Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vacationing on the Redneck Riviera

My mother doesn't know how to swim.  She grew up on a farm in Kansas--about as landlocked a state as there is--and just never had reason to learn.  By the time we moved to Panama City, Florida in the 1970s, there was no way that you were going to get her into the water.  And so, although we lived less than 30 minutes away from some of the world's most beautiful white sand beaches, I didn't spend a great deal of time   at the beach growing up.   Of course I went to the beach on occasion, but I've never thought of myself as a beach person and have never been particularly interested in a beach vacation, least of all in the Panama City area.

Fast forward a few years to today and you'll find me back in Punta Gorda having had a lovely family vacation enjoying the beach communities of Watercolor and Rosemary Beach just west of Panama City.  These communities are extensions of the model that was first established at Seaside (which is where The Truman Show with Jim Carrrey was filmed).  The rental homes are all of a type, with lots of wide porches for hanging out and decor straight out of Coastal Living magazine.  (In fact, Coastal Living's 2012 Ultimate Beach House is located in Rosemary Beach.)   Everyone travels by bike to the pools and the beach and the restaurants and the evening entertainment in the town squares.   Beautiful, quaint, and relaxed are the adjectives that come to mind to describe the area.    I've always thought my sister was a bit crazy to go there with her family each summer, but now I get it.

Suzanne, Jakie and Elizabeth
Having grown up in the same household as I did, Suzanne is not much of a beach person either.  And so she and her family have tended to spend their water time at the pools rather than on the Gulf.  I was itching to go the beach, though, and we finally made it there late one afternoon after 41 minutes of negotation with the kids (talk about herding cats).  Jakie was in tow of course; wherever Suzanne goes, Jakie goes.

TJ and Drew
We sat in the shade of an umbrella for a while and then I headed out to the water with the kids to do some wave jumping.  It was exhilarating!  The water felt great, and the waves were awesome with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby.  (Note to self:  Do not turn your back on waves.  When they hit you on the head, they pack quite a wallop.  Second note to self:  Keep your mouth closed when wave jumping.  Salt water does not go down smoothly or leave a pleasant aftertaste.)   When I'd had enough, I ran back to our spot and collapsed in the sand.  Suzanne informed me that I was not at risk of being mistaken for Bo Derek in 10 and that running in a bathing suit was not a wise decision.  (What are sisters for?)   Bathing suit self-consciousness aside, I was hooked and couldn't wait to get back to the beach the next day.

Jakie and me 
I spent two more days enjoying the sand and the surf and plotting my next trip to the Redneck Riviera.  It really is a great vacation spot, with lots to do both on and off the water.  On our last evening, we went to Seaside Repertory Theater and took in their production of The 39 Steps.   (Elizabeth calls the theater a "black box" because it seats only 60 people.)  I saw the show on Broadway and loved its humor and creativity and was curious to see how a tiny theater company would handle it.  It was terrific!  The acting was wonderful, with four actors playing over 150 characters, and the show is hilarious.  It was a real treat, and a great way to end our holiday.   Thomas Wolfe was wrong.  You can go home again.    

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