Recently, I flew into the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, north of Panama City Beach

Recently, I flew into the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, north of Panama City Beach.  I was there to serve as the Grand Marshal of the Vernon, Florida Christmas Parade.  It was an honor and experience that I will always cherish.

I’m a wanderer, as in I love driving, looking at interesting things and talking to people.  After getting a fantastic rate on a rental car through one of those online bidding sites, I let two pretty girls behind the rental car counter talk me into paying a little extra for an orange convertible.

I’m so happy I did.

December in Florida is glorious – at least it was for the three or four days I was there.  The temperature was in the mid to upper 70’s and that was warm enough for me to justify exploring the Florida Panhandle with the top down in a mid-life crisis car.

It was just for four days.  Honestly, I became very attached to driving with the top down.  I’m sure a lot of folks got a kick out of seeing a 50 year-old fellow with a gray beard and glasses from the NASA Apollo Era driving around in an orange convertible Chevrolet Camaro playing old Christmas music really loud.

What did you expect me to be listening to?

Christmas comes to Florida, doesn’t it?  Of course it does!  As I see it, Florida would be a glorious place to spend Christmas.  No shoveling snow, no driving on ice and no opportunity to forget about the damper and smoke up the house.

Having a connection to Port St. Joe, I decided to drive that way.  It was a beautiful afternoon and I always run into the nicest people there.

My mother was a history teacher for over 40 years in an Alabama public school and my grandfather was a wanderer just like me.  The combination of the two made for a lot of inexpensive trips to look at historical markers, battlefields and Southern landmarks.

I called my grandfather, “Papa.”  Papa and I invested a lot of time in meandering around the Florida Panhandle.  I’m not sure if he would have appreciated the orange convertible or not, his dog might have jumped out.  Papa always traveled with a small dog of some sort, usually a Chihuahua.

Heading toward Port St. Joe, I had it in my mind to see what I could find related to “Florida’s Lost City.”  If you get away from the Panhandle, most folks don’t realize what a big deal it was or even where it was.  I know.  Papa told me and I’ve researched it.

St. Joseph, as most of you know was once the largest city in Florida.  Now Port St. Joe has taken her place.  The history books and researchers say that yellow fever and a hurricane destroyed the old city of St. Joseph, forcing the folks that were left to move on.  This is by all accounts is the true story, however as my Papa always said, “There’s more to the story.”

When I got to Port St. Joe, I stopped to get a cold drink.  The orange convertible and the loud Christmas music were making me thirsty.  I got it in my mind that I needed a big Nehi orange soda water as Papa used to call them.  I had to settle for a Fanta orange in a plastic bottle, it worked just fine.

My exploring would end in the parking lot on this day because I got tied up.  Sometimes I find that talking to people is just as interesting as seeing places, this holds true when you learn something or teach someone something.

There was a young man in the parking lot who was interested in my orange convertible and we started talking.  First we talked about the car, which he knew a lot more about than I did.  He explained to me what some of the levers and knobs were.  Technically, I am a rocket scientist, but I drive an older vehicle that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles on it.

After talking about the car for a while, we started talking about Port St. Joe and the old city of St. Joseph.  The young man, probably still in high school, knew the history of St. Joseph as I am sure it is taught in local schools.  He noted that he enjoyed growing up in the area and like me, thought the folks were very nice.

On a whim, I decided to add to the story of St. Joseph.  As I told the young man about my idea, I started believing it myself.

This is what I told him.

I explained to him that the yellow fever and the hurricane were a little of the reason why folks in St. Joseph moved on, but not the whole reason. 

I continued my story, “From what I can tell, you had this large city with a lot good hard working folks who knew they had a good thing here in Florida with the weather and the nice people.  These folks all got together after they had the bout with the yellow fever and the hurricane and they had a big meeting.  They decided that these bad events were a sign that they were supposed to leave the area and travel the world and tell folks how nice it was here in Florida.”

I drug the story out for about half an hour.  The young fellow listened.

When he thought I was finished, the young man smiled and gave me a “you’re pulling my leg” look.

I looked over my Apollo Era glasses at him and asked, “It seems to have worked didn’t it?”

He laughed and said, “Yes, it sure seems to have.”

I’ll be back to Port St. Joe soon, but getting to talk to a young fellow who appreciates how good he’s got it (and knows about levers and knobs on new cars) was well worth my time.

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