The Craziest Beach Party Ever! or How the Redneck Riviera Got Its Name
Some twenty years ago, our friend Mark Jones suggested a group of us rent a house at Mexico Beach for a few days. It was December, and we all agreed it would be a nice break. Mark knew of a big house we could rent cheap – right on the beach. His mom and dad had stayed there years before.
I’d never been to Mexico Beach, but I had heard about it, of course, since I lived in South Georgia and it was in North Florida. Mark had been several times, so I asked him why that part of the panhandle was called the Redneck Riviera.
“Well, I guess because it’s pretty, like the Riviera, “ he explained.
“But why the ‘redneck’ part?” I pressed.
“Probably because a lot of rednecks go there. I don’t know, Holle. Damn! I can’t know everything!”
The trip down was not without problems. We went in two cars, and the guy Johnny and I rode with, Ed, suggested we go through his home town on the way down in order to see the Christmas decorations. He assured us it wasn’t out of the way. Remember – it was my first trip to the area, so I didn’t know any better. It took us six hours to make a 3 ½ -hour trip. The other car, with Mark, his wife Betty, and a Japanese pal, fared even worse. They pulled over in a wooded area for a pee break, and they got stuck in deep sand. We all arrived late that night. Since we were worn out, we all turned in.
The next morning, we assessed our accommodations. It was bare-bones 1950s-concrete block-beach house, littered with mouse droppings, but it was DEFINITELY on the beach. Literally! The house was obviously much different than Mark’s mom had found it years earlier. But hey, we were together and having fun, so we’d manage.
We went to the pier that afternoon to fish. Our Japanese pal though it would be a good strategy to fish under the pier, so he dropped his bait between the planks in the pier. We were all wondering what he’d do if he actually caught a fish. We soon found out. When he hooked a small grunt, he hoisted it up through the boards and began eating it! I kid you not. Sushi, anyone?
About that time, something hit my bait. I was excited, and I ran over to set the hook. The water was glass clear, and I was dejected to see not a nice fish, but a cormorant, eating my bait. And I had hooked him good. Trying to free the bird would not fall into the fun category. I don’t know how long it took Johnny and Mark to accomplish the task, but it was no small feat. After more cormorants attacked our baits, we decided to call it quits for the day.
That first night, we built a nice fire on the beach and cooked steaks over it. A few of the locals kept passing by, drooling, as they looked longingly at the sizzling ribeyes. Finally, one got the courage to speak.
“Where’d ya get the steaks, man?” we just kinda looked at each other, puzzled.
“Ummm…at the grocery store, dude!” Mark answered. Even today, he thinks he's uber cool - he's still stuck in the sixties.
“I ain’t seen no meat like that around here in years!” was the response.
“We got ‘em in Georgia – before we left,” I explained.
The beach bum nodded knowingly and said, “Oh, okay. I didn’t think they came from down here.”
Soon, another local shuffled up. “Where’d ya get the firewood, man?!” We all looked at other, unable to suppress our laughter.
“From Georgia!” one of us answered.
“Ohhh…” This guy was in total awe at something as mundane as firewood??
The next morning, Ed and our Japanese friend left for home. Guess they weren’t as good at “roughing it” as the Jones-Abee clan were. That left Mark, Betty, Johnny, and me, along with our kids. As we visited the town that day, we realized how economically depressed the area was – at least in the winter. The stores carried hardly any “luxury” items. If fact, the men had to go to several stores just to find enough beer – and they ended up buying all the beer in town!
That night, the real adventure began. We built another fire on the beach with the split oak Mark had cut on from his woods. Mark dragged out his beautiful old guitar and began strumming. Mark isn't exactly a gifted guitarist, but we didn't care. We all joined in singing some tunes from the sixties and seventies, and some of the locals wandered up and plopped down on the sand. We figured the more the merrier, right? In the world of terrible miscalculations, this reigned supreme.
The two “ladies” were named Linda and Peggy, and they were hookers stationed at the local motel apartments. Peggy was probably about 50. It was hard to understand anything she said, because she didn’t have a tooth in her head. When we kept asking her to repeat herself, she explained:
“I ain’t got ma teeth in. The grandyoungins was a playing wif ‘em, and they broke ‘em. “
One of the guys chimed in (I’ll call him Bill), “Well, hell, Peggy, why’d you let ‘em play with yer teeth?”
