(Read part 1 here.)
I first learned about the Florida Manatee Challenge from my buddy Husk. I call him that because he doesn’t have a soul. Still a good guy though, if you don’t happen to have anything he wants. What he lacks in conscience he makes up for with an extraordinarily bushy goatee, so he’s got that going for him. Anyway, a little while before heading off to Florida I was chilling at Husk’s place, free-basing some mescaline. Like we do.
Eventually the topic of conversation drifted to ranking which animals we found the most sexually attractive. (Feel free to use that as one of your shitty lists, Buzzfeed. “14 Animals We’d Totally Bang” or some crap.) The point was not that we’d actually have sex with any animals. It was just a thought experiment. Like if we found ourselves as the last people on the planet and the only way to pass down our genes was to breed some half-human, half-beast monstrosity or something. You know, the typical sort of conversations you have when you’re high.
Then you start giggling uncontrollably and seeing visions of your dead ancestors.
We were in the middle of discussing dolphins (the obvious frontrunner) when suddenly Husk said, “Hey. You heard of the Manatee Challenge?”
I shook my head. “The what? Is that a sex thing?”
“Nah, man, no.” He leaned back, the bulge of his gut perfectly matching the contours of the beanbag chair he sat upon. “Manatees are only native to Florida, right? So the challenge is to try to smuggle one of them out of there. The further away you get the higher your score. A point per mile past Florida’s borders.”
“Yeah. I know of a guy who got one to Colorado before cops pulled him over for drunk driving and found it in his backseat.”
He took it to such great heights.
I whistled. “Damn, that must’ve taken some doing.”
“Well yeah, that’s why they call it a challenge. Hey, you’re going to Florida in a few days, aren’t you? You think you have what it takes to pull off the Manatee Challenge?”
I puffed up. “Do I have what it takes? You kiddin’ me? I’ll drag a freaking manatee straight to the North Pole! I’ll toss it into a hot air balloon and fly it around the world in eighty days! I’ll bill my employers for two spots on the first commercial Space X shuttle and take that bitch to Mars!” I scoffed. “Do I have what it takes? I’m Chris Fucking Derricks!”
That’s my full legal name, no joke. When I turned eighteen I had them officially put the exclamation point on there.
I said, “So how’s this work? There rules and stuff? Do I have to film it or anything?”
Husk shook his head. “No, fortunately. There are rules, though they’re pretty basic. You should read the wiki. It’s got all the official guidelines in there as well as a bunch of other helpful tips.”
I threw my head back and laughed until I felt like I’d damaged most of my esophagus. “Ha ha, read! Me! You’re adorable. Just hit me with the basics and let’s get this shit going. Do I get to eat the manatee or what? Because that would be right up my alley.”
I already know for a fact that flippers are delicious.
Husk recoiled. “No! You absolutely do not get to eat it! First rule: the manatee has to stay alive the whole time. No chopping it up and shipping it back home like cold cuts. And no eating it!
“Secondly, you can’t use a boat. That would be too easy. You’d just load the obese flipper into a jetboat and power over to Mexico. That’s basically cheating.
“And third: you keep your mouth shut. As far as anyone else is concerned, you’re a lone agent. If you get caught and start blabbing all about the Manatee Challenge then you can bet your ass the federal wildlife agents will come looking for the rest of us. Selling out your brothers is a big no-no in the Challenge community.”
“Whoa, there’s a Manatee Challenge community?”
“You bet there is. The top ten record holders get together every third Sunday to smoke cigars and reminisce about our accomplishments.”
My eyes went wide. “So you’re one of them then? You stole a manatee?”
He chuckled and settled even deeper into his beanbag. “That was a long time ago. But yeah, I bagged myself a manatee. Big, beautiful creature. I named her Gertrude. She had the softest flippers.”
And such pretty eyes…
“How far did you get with her?”
He looked at me sharply.
“Outside of Florida, I mean. How far did you take her?”
He sighed. “You remember that guy I told you about who got to Colorado?”
I jumped up. “No shit! That was you?”
“Sure was. I got all the way to the Rocky Mountains before they took her away from me.” He sniffed and wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s just, by the end that manatee and I had a bond, you know? I loved her, in a way. So I take this challenge very seriously.”
He looked hard at me.
I said, “Don’t worry bro, I take it seriously too. I’m gonna put the utmost respect into stealing a manatee from its natural habitat!”
“You’d better, Derricks,” he said. “You’d better.”
I stroked my chin. “Right, right. So we got the rules covered. No boats. No tiny pieces. No snitching. I got this!”
“Good. You better call me every step of the way. I’m looking forward to seeing if you can pull this off.”
I planted my fists on my hips like Superman. “Oh, you bet your ass I will! You’ll be first to know when I shatter every Manatee Challenge record on the books!”
He chuckled and then we took several hits of mescaline apiece to celebrate my certain success.
I took a selfie right around the time everything started turning into fractals.
Two days later when I sobered up, I started getting serious about my plans. See, there is the small issue of legality here. Manatees are protected federally by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species act. They’re also defended on a state level by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. In their words, “It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.”
Apparently if you violate these rules you could face $50,000 in penalties and a good chunk time in the slammer. Nothing I haven’t handled before!
Sure, all this legalese seems pretty daunting, but I had a few things going for me. First of all, my timing couldn’t have been better. The Florida manatee just got upgraded from endangered to threatened. That’s great news! It means that now there’s way less hippie conservationist types hanging around trying to kill the buzz and stop a guy from smuggling a manatee or two out of its natural habitat.
Also, I’ve got connections in Florida. A college chum of mine moved down there a few years back and has done pretty well for himself in the shipping industry. A phone call later and we had arranged to meet soon after I landed in Tampa. Golden!
From there were just a few minor logistical hurdles. Making sure the rental car I got would be big enough to hold a manatee, google image searching manatees to remind myself what exactly they look like, and figuring out Florida’s gun laws in case things went downhill. After all that, I was set. I climbed aboard my early morning flight out of LA and sat back with a big ‘ol smile on my face and several drinks in my belly.
Now the only thing left to do was get to Florida and get myself a manatee!