Panacea, FL

A yellow diamond catches the final glints of sunshine in the middle of the Apalachicola forest. It looks like most other yellow warning signs you might find next to a road, but instead of cautioning "Lane Ends Merge Left" or "No Center Stripe" it shrieks: "AUTISTIC PERSON IN AREA."

The Florida forest lacks majesty. Spindly pines bristle into infinity, their branches clumped awkwardly at their crowns, red-gray bark singed by controlled burns. Small palmettos fan out close to the ground, the first settlers to return after the conflagration. Logging trucks speed down narrow backroads, hauling bundles of frail wood that hardly seem suitable for paper mulch. Elsewhere, the underbrush is thick with leaves and vines. Thin tire tracks snake into the forest like parallel white rails, partially obscured by grass. Distant slices of trailers are barely visible through columns of twigs. A few of them are surrounded by moats of garbage. Far from any settlement, a red-on-white signs is nailed to a tree: "Got Land? Let's Develop!"

The Beer Tick sits under a dangerously leaning wooden ramada that is more of a splintered, weather-bleached heap of kindling than a shelter. He sits on a dirty white cooler topped with a dirtier white towel—his terrifying rotundity making a conventional chair impossible. Outside the ramada, a sloppily-painted wooden sign advertises "Green Boiled P-nuts" and "P-cans." Inside the ramada, an old Anneheiser Busch keg takes center stage like a potbellied stove in a log cabin, knuckle-shaped peanuts bobbing up and down in its oily black water. A halo of filth surrounds the Beer Tick: used paper towels, scraps of partially-eaten fried chicken, oozing trash bags. Thick roaches hang from the rafters, moving slowly in the tropical heat.

"Osama bin Laden shaved and now that nigger is our president!", the Beer Tick howls without warning, swearing that America can only be safe once it drops atomic bombs across the Middle East. His brown, laundry basket-sized belly quivers with rage as he says this. If his shirt was buttoned—but such a possibility is unthinkable. His tirade continues. "Alabama is the worst state in the country... it's run by niggers! They're all over the government! When Europe gave Africa back they threw away technology and reverted to cannibalism, like Idi Amin!" His small mouth opens in an angry yowl revealing chunks of black chewing tobacco adhering to his teeth and sticky tongue. Some fly out of his mouth and join their desiccated siblings on his stomach. His gray hair droops down to his neck in long greasy tentacles. His beard is full of chaw flecks and Cheez-It crumbs.

"I don't trust anyone... maybe my stepson, but nobody else... this is an evil world. You're gonna die in a nuclear holocaust. It'll be awful." He cracks open a Keystone Light and meticulously rips its pop-top off with the satisfied vigor of a sadistic child tearing the wings off a butterfly. He has a sagging card table laden with cans of Keystone. Most are empty, two are in progress, and one has been conscripted into spittoon service. He puts the pop-top carefully into a ziploc bag full of identical pop-tops and raises another beer to his black and red lips with one of his fat arms. Nearby, the bed of an old Chevy S10 is full to the brim with reeking Keystone cans. "The only thing that gets me up in the morning is working here," he muses, "I like giving the kids peanuts—been boiling them fifty years. Sometimes the tourists'll stop. I let 'em take pictures of me. Some of 'em are real purdy and I like to give 'em a little slap on the tush..."

Another roadside sign: "Newborn? Children? Young adults? We've got cammo for everyone!"