Hard Candy: Gecko Season

Hang onto your hats, folks, it’s Gecko Season. I saw Shipyard Pumpkinhead ale in the grocery store two days ago, which means that our lovely “face-of-the-sun-hot” summer will start to wind itself down shortly, and after the kids go back to school the geckos will come out.
Because I’m not like most of the world – and if you’re a Gulfportian, you’re not, either – pumpkins and geckos are all somehow tied together in my mind. Thanks to the marketing machine that feels the need to start showing us Halloween stuff about three minutes after the last Fourth of July fireworks show ends, we’re already seeing the first clues that Halloween is just around the corner.
Of course, if these marketing geniuses lived anywhere near Gulfport, they would realize they’ve missed the boat on a major holiday that falls between Independence Day and Halloween: GeckoFest. Which is why I say to you now, forget Halloween for a while longer, because it’s Gecko Season, y’all. 
See, the way I look at it, Gulfport has four seasons. No, not those boring traditional seasons – they’re lackluster and way too northern for how we do things down here. In Gulfport, we start the year with Election Season (honestly, my least favorite, because it’s unreasonably cold and I spend the bulk of my time sorting through political donkey excrement). By the time we elect new leaders in March, we’re well into Festival Season. Our mayor puts it most succinctly: Gulfport celebrates everything but water bill day. I’ve always suspected that’s only because the Chamber can’t find a free weekend to  squeeze in the celebration. After Festival Season we float into Budget Season, where the city tries to figure out how it’s going to foot the bill for another year of small town living at its finest.
That’s where we are now, Budget Season, although we’re almost through and then we can turn to Geckos. I’m not going to talk about the budget, because let’s all be honest with each other, sometimes it’s exhausting to think about politics and money and really, aren’t geckos more fun? I mean, if you found a budget in your house, you’d be like, “Meh”, but if you found a huge gecko, you’d get pretty excited, right?
I’ve traveled most of Florida, including a bevy of small towns who all bill themselves as eclectic, artsy, and unique. So many small towns now bill themselves as “eclectic, artsy, and unique” that the truly unique town should probably bill itself as “ordinary, boring, and mass produced” to really stand out. We’re not all special, because calling everyone special, to quote the Incredibles, “is another way of saying no one is.”
Except, in Gulfport, we do have one thing that makes a special kind of special. Other towns have drama and politics and art walks and spring carnivals and Fourth of July parades, but only Gulfport has geckos. Geckofest remains the one thing that is truly ours, from the steel gecko art in downtown restaurants to the Gecko Parade where the mayor bee-bops up and down Beach Boulevard carrying his one-of-a-kind Nancy Cervenka Gecko Stick. 
So what is Geckofest? It’s an end-of-summer celebration that started in 2001. Former resident and arts champion Frank Hibrant came up with the name. People who don’t know ask if the name has something to do with the anoles (you may call them lizards) scurrying around town. Nope. The name means nothing. It’s just a cool name. In fact, organizers resisted efforts to name it after a native species. Other towns have festivals that tie to something about the town – Plant City has the Strawberry Festival and Queen, LaBelle has the Swamp Cabbage Festival and Queen, and Monticello has the Watermelon Festival and Queen – but in Gulfport, we have no special reason, other than “just because.”
For a name that has no special meaning, it’s come to epitomize Gulfport, at least for me. I love Gecko Season: the gecko art, the Gecko Ball that has an… interesting… theme, the Gecko Parade. What do I love best? The non sequitur-ish-ness of the whole party. I love the lack of deeper meaning. I love that, despite the name, odds are you won’t see a single live gecko at GeckoFest.
Because in Gulfport, we’re not about the actual geckos at all. We’re just about GeckoFest.
Happy Gecko Season, everyone.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.