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  • Tara Crutchfield

Road Trip

Sweet summertime! Kids are out of school, and there’s plenty of sunshine (and rain) to go around. Now is the perfect time for a quick vacay to one of the quintessential Florida destinations in our backyard or the ones a road trip away. There are fantastic places to visit in every direction, and we’ve compiled a list of some fun, educational, wacky, relaxing, spooky, and enriching summer trips. Whether you’re looking to camp and kayak, sun and swim, or milk snakes and hunt the elusive Skunk Ape, we’ve got it on the list. Don’t forget to snap a photo and post it on social media with #kindachill or #lkldhaven – you might end up in the next issue. Bon voyage, babe!




 

Robert is Here Fruit Stand


The year is 1959. Six-year-old Robert was set on a corner to sell his father’s cucumber crop. As the story goes, “Robert sat all day that Saturday and no one even stopped. That evening, Robert’s father decided that ‘There can’t be that many people who don’t like cucumbers; they must not see this little boy standing here on the corner.’” Determined to sell his crop the next day, Robert’s father placed signs around the little fruit stand with big red letters that said: “Robert is Here.” The signage must have done the trick because, by noon, Robert was walking home after selling out of his father’s cucumbers. A neighboring farmer added produce to his display, and Robert took occasional help from his little sister Rose. His mother arranged for the bus to pick him up and drop him off each day at his fruit stand, which grew with such gusto that by age nine, Robert hired a neighbor to work for him while he attended school. The young fruit-selling mogul bought his first ten acres when he was fourteen, on which he planted an avocado grove and rented out the house.


Today, passers-by are drawn in by the “Robert is Here” signage, now in huge white lettering atop a much larger building than the stand in which he started. What began as a modest fruit stand continues as a family-owned and operated tourist destination specializing in rare and exotic fruits and veggies grown mostly on their Homestead, Florida farms. In addition to produce, guests can indulge in fresh fruit milkshakes and homemade key lime pies. There is also an animal farm, play area, picnic tables, and live music on weekends and holidays.


 

Anna Maria Island


A barrier island on Florida’s shimmering Gulf Coast, Anna Maria Island is a popular beach destination for much of Central Florida. It has an island life vibe and a favorable selection of public beaches on which to sun and swim. Popular beaches include Manatee Public Beach, Anna Maria Public Beach, Bean Point Beach, Coquina Beach, and Bayfront Park.


If a beach day is what you’re after, pack a cooler, a towel, and SPF, and you’ll be good – or take out the boat (or rent one) for saltwater fishing and sea life spotting. A weekend stay in one of the many cheery, beachy-hued condos on the island is preferable to get in all that AMI offers. Take the Island Trolly up and down all 7 miles of the island for free. Something to do, eat, or buy will be within walking distance of one of the trolley’s 35 northbound and 35 southbound stops. 


If you’re imbibing during your trip, the island has plenty to choose from. For a Hurricane that won’t make you panic-buy supplies and Sex on the Beach that won’t get you arrested (maybe), stop into Hurricane Hank’s for a fish sandwich and tropical cocktails. A trendy stop to get your medicine is The Doctor’s Office, a craft bar in an actual former doctor’s office. The good doc offers craft cocktails, beer, wine, and small plates to sober up. I believe the saying goes, “A stiff drink a day keeps the doctor away.” 


After you’ve dumped the sand from your swimsuit and assessed the sunburn you swore you wouldn’t get, don’t forget to get your photo in the clink at the old Anna Maria City Jail. This is a frequented photo-op on the island with “no roof, no doors, no windows, no bars, no guests for yrs n’ yrs.”


 

Fort De Soto Dog Beach Park


Hey, your best friend deserves a trip this summer, too – life can be ruff when you’re stuck at home all day. Fort De Soto Dog Beach Park southwest of St. Pete has 4.4 out of 5 dog bones on bringfido.com, so you know it’s legit.


Fort De Soto Park itself is over 1,100 acres spanning five interconnected keys. Fort De Soto Dog Beach Park is the only place in the park where dogs are allowed on the beach and not required to wear a leash so you and Fluffy can frolic freely. Leashed pets are welcome anywhere in the park besides public beaches, piers, and buildings. Remember to bring plenty of fresh drinking water for your beach buddy!

