As I type this — well, OK, I’m actually scrawling this by hand on the blank side of the cardboard backing that came with a cheap pool float — I am sitting under a large, cheerful umbrella, with bare turquoise-polished toes buried in the warm white sand, watching the waves crash against a quiet stretch of shoreline near Panama City Beach, Fla.
It is a beautiful day in early April, with the sort of ideal spring weather that comes as a rare and precious treat to those of us on the Gulf Coast. All in all it’s been a pretty perfect day for me, but as I glance at the empty cup holder to my right, it’s impossible not to notice there’s something missing.
Thanks to the recent alcohol ban on Panama City Beach, plenty of overstressed adults looking for a fun and relaxing escape are feeling a little sad right now without their beach beverage of choice, and I suspect there are quite a few booze-loving Mobilians among them.
PCB is one of the most popular destinations for Mobilians looking to get out of Bama for a few days, and with good reason. Not only does it offer beautiful beaches and countless activities, but it can fit a wide variety of budgets ranging from a luxury resort to a dirty old mattress in some sketchy shack. My daughter counted four kids in her class alone headed to the area with their families last week.
We are rarely able to stay in PCB more than a couple days, but April is one of my favorite times to visit, when it’s warm enough to swim but not yet uncomfortably hot. Unfortunately the primary downside of visiting during spring break is the presence of the spring breakers themselves.
Every March, their beaches are overrun by drunk and obnoxious college kids known for puking, breaking things, fist-fighting, flashing their boobs and urinating and/or fornicating in inappropriate locations. They tend to pretty much take over the area, so for those not interested in joining the party, it can be easier to just stay out of their way.
By now we have learned how to avoid most of the craziness, and it helps we’re mostly there for outdoor activities like kayaking, snorkeling, fishing and photographing wildlife. We tend to hang out on more remote shores, far away from the wild beach parties and nightlife.
Nevertheless, it looks like some of the partiers have finally managed to ruin everything for everybody. In response to increasing problems with the spring break crowd, Bay County and Panama City Beach officials issued an emergency ordinance March 31 prohibiting the consumption of alcohol on the sandy shores or parking lots of Panama City Beach and incorporated beaches of Bay County. The booze ban will expire April 18, and officials will decide later whether to bring it back next year.
The seemingly draconian ordinance was passed on the heels of the March 28 shooting, in which a 22-year-old man from Mobile allegedly shot seven people including three other Mobilians at a party full of spring breakers at a private condo in Panama City Beach. While many complained about what seemed to be an unfair overreaction, officials say they’ve been struggling for years to figure out a way to tame the increasingly out-of-control spring break crowds.
Since I tend to avoid the party scene, I’ve personally never really had much trouble with the college crowd. The worst we’ve encountered so far this trip is seeing a random young woman stagger across our hotel parking at 10 o’clock in the morning. She abruptly stopped to drop her pants, squat and urinate right out in the open, clearly oblivious to her own behavior. I was on my way over to help the poor girl find her room when another young woman approached and led her away in a fit of drunken giggles.
Whaddayagonnado? It’s spring break. Kids are gonna put urine in places in ain’t supposed to go. I don’t usually have much trouble rolling my eyes and ignoring such ridiculous antics, but I can certainly see how it could get annoying for locals who have to live there all the time.
However, officials say the most serious issues have less to do with rambunctious college kids cutting loose and more to do with non-students from nearby areas who travel to PNC during spring break to sell drugs, party and find ways to take advantage of the hordes of drunken tourists.
Crime rates during spring break have not only skyrocketed in recent years, but officials have seen a dramatic increase in firearms seizures, suggesting the festivities have begun to take on a far more dangerous tone than previous years. In addition to the recent mass shooting, Bay County officials are now stating an unconscious 19-year-old was allegedly gang-raped on the beach in broad daylight while hundreds watched. Things have gotten so out of control a spokesman from the sheriff’s office referred to spring break as a “malignant tumor” threatening to destroy the entire city.
As a general rule I’m rarely ever in favor of depriving consenting adults the freedom to choose what they put inside their own body, but it sounds like they’re taking pretty desperate measures to put the brakes on an increasingly dangerous situation.
Still, there’s not much we enjoy more than an afternoon of relaxing on the beach with a few drinks and staying to watch the sun set over the Gulf. There’s nothing else like it in the world, and while I’m normally not much of a heavy drinker, the beach just isn’t the same without an ice-cold beer or perhaps a fruity rum cocktail.
Here’s hoping they get control of things quickly and find their way back to a simpler time when their biggest problem was hosing off all the (non-rape-and-murder-related) body fluids after the spring breakers leave. I’ll drink to that!