My trip to the Florida panhandle was like a trip back in time.
When I was 21, I moved to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It was 1993, and Chris was an Air Force weather specialist.
The Destin/FWB area was a perfect storm of beach tourist town and military town. Everyone was a sojourner; just passing through on their way back to college after break, or just waiting for their next military assignment.
I worked for a while at Sound Shop in the Santa Rosa Mall, trying to explain the difference between Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam to guys from Alabama who’s idea of “modern rock” was the Skynerd cover band in their home town, and who were probably only asking because I was pretty darn cute. I also worked at 99 Rock as “Serena Black,” splitting the overnight shift with a grizzled old hippy dude named “Taxi Bill.” The morning show guy was Scratch. I never learned what his actual name was. Or what the other jocks Hayden Lyfe or Woofy’s real names were. (Or Taxi Bill’s last name).
This weekend, Chris and I went back, this time with our kids and my sister and nephews, and stayed in Gulf Breeze. Some generous friends who live there were going to be out of town for the holiday, and offered to let us stay in their home.
Scratch is still the morning show guy, but apparently he’s moved to a country station.
99 Rock still plays a lot of 90s grunge bands.
The beach is still gorgeous, especially at sunset.
The tourists are still an odd mix of Canadian snowbirds, Midwesterners, and “semi-local” southern Alabamans.
Buffalo’s Reef is still a dive, and still makes the best hot wings I’ve ever had.
It’s still the same place, aside from having more condos, hotels and strip malls. The reason it all felt so weird is because I’m not the same person.
Going back was a little like going back to your old elementary school. You keep looking around thinking “It seems so much smaller than I remember.” As a 21 year old, my world was incredibly small, and living 700 miles from home expanded the borders considerably.
Now at almost 40, I’ve lived in Tokyo, moved back to Indiana, parented two kids (one almost to adulthood) and built a career writing in a medium that didn’t exist in 1995. I’ve survived bigger personal storms than the two hurricanes that hit while I lived on the Gulf coast.
I like person my soul has grown into after I left Florida. After eleven hours riding in a van back to the Ohio Valley, I just miss my twentysomething body.