Pensacola Beach, and the abysmal pit that is the Florida panhandle (or that time I met the Mayor of Greenville)


One of the many reasons I love the beach…

It was a warm, sunny day in July when my sister and I dared to venture from the cozy, happy, sanctuaries we call home, and head down to La Florida to visit friends and family. There was no way of knowing what was in store for us – bum, bum, bummmm!
I have yet to decide if what we experienced was a blessing in disguise (like a super well hidden one), or if we pissed off some petulant little god somewhere and were punished accordingly…
After getting the cats situated, I dropped the corgi off with a stranger in downtown Denver, and off we went to Tampa!

Me and little sister on our way to Florida ~
and the cool night scene while landing in Tampa (looks like something out of Tron!)

We arrived safely, checked in to our hotel for some zzzzz’s – then early the next morning, my good friend (and travel buddy) picked us up in her car (this will be important later), and the three of us road-tripped it up to Pensacola for a weekend of beach house, party fun with my brother and his family.

This was a super adorbs truck-stop place we stopped at, that had very clean bathrooms ~ As you can see it was somewhat Bee themed 😉

Once we arrived in Pensacola, all went pretty well for the next few days. We did get lost that one time and accidentally ended up in Alabama (how were we to know what this would portend!), but otherwise we had a great time. We hung out at the beach, watched beautiful sunsets, attended a joint birthday party for my sister-n-law and her bestie, laughed (a lot), played in the pool… It was all going wonderfully.

There were beautiful beaches…
(Anything seem ‘off’ about this beach sign?  Gotta love the South, Lol)

Gorgeous sunsets!

And silly party times!

Now, I know what you’re thinking – you’ve seen the pictures, you can see how much fun we must have had. What then, could have possibly gone wrong? Well I’ll tell you what went wrong… horribly, horribly wrong…
We tried to leave! And the abysmal swamp-pit that is the Florida panhandle was having none of it!

:::We interrupt this program for a short message:::
To the residents of the Florida panhandle, I do realize that some of you who live there are lovely people. We met one of them! But I ask you to understand how the following experience may just have tainted my outlook 😉
:::We now return to you to your regularly scheduled blog viewing:::

We left Pensacola at 9am, from there it’s an 8 hour drive (with time change) to Tampa – where our flight was leaving that very evening.
SIXTEEN HOURS LATER – we arrived at a hotel in Tampa! Here’s why…

Upon leaving my brother’s house in Pensacola, my travel buddy notices a shimmy in her vehicle as she is driving. We discuss this shimmy, and it’s possible causes for — many, many miles. I even googled it at one point. Eventually we both felt comfortable with the idea that she just needed to get a front-end alignment when she got back to Tampa. No worries, right? Holy baby jesus, no…

I’m not sure how far we got, maybe about 2 hours into the drive, when my friend says, “Girl, the shaking is way worse.” And right then, like literally right at that moment, going 70mph, the car rumbled and began to shudder violently (duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh!) She, quite rightly, pulls over quick-like. Smart move. But here’s where dumb got involved.

My sister and I hop out of the car and see that tread has stripped off of the driver’s side, rear wheel. There is a large ripple, bubble thing going on just beneath the surface of the rubber. I run my hand along it and realize, ‘Hey, the tire’s not flat, just rippled!’ So I, in all my glorious genius, hop back in the car and tell my frightened and trusting friend, “It’s not flat, we should be able to drive on it. At least until we get to a safer place to pull over.”
What can I say, sometimes we stand at a fork, and choose badly…

Tentatively, she pulls back onto the interstate; flashers on, doing barely 45mph. I think we made it about 1/4 of a mile before the tire blew out. This time however, there is no shoulder on the side of the road because we are on a bridge – the longest bridge in all of creation!
So here’s my friend: driving 10-15mph (we didn’t want to damage the rim and completely fuck ourselves), flashers flashing, half-in a lane of traffic, but trying to hug the railing of the bridge, and we’re just trying to get off the damn bridge…
Then! Up ahead! A rest-stop!


The actual rest stop – right after the world’s longest bridge

I encourage her as much as I can on the harrowing journey across that endless bridge, that rest-stop sign shimmering like a mirage in the distance.

