Destin Beaches: No Oil, But Lots Of Strange Looking People
The coast is clear, but the natives are restless. That pretty well sums up Day 1 of our beach vacation in Destin, Florida.
The oil is getting closer to these sugary white sandy beaches. Many of the locals I talked to today say it’s now within 10 miles. And they’re all worried… from the grocery store clerk to the beach chair rental guy… what it would mean to the environment and the economy if the full extent of the spill landed on their beaches.
Sundays around here are busy at places like Walmart. Vacationers are stocking up supplies for their weeklong stays. A family can easily spend several hundred dollars. I asked the clerk checking us out if today was any different. He says business is still steady, but fears that will only last as long as the oil stays off shore. He told me he’s moving to Texas if that happens.
I also chatted with a couple of beach rental employees with two different companies. They’re in friendly competition to make money setting up chairs and umbrellas for tourists from beach deprived states like Oklahoma. I met one of them last year. He used to be a lawyer. Hated it. Like most here, he hopes for the best, but fears the worst. An onslaught of oil would drive tourists elsewhere, and fold up his business quicker than one of his big, blue umbrellas.
Just down the beach, a long blonde-haired middle-aged man whose weathered skin is permanently bronzed by years of drilling holes in the sun-drenched sand for umbrella poles, is chatting with some other tourists. I listen in and interrupt with some obvious questions:
- Me: Is the beach as busy as past years?
- Him: No. Not even close (as he points down the beach). Look at this. Normally, this beach would be packed, wall-to-wall with people.
- Me: So, it’s the threat of oil that’s keeping people away.
- Him: Yes. But that’s only part of it. Our weather has been a little stormy, the networks pick up on that, and that keeps people from coming. Also, the economy has been bad. And now the oil spill.
There’s no oil on the beaches of Destin. Just lots of little kids playing in the sticky, white sand, teenage boys scoping out the teenage girls, and paperbacks being turned page by thrilling page . A typical June day at the beach.
But there was one disturbing sight that didn’t quite fit. Ever so often, small groups of people wearing blue jeans and t-shirts and boots, with plastic bags sticking out of their back pockets, would walk by. When asked what they were doing, their only reply was, “We’re enjoying the beach. We can’t tell you anything else.” My suspicions were confirmed by my attorney-turned-beach rental friend who told me, “They’re hired by BP to look for oil.” I guess I was wrong. It’s not your typical day at the beach.