Weekend in Florida….”Not in my backyard!”

By Clayton Shelvin, LABB Volunteer Coordinator (clayton@labucketbrigade.org)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tan and I left New Orleans with no plans.  Our only goal was to get to a beach, take some pictures, hand out some flyers about our crisis map and try to have a few cocktails on the beach when we were done.  In pursuit of Panama City Beach, FL, we drove Friday afternoon until we reached Pensacola.  I had been in touch with a few environmentalists who directed me to a beachside meeting of several groups who were collaborating about joint efforts in the case that oil would come to the Florida shore.

We headed there to give out flyers about our crisis map and to talk to some of the people about their feelings on what was going on in regards to the spill.  The highlight was a group of hecklers who showed up and yelled while I spoke to the group, a response that surprised me, but also made sense,”Don’t bring your spill to our state!” After all, the economic stability of parts of the state, as is the case with Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, depends on tourism and most people fear that this summer could result in empty beaches if the oil gets anywhere close to the Florida panhandle.  The idea of “ignore it and don’t talk about it and it won’t come” is a scary one, but a real one of some Gulf Coast politicians and residents.  We slept in Pensacola and the next morning stopped on the beach.  The beach was full of tourists and locals at 9am.  No sign of an oil spill.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

After taking a beautiful drive into Panama City Beach and passing our exit by 15 miles which resulted in us taking some back road for 45 minutes that was full of tractors, we arrived to a crowded and thriving beach.  After being told that our room wasn’t ready, we changed into our beachwear in the car, grabbed the ice chest, chairs and beach blankets and walked across the street to the beach.  The beauty of this beach reminded me of the absolutely sad fate that is could face if this oil reached Florida.  While on the beach, we met Peggy and Dan, an older couple from Georgia.  They told us that they had moved their vacation up to avoid the oil that would most likely take over the beach later this summer.  Throughout the day, many people I spoke with had made the same vacation changes in fear of this disaster.

We had an amazing day, went on some fair rides, ate great food and met some cool people.  No sign of anything happening in the Gulf in PCB.  There was this sense of something was happening, but no one dared to mention of it.  Our waiter that night at the Back Porch restaurant told us that they were directed by their manager not to speak about the spill because it would scare people from coming to the beach.  Hmmmm……..

Sunday, May 22, 2010

We woke up at 7am, anticipating some relaxation on the beach before it got too crowded.  We couldn’t resist some friendly swim competitions and sand castle competitions.  Yes, everyone keeps saying “Yall went in the water”, but as they say…….”WHEN IN ROME…”.  We left at noon with all plans to go home and stop in Biloxi.  We reached Destin and were too curious about the beaches there.  We stopped and layed on the beach for about two hours.  We saw dolphins and huge stingrays that were oddly close to the shore.

We left only because I received a call from Bryan who I had met in Pensacola who had invited me the night before to attend another meeting that they were having.  We drove to Pensacola where I spoke about our crisis map to 50 people and handed out more cards with the information on it.  We were there for only an hour, but were quickly reminded of the fear and anxiety that Pensacola, like much of the Gulf Coast, is dealing with in regards to this spill.  By contrast, only two hours east, the atmosphere was surprisingly carefree.

I said goodbye to my new friends in Pensacola with intentions to head home.  After about thirty minutes in the car, we decided that we wanted to prolong our road trip so I called my co-worker, Shannon, back in New Orleans and asked if there was anything in Mississippi that we should check out.  She gave me a few suggestions and we ended up in Biloxi.  We took a drive into the unusually quiet town and reached the beach.  It was totally opposite of what we had experienced in Florida.  The entire beach was empty.  The water was brown and murky and the smell of oil, the exact smell I had experienced in New Orleans in previous weeks, was incredibly strong.  There were booms all across the beaches and the quietness was creepy.  We took pictures and headed to a restaurant for some dinner.

The waitress Chasidy told us about how scary the whole oil thing was to all of the staff because the beaches had been empty for two straight weekends, ever since they put out the booms.  We left to take one more stop into Gulfport, where the smell of oil was stronger than in Biloxi.  It was quite depressing that the closer we got to home, the stronger the odor was.  Tan said, “Wow I never noticed New Orleans smelled like heavy burning oil”.  Of course, after arriving home, I texted in some reports to  the LABB Crisis Map (www.oilspill.labucketbrigade.org)  and suffered with a horrible back sunburn.

Overall, it was amazing to get out of the city and be reminded of the beauty of nature and of the spirit of humans to go on in the midst of disaster and crisis.  Let’s just not forget what we are facing.  I pray that everyone takes the time to educate yourselves on what is going on and continue to educate your family and friends on the impacts that this WILL have on us all.  This spill affects our way of life along the Gulf Coast and we need more people speaking and saying something about this.  Experience a Gulf Coast beach and then try to picture America without it.  It’s a hard reality to face

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