Close Encounters of the Swamp Kind

If the customs and legends of Loop Road seem strange, you probably don't live there

He invites us to a porch that he attached to his trailer home soon after purchasing three acres in 1991. A sign above the entrance reads, "What part of 'No Trespassing' don't you understand?" He promptly offers us beers and cigars. He's got a lighter about the size of a large pickle that is shaped like a bright-green fish. A female mannequin with her legs crossed sits on a metal sofa. A gumball machine is by a screen door that leads into another room.

"She loved beer," Cole reminisces about the freaked-out wild boar that scampered into his yard during hunting season two years ago. "She was a sweetheart. I couldn't kill her myself." So he built a pen for her. "She stayed there 'cuz she didn't want to get shot." Eventually he gave her to a group of Miccosukees who run a pig farm on the Tamiami Trail. He assumed she would be cooked, but they later told him they couldn't kill the pig because she was a gift.

In the late Seventies and Eighties, Cole owned a trailer on property a few miles to the west that belonged to another scion of Loop Road, Ben Wolfe. A Miami Springs native, Cole works as a building inspector for the Miami-Dade County School Board. His business, Cheyenne Construction, is named after his daughter.

He gives us a tour of his yard, which is part dump, part sculpture garden. Behind the main trailer are two smaller ones. Behind the trailers is an outdoor shower made from cypress planks scavenged from the ruins of Sullivan's Barbecue, a now- defunct restaurant. Beyond that is his outdoor bathroom, still under construction; next to the entrance is an old rusted safe with a few sticks of dynamite inside. We stroll over to the eastern perimeter of the yard and come upon a greenhouse shaped like a Quonset hut. A wire runs around the base. "That's a hot wire to keep the animals out. It won't kill you, but it will make you angry with me," Cole declares. Inside are a wood stove and two chairs. A cage with a pair of small birds hangs from the ceiling. A head of cabbage and some ferns are the only things growing. "If I don't get around to getting vegetables planted, I just turn the soil real good, fertilize it, and throw in flower seeds. I just let it fill up with flowers," Cole says.

He leads us down his driveway toward Loop Road. "You want to see some wind chimes?" He stops next to two iron pipes as wide as telephone poles that are suspended vertically from a wooden beam. After he shoves them, an old hydraulic pump hung inside bounces back and forth, causing a deep, sour sound.

Then we follow him out to Loop Road. The clock on the wooden fence still reads five o'clock. "I never start drinking until it's five," Cole says. "I get my ice chest, come down, sit across the street, and look up at the clock. It's five."

We hole up on the porch again for a while. Then down the gravel driveway, on a four-wheel minibike, comes the Marshal. He's wearing a shirt and light blue jeans; a mustache lines his ready smile and a thin gold chain hangs around his neck. The Marshal, who is 50 years old and runs an air conditioning service, has come from his cypress shack at the end of Jim Dill Road. "Hey, Marshal," Cole yells.

"Hey, Judge. How ya doin'?" the Marshal responds.
"I'm doin' great," Cole says.
Cole indeed carries some legal authority. He's a notary public and performs wedding ceremonies. When acting in that capacity, he dresses in black, wears a black cowboy hat, and carries a .38 caliber revolver on his hip. He sometimes brings along a shotgun for effect. He recently presided over one marriage inside the state's wildlife check station, a screened-in, wood-frame cube at the eastern entrance of Loop Road where hunters report their take.

A car pulls into the driveway. It is Maureen, Cole's wife. She hails from Toronto, Canada, and works in Miami at Prudential insurance company in the risk-management division. She settles into a chair on the porch. Before the couple relocated to Loop Road, the swamp was "all very abstract to me," she recalls. "I wouldn't move back to town for all the money in the world," she declares.

As dusk turns to dark, the conversation drifts from weddings to snakes to Y2K to park rangers, who are the favorite whipping boys of many a Loop Road inhabitant. Cole remembers that the Marshal (who asked that his real name not be printed because he likes his privacy) wrote a song about a ranger. Then Marshal, who was born in Texas 50 years ago and has lived on Loop Road for the past 25 years, begins singing like a bluegrass legend:

"Way out in the Everglades on the old Loop Road/There's an old game warden that everybody knows/Some folks say he's sneaky, some folks say he's mean/Everybody knows him by his name Ray Green/He's mean, he's mean, he's mean, Ray Green/Now if you're sneakin' through the Glades don't let the sun go down/'Cause Ray he's got an infrared and he's always hangin' round/And if you've got a gator in that gunny sack/Ol' Ray can smell and he can tell you ain't never comin' back/He's mean, he's mean, he's mean, Ray Green."

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