Here’s a dog/ human beach activity checklist:


  1. Play – frisbee, fetch, swimming, digging, you know the deal

  2. Meet new friends, say hello – sniff all the butts (the last part is exclusively for dogs only)

  3. Slow-motion Baywatch run together (buy dog sunglasses for full effect)

  4. Instagram photo montage (use #lkldhaven and #kindachill, and you might make it in the next issue!)

  5. Wash up at the park’s dog wash station and hang your heads out the window all the way home

We hope you and your pet babe have a great day of sand, sun, barks, and belly rubs!


 

Old Town


Nostalgic music, classic cars, shops, and rides transplanted from the Main Street USA of yesterday, Old Town is the epitome of Florida roadside attraction kitsch. The park opened in 1986, located on US 192 in Kissimmee just up the road from what would later be Celebration.


The park, open daily from 11 am to 11 pm, has its share of rides like a classic carousel, an arcade, a haunted house, and a five-story roller coaster aptly named the Hurricane. The Ferris wheel will give you a bird’s-eye view of Old Town and all the surrounding neon rides, mini-golf, larger-than-life tourist gift shops, and magic that dots the 192 strip. 


Old Town’s weekly classic car shows draw crowds to their brick-lined streets to enjoy cruising classics and hot rods. Friday night is the Muscle Car Show and Cruise, followed by Saturday night’s Classic Car Show. Guests can grab a bite or beverage at the numerous restaurants, bars, and grab-and-go options within the park, from burgers and sushi to pub fare and pizza. Top it off with some Sweet Dreams Ice Cream!

Just about anything kitsch, camp, and beyond can be found in the row of shops up and down its main street – all things leather, sunglasses, Tiki, retro memorabilia, gemstones, crystals, magnets, soap, and more – even beef jerky. Remembering your trip with either a hand-drawn caricature or an old-timey portrait at Old Town Portrait Gallery is an embarrassing right of passage. If you haven’t yet had your fill of fun, walk directly next door to Fun Spot for even more rides and attractions!


 

Devil's Den Prehistoric Spring


Are you brave enough to enter the Devil’s Den? It’s not as dramatic or evil as it sounds, promise. Devil’s Den Prehistoric Spring, located in Levy County, is a subterranean spring within a dry cave. The year-round 72-degree waters plunge to a maximum depth of 54 feet, covering 120 feet of surface diameter.

According to devilsden.com, the cave “has been home to many extinct animal fossils dating back to the Pleistocene Age, which are on display at The University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History.”

For decades, the spring has attracted divers and snorkelers from near and far. The privately-owned scuba diving training center offers scuba diving seven days a week. Open Water Certification or above and a dive buddy are required for admission. Night dives are available by reservation.


If diving isn’t your thing, perhaps you’ll enjoy snorkeling which does not require any certification to participate. Children under six are not permitted access to Devil’s Den, and parties must make reservations to snorkel. A mask, snorkel, and fins are required for admission. But have no fear if you leave yours at home, you can rent them there.


Make a weekend out of it at the tent campgrounds, R.V. park, or cabins available for rent. Downtown Williston is less than ten minutes from the Prehistoric Spring. You can grab a bite at The Ivy House Restaurant, BubbaQue’s BBQ, Sister’s Place, and more local haunts.

Once you’ve taken a dip at the Devil’s Den, check out their website for a list of other springs as close as two miles away, like Blue Grotto to the south or Silver Springs, 30 minutes to the east, which offers glass-bottom boat tours!

 

Little Gasparilla Island


Little Gasparilla Island is an easy-paced coastal getaway. Fishing, lounging, swimming, and sunning should be at the top of your to-do list for this summer trip. This barrier island is about two and a half hours southwest of us, hugging the Gulf. 


No paved roads on Little Gasparilla mean personal boats, rentals, or water taxis are the only way to and from the mainland. Beach houses and island bungalows can be rented for your secluded coastal retreat. There are three choices of transportation around the island – walking, bicycle (if you bring yours across to the island), or golf carts available at Little Gasparilla Island Carts. There are no restaurants or grocery stores on LGI. Stock up and bring over your trip’s groceries when you take your boat or water taxi.


