Counting Alligator Teeth

Winter 2001 CSANews Issue 41  |  Posted date : Apr 03, 2007.Back to list

Did you know that two out of five Florida swamp alligators have bad breath? They do...and I should know since I've been surrounded by them and within a foot of their gaping jaws! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Many might think that being a travel author/publisher is lots of fun but, just like other "exciting" occupations, it's generally hours of routine laced with moments of panic. For instance, there was the time I was driving an RV on the interstate when a fire truck pulled up alongside and told me I was on fire. Now THAT was definitely not routine . . . but that's another story.

One of the routine things an author has to do is the "radio interview." They can be very exciting at first but, after the first thousand, it becomes a little difficult to say the same thing in interesting ways. So several years ago, when my U.S. publicist, Kate, contacted me with a request from a North Michigan station for a "phoner" (an interview via phone) while I was driving south on Interstate-75, I had an idea.

"Kate, I heard on the news that upper Michigan is snowed in, so why don't I do a daily traffic report for them as I drive south into the sun. A sort of an 'On the Road with Dave' program."

Well, the producer thought this was a great idea so I dutifully phoned in every morning at the same time - while the poor Mackinaw City folk were digging out their driveways - and described the adventures we had during the previous day's drive to the Sunshine State. They loved also sold a ton of my "drive-to-Florida" book!

This was much more fun than answering the standard radio-interview questions. So, I phoned Kate and told her that for the next month, I'm going to travel around Florida and have "adventures."

"Why don't you call some of your radio contacts," I asked, "and line up a three-week phoner schedule for me."

A little background is now needed. Twelve years ago a veteran broadcaster, the late Ray Sonin of Toronto's CFRB, was my next-door neighbour. Over the years, he became a second father to me. Often on Saturday evenings, I would drive him to the 'RB studio and, in return, he trained me in the "real" art of "radio for the listeners." Eventually, he trusted me to do bits and pieces of his program whenever he needed a break. But that's another story...

I mention it here because Ray had given me the skills to understand how to put a radio show together "on the fly" - so, while still driving towards Florida, I formed a company called "Mileoak Broadcasting Services," and named its only program, "On the Road with Dave." Kathy, my dear wife of 37 years of eventful marriage, found that she had just been promoted to Radio Producer.

A quick stop at a broadcast equipment supplier in Orlando - and four thousand dollars later - bought everything I needed and, by the time we had checked into our motel in Kissimmee, Kate had faxed 33 requests for "On the Road with Dave" segments...from radio stations in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and as far away as Texas and southern California.

So, for the next few weeks, I did crazy things to capture "sound bites" for my show. I taped a segment at 145 mph (233 km/hr for you younger folk) in NASCAR's famous #24 stock car at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, Walt Disney World ­ swam with dolphins and sting rays at Discovery Cove ­ and flew upside-down over Orlando in a WWII Harvard Trainer (they called it a T-6) based at the fabulous Warbirds Museum in Kissimmee, where they restore old crashed aircraft to immaculate flying condition.

This latter adventure was awesome. My pilot's voice crackled into the headphones under my leather flying cap, "Dave, I'm just going to build up a little speed so I can roll us over."

Now, being more of a driver than a flyer, I thought Captain Syd was just going to press a little firmer on the gas pedal...I didn't realize that you pick up speed by doing an immediate 45-degree power dive followed by a snap roll. I didn't leave MY heart in San Francisco - it's still up there somewhere hovering over Walt Disney World.

And then to my final adventure...interviewing a wild, swamp bull alligator. Now those who have visited Snowbird Extravaganza over past years will remember Tim of 'Gatorland, who often strolled the show aisles with a baby 'gator (and duct-taped mouth) tucked under his arm. So I knew Tim was my man!

I gave him a call and he agreed to take me out to the wild swamp area where there are literally hundreds of 'gators. "You're going to love Buddy," he said, "although he's our largest, he's quite docile. It's been months since he last took a bite at somebody."

Tim led us back into the property for what seemed like miles. We arrived at a high-protection fence with a double-padlocked gate. Tim unlocked it and invited us in. "No thanks," said Kathy, my brave producer, "I think I'll stay on this side of the fence."

So, carrying my camera and radio gear, I followed Tim through the gate and down to the water's edge. Here, he picked up a 10-foot pole and started hitting the water, "Here, Buddy," he repeated over and over again. Before long, there was a ripple in the murky water and then this huge reptilian monster heaved its bulk out of the swamp and slowly waddled up to where we stood. I looked around...Buddy was being followed out of the water by five of his buddies! Tim said, "Don't worry, you're quite safe - I've got the pole to hold them off if any should make a wrong move."

Thanks, I thought...and carried on with my work.

A month later, when I had my photos developed, there were some awesome shots of me kneeling down beside Buddy's open mouth with my radio mic in hand. "Kathy," I said, "thanks for taking these, they are you did finally decide to come inside the fence?"

"No way," she replied, "Tim put down his stick and spent 10 minutes taking those while you were taping the radio show!!!!"

Well, the show goes on. I already have some interesting adventures booked for January, 2002 (visit ...and in 2003 - the hundredth anniversary of manned flight - I've actually talked the City of Dayton (that's where the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop is ­ just beside I-75) to allow me to go up in their replica of the original Wright Flier and do an I-75 traffic report...but that's another story!

Many Thanks To:
Richard Petty Driving Experience, Swim with Dolphins at Discovery Cove, and Gatorland, all in Orlando, FL, and Flying Tigers Warbird Restorations in Kissimmee, FL.