EAGLE LAKE, Fla. -- The first thing you notice about Eagle Lake, if you notice it at all, is the sound of traffic. Like the cars, most people zip past the town's strangest feature -- a stretch of Highway 17 in Polk County where the traffic median is in itself home.
Longtime resident Clark Lemieux says his home address has become something of a personal punchline.
"They ask me where I live I tell them I live in a ditch on Highway 17," Lemieux jokes. "They say, 'What do you mean?' and I say: it's in between north and southbound. A ditch."
Thanks to a bit of creative road construction in the early 1990s, the highway actually encircles this community, creating an island -- just 150-feet wide and not even a half-mile long.
"This is the only way they could do it," explains native Carl Skipper. "[To build a highway], people's got to give certain rights. ... They didn't want to give the rights, so [state traffic engineers] just egg-shaped it around it."
Christine Blizzard was born and raised in Eagle Lake, and has owned Christine's Beauty Salon on the median since 1979. She says the fact that both sides of the median permit vehicle access occasionally leads to confusion -- and accidents. People think they're headed southbound, for instance, only to find themselves driving into headlights.
Rita Wyatt learned to swim in the lake the town is named for -- when her father threw her in. "[He] told me to swim. I'm not coming to getcha."
Today Wyatt owns Dee Rock Music store on the Highway 17 median, and hosts a music jam each Friday. She says there's plenty of traffic going by, but attracting those passing vehicles pose a challenge.
"For us, our hardest thing is because they're going 45 miles down that highway out there now, and it's like they pass you by before they actually know what's here."
For years, Dee's was neighbors with Earls' Treasure Post, an antiques store. Earl Rice still lives in Eagle Lake, but he recently closed the business and hopes to sell the land, possibly to a drugstore or a fast food chain.
"I think it has great potential," Rice says of the median. "I think it's a diamond in the rough."
Of course, a community this insular isn't always seen as welcoming to outsiders.
"We get a few drifters, bad ones in, but usually it works itself out," says Carl Skipper. "They move out because there's not a lot going on." Asked to clarify what he means by 'drifter,' he adds. "Well you know, different race move in move out and all that. Usually that's what I'm saying it's not a racial town or nothing. They don't stay long rental place they don't stay too long."
Historically, Eagle Lake was home to turpentine, fruit picking and canning industries. And the lake itself drew families on vacation. The town's most famous resident, world champion waterskiier Cory Pickos, grew up here, and honed his skills on the lake.
But today, the main appeal for residents is convenience. In addition to about a dozen bungalows, the island is home to not one but two dollar stores, a diner, and a couple of gas stations.
Dusten Gann, who works at Dee's music store, and runs the weekly music jams, says he appreciates having all of that close at hand. "Instead of having to run all the way in town which is like 5 miles away, you can just run into the Dollar General -- get a pair of socks, Chapstick, milk -- whatever you need."
That said, Gann admits, "There's not a whole lot to do" here. And while he's a fan of the community, he doesn't think he'd personally like to live on the median. "I wouldn't want to live in the middle of this."
But for younger residents like Jennifer Newell, it's easy and affordable. Apartments start at $400 a month, and the commute to nearby Winter Haven is short.
"It's really good if you really need a place to start out," Newell observes. "It's loud but you get used to it
Some say the traffic actually grows on you.
"I actually can't sleep in a quiet place," admits Lemieux. "If I go to my kids' house out in the country, I've got to have TV on all night just to have some noise, because you get used to the traffic."
In fact, Lemieux lived here once before about 15 years ago -- and moved back. He knows some think his living situation is strange, but he doesn't agree.
"It's not odd. No I wouldn't say it's odd."