Well-loved pastimes on LGI are exploring the island, swimming, snorkeling, shelling, wildlife watching, boating, fishing, and stargazing. If you’re looking for something else to pass the unhurried island time, rent a wave runner, jet ski, or paddleboard for the day.

 

Wekiwa Springs State Park


When was the last time you took a camping trip with friends? Wekiwa Springs State Park with its year-round 72-degree spring waters, hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing, swimming, snorkeling, picnicking, paddling, mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, and more – make for a memorable nature retreat. 


The park has 60 campsites with water, electrical hook-up, a fire ring with a grill, and a picnic table, along with two restrooms with showers in the camp area. Some sites also have sewer hook-ups, and a dump station is located at the campground. For a more sequestered experience, try the primitive campgrounds of Camp Cozy or Big Fork. Ten people are comfortably accommodated at each site with a fire pit, grill, benches, and picnic table.


Otter Camp and Big Buck Camp on Rock Springs Run are only reachable by water with no vehicle access. If you don’t have your own, canoes and kayaks can be rented within the park. For these sites, reservations are required 60 days in advance. 


Gather your friends, the best spooky stories, s’mores ingredients, and camping gear for a trip to Wekiwa Springs that will doubtless leave you with some funny camping tales of your own.

 

Cassadaga


Known as the “Psychic Capital of the World,” this unincorporated community of Spiritualists was established over 120 years ago and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. According to www.cassadaga.org, after being told during a seance that he would be instrumental in founding a Spiritualist community in the South, a young New Yorker, George Colby, would see that prophecy fulfilled. Colby put roots down in Cassadaga while continuing to travel for work as a medium. In 1894, the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association was formed, and in 1895, Colby deeded over 35 acres to its founders. Today, the Spiritualist camp is sprawled over 57 acres and comprises 55 homes and a community of spiritual folks, including many mediums, psychics, and healers.


Their website defines Spiritualism as “The Science, Philosophy, and Religion based upon the principle of continuous life demonstrated through mediumship. Spiritualism embraces the concept of individual responsibility and the belief that the door to reformation is never closed.” The resident Spiritualists of Cassadaga welcome believers, skeptics, and the curious alike.  


Things to check out in addition to visiting the Camp and its bookstore (which has the area’s largest selection of books on Spiritualism, spirituality, and metaphysics) are the historic and allegedly haunted Hotel Cassadaga, The Cassadaga Spiritualist Psychic Center, and the Devil’s Chair. The latter is a brick throne of sorts, sitting graveside at the Lake Helen-Cassadaga Cemetery. Legend has it that if you sit in the Devil’s Chair at midnight, Lucifer himself will communicate with you. 


Plan your visit now! I bet they already know you’re coming.

 

Kennedy Space Center


What would a Florida summer trip list even be without rockets? You could say this trip is out of this world – the atmosphere is great. You will need to make space in your calendar to shuttle your kids here.


Your galactic adventure to The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will dive into history and soar towards the future of space exploration with the many exhibits, historic spacecraft and memorabilia, IMAX theaters, Planet Play, and bus tours of the spaceport. Though there’s plenty of fun for adults, this is one trip that could inspire our smallest future astronauts and shuttle engineers.


According to www.kennedyspacecenter.com, “Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is organized into Mission Zones where attractions and tours are grouped by chronological era. From the dawn of space exploration to current and ongoing missions, you can get an up-close, hands-on feel for the story of humans in space. Fuel your quest for inspiration right here.”


If all that space exploration works up an appetite, land at the Orbit Cafe, Red Rock Grill, Moon Rock Cafe, or Space Bowl Bistro. Moonwalk your way to the Milky Way to get some Space Dots for dessert.

 

Scalloping in Steinhatchee


If sitting on the boat waiting for a bite isn’t the kind of fishing you like, grab your snorkel and flippers for some scalloping in Steinhatchee. One of the furthest trips on our list up in Big Bend territory, the seagrass beds of Steinhatchee are a treasure trove. 


