Destin Beaches: Oil-Free Tuesday (But We’re Being Stalked)
Another oil free day on the beaches of Destin. That’s the good news. But it’s a little unnerving to see one of those TV news satellite trucks pull up and set up shop for the night in the parking lot of your condo complex. This one is from Tampa, but who knows how many others are parked nearby. I’ve worked in the biz long enough to know what that usually means. Destin could become the next landing zone for tar balls. Hope not, but those I’ve talked to today wouldn’t be at all surprised.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FEP police) were out on the beaches again today, beginning their patrols long before the beach chairs and umbrellas were lined up perfectly in neat rows. And long before tourists like me could stop and ask them if they’ve found anything yet. But later I did overhear them give the “all clear” sign.
There’s a lot of anger though on these peaceful, white, sandy beaches. Anger from tourists, and locals who work the beach. Anger towards BP and Obama. I met a family from Louisiana. They come to Destin every year. The oil has ruined their fishing spot back home, and there’s fear it could also ruin their vacation tradition. They’re mad that BP can’t stop the spill gush, and mad that Obama isn’t doing enough to help them.
I also met the owner of a beach sport rental business. He’s from Texas and bought the business just last year. Here’s how our conversation went:
- Me: How’s the spill affected your business?
- Owner: To be honest with you, I’m scared. I spent a million dollars buying this business.
- Me: You bought it during the bad economy, and now this.
- Owner: I knew going in that the economy wasn’t the best, but in a way that wasn’t such a bad thing. Many people, instead of going to Hawaii or Mexico, are staying closer to home.
- Me: That makes sense.
- Owner: Yeah, and I also bought it knowing that hurricanes can happen. That’s always a gamble. But I never, ever thought about an oil spill ruining my business.
Bad economy, (threat of) hurricanes, and an oil spill. Now, that’s a trifecta that would bring any business owner to his knees. I did business with him. The five teenagers in our group, along with four others they recruited, went up in one of his parasails. I worked a deal though. Last year, he was charging $85 a person. This summer, it’s $65. And we negotiated it for $45. We were one of his only customers for the day. He was hungry for business.
The captain of the rubber dinghy that took our crew from land to the parasail boat says he’s worked on the gulf for decades. I also asked him what the threat of oil washing ashore is doing to him, but got a surprising answer:
- Me: That’s got to be hurting you financially.
- Captain: Not really. I’m getting paid by BP right now.
- Me: Doing what?
- Captain: Doing what I’m doing right now. I’ve already filed a claim and they’re paying me for lost wages.
But apparently not everyone who has their hand out to BP deserves the money. The two guys who drive the high-powered boat, and who buckle our teenagers into the harnesses that attach to the bright-colored parasail, rant to me about others who try to get in on the compensation checks. “Many of them don’t even live anywhere close to the water”, they tell me.
As two of our teenagers are flying high behind the boat, the conversation turns to business:
- Me: How’s it compared to last year at this time?
- One of the parasail guys: Last year we were averaging 90 people a day.
- Me: And now?
- One of the parasail guys: Now? Now, we’re averaging 9 a day. We’ve gone from 90 to 9. With your group, we’ve hit double digits for the first time in a long time.
Remember when I said I heard a lot of anger today? These two guys told me they’d like to see BP officials “taken out to one of those oil platforms in the gulf, and left there.” I left out a few salty words, but you get the idea.
Lots of anger and frustration along these idyllic beaches, but no oil or tar balls. Hopefully, when that TV news satellite truck parked just below my room cranks up in the morning, there will be nothing new to report.