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Memories of Wheeling and Waylon
By Guest Columnist Toby Nix

185 to 431 to 231

That’s the only directions you ever needed when I was growing up.

(It’s that time of year when I write the obligatory Panama City column.)

I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would ever go anywhere else. I see all my friends’ pictures from places like Punta Cana and Cozumel. The pictures are beautiful, I’ll give them that. But do cities like that even have airbrushed T-shirts?

It takes me 4.5 hours to drive down to my idea of Heaven. My children call it “4.5 hours of headphones.” I call it “Waylon Jennings from house to beach.”

I was thinking to myself as Waylon sang about always being crazy about why I treasure this little stretch of white sand as much as I do.

My life is amazing. I have a wife and children I don’t deserve, friends to make the luckiest man on earth envious and I got promoted at work the day before this vacation. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I have a lot to celebrate.

As much as I have in my life to be grateful for, it dawned on me – I don’t come down to Panama City to enjoy my present. I come down here because it’s a place I can enjoy my past.

Panama City is where I learned to swim. It was at the Scottish Inn across the street from the beach. It was the early to mid-’80s because I remember the movie “Mask” with Cher scaring me on the hotel television.

I was holding onto the rail at the entrance of the swimming pool when my hand slipped off. I panicked, but I swam back to that metal rail. I didn’t realize I was successfully swimming until I had a death grip back on that rail.

If you knew where the Scottish Inn was in the mid-’80s, you’ll appreciate just how poor we were. But my parents always got us down for a few days at the beach. I think this particular trip it was a steady diet of bologna sandwiches, though in our richer years we would eat McDonald’s for every meal.

My father would always set a chair up, right there on Front Beach Road. He would sit and just watch. Back then, the party was on Front Beach Road. Anybody who was anybody just drove back and forth up and down the road, seeing whose speakers could get Bocephus the loudest.

I thought he was crazy back then, but now I appreciate the pastime known as people-watching. It’s how he was such a great storyteller. He was always watching people. There are few things in life better than people watching, if the people you’re watching are worth watching. Panama City makes for great people watching.

As we got older, Panama City became the place where we could watch and see how many days in a row Ma could eat fried shrimp. I’m pretty sure most vacations ended before her streak did.

(I’m running out of word space more quickly than I wish on such an important topic as the Gulf Coast.)

I’ll probably never be in a position to offer my kids much more than a few stories. As long as I can drive down to Panama City every year and point out the places we’ve stayed throughout their lives, that's exactly what I aim to do.

That, and make them listen to Waylon Jennings every chance I get.

Toby Nix is a local writer, guitarist and investigator for the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office. He is the author of two books, “Columns I Wrote” and the newly released “A Book I Wrote.” He can be reached at tobynix@yahoo.com.

Submitted 6.28.19