Still rockin’ on Florida’s Gulf Coast after all these years

(Photo: Catching waves at Saint George Island, CJ-style)

A little more than 34 years ago, I went down to Panama City Beach for my senior trip with my also-graduating cousin and a few friends with all intentions of being wild, loud and obnoxious.

Wait … hang on a second. That can’t be right. Can’t be 34 years. That’s like multiple decades. Let me see. You got 2022 minus the, um, carry the one, multiply the fractional exponent. OK, maybe I am that old. I’m certainly too old to do math.

Anyway, it was our senior trip. It appears that we accomplished our goals and had a good time. At least, that’s what the photos suggest; the actual memories are a little blurry. Fortunately, I did come back with an airbrushed shirt with about 15 girls’ names on it. I’m not sure why their names were on the shirt because all it said above the names, in air-brushed cursive, was “I survived Panama City 1988.”

(My aunt fussed at me when I got back because she misread it as “I serviced” instead of “I survived.” I mean, I was still dorky Chris Johnson, after all, not a rich athlete or a congressman. It’s quite possible that those names were the mere handful of girls who actually spoke to me without throwing up. And there was a lot of throwing up in 1988.)

The Redneck Riviera was definitely rockin’ in those days. There was a lot of booze, a lot of music, a lot of noise, a lot of fights, and a lot of things I failed to mention to my parents when I got home.

“How was the beach?”

“Oh, dear parents, it was lovely. I made sand castles and swam with the fishies.”

“Did you meet any girls?”

“Girls? Ewwww! These names on my shirt are all dolphins at Gulf World.”

The internet has changed the world, and there’s much about it for which I’m thankful. But had it been around in my teen years, I’d have gotten my butt whupped a lot more.

Alas, those days are behind me. Back then we’d hit the Strip at 10 p.m. Now, I find myself hitting the sack at 10 p.m. Instead of 15 girls’ names on the back of a shirt, I now have one woman’s name next to mine on bills and financial documents.

Those days also are behind Panama City Beach. They decided that they could bring in more money with families staying at 40-story condos than they could with 20 teenagers wrecking a room at the Dead Squid Smell Motel four steps off Front Beach Road. Moreover, they started having, you know, rules and stuff.

I spent a few days back on Florida’s Gulf Coast last week. We stayed at a quiet four-room inn, The Bowery Inn, in the little fishing hamlet of Apalachicola. A good ol’ boy named Captain Jack took us to see dolphins (I didn’t get their names), seashells, and a gorgeous sunset. The strongest drinks I had were morning coffee and diet root beers on the beach at the state park on St. George Island.

Still, 34 years since I first began rocking on the Gulf Coast, I’m back at it. Granted, I did that rocking in a rocking chair on the veranda of a quiet inn in a small fishing village, but, hey, rocking is rocking. And I rocked for hours at a time, baby.

I also got a girl’s name on a t-shirt once again. It’s a size larger — the shirt, not the girl — and it reads “Hand’s off. This hunk belongs to Shellie.” I figured my wife might appreciate this one a little more than my old one.

“Ugh, don’t be telling everybody!”

Well, it should make a nice around-the-house shirt anyway.

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