The disease strikes suddenly. One minute you’re rolling along content with your life, and then you’re overwhelmed by a craving to be outside, enjoying fresh air, breezes, blue skies, far from work, chores, blahs.
The disease often strikes in April, one of the prettiest months on the Gulf Coast. Fortunately, there’s a cure for this spring fever, and it’s called going to the beach.
In my case, it’s Pensacola Beach, where troubles fall by the wayside, assuming the cops don’t catch me speeding over the bridge to the toll booth.
Hang a right and I’m bound for Fort Pickens, a great Exhibit A when my conservative buddies complain that government can’t do anything right. Yeah, sure, boys, we should have listened to all the Chamber of Commerce types who opposed the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the 1970s and wanted to develop more and more of Santa Rosa Island. Let’s tear down a sand dune and put up a parking lot.
It was at Fort Pickens that I got a lesson in how to experience life. I always enjoy the water and the dunes, but on a visit to Fort Pickens last year, a friend insisted I stop every 50 feet or so and look around. There was an amazing amount of life I had never noticed before—birds here, flowers there.
After a foray into nature at Fort Pickens, it’s time to switch gears and check out Pensacola Beach’s commercial core. It’s a mix of glitz and grit, upscale condos and hotels mingled with down-home bars, shops and restaurants. The up-and-down variety is nice; it gives a “People’s Republic of Pensacola Beach” feel to the island, which is indeed owned by the people.
I like most of the new condos and hotels. They make the beach accessible to more people and they add swag to the area, yet there aren’t so many tall buildings that they block a huge chunk of the view. The beach still has plenty of neighborhood feel, which you can get by rolling along streets like Panferio and Maldonado. They keep alive the aura of yesteryear, before hurricanes, flood insurance and high rollers changed much of the waterfront.
In the early 1980s, when my kids were little, we rented a cinder block cottage at 112 Ariola Drive for summer vacations. It cost $500 a week, about a week’s pay for me back then. This was your basic squat, two-bedroom, one-bath block house with a screened-in porch, but it was right smack-dab on the gulf, and it was heaven.
Then storms came along, the house was razed and the lot has been vacant for decades.
Now it’s time for the best ride in town: the trip from Pensacola Beach to Navarre Beach. The ideal vehicle is a motorcycle or a top-down convertible, but any car will do when you’re looking at the gulf and dunes on one side and rolling, sometimes spooky-looking terrain on the sound side.
Best of all, you get to turn around and do it all again, only in reverse.
I already feel better just thinking about it.
Published April 2014 Splash! magazine