A Send-Off for Southwestern Florida's Master of Beer and the Buzzard Lope
If you live in southwestern Florida or have had occasion to visit communities like Fort Myers, Naples, or Marco Island, and if you like to drink and dance, you have very likely been to Stan's. Officially called Stan's Idle Hour Restaurant, the place is a sprawling complex of frame buildings, oversize palapas shacks, and miscellaneous outbuildings on a tiny inlet off Goodland Bay, on the canal-streaked fist of land called Goodland, at the edge of the Everglades.
There is actually food at Stan's — the usual stuff: burgers and fried seafood (conch included) and jalapeño poppers, plus heartier stuff at dinnertime (and a you-fish-it-we'll-cook-it policy) — but I don't know anybody who eats there. (An unrelated establishment next door, The Little Bar, seems to interest the dining crowd slightly more.) I've also heard rumors that in high season — winter — Stan's is open all week. But the quintessential Stan's experience has to do with Sunday afternoons, crushes of people, and far too many beers or industrial-strength margaritas. Oh, and with the Mullet Festival and the Buzzard Lope.
Stan Gober came to Goodland from Miami in 1969, buying a motel across from where Stan's now stands. He took over the bar and restaurant property a few years later. Little by little, it became a popular local hangout — a place where, especially on Sundays, stoner beach bums and good ol' swamp folks rubbed shoulders (and bumped butts) with sun-burnt tourists and Naples zillionaires, the whole bustle presided over by an irrepressible character with sunglasses, a white moustache and short beard, and a slouch hat: Stan.
Gober conceived the Mullet Festival in 1985. The mullet in question was the fish, not the hairstyle (though around here you might be forgiven for thinking it was the latter), and the original event was a benefit for local mullet fishermen who had had a bad year. The Buzzard Lope was, well… The original Buzzard Lope was a comic dance included in minstrel shows, dating from the late 19th century. Gober's version was comic, all right, but there was nothing minstrely about it. He introduced it as the centerpiece of the festival — at which a Buzzard Lope Queen is named each year — and then extended its, well, performance to every Sunday. The Buzzard Lope à la Stan's involves women (only) of various ages, garbed in homemade costumes inevitably involving feathers and garish colors, doing what can only be called loping, with a fair amount of swooping added, around the dancefloor inside a huge open-sided shed and around the edges. It is, well, something to see.
The music to which the dance is performed, called of course "The Buzzard Lope Song" ("Flap your wings up and down / Take a few steps back / Go 'round and 'round…"), was written and recorded by Gober. It appears on his self-produced CD "The Best of Stan", along with such other original compositions as "How Did That Crab Get Stoned?" (stone crabs are a famous Florida delicacy, in case that reference is lost on you) and "Stuck on a Sandbar Again."
The 86-year-old Gober, who died on June 18th of congestive heart failure at Naples Hospital, liked to have fun and to make sure that everybody around him was having fun too. (Besides several CDs of his singing, he recorded a risqué comedy album called "I Know So Many Jokes It Ain't Funny.") He was not just a legendary master of revels, though, but a well-loved local citizen, known for his generosity and philanthropy.
The Stan's website bears the following notice: "Stan has passed to a better place. All welcome for the viewing this Sunday, June 24, 12 noon to 2 pm, with a party celebration of Stan's life to follow." Gober's casket will rest at the edge of the dancefloor for those two hours — that's "the viewing" — before being transported to Marco Island Cemetary for burial. After the interrment, all comers are invited back to Stan's for a party. Much Buzzard Loping is inevitable.