This is perhaps the first moment in my life when I feel a bit rich.
While writing these words, I’m sitting at a table on a screened-in porch facing an expanse of empty white beach. Don just left to ride his bike down a nearby trail, so here I sit, sipping coffee at my laptop as I look out over the neighboring homes — one turquoise, one salmon, one lemon, one lime. My imagination conjures a scene with a smooth-talking paint salesman managing to clear his entire “Oops Rack” in one swoop.
A beautiful, silver-haired couple bikes past and waves. They are perfect in a way that makes my writer wheels turn. Her clothes matched her bike. His matched his, right down to the sweater tied over his shoulders. They are, I realize, the silver-haired version of Barbie and Ken. After they pass by again, I watch as they turn into the drive of the salmon house, which I now realize is more Barbie pink. And this is their Retirement Dream Home.
So right about now you might be asking yourself — has Karin suddenly found wealth? Oh, no. What Karin has found is there are bargain rentals to be had in hurricane ravaged parts of Florida, like Port St. Joe. Yes, I’ve been shopping the clearance rack of travel.
It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Michael, a Category 4, took giant bites out of the Gulf Coast of Florida. It erased the nearby Mexico Beach altogether, with a swath of devastation in surrounding areas that is stunning to see even this long after; miles of forest with trees all snapped in half at the same place.
As with many storms, there are homes and businesses that are randomly spared. The street we’re on now appears to have been unscathed save for the remnants of one completely tree-flattened structure. The home’s owner said he normally charges more than double what we paid, but luring renters to such a damaged part of the state isn’t easy.
Normally, I’d feel clever for the bargain. Truth be told, I feel a bit like a vulture.
And then I lean back in the hammock chair I have moved to, toes now in sand, and force myself to reframe.
This area survives off its tourists, especially the restaurants. So I vow to do my part to support as many of them as I can. No eating in for us this week. That Piggly Wiggly seemed to fare fine.
I promise to visit as many beach shops as I can and buy goofy things, like the coconut pirate head we purchased this afternoon that I’ll soon be gifting my girl. Our loved ones can anticipate equally classy gifts upon our return. We figure the store owners can sell the good stuff easily, so we’ll help them get rid of what’s generally tougher to unload.
This is a slow time of year here even without the hurricane’s assistance. Much of wreckage has been carted off, but roofs are still missing; some are covered with tarps, some left to the elements. There are a few boats left in places that suggest they came to rest there, yet it seems impossible considering how far from where the water is now.
This is a friendly small town. Very normal. Not fancy. Everyone’s from somewhere else. They’ve retired here. Started businesses to help pass the time.
“I could live here,” I said to Don as we leave the fourth store where a total stranger has just bent our ear for several minutes. Something I really like.
“There aren’t any mountains,” he said.
“True,” I admitted. He knows I need mountains more. So does he.
Still, I can so easily picture a life here. Running a little shop selling coconut pirates and making bikinis for starfish.
But even if I can’t live here, it’s a perfect place to unplug for a few discount days.