The University of Florida's mascot is the noble and terrifying gator, which was picked because of the reptile's scariness and ferocity. As with most college towns, the mascot is everywhere - painted on the sides of stores, formed into mailboxes - if you can picture something, there's a gator on it, or in it, or holding it.
Which was fine by me, since alligators are cool and aesthetically pleasing. In fact, I had one staring at me every time I looked out my second floor window for a few months while living in Gainesville.
Years ago I was hanging out on the front porch with some friends and roommates. It was Gator Stompin' night. Gator Stompin' was a Gainesville pub crawl where you won a T-shirt and alcohol poisoning if you finished all the stops.
Our house was a block from University Avenue, so we'd get stragglers staggering by screaming out the official call of the drunk: "Whooooooo!" Naturally, we'd have to "Whooooooo!" back. You have to answer back. It's just good manners.
We passed some time on the porch, hanging out, watching drunks, and trying to figure out what we were going to do with the rest of our night. Then we hear a "Whooooooo!" louder than any "Whooooooo!" we had previously heard.
We saw a sprinting guy grasping a five foot fiberglass gator statue in his arms, Whoooooooing all through the night, running and clutching the gator like his life depended on it.
We had seen that alligator before. He stood at the entrance of a liquor store on University. We were happy that he got the chance to finally see the outside world, so we put a little more oomph in our return "Whooooooo!"
About a minute after that we saw two cops chasing the guy and his alligator. The night was getting a little more exciting.
The guy dropped his alligator during the chase. The cops yelled not to touch it. Fine by us.
Of course, as soon as the cops were gone, someone re-stole the gator and hid it.
About 15 minutes later, we see the guy running in the other direction, Whoooooooing through the night, a free man again. I seem to remember he had a pair of those twist tie handcuffs on, but that could just be dramatic license.
Brushing my teeth the next morning I looked out my second-floor window and saw the gator in his new home, nestled in a tree so he could look in on me and my roommate Scott, making sure we had adequate amounts of school spirit.
He stayed up in the tree for a few months. The landlord always thought we did it, but this was one of the few hijinx we were actually innocent of. One day he was gone, which was sort of sad. I had really gotten used to his reassuring grin.
Over the years, I would see that same statue in a variety of different stores in Gainesville, with a variety of different paintjobs. But I could tell it was him.
Oh, and the guy who stole the alligator in the first place? Well, the cops swore us to secrecy, but I can now reveal that he grew up to become one of our nation's finest vice presidents.