Saturday, July 17, 2010

Red Volkswagon Bus and Adventures on the Gulf Coast

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just another reminder that we had paradise just a few hours away from the Southside of Birmingham, a paradise that has been slipping away for the last 30 years.

I recall: In very early childhood, my mother would pack me into the back seat of the car, and my parents would drive down to Ft. Walton late at night to a house on the bay. We went often so they could deep sea fish and relax. The beach getaway was a natural counterpart to the stiff, churchy, regular life-style in Alabama. Happy times those! The house was a free perk that came along with my father's job, so when he changed jobs, we had to go elsewhere. We started going to Destin.

My most favorite childhood memories are of the pure white beaches at Destin. Destin was completely undeveloped back in the early and mid 60s. There were only two motels that I remember, the Cornado and the Silver Sands. We always stayed at the Silver Sands.

I can recall in detail ocean swims in pure azure waters, softly lapping waves and purest white- crunchy sand that squeaked when you walked on it; the wondrous swimming pool that felt especially good at night- the lights in the pool, and the feeling of being suspended in that heavenly place or practicing dives over and over and trying the most daredevilish back dives, somersaults and even backwards somersaults! The shuffleboard court and the horseshoes court, the fresh seafood for dinner and the strange, strange music that I found on the radio- must have been New York cosmopolitan. Sometimes we drove over to Panama City and went to the amusement park or to play Goofy Golf.

I could go on, but I was going to write about the last road trip in the VW bus.

The VW bus was purchased in 1976 after I sold my camper truck, before I moved to Macon. I made some custom curtains for the bus and we were ready to roll! It was a perky red and white minibus camper- a little late on the curve but still a sought after sign of a bohemian lifestylye nonetheless. It had all the amenities- a little stove, a sink, a refrigerator, beds, and a port-0-potty.

We had a friend who owned a piece of property at Laguna Beach in Panama City and we were going to park the bus there and camp out. Panama City Beaches were gorgeous, but the area was more redneck than Riviera. There were lots of homes on the beach, along with small motels, assorted restaurants and bars, and lots of trashy touristy attractions.

I had been going to the gym for a while at that point, and I was at my most buff. I was hanging out in my bikini, just enjoying the atmosphere and setting up camp when we were ousted from the property. Evidently the rules are that you only stay inside a place, not out in the yard (the trailer was rented to someone else who did not want us to stay- imagine)

Ok, ok, so we moved on. It turned out to be even better though. We drove down to a park at St. Joe where there was no one in sight. The beach went on forever, and we found ourselves in perfect solitude amongst the dunes and sea oats. Thousands of sea shells washed up on the beach. The only drawback was the no-see-ums (tiny biting bugs that would eat you alive). We had to get inside the bus as soon as the sun started to go down to escape them. I felt so very much alive and in perfect peace there at St. Joe in the outdoors.

I must point out that we were in a 60s VW bus. You practically had to drive it like the Flintstones with your feet, using every muscle in your body to strain it forward. Happily we did not have to climb hills, so it ran along smoothly in its VW puddling way. It had a huge steering wheel and a long handled gear shift that was impossible to manage. It was always a roll of the dice everytime you shifted- kind of like a key that has to be tilted or jiggled in a certain way to get the door open. Riding or driving in one can't be described- it is a matter of feeling (and smelling). Ah, such sublime joy.

It is hard to recognize the areas that we used to visit on the Gulf now. I still am shocked when I see huge high rise condos and million dollar houses on the beach. There are a lot of pretty places like Seaside that want to look like they are not bespoiling the landscape. At least up until now the beaches have remained beautiful, in spite of erosion and construction.

I hope that the Gulf is not destroyed. It is still a bit of paradise just a few hours away from Birmingham.