We never did make it to the actual rest stop because the off-ramp was like 2 miles long – but never mind about that. We got off the road and pulled over beneath some trees, in a silly effort for relief from the 95 degree, sweltering heat that permeates here.
We then pull out our phones and begin calling the different road-side assistance programs available to us – you know, because we need someone to come out and help us change the tire – then we can drive the 10 miles up the road to the Wal-Mart and get a new tire, instead of driving on the spare… Haha!
As it turns out, my friend doesn’t have roadside assistance. Not through her insurance company, and the one offered for her vehicle make? They only tow you to a dealership. Where was the closest dealership? In Georgia! (but we’re in Florida!). Butttt, my sister and I have TripleA (thank you Dad!). So we call them – we need a tire changed please. They start help our way. Then, in preparation of our rescue, we begin to pull our luggage out of the trunk, and get the spare tire out, you know. Except… there’s no spare tire. OMG! (My sister still chuckles at my friend’s response to seeing this: “Where did it go?!” As though it somehow managed an escape when she wasn’t looking 😉 )
Okay, no worries, we’ll call TripleA back and get a flatbed truck to tow us to that Wal-Mart. Oh, did I forget to mention that the only Wal-Mart with a tire center is 10 miles away – back the way we had come! Yep, we’ve gotta backtrack it for a bit. Okay, it’s still okay. At this point, we might even still make it to the airport on time. If the tow gets here soon…
Then we wait, and wait, and wait for the tow truck. Maybe close to 3 hours. Meanwhile, a Road Ranger pulls up – they can help change tires, if you know, we had had a spare – but she sits in her truck next to us and waits for the tow truck to arrive. Really nice of her, and one of the many things that had me scratching my head about whether this entire ordeal was a curse or blessing. Because when the tow truck driver did finally arrive, there was only room in his truck for two of us (If you were keeping count, there are three of us). So we ask the Road Ranger is she can give my friend a ride to the Wal-Mart (10 miles back the way we came!), and after getting special permission from her supervisor (and having to stay on the phone with her dispatch the entire drive because — awkward policy), we’re on our way.
My sister and I climb up into the cab of this massive tow truck, we’re swiping at bugs and blood-sucking misquotes, and we’re sweating – so much sweating! – we’re miserable and hangry, and my sister calls the tow truck driver Jon-Jon (to his face!) He was pretty nice about it, chuckling at our misery, and tsk-tsking at our big-city lifestyle (it was for real like a scene from an 80’s movie, so bad) as we griped the entire way to the store. Meanwhile, on my cellphone (Tots legit, we ran the world from our phones that day) I’ve rescheduled my sister and I’s flight, and booked us a hotel for if we ever get back to Tampa.
Eventually we make it to the Wal-Mart, and even manage to have enough cash to pay the tow truck guy. We go inside, get a tire ordered, and find a subway at the front of the store. We cool off, eat food, and eventually, after purchasing some snacks, are back on the road. Soon we’ve made up the 10 or so miles we’ve had to backtrack, there is no more shimmy on the vehicle, and we are feeling good! There may have even been some back-patting on my part about how well he handled the entire situation (I only cried once, about the plane change). Just three women, broken down on the side of the road in the most rural, country-bumpkin-as-fick, middle-of-no-place place we’ve ever been, and we made it out!
Well, they do say pride cometh before a fall… yeah… that’s coming, wait for it.

I think we might have made it about another hour or two – enough time to go through and be well past Tallahassee, when it happened.
We got another flat tire.
No. I’m not joking…
Okay, this time it’s a little bit better because we are at a nice rest-stop with bathrooms and everything. We got this.
Back on our phones, we call TripleA – who is confused because didn’t we already call them? We explain, yes we did, but we’ve gotten another flat tire. Meanwhile my friend and I are looking for a local tow truck/tire repair place that can just bring a tire out to us, because at this point, we are NOWHERE near a Wal-Mart or city of any kind. Middle.Of.No.Place.
But I might have mentioned that already.
My friend gets one place on the line, and this man’s country-as-fick accent is so thick, we, not joking, cannot understand him. And keep in mind, we are all from the South – still, this was a special sort of dialect native only to the panhandle. Yet through it all, somehow the amount he wants to charge us for a single tire – $300!! – cuts through our stunned psyches and my friend, bless her, was like – umm no, and got off the line.
She then tried another place, and a very sweet man, who I will from here-on-out refer to as our hero, answered the phone. Not only did he have a tire that would fit, but he would come out and put it on for us, AND he was like 20 minutes away, AND he was only going to charge like $120. I mean this is what I’m talking about: after everything went wrong, the stuff to help us through it was very apparent. I’m not sure what to make of this, but anyway… Okay, so our hero arrives, changes our tire, and did what Wal-Mart had not done — he checks the other tires for us. This was a tough moment, there was indecision, and tears, and money issues – all of it. But we decide to follow our hero back to his shop and get the other two tires replaced. We were so shell-shocked at this point, we didn’t trust those other two tires, not at all.
We followed our hero up the road, then way, way, way off the interstate – to a place where horror movies come to life.

A place called Greenville


Not our hero’s shop, but indicative of what’s happening in Greenville these days…

By the time we made it to his shop, it was about 6pm at night. We had made it maybe three hours into our journey, and still had at least 5 hours to go to get to Tampa. To say we were exhausted, would be an understatement.

20170731_192916We could only sit, dejected…20170731_193946
A metaphor for our day: A little bit of brightness in a junkyard world…

There are no words for how exhausted and unhappy we were at this point, but I’ll say this about that. None of us turned on one another. We comforted one another when anyone got upset, and made each other laugh, and kept a bright outlook. I must say, I am grateful to be surrounded by that kind of grace and strength, and humor, when faced with a real bad day ♥

Also, the owner of this shop was beyond kind. If you think truly wonderful, and nice, people no longer exist in this world, all I can say is – that’s not true. He watched out for us, was fair, reasonable, thoughtful, and as it turns out – was the mayor of the town! We were so tired upon leaving there, that we only thought of it later – we should have gotten a picture with him. But he got hugs, so there’s that 😉

There is a happy ending to this story. We made it back to that awesome Bee-themed truck stop; I got a slushie (yay!), we saw these happy little cookies, and listened to some cray-cray cashier’s convos…

I ♥ this happy little bee

We made it back to Tampa sometime after midnight. I think my sister and I got some gas-station food, showered, and fell out (that’s Southern for passed out from being so tired!).

The next morning, my wonderful friend came and got us and delivered us safely to the airport – where we, tired, and tanned, and grateful, and swearing not to return to Florida for a very long time – saw this lovely view on take-off – then went home! ♥ ♥ ♥



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