I'm not suggesting that there is anything irreparably wrong with Daytona, after all one of my coolest friends who might be reading this, is originally from there. I'm just saying that my recent experiences during a two day visit kind of made me go "hmmmmmm".
First the 'good': the famous boardwalk has an inherently charming old-timey look and feel to it. Walking past the candy-colored shops and ice cream parlors feels like stepping back into a nostalgic 50's era movie set. The beach is expansive, clean and you can drive on it. The drinks are cheap and plentiful. There is a roller coaster that appears to run on demand. If you are into black t-shirts featuring bikes, eagles, big-boobied women and/ or confederate flags, you don't have to look very far (although that last one really does not belong in the plus column).
The bad: from my totally anecdotal perspective as someone who just happened to wander around for a couple of days, the people here are just plain strange. Not all of them, but an alarming percentage.
Probably not representative incident #1: I was at a bar playing pool with a Canadian couple I had met at happy hour. There was a commotion outside and when I looked, in the middle of the street, there was a motorcycle down and an old guy splayed across the hood of a car. Because I am nosy, I ran out to the street, pool stick still in hand. The windshield was shattered and the old guy was unconscious. At first people were saying the sensible things one should say in these types of situations. "Has anyone called 911?" "Don't move him." "Careful with his neck." But then one lady grabbed the crazy baton and took off as the grand marshall of her own crazy parade. "Let us pray for our brother. Jey-sus!!! Bring your healing powers down on our brother. Oh Lord, look down on us..." etc x1000. Ok, any town can (and will) have a random religious nut and one loon screaming at the top of her lungs is not enough to condemn an entire city...but. But, instead of trying to shut her up, everyone else in the crowd held hands and joined in, screaming and preaching and singing. They were singing religious hymns...all of them..on a Friday night in the middle of Main Street. In the midst of this shit show, I noticed that the driver of the car was still in the fucking car. There is a religious revival happening on the hood of this car and no one has bothered to check on the guy sitting amongst recently exploded airbags. I went to check on him and he was in shock, repeating over and over "I don't know where he came from" but physically he seemed ok..except for one little thing that may or may not be relevant in this confederate flag happy town..he was a black dude with an accent that indicated he was a recent arrival from Africa. This guy was screwed. He didn't need first aid but he did need witnesses to vouch for him that perhaps this had not been his fault. As the calls to Jey-sus continued, I asked the crowd if anyone had seen what happened. A young latino said he had and that the biker came out of nowhere and made an illegal turn in front of the car. Great. I asked the guy if he would be willing to stick around and tell the cops. "Sure" he said, only there was one little problem, the kid was on house arrest and was not supposed to be outside. Was there anyone else that had seen what happened. A drunk homeless dude repeated almost the same exact story as the Latino kid and then with absolutely no provocation, almost collapsed on top of me. Had anybody else seen what happened? No one spoke up.
In the middle of all this, some guy who had been waiting for a pizza delivery showed up. The driver had been on his way to deliver the pie in question. The guy approaches the dazed driver, demands his pizza and then tries to haggle because the pizza was late...all the while a knocked out biker is about to be doused in holy water (or in this case Miller Lite) on the hood of the car.
The paramedics show up, put the old guy on a stretcher and completely ignore the driver. Up until this point, I am the only one who is even acknowledging this guy. It is possible that he is dead and I am simply sixth sensing the whole situation, it is so bizarre. The biker suddenly comes to, sees himself on a stretcher and is an equal parts pissed and very very drunk. In the words of Taylor Swift, he just wants to shake it off and get back on his bike. The crowd is now thanking "merciful Jesus" for this Friday night miracle. It is looking like the driver will be ok so I run from the Holy Lady of the Bad Perm congregation and rejoin the Canadians at the bar.
We move to another bar. They start playing pool for money against a couple of guys. A few plays in, accusations of cheating fly (one of the guys had double tapped the ball) and after much chest-bumping, a bar fight almost breaks out. There was drinking and money involved so I won't hold this one against Daytona.
I take this as my cue and head back to the hotel.
Probably not representative incident #2. The following day, my co-worker commented on how friendly everyone is in Daytona. I was coming off of the previous night's experiences so I was not ready to come to the same conclusion but I was willing to keep an open mind. I go for a walk to the boardwalk and while I am waiting at a crosswalk, I notice that a guy is trying to talk to me. Maybe this is the friendliness she was talking about. I remove my earphones and he repeats "That dog should not be walking without a leash". Confused, I look around and see a medium-sized dog dutifully following behind his owner, sans leash. Not having much of an opinion on the matter, I smile and say "Well, he seems to know his way." "But the owner can get a ticket. That dog needs to be on a leash!" "Um, maybe he lives close by." "No!! Heneedstobeonaleash!!!!! This isn't safe....the law...arrgghhh..grunt, garble." What else could I say but "You know that's not my dog, right?" before putting my earphones firmly back in.
Incident #3, beginning to look a bit more representative by this point: I walk over to Steve's Famous Diner for brunch. The place is packed but because I am by myself, I am permitted to skip the line and sit at the counter. I am not warned that I am being seated next to Daytona's answer to the Rob Schneider copy machine character. This guy is obviously a regular and has ridiculous nicknames for each and every person on the staff. Some do a better job than others at hiding their annoyance with him, leaving him a lot of down time to talk to me. My phone is on the verge of dying but that does not matter. I replace my earphones and pretend that there is music playing. After all, I need my focus to keep an eye on the lady to my other side who has now taken to reaching over into my basket of bread and helping herself to my rolls. I mention, as nicely as I can muster, that I am sure the waitress will bring her another basket. She just swipes another roll.
I walk back to the hotel, muttering to myself how the entire town is nuts while mad dogging anyone who glances my way. I almost lose my shit when I find that my key no longer works. It has not even been 48 hours and I am already well on my way to joining the Daytona Lunatic Brigade. All I can say is that I shudder to think what would have become of me had I been there for a third day.