This weekend T. Middy and I have escaped for a couple of days of sun/swimming to Sandestin in Florida. Sandestin is one of those made-up places on the Gulf Coast that involves sprawling high-rise resorts, golf courses, and outlet malls. We're staying at the Hilton, and have a great view of the beach. The water here is pale green; you can see to the white sand at the bottom.
We were thinking of going to Mexico this weekend instead, but decided against it for two reasons: we can't get direct flight, even to Cancun, from New Orleans, so would have to tack on travel time by flying through Houston or Dallas; and we thought the cost of one of those big all-inclusive places was too high for such a short trip.
But now we're thinking we should have gone. The travel time would have been longer - it's a four and a half hour drive here, and it would have taken another couple of hours at least to get to Cancun (especially with airport times), but we're spending money here like water. The food is terribly expensive - $60 for some burgers and drinks at the beachside bar, $9 for two ice-creams yesterday afternoon! And everything else is extra: parking ($10 per day), internet access ($10 per day), beach chairs and umbrellas ($40 per day for the "front row," $35 for the second row, and $25 for a half-day as long as that half-day is the afternoon). We were wondering if we'd be charged extra for listening to the audio feed of the TV in the bathroom, or for each time we wandered in to the gift shop.
Beach towels are free, but you must sign them in and out, and if they're not returned by the appointed time, your room is charged.
What IS free: second-hand smoke from everyone sitting all around us on the beach; loud and increasingly drunken conversations from the people who set up their own chair-and-cooler encampments in front of the "front row"; cigarette butts in the sea, courtesy of the people who slosh out to the sandbar with drink and cigarette in hand, and who return with drink alone; and competing musical offerings from various people's boom boxes, because apparently they think everybody wants to hear "Since U Been Gone" while trying to sleep or read.
These are all Hilton guests, by the way, but they seem to have as little respect for fellow guests than they do for the beach. Yesterday afternoon, as people were leaving the beach, they also left their trash. The two young women at the next umbrella left cigarette butts, cans, and plastic cups. At the foot of the stairs back up to the hotel, there are several big trash cans, but clearly a lot of people didn't feel obliged to use them. T. Middy explained to me that America is a free country, and that means people are free to be obnoxious, selfish, dirty, etc, if they choose.
I know that some people in New Zealand would do the same thing - leave rubbish and cigarette butts in the sand. But I think others would express open disapproval. I also think carrying drinks and cigarettes into the water would be seen as the act of tremendously stupid people rather than acceptable adult behavior.
None of these people, I should point out, were part of one of the big conference groups here. One group is the niftily named Alabama Concrete Industries Association, and the other is the Newtron Group, which sponsored a major fireworks display on the beach last night.
We have three hours left here, so we're going down to the beach. People are less drunk down there in the morning. The water is already warm. I know there would have been drunk and obnoxious people in Mexico as well, but they would be less likely to carry boom boxes down there in their luggage ...