You’re in luck! The Gulf Coast scalloping season is in full swing from June 15 through Labor Day. You can captain your own boat, rent or charter from one of the many local companies like Sea Hag Marina and Florida Saltwater Flats Fishing Charters. Scalloping requires a current Florida recreational saltwater fishing license (available online from the FWC) unless you are scalloping on a chartered trip. 


After a day of pluckin’ and shuckin’, we’ve been told the perfect end to a scalloping excursion is to drink in the sunset overlooking the Steinhatchee River with the Gulf just beyond over a bite to eat at Roy’s Restaurant.

 

Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida


Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (or Wat Tampa as most people call it) is a Theravada Buddhist Temple for religious ceremonies, meditation, and Dhamma (teachings of Buddha) study. It was established in 1981 and moved to its current location in 1983. The Sunday Market started in 1987 with only two tables and has since grown into a food paradise for thousands of people every Sunday. Volunteers serve authentic Thai food prepared by Temple volunteers from 9 am until about 1 pm, with all proceeds going back to Wat Tampa. 


Menu items can include grilled pork or chicken on a stick (my favorite of the day), Pad Thai, various chicken curry dishes with vegetables, egg rolls, Guiteow (beef or pork noodle soup), Som Dom (Thai Papaya salad), and a wide variety of Thai desserts, Thai tea, and Thai coffee made with sweet cream. You can get your food packed to go or stay and eat right there. Just steps away, underneath the shade of mature trees, are plenty of picnic tables where you can sit and eat. Each menu item is usually more than enough for one person, so there’s always plenty for later. This is a family-friendly environment and a fun way to try all kinds of food without spending a lot of money. 


While there, you can shop for Thai fruit trees, herbs, orchids, and hanging plants in the delightful outdoor Plant Market next to the picnic tables. Visitors can also go inside Wat Tampa, and see the Buddhist Temple. Please remove your shoes and leave them outside.

 

Gatorama


This roadside wildlife attraction, open for some 60 years, promises the biggest gators and crocs, along with plenty of thrills and education. Gatorama offers nostalgic (for Florida, that is) gator and croc feeding shows, as well as up-close encounters with tortoises, pythons, and more.


Brave Gatorama guests can opt for the Fast Hands Challenge and feed hungry leaping gators and crocs from the bridge. “Walk out on our bridge and lean over the edge as our hungry Gators and Crocs leap out of the water to grab a snack from your grip. You’ll need nerves of steel to successfully do the Fast Hands Challenge and a bit of showmanship. Don’t worry, if you lose a finger, you’ve got nine more – right?” Not for the faint of heart is the Face to Face Challenge, where you can get up close and personal with these prehistoric monsters ‘with little more than a Gator Stick between you.’ Of course, you’ll need a photo for bragging rights and probably a new pair of shorts. 


If you’d prefer less thrill and more education, check out their numerous exhibits of alligators, crocs (including Orinoco, Cuban, and Saltwater), other reptiles, Kinkajou, and bobcats. 

 

Safari Wilderness Ranch


No crowds, just tons of fresh air and wild animals! Safari Wilderness Ranch, a Florida agritourism project licensed by the USDA, is a Lakeland oasis of wildlife and adventure! This family-owned, licensed working game ranch, surrounded by The Green Swamp, specializes in wetland exotic species, African Watusi, and Irish Dexter cattle (heritage breeds). 


Guests can enjoy a drive-thru safari tour in their own vehicle or be guided by an experienced driver through 260 acres of wilderness in their customized canopied safari vehicles. More adventurous safari-goers can explore with a guide by camelback, ATV, or kayak. They also offer exclusive animal encounters with lemurs, cheetahs, and guinea pigs.


According to safariwilderness.com, the journey is fun and educational. Explorers of the ranch “will learn about Florida’s natural and human history, our conservation programs, and encounter amazing animals that are endangered or extinct in the wild.”


Keep the fun going with a Glamping adventure! Safari Wilderness now hosts a few special people per night in 10 safari tents on the property, complete with a continental breakfast. 

 

Reptile World Serpentarium


Opened in 1972, Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud houses a collection of over 80 species of snakes from around the world. This includes six species of cobra (including an over 13-foot king cobra), a black mamba, an East African green mamba, and 11 kinds of rattlesnakes, in addition to more innocuous non-venomous snakes. Also on display are several species of lizards, a Nile crocodile, an alligator, turtles, and tortoises.


