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I spent last week in one of the cultural capitals of the United States; the Destin / Panama City area of Florida.
This segment of the Florida Panhandle stretches for about 40 miles from the East side of Panama City to the West side of Destin, and encompasses the most beautiful beaches in the world. Really, there are not any beaches more white, clean and delightful than these.
There is a reason that this area is called the Redneck Riviera.
What I’ve come to understand is that there are substantial differences in the temporary populations of this stretch, sometimes from mile to mile; sometimes within a couple hundred yards.
The cost of real estate, and therefore the rents charged to stay on or around these beautiful beaches tend to escalate as you move west from Panama City through Panama City Beach, until you reach what can only be called outrageous prices in the sea side villages of Rosemary Beach, Allys Beach, Seagrove, Seaside and Watercolor; where $6,000 a week will get you a nice place only a mile or so from the beach; an easy walk hauling your beach chairs, umbrella, cooler, water toys and beach towels.
After these little enclaves of snobbery, the prices tend to soften as you move west towards Destin; or as it is often described; Little Louisville. The more favorable prices tend towards high rise units which equals more crowded beaches.
Panama City Beach is Spring Break Central, and is served up with all the finesse of what you would expect from a place with such a title. Interestingly, moving as little as a couple of miles from the Spring Breakers will get you to an area at the west end of Panama City Beach that is quiet, uncrowded, and reasonably priced.
The single easiest way to establish your location along this Riviera is to take note of the numbers and identifying marks of some of the migratory species.
I refer of course to that group of adult males who somehow seem to think they look attractive in a tank top.
There may, in fact, be a few men that look good in this type of garb. However, none of them have ever visited the beaches while I was there.
These tank tops apparently have so little material around the shoulders, because they require so much around the waist. There is also ample evidence that past consumption of beer and frequent visits to tattoo parlors seems to intensify the desire to wear these tops.
I believe that there may be village ordinances banning tank tops on men in the swankier areas. Maybe not, but I’ve never seen a Seaside or Rosemary Beach tank top.
Actually most are bearing college logos, and the vast majority represent schools in the SEC – well except Vanderbilt of course. Needless to say I’ve never seen a Yale or a Harvard tank top.
In parts of both Destin and Panama City, merchants love tank tops, mostly because it is at least classified as a shirt, and lord knows in some of these areas, it’s difficult to get men (and some women) to wear a shirt of any kind.
Another way to tell if you are in one of the glitzy areas is the prominence of overpriced yet mediocre restaurants. There are no fast food joints, unless you count the food trailers in Seaside where you can get a glass of lemon grass juice for $6.00 or a $12.00 grilled cheese sandwich; both of which you may consume while squatted on the curb like a Viet Cong in a rice patty.
These snobbish little villages, which my son refers to as The Aryan Nation, for reasons plainly obvious if you visit, all seem to have the same milieu: please feel free to express yourself in any appropriately quiet manner.
SUVs abound in TAN, and the bigger the better. And trust me, none of these vehicles have ever been more than 5 feet from pavement. Festooned with school stickers, vinyl representations of family life, and the various sports engaged in by the shorter of the passengers.
But I have to say, there is something for everyone on the Red Neck Riveria, from the beer guzzling Harley rider to a pretentious wine snob. And trust me, driving a $85,000 SUV, staying in a $6,000 a week house and wearing 15 carats of diamonds does not preclude you from being a Red Neck, it simply makes you a more affluent Red Neck.
So; go visit. The beaches, and the water are great, and you can find a place where you fit right in, and there is always someone else around to make you feel better about your self. If you have the luxury of going while schools are in session, there are better deals, fewer people, and more pleasant weather.