“I didn’t have nuthin else fer ‘em to play wif,” was the answer.
Meanwhile, Linda was trying her best to get the attention of my husband. Maybe she thought she might pick up some extra cash. Linda was about 45, and she wore a LOW-cut peasant blouse that showed off her breast tattoo. She kept leaning over the fire, stirring it. As she did so, her twins swayed from side to side, and I just knew one would plop out at any moment.
Soon, Bill left to walk to his place but assured us he’d be back. We could hardly wait. Peggy got up and followed him. They returned in just a few minutes. Peggy was soaking wet, and Bill was mad as fire.
“That stupid bitch broke the sink off my bathroom wall, and now my house is flooding!” he announced.
Peggy, very drunk by now, explained, “Well, I’s just tryin’ to git a little kithy!!” She had sat on the sink and torn it off the wall!
Now this next part is almost unbelievable, but I saw it with my own two eyes. Remember, Peggy was drunk and wet. She stumbled around and falls face-down in the sand. She flails her arms around and starts kind of digging in the soft sand and comes up with a beer! It was a can of vintage Pabst Blue Ribbon that had probably been there undisturbed for twenty years or so. She held it up to show us, so proud of herself she was to stumble onto a free brewsky. I started wondering if she was like an alcoholic squirrel, hiding beer in the good times to tide her over in the lean.
Peggy finally managed to stand up, and she wandered back over to our fire. She looked like a giant sugar cookie and soon began getting sand on everyone. She was stumbling around so much that we were very afraid she would fall in our fire – and we were almost out of wood! Didn’t want that to happen!
One of the other local beach bums, Dan, had joined us by that time. He wasn’t as drunk as the others, and compared to them, he seemed to be the voice of reason and intellectual ability. He told Peggy she needed to go home. She looked sad, but ducked her head and started down the beach. We were all happy to see her go. As we watched her, however, Dan became anxious:
“Wait! Peggy, come back!”
We were all shocked.
“No, man, let her go!” Johnny said.
“You don’t understand – she’s headed to my house!” With that, Dan left to retrieve Peg.
Linda was coming on strong to the men, and we were all ready for her to go, too. When she ran out of beer, she looked at Johnny and said, “If you’ll gimme a beer, I’ll go to bed with ya.”
Johnny was sitting on a cooler of Natural Light, and he jumped up and grabbed a beer out and handed it to Linda. “Sure, here ya go!”
Betty, Mark, and I were literally agape. Johnny noticed our surprise and asked, “What?”
Betty said, “I can’t believe you agreed to that!”
“She said she’d go to bed with you if you gave her a beer, and you couldn’t get that beer out fast enough!”
The blood actually drained from Johnny’s face. “I thought she said if I gave her a beer, she’d go to bed! I didn’t know she said with me! Hell, I just wanted her to go home!”
Finally, the fire was almost out, so we figured our little party would break up – another gross erroneous assumption. Linda went to her apartment and ripped a section of paneling off the wall.
“I found more firewood! Party on!” she stated proudly.
The other locals seemed to think this was a great idea, so they followed suit. This was when we decided to leave. We packed up all our stuff and returned to the safety of the beach house.
Since the fire was just outside our rental property, we could easily watch all the action from inside. The four of us stood gathered at the window. This was better than anything on TV! They continued bringing pieces of paneling to feed the flames. When they ran out of paneling, the doors were next. Luckily, they all passed out soon.
The next morning, we peeked out the window in the direction of the ill-fated beach party of the night before. Somehow, the motel owner had gotten word about the bonfire, and he was not happy. Here the guys were, carrying the doors back from whence they came. Evidently, some had escaped the fire.
We left the next morning, but we carried our memories with us. We still laugh about that night from time to time, but I don’t think any of us would like to repeat it! I definitely found out how the area got its name – we had evidently met some of the chief sources.
As an addendum to this true story, I’d like to add that Mexico Beach has changed a lot in the last few years. Those old beach houses have been razed, and new ones have replaced them. Beautiful beachfront homes and oceanfront condos are now available. My family and I enjoy going to this part of the “Redneck Riviera” often, and it’s spectacular. We’ve never run into any of these beach-bum types again, so perhaps they’ve moved on...maybe they're in prison?
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