What sets them apart is their regular venom extraction shows performed in front of visitors. According to their website (www.reptileworldserpentarium.com), “Though there may be only fifty snakes on public display at any given time, behind the scenes are hundreds of venomous snakes just waiting to be “milked” for their valuable venom. Reptile World Serpentarium ships this precious commodity worldwide for use in medical and herpetological research.” 


Venom shows begin with a verbal presentation about snakes and their venom. Then, behind a glass barrier, owner and Herpetologist George Van Horn handles venomous snakes, which are “coaxed into sinking their fangs through a clear membrane stretched over a collection glass” for medical and herpetological research purposes. “The view can’t be beaten. You are just a few feet away from these fanged wonders and will be thankful for the glass window between you and the snakes.”

 

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens


Fifteen hours and eleven minutes. That’s how long it takes to fly from Florida to Japan. It’s a trip I one day hope to make, but in the meantime, we Polk Countians are fortunate enough to have a Japanese museum and gardens celebrating their rich and elaborate history mere hours away in Delray Beach. 


The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens underscore Japanese culture through Japanese art and artifacts exhibitions. Roji-en, the name of their Japanese gardens, means ‘Garden of the Drops of Dew.’ According to their website morikami.org, these gardens were “designed to be a living exhibit as an extension of the museum. Its six distinct gardens are inspired by, but are not replicas of, significant gardens of Japan. Designer Hoichi Kurisu has created a unique garden conceived and constructed in the spirit of the masters.”


Their premier collection of bonsai is worth the visit alone. The Dr. Ron and Arlene Kessler Walk explore the bonsai exhibit and the art which inspired it, including the technique of training and sculpting. Check their website for information on upcoming bonsai classes. Among the peaceful gardens is the museum, which hosts several exhibitions of Japanese art and artifacts throughout the year, showcasing items from the museum’s collection and pieces borrowed from private collectors and other institutions.

 

Spook Hill


Ah, Lake Wales, Crown Jewel of the Ridge, home to Bok Tower Gardens, rows of blossoming citrus trees, the friendliest people, and (wiggles fingers in a menacingly scary way) Spoooooook Hill. 


Posted on a sign just before the hill is the legend of Spook Hill. The sign reads: 


“Ages ago, an INDIAN TOWN on Lake Wailes Lake was plagued with raids by a HUGE GATOR. The town’s GREAT WARRIOR Chief and the gator were killed in a FINAL BATTLE that created the huge swampy depression nearby. The chief was buried on its north side. Later PIONEER HAULERS coming from the old ARMY TRAIL atop the ridge above found their horses LABORING HERE… at the foot of the ridge and called it Spook Hill. IS THE GATOR SEEKING REVENGE, OR THE CHIEF PROTECTING HIS LAND???”


Then it states simple instructions: Stop car on white line, place in neutral, and let it roll back. 

I’ve heard Spook Hill is an optical illusion, but I’m unsure what’s so spooky about it. When I tried it with a group of friends, all we could collectively deduce was that maybe a smaller hill at the bottom produced this trick of the eye. 


Though I didn’t see the chief or the giant gator, it was fun to try out. I give Spook Hill three out of five Exorcist head spins since it was not very scary but made for a fun trip with plenty of laughs.

 

The Wonder House


Built without blueprints by inventor and oddities collector Conrad Schuck, The Wonder House sits in grand juxtaposition to the average Bartow neighborhoods surrounding it. Currently a full-time private residence, this Bartow abode is open for historic tours on a limited basis.


As the name implies, the spacious estate is full of wonders. The house is made with a blend of steel-reinforced concrete inlaid with glass and tile mosaics and stands four stories tall with two stories underground. The Wonder House amalgamates an eccentric dreamer’s boundless imagination and vision, from beautiful tile mosaics and hand-painted ceiling panels to hidden rooms and clever inventions.  


Some of the home’s notable features include a moat with two bridges spanning it and two pools on the third floor (one of which has since been concreted by a previous owner) used as bathtubs, swimming pools, and then koi ponds. According to their website, “The house featured many time-saving devices like delayed light switches, a laundry chute, and inventions including air conditioning in the 1920s!” 

