He had to be 70 years old, the guy in the loin cloth and tails. The crowd applauded him as he slipped in the side entrance to the back dock at Stan’s Idle Hour in the one-of-a-kind village of Goodland on Marco Island, Florida.
When I took his picture, he pointed to the Perfect Woman Meter he wore around his neck. The arrow pointed to 10. Almost charming. He told me he was the officially appointed Buzzard Queen inspector, pointing to another button on his tuxedo jacket that so declared.
Buzzard-Loping and Celebrating Mullet
Let me back up a little here — 29 years to be exact. That’s when Stan Gober, at a friend’s suggestion, decided to throw a benefit for the town’s mullet fishermen at the end of the mullet season in January at his Stan’s Idle Hour joint. The plan: Organize a mullet-fishing competition and a good-time party to go with it.
“I was thinking: ‘There’s not too much to do while these guys would fish four hours,’” Stan once told me in a TV interview. “And I kept thinking about it, and all of a sudden I saw a bunch of buzzards circling around in the sky.
“And I started singing this song about the buzzards, and the good Lord sent it to me, and I sang it all right there pretty much. We would get us a Buzzard Queen while they were out fishing — by the one that could do this buzzard dance with the best approval from the audience.”
In Your Bucket Because…
- You now have somewhere to wear that flamingo hat and pink boa.
- It’s a hoot — pure and simple.
- Great for that special brand of traveler that seeks the offbeat.
In case you want to practice – Goodlanders not only dance the Buzzard Lope at Mullet Festival annually but also weekly at Stan’s Sunday Bash – here are the steps to Goodland’s answer to the Chicken Dance:
- Flap your wings up and down
- Take a few steps back
- Go ‘round and ‘round
- Looks like you’re on dop
- You is doing the Buzzard Lope.
Okay, now you are ready to join the thousands from around the country who attend the waterfront festivities every year on the weekend before Super Bowl.
Stan, the quintessential entertainer who once sang and told jokes at every festival and Sunday Bash, passed away in June 2012 to the woe of the entire community of 320 or so. His son, Steve, carries on the tradition that still culminates in the crowning of the Buzzard Queen.
Candidates, and many of the nearly 5,000 participants, dress in feathers and outrageous headgear. The live music and dancing kicks off on Friday evening. A costume and fish-cleaning costume are Saturday highlights. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, after several hours into drinking beer and Buzzard punch and eating smoked mullet and grilled burgers, competition turns serious for the dubious honor of Buzzard Queen.
A Little Drinking Village
Goodland has willfully lagged behind the modern and upscale character of the rest of Marco Island, where fine beach and spa resorts like the Marriott and Hilton set the bar. It has resisted gentrification and takes pride in its old funky Florida temperament.
Yet it has succeeded in becoming an offbeat tourist attraction by virtue of that very authenticity. Folks come by car and boat to dine at its ramshackle waterfront restaurants. Stan’s Sunday Bash presents a mini-version of Mullet Festival, but every day (usually closed in September) brings hungry locals and visitors looking for fresh seafood, burgers, and live entertainment.
Three other Goodland restaurants also dish out local specialties such as stone crab, grouper sandwiches, and gulf shrimp on waterside patios and in old historic digs facing boat docks decorated with brown pelicans.
One of them, Little Bar, hosts its own outrageous festival in June to appease angry hurricane spirits. Spammy Jammy evokes two hurricane traditions – partying in PJs and eating canned meat products – with a Spam cookoff, pajama party, and other rarified activities that involve adult beverages and lots of them.
Out and About in Marco
With no true accommodations in Goodland, Marco Island’s hotels are the first choice for overnighters visiting Goodland. The Marriott Marco Island Resort and Spa is most popular – a class act with the widest, whitest, softest beach in these parts. Through the resort’s tours and activities programs, you’ll find enough to do without looking further, including golf and watersports.
Most of what Marco Island, the northernmost and biggest of the Everglades’ Ten Thousand Islands, has to offer looks to the sea. Any number of fishing, shelling, kayaking, jet-skiing, sailing, and dinner cruises get you out there.
You may also want to have a look at the Marco Island Historical Museum, where the emphasis is on the island’s past as a Calusa Indian capital and important archaeology dig site. Calusa shell mounds still add height to the otherwise flat island. On your way to Goodland, check out Otter Mound Preserve and mountainous (for Southwest Florida, anyway) Indian Hill.
Then go lose yourself to the beckon of unself-conscious, undeveloped Florida with a rich sense of place and hilarity.
For more information on the Marco Island area, contact the Greater Naples Marco Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau (239-252-2384 or 800-688-3600)
Little Bar Restaurant (239-394-5663)
Marriott Marco Island Resort & Spa (239-394-2511 or or 800-438-4373)
Marco Island Historical Museum (239-642-1440)
Otter Mound Preserve (239-252-2961)
Stan’s Idle Hour (239-394-3041)