Top 10 Take-Aways from Family Beach Trip 2015

Panama City Beach, Florida made headlines this year and in recent years past for its Spring Break scene that has devolved from simply underage drinking to much, much worse.

So when people asked us where we were going on vacation, I felt kind of sheepish telling them PCB. There's a snobbery against this place, and in some ways, I see why. But when it's the place you've known and loved your whole life long, you don't want to visit the alternatives. Away from Spring Break and away from the crowds, it's a lovely vacation spot, warts and all.

This is the first real vacation we've taken as a family of five, and the age spread of the Farris kids means that we're listening to both Taylor Swift and "This Old Man" on the 5-hour drive down south, dubbed the "Knick Knack Paddywack Beach Tour 2015." It also means that our respective beach experiences are as varied as flip flop styles at Target - my husband as the beast of burden who totes chairs and coolers and umbrellas and plastic buckets all at once, me as the condo supervisor who keeps track of everyone's earplugs and goggles and doodads and wet towels, and kids who wake us up at 6 a.m. like it's Christmas or something.

Here are the top 10 things we learned this year.

10. People will set up their umbrellas right next to you, even if they have a whole stretch of beach available. Some people insist on breaking the cardinal rule of beach etiquette. It never fails. Sir, you can set up your beach camp anywhere you like on this lovely beach. It's not crowded. It's not Spring Break, even. Marking your territory six feet away from ours is like taking the neighboring booth in a deserted restaurant. Or standing too close in an elevator. Or...other ways of marking territory. Ah, people can be so people-y.

9. Pier Park Amusements is not the same thing as Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Here's how it went. We saw rides. We parked the car. We walked in through the gate. We said, "Oh yay! This is that place where you can ride the old Miracle Strip rides! Let's go get our tickets!" Lots of money later, an employee informed us that Pier Park Amusements is "not at all affiliated with that park over there." Wait, WHAT? Are you kidding me? 

The park she was referring to, the reboot of the old Miracle Strip, had the cool rides - the roller coaster and the ferris wheel. Alas, we fell for the bait-and-switch park that had shrewdly constructed itself right in front of the cool park to fool suckers like us.

The kids had fun, though - sliding down the big slide and such - and unlike their parents, didn't realize the full extent of the trickery.

8. The Homemade Ice Cream Shoppe is still going strong. Every trip, we visit the little ice cream shop on Front Beach Road. No frills, no gimmicks, just fantastic ice cream, scooped out into a small cup for $4.25. Every year, the line we stand in gets longer. This year, it was about 12 people deep, clear out the door. It seems they've been blessed in a Chick-Fil-A kind of way - there are framed group pictures on the wall of college students who participate in Beach Project, a ministry of Campus Outreach, going back 20 years or so. Our kids always like finding their uncle in the sea of faces in the photos.

7. No, we are not leaving this condo until everybody has sunblock on and it has soaked in, so sit your little greasy self down and wait on the rest of us. I recently heard my own parents fondly reminiscing about their childhoods and being told by the adults in their lives, "You can't go swimming until 30 minutes after you eat! Or you'll die!" Hardliner food-digestion enforcers have now been replaced by hardliner sunblock enforcers.

6. It's a small world after all. Odds are slim that we would go to another state and run into people we knew, but my husband, who is the ace at recognizing people and is undeterred by sunglasses and baseball caps, spotted a young couple from our former town walking the beach in front of our umbrella camp. (Emily - sorry for the blank look on my face at first!)

5. There are some folks who will walk up to you and say random, friendly things like, "Hey, y'all seen them deer down there at St. Andrews Park? They look like little dogs!" No, but your enthusiasm intrigues us.

4. Toddlers don't understand about sand. Bless them. If you fill up a bucket with sand and then dump it out toward you (as opposed to away from you), it's going to go all in your mouth and stick to the front of your wet T-shirt. And if you have sand on your hand and then you rub your eye, it's going to get in your eye. And that hurts. And then you're going to cry. These are the things I try to explain verbally, but at times like these, real life experience is the best tutor.

Also, if you've ever wondered why the Gulf Coast sand is so perfect:

"White sugar sands are made of ultrafine mineral sand with a significant percentage of organic granules. This forms fine silt that is often too light to support cars and trucks on the beach. The sand is made from pure white quartz crystal, which came from the Appalachian Mountains at the end of the last Ice Age and was deposited into the Gulf of Mexico. These quartz particles give the sand a different look and feel and distinguish it from the sands composed of heavier minerals, such as titanium, which can be found in beaches in the northern Atlantic. These minerals contribute to the northern Atlantic also having murkier waters than the turquoise ones found [in the Gulf]." - source

3. Hey little kid from the condo next door to ours, if you stick your nose up to our window one more time, I will fly-swat your face. Through the glass. In love.

2. Red flag means red flag. Rip currents are no joke. Respecting the color of the beach warning flags is like getting in your closet during a tornado warning - you just do it and you don't ask questions. When I see people swimming way out in the Gulf on red flag days, I put the fear into my kids about getting sucked into the ocean, and I don't feel bad about it at all. Good times.

1. The beach is God's playground. No swings, slides, monkey bars, or other hardware required. Red flag scariness aside, there's something about the combination of the breeze, the colors, the salty air, the laughter that gently reaches your ears, the crashing waves, the rhythm of the surf pushing in and receding - none of it can be duplicated anywhere else. It's all natural...no artificial colors or flavors. 

We're home from the playground now, and I am unpacking and smelling beach odor on everything, and it's not altogether unpleasant. I will just go ahead and admit that I may be taking some long whiffs of those sunscreen-scented towels before I throw them in the laundry. It's a happy smell of some freshly-baked memories. 

I'm ready to go back.

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