Missing the Carefree Life in Beachtown, Florida

Six happy feet in the sand (Photo: Jody Jones)

For five years, just after college, I lived in a super-small beach town. My initial intention was to join my friend Beth for a few weeks in Destin, Florida, then head off to Atlanta to start my “adult” life. But the “sand got in my shoes,” as they say, and I decided to stay in Destin for a little while. In retrospect, it was a good call.

No, actually, a great one.

I got a job with the local newspaper — a twice-weekly that still laid out the pages with X-Acto knives and wax. No website here. I started on the lowest rung, as the government beat reporter for the neighboring burgh, Walton County covering fire district meetings and mosquito control division meetings. Scintillating! The most important task was attending the county commission meetings in the seat, DeFuniak Springs.

My favorite county commission debate involved a man who lived on a dirt road (not uncommon) and was unhappy with the rate of acceleration on his sandy street. To drive home his point, he pulled the hood off an old car, nailed it to a tree and spray-painted: “15 MILES AN HOUR, ASSHOLE!” on it. Though he was cited for something like vandalism, I believe he succeeded in his quest to attain a lowered MPH limit and heightened signage and police monitoring.  Ah, bureaucracy.

But then there was life beyond DeFuniak.

It was Beth and me in a town of high school graduates and smarty military men (pilots and the like). We were 24, attractive, fun, educated and looking to play.

And we met some great, great soldiers.

Before work, they’d wake us up to waterski in the sound. No matter that there were crocodiles in the water; it just inspired us to be better skiers. They loved when we cooked dinners for them with fresh, local seafood, and we often watched ER and Melrose Place together over those dinners.

Jody and Beth during one of their epic waterskiing outings, circa 1995. (Photo: Jody Jones)

We spent weekends on the beach playing volleyball and drinking beer. The guys took care of us, and we did our best to take care of them, sending care packages and watching their houses (read: living rent-free in fab homes) when they were deployed.

Beth and I were poor as shit, yet — and I think I speak for both of us — it was one of the best times in our lives.

I fell in love once or twice. I may have gotten married once or twice, though details are hazy and NSFW.

And then, back to work.

Julie was my newspaper buddy who turned out to be as outrageous as I was. When she left the paper, she passed her fabulous role down to me: Features Editor of The Destin Log.

Then the real fun started.

I covered all of the “social” events in town. I wrote what the folks at the paper called “The Drinkin’ Column,” which was named “A Shot in the Dark.” I went to every social event and commented on the liquid-induced comings and goings of the “elite” in town. This included a prominent playboy developer who I dated, and who is now in jail for extortion. (Although, damn, it was fun flying off on his private jet for dates in New Orleans.)

Further, given the prestige of my position, I gained access to all restaurant and bar openings (including overt flirtation — with the intent of positive coverage — from chefs and owners). I even got to cover the biggest thing yet to happen along the Emerald Coast: the filming of The Truman Show in nearby Seaside. I got to meet the cast and hang with them at a 10,000 square foot rental estate on the water.

I was living the life.

As I grew up. I can’t say that I wanted to leave Florida, but eventually I did feel it was time. While I was loving my life there — making pennies a day just wasn’t cutting it. And maybe, too, after five years of this fun, it was time for me to try to be a grown-up.

So I left my job at the newspaper, packed up my stuff and moved on. By way of Colorado, I eventually made my way back to Virginia, where I did “grow up,” at least in terms of my employment status. I friend-of-a-friended my way into a job at AOL, which made me feel smart and stimulated and no longer poverty-stricken. Though I continued to do many non-grown-up things (and still do to this day), I had found myself a career, not just a job. As well as a whole new set of wonderful friends and mentors. I don’t at all regret leaving Florida, not for a minute.

And yet…

I miss the beautiful sights and the carefree life I found there. Admittedly, carefree was easier when the stakes weren’t so high. But man, there’s nothing like waking up to a sunrise over open water. And there’s no better kiss goodnight to the day than a sunset over the gulf.

The little voice inside keeps asking if I shouldn’t go back. Maybe someday, when my life is a little less loaded. Maybe one day, when my life is a little more carefree.

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