by Tim Gilmore, 2/1/2022
“It was cool for a while,” he says. Robby Stratton was famous. People all over the world saw him on TV. A London publication called The Drinks Business published the headline, “Man Walks into an Off-License with an Alligator.” A Rhode Island publication headed “Beer-Run with Gator in Hand.” Every bar he entered gave him free shots. And he didn’t even have to bring the alligator…
…who may or may not still be walking the Westside. His cousin had brought the reptile over to cook him. As to whether they ate the alligator or not, Robby says, “As far as the courts are concerned, we released him.”
And the manager at the Kwik Stop was happy for the free advertising. “I had a tab at the store. I could go and get whatever I want all week and pay later. It got to the point where we would go in there with hand-trucks getting beer and I’ll just be like, ‘I’ll pay you Friday.’”
The video went viral in July 2018 when his 23 year old cousin followed him into the convenient store at Kinkaid Road and 103rd Street on the Westside as he carried the live alligator, its mouth taped shut, ran through the store, seeming to chase a customer, giggling and yelling, “Y’all got beer?”
He told local TV station Action News Jax that he didn’t know where the reptile came from and thought it wasn’t real. He later said he couldn’t remember the incident at all. Other videos showed several men passing the alligator around outside the store, one man holding it upright by its neck, mouth taped closed, and shaking it.
On Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Desi Lydic interviewed Robby outside the Kwik Stop Food Store, asking him, “What is it about Florida that made you do what you did?” He blamed heat, humidity and alcohol. HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver showed a Jacksonville man reclining on his motorcycle and driving with his feet along Interstate-95 and Robby saying the Kwik Stop sells some good liquor, “and I drank a lot of it that night,” that he had no recollection of bringing the alligator into the store.
To which John Oliver replied: “Okay, everything about that guy is absolutely fascinating. But I think I’m most interested in the fact that he was drunk at the store where he bought the liquor. So did he buy the liquor, leave, drink it, fetch an alligator and then return to the same store? Did he drink the liquor at the store at which point an alligator walked in, or did he get drunk and then meet a sober alligator who was having a bad day, wanted to have a couple of drinks, and the guy said, ‘I know just the place, alligator’? I don’t know. The point is it’s Florida. All options are equally plausible.”
Before “Florida Man” existed as an Internet meme, first riffing off ridiculous headlines that began with “Florida Man,” like “Florida Man Shot by Dog,” etc., the rest of Florida made fun of Jacksonville, of Duval County, as not quite Florida, the capital of South Georgia. The implications were that Jax was backward, redneck, working class, uneducated, a city that called itself “the biggest city in the world” because it had merged its city limits with its county borders, though 90 percent of the “city” was rural.
In John Berendt’s 1994 nonfiction novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannah residents call everything south of Gaston Street “North Jacksonville,” meaning it’s undeserving of the charm associated with Savannah. And Southern Gothic novelist Harry Crews, born in South Georgia, growing up partly in Jax, called Jacksonville a “city of broken farmers,” referring to the mid-20th century migration of rural Georgians to Jacksonville factories when the crops failed.
When the rest of Florida looked down on Jax, Jax thumbed its nose at itself. Mayor Jake Godbold won reelection with 71 percent of the vote in 1983 because he connected to a wider swath of his hometown than any other politician in living memory and did so because he understood the city’s inferiority complex. He used to say Jax should love itself as much as he did, but the town refused his invitation.
Then somewhere along the way, Jacksonville hated itself a little less, felt big that it had a professional football team, and welcomed students to the University of North Florida who didn’t know they were supposed to hate the place they’d chosen to live. Cell phone cameras and social media spread Orlando’s absurdities further than Jacksonville’s and the 2017 movie The Florida Project showed the desperations of kids raised under the service industry in the shadow of Disney World.
In short: when “Florida Man” was born, Florida and Jax became one, Jacksonville became Florida again and all the Sunshine State became the butt of jokes its northernmost larger town had long been.
Robby Stratton grew up in Hooterville, the rural quadrant of the Westside out beneath the pines between Lambing Road and Old Middleburg and the road called No Road. “My dad’s generation named it Hooterville,” he says, “after the show Green Acres and the fact we have so many owls and there used to be a bird sanctuary out here.”
Growing up, he went back and forth across Hooterville, from his mother’s house on Hipps Road off Schindler Drive to his father’s. “He spent most of his life in prison though,” Robby says. “Mama was a cowgirl. Daddy was a dope dealer.”
The arrest report said 28 year old Robert Stratton stood 6’3” and weighed 160 pounds, was a graduate of Westside High School, and was bonded $5,003, charged with Fish and Wildlife Conservation Level II Violations, S379.401(2)(A), M1 Capturing, Keeping, Possessing, Transporting or Exhibiting Venomous Reptiles or Reptiles of Concern; License Required, S379.372, M2 Cruelty to Animals, S828.12(1), M1. It gave his address as 5411 Kinkaid Road, his place of employment, Big Oaks Tires.
One website, which claims it’s devoted to “funny pictures, slightly dark memes, and somewhat crazy videos,” called Robby “the drunkest man in the world.” He’s followed up on that infamy with Instagram and youtube accounts for #DrunkRob. He doesn’t like liquor any more though, he says, and prefers “anything by Anheuser Busch,” adding, “a 12-pack hardly gets me buzzed.” As “Drunk Rob,” he posts videos like “What Happens When You Drink a Whole Bottle of Crown,” which shows the same cousin who followed him into the Kwik Stop not just drinking, but chugging a fifth of Crown Royal Canadian Whisky.
With a country song playing in the background, several young men standing watching, beer signs on the walls, the ceiling spraypainted, C.J. knocks the bottle back and downs it in about 10 seconds. Now he’s falling on the couch, rolling around on the floor. He tries to box a friend, falls forward, his eyes unfocused, soon curls up unconscious. The word “Florida” spreads spraypainted across the back of the couch. Robby takes a pair of scissors, cuts his cousin’s shirt and sprays “Drunk Rob” across his back.
Robby likes his notoriety. Might be the most famous person on the Westside of Jacksonville. Says he won’t run for mayor, since he doesn’t think felons can hold office. Self-identifies as “redneck.”
According to Joseph Flora and Lucinda MacKethan in The Companion to Southern Literature, stereotypes of the “redneck” go back to before the Civil War. While the term may have originated with the “yeoman farmer” whose neck burned while he worked in the field, the word evolved to connote a certain kind of “poor white Southerner” with particular behavioral traits. To be Southern and white and not have much money is not enough.
Instead, write Flora and MacKethan, “What differentiates rednecks from poor whites is the perception of rednecks as racist, hot-headed, too physical, violent, uncouth, loud, mean, undereducated – and proud of it.” The “stereotypes follow: Rednecks do not adopt politically correct speech and are proud to be brutally honest about their feelings about nonwhites. Rednecks like to fight to solve their problems,” and so on.
Robby Stratton, asked what he thinks of those definitions, says, “Sounds about white.”