The Only Thing That Hung Out There Besides Me Were the Alligators

After the first year, I got used to the heat and humidity, and began walking at high noon, myself, just like the old people. Thank goodness for air conditioning, though. You could get out of it. Everything in Florida is air conditioned. During that first summer, I worked at the other farm stand I mentioned, the one set down in a hollow off the road and was surrounded by swampy scrub. Produce was no longer grown there; the land was slated to be sold and developed. The only thing that hung out there besides me were the alligators the owner, who happened to be Brad’s cousin, kept in a tank some paces behind the stand. The stand had a chickee roof desperately in need of repair.

My first day there, Paul, my boss, a young guy from a farm in South Jersey, said, “When it rains, these are the only dry places.” There weren’t many and they were small. It rained. One day he was there with me during a thunderstorm showering fusillades of cloud-to-ground lightning, typical of Florida thunderstorms. We huddled close to the floor next to the center of the store open refrigerator cases in a slim dry spot. Another time, I was alone during a downpour, and a woman brought her order to the counter to be checked out. Where I had to stand in front of the cash register was beneath a large hole in the roof. I may as well have been ringing up her order in the shower. She, on the other hand, stood in a dry spot, implacable, as if I deserved such drenching.

The snowbirds having flown north, much of the time I was alone at that stand. It was my job to cull the produce, keep up the displays. I was taking tomatoes out of a box and setting them on the table display. More concerned with how my display looked than what was left in the box, I reached in, and there to my dismay was a little plaid snake. I set the box far out of reach. A customer came in then and I told him about the little orange and cream plaid snake. “Oh, that’s just a rat snake,” he said. “It won’t hurt you.” He took the little snake out of the box and flung it into the field. Flying snakes. Rat snakes are also called corn snakes. They eat rats and small rodents, but not people.

Thank goodness for the air conditioning. I guess that’s how I got used to the Florida summer heat, by having to work at that farm stand nine hours a day. I’d come home to the air conditioning and peel off my shorts and T-shirt, literally stuck to me, and take a shower.

Carolina Gringo, as told to Samantha Mozart