I always kid around with people about how I've never been cool for one second of my life. Popularity wasn't something I placed much importance on, but it would have been nice to see how the other half lived. My superlative was most courteous in school, so I got thanked a lot for opening doors, but "life of the party" was never a title placed upon me by my peers. Except for this one time at a beach house on Spyglass Drive.
We all have that vacation we continuously revisit in our minds. The adventure that comes up every time we get together with old friends to reminisce. My nostalgia-packed memory happened in the summer of 1990. I had graduated the year before, and I was still desperate to figure out what I would do with my life. Often I put aside deep thoughts in exchange for more important things like saving for a trip to Panama City Beach, Florida. My work buddies were always planning getaways that would provide a welcomed escape from the tortures of restaurant life at the Catfish House. Our group left Clarksville behind many times to conquer ski slopes in West Virginia, fight white water rapids in North Carolina, or simply head to the sand. We worked hard, and we always managed to make time to play hard.
My boss and friend Danny explained to me that trips like this are an essential part of life. We always have to give ourselves something to look forward to so our existence never becomes stale. As always, we headed out after a tough Sunday at work and drove all night. Our gang arrived on the beach sometime early Monday morning, and we crashed in the sun until our beach house was ready for us to take over. This special little house sat right on the beach off of Spyglass Drive. I ended up making it my temporary home several more times until a hurricane tore it down years later.
I remember stepping through the front door into a large entertainment area that I hardly noticed next to the view of the Gulf just beyond our deck. The smell of Coppertone suntan lotion and alcohol was the perfect match with the sound of crashing
waves and the feel of a warm Panama City breeze. My gaze quickly changed from seagulls to bikinis, and there was no shortage of either on that trip.
When guys drink together on vacation, ridiculous conversations are bound to pop up. I remember Danny asking me what I'd do if I ever got an erection during a physical. I told him I'd tell the doctor not to take it personally. While it may not have been the most thought-provoking discussion, it didn't matter because we were all free for a few days, and life was good.
I was a giant baby when it came to holding my liquor. Of course, it stands to reason my bottle of choice would be Bacardi 151. Luckily this stuff was discontinued in 2016, so I'm confident many lives were saved or at least spared embarrassing circumstances. One of my misfortunate moments with 151 happened when I strayed away from the pack with my buddy Ed. I'm sure he saved my life that day or at least a ticket to the emergency room. After a bit too much, I lost the grip on my bottle, and it shattered on the hot sandy concrete sidewalk. Like a drunken fool, I scurried in to grab a towel with the intention of soaking it up so I could squeeze the liquid into my mouth. This level of stupidy is probably the reason folks should never drink alone. Ed grabbed the towel and politely asked me to let it go. So I did. I refrained from drinking the rest of the trip because I didn't trust myself.
(Listen to me tell the story here)
After sobering up, I decided to take a walk with my camera in hand. Nope, this didn't scream tourist at all. Ed decided to tag along for some reason, so we took off, leaving our friends behind. I always enjoyed hanging with Ed. We'd often meet for lunch, hit the pawn shops out toward Fort Campbell for deals on cassette tapes, or meet up for a game of cards. We've managed to remain friends, our entire lives.
We strolled down the beach and laughed about how dumb I was earlier and how we were glad to be away from work for a change. We'd passed tons of beautiful girls, and I fell into my default each time and buried my head because I had no idea of how to strike up a conversation. Something unusual happened as the next female approached, and I can't explain it. It could have been the heat or possibly alcohol poising, but I went with it regardless. I found my courage. "You're gorgeous," I blurted out before even taking a moment to think. I followed up with, "I'd love to take your picture," as I raised my camera and exposed my goofy grin. It was long before everyone had a phone attached at the hip, so photos were still special. We'd take rolls and rolls of pictures and drop them off at Walmart to get them developed a week later. I thought one-hour photos were genius at the time, and now everything is instant. Anyway, to my surprise she said that she'd love for me to take her picture.
Before I knew it, she was posing for us on the beach while I gave her directions. Amid our makeshift photoshoot, I calmy mentioned we would be throwing a party that evening if she would like to stop by our place. The problem with that statement is there was no party at all in the works. I didn't let it worry me, though, because I was incredibly caught up in the moment. Soon other beach bunnies began to crowd around to watch us work. One after another, we'd take a few pictures and invite them to the party. Groups of people watched us for hours and clapped as women stopped by to get a picture and an invitation. I'm not even sure when my camera ran out of film, but no one had to know that minor detail.
I never officially learned to dance. The stiff shuffle of feet moving side to side at my prom doesn't count. So when I heard the song Boardwalk off in the distance and asked a random young lady for a dance, it surprised me as much as the next person. She giggled and asked me what I was doing as we held hands and my feet awkwardly moved about, trying to keep some sort of rhythm. Earlier I'd noticed crabs seemingly float across the ground on our walk, so I immediately told her it was called the Crab Dodge. She joined in, and bam! The Crab Dodge was a hit all up and down the white beaches. The meet and greet went on for quite some time until we finally decided to head back to the beach house.
The rest of our group was already planning a trip to Club La Vela, so when I told them a few people might be stopping by for a get-together, they didn't take me seriously. I believe they hung around as long as they did so they could make fun of us when no one showed for our little party. Ed and I had no idea what the fruit of our labors would bear that evening. I went ahead and cleaned up, hoping for a positive outcome.
I stood on the deck, fresh from my shower, as the sun began to creep toward the horizon. Ed stepped out, and I commented on how the beach is unusually empty. We joked about it and figured our celebration would probably never happen. I was content because I was still on vacation after all, and the day was epic compared to any typical day for sure. "Look, somebody is coming," Ed said with a bit of excitement. It wasn't just one or two people.
Vacationers began piling in as if Kip Winger was throwing a live concert by the water. Groups who had cheered us on earlier arrived, along with all of our new friends. The rest of our crew decided to hang out instead of heading off to the strip. Beer runs were made, and mixtapes were played while the crowd grew and grew. Our little beach house on Spyglass Drive was the place to be this particular evening.
None of my friends could walk more than five feet without acknowledgment from our guests. At least ten different dance partners at a time were fighting for the chance to join hands and move around ridiculously like we were trying to dodge crabs. Then I had my epiphany. The day before no longer mattered, and tomorrow made no difference because there was not a single person in the crowd living outside of the moment. We took that day and made it our bitch.
I spent the remainder of my time in Panama City, relaxing in the sun and taking in the view like I would on any other vacation. The only difference is I couldn't step outside without hearing, "Hey Chris," from a new friend or an occasional high five as I passed others on the beach. Spyglass taught me that it's okay to be spontaneous, and that changed my life.