Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Floundering: Grayton Beach 1985

When I first got to Grayton Beach--from Los Angeles--I needed a job. The Paradise Cafe was the only business in the little town and they didn't need anyone at that time. So, I got a job closer to Destin, west of Grayton and in Okaloosa County, not Walton. Actually, it was in a place called San Destin, some newish resort with golf courses, hotels, condos, convention rooms and such. At first I was a banquet waiter. And, I was not a very good banquet waiter. So my boss--I don't recall his name, but he was some kind of weaselly guy (though now I'd no doubt judge him more fairly) who ran us around and was the one who decided I didn't make much of a banquet waiter--my boss switched me to a set up man.
Being a set-up man wasn't so bad. I got convention rooms ready, vacuuming, putting up tables, the table cloths and glasses, putting out chairs and pitchers of water, doing whatever needed to be done to, of course, set the event up. It was physical sometimes, other times it was just little stuff. So, I did that. And sometimes I'd work at night.
Now, San Destin--like everywhere else along that stretch of Florida's panhandle--was a beautiful spot. It was a big place, with a hotel and places along the white sand beach, then homes and convention centers stretching way back to the bay. Nice. Well, this one night I was working an event along the bay side. It was about over and I was waiting around to do what I did--un-set-up, I guess--and I was looking out at the black bay waters, calm and quiet, flat and shiny, and then along came these two old guys in a tiny boat. There was no motor on the boat. One guy was poling the skiff, poling it along very close to shore, and the other guy had an electric lantern that he was shining into the shallow waters. The other guy also had a trident. I'm serious, he held AN ACTUAL TRIDENT. And what they were doing, I found out later, was floundering. They were slipping along quietly in the bay, shining for flounder down in the muck, and then they'd spear it with the trident.
Cool. (Unless you're a flounder.)
But it wasn't just that. It was that here I was, working this night gig where the rich (or wealthy close to rich, or the corporate types) were being feted at this fancy resort and here were the old local guys just traipsing on through, sticking flounders in the bay. It was a sign of things to come, as that whole beachfront--from Escambia and Santa Rosa County to Okaloosa to Walton and beyond--has become more of a playground for the wealthy than a place for the locals who had been born there. I'm not sure they even tolerate floundering anymore. I saw it happening in the years that I lived there and have seen the current evidence from a recent return visit. In my time, I saw first hand the local guys being turned away at the new restaurants and bars (even some old ones) and being priced out of property and rentals. Sure, some of them probably made some nice money by selling (if they owned a place or land), but then what? You go somewhere else and do your floundering and crabbing and such? And then that place changes and pushes you out and soon there is no coastline left.
Ah. Maybe I'm wrong.
But I do recall, after I had left Grayton for the second time and came back for the third time, I had a job painting condos out towards Destin. After a day of work, I stopped in the new Winn-Dixie store to grab a meal from the deli. And who was behind the deli counter, asking me what I'd like, sir? It was my old boss from San Destin. The weaselly one. 

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