Historic Tours of the Wonder House are available only by booking a reservation online in advance at www.wonderhousebartow.com.

 

Skunkape Headquarters


You’ve heard of the Yeti, an abominable snowman-type creature covered in hair as white as the snowy mountainous landscape they’re said to roam. And Bigfoot, the elusive giant ape-man that traverses the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest only to be caught in a blurry photo or two. Florida has its own legendary creature – the Skunk Ape. The Florida Skunk Ape is said to be a tall, bipedal animal with reddish-black fur and a strong odor similar to rotten eggs.  


In the heart of the Everglades, about three hours south of Polk County within the Big Cypress Preserve, past a speckling of airboat tours and the tiny Ochopee post office, is The Skunk Ape Headquarters. After a selfie with the Skunk Ape replica or the 28-foot fiberglass cougar statue out front, tourists can enter the small gift shop and purchase a magnet, hat, t-shirt, mug, or their very own copy of the Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide. For a fee, visitors can step through a door in the back to see a collection of animals – different species of snakes, including a massive 24 feet long, approximately 400 lb. Reticulated Python named Goldie, alligators, turtles, and fowl.

 

Bok Tower Gardens


Twenty-three million visitors have meandered the stunning garden paths to Bok Tower since it opened in 1929. No summer would be complete without a trip to this Lake Wales gem. 


From the 20-room 1930s Mediterranean-style Pinewood Estate to the Visitor Center & Exhibit Hall, which features a museum with permanent exhibits, there’s plenty to take in at the Gardens. The Visitor Center & Exhibit Hall houses the original keyboard for the carillon in the Singing Tower, a miniature replica of the Singing Tower displaying what is behind the walls of the Tower on each level, a topographical map showing a cross-section of Florida which details different habitats found at varying sea levels, and much more. 


Those who adventure to Bok Tower Gardens can enjoy photography, birdwatching, geocaching, and hiking. Guests can trek the 1.5-mile Preserve Trail or 3/4-mile Pine Ridge Nature Trail and take the kids to the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, featuring nearly three acres of nature play along with art, water features, plantings, a boardwalk, a performance stage, and a music area.


After taking in the lush flora and fauna, and the carillon concert which rings out throughout the Gardens each day at 1 and 3 p.m. with short selections played on the hour and half hour, conclude your visit with a tasty bite at Bok Tower Gardens’ on-site restaurant, Blue Palmetto Cafe. Don’t forget to pick up a memento of your trip at The Shop at Bok or The Plant Shop. 

 

St. Augustine


With a history steeped in settlers, soldiers, and restless spirits, St. Augustine is the place in the Sunshine State for history lovers, ghost aficionados, and seekers of everlasting youth. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed near what would eventually become St. Augustine in 1513. He claimed the newly discovered territory, which he dubbed La Florida or “place of flowers” for the Spanish Crown. In September of 1565, Spanish admiral and explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the city of St. Augustine, securing its spot as “the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent,” according to OldCity.com, predating the establishment of the Jamestown, Virginia colony by 42 years.


Those interested in the city’s history can visit Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. Guests can even buy a keepsake bottle to fill with water from the Fountain of Youth for agelessness on the go.  


Perhaps the most impressive structure in St. Augustine is the massive coquina fort and national monument, Castillo de San Marcos. Virtual tours are available online, and in-person visitors can pay admission to explore the grounds themselves. At certain times on most weekends, spectators can watch soldiers in period garb reenact the firing of cannons from the fort’s gundeck.


An assortment of walking, trolley, and horse and carriage tours of the city are available. Some dive into the depths of St. Augustine’s history, while others focus on Old City specters. Some of St. Augustine’s most notorious haunts are said to linger around St. Augustine’s Old Jail, Castillo de San Marcos, The Spanish Military Hospital, and the Casablanca Inn – just to name a few. Book a room at the Casablanca or the St. Francis Inn Bed & Breakfast for a potential night of frights... if you dare! (Other than the alleged hauntings, they are charming inns, so you’ll have a pleasant stay regardless. Or there’s a Hilton if you’re a chicken.)

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