It certainly wasn't a live gator and it wasn't even a dead gator who had been stuffed. It was a fucking sculpture. This was, and still is, the biggest disappointment of my life.
You know what's not disappointing? These gator tattoos. Enjoy.