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The Tourists Are Coming

Now look here, it’s time for a family meetin’. Gather the cousins and tell Aunt Maudie to stop talking, because we’ve got something to discuss. 

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As a matter of fact, invite the preacher, because I also have a confession:

I told a lady from Ohio to get out of my way because “what was she even doing?” Granted, I’m the only one that heard it and it was a rhetorical question, but in all seriousness, does Cincinnati issue driver’s licenses? 

Just kidding. Sort of.

I know you feel it, too, sometimes. A teensy weensy air of superiority at bein’ a local. It’s okay, we are pretty cool. Before you shame me, I am hospitable most of the time, but dad-gummit if I don’t start talking to people the wrong way in the privacy and comfort of my own vehicle. 

The “born-heres” are gonna laugh at my air, knowin’ full well I was born in Arkansas.

Most of the time a person can’t help where they’re from, but you can help where you’re goin’. And bless all these people, they have chosen to come here. For vacation or otherwise.

So, here’s what the family meeting is about: I know you may get irritated real soon at all the people everywhere, the backed-up beach traffic, or the two-hour restaurant wait. 

When cousin Mary has winter amnesia and says, “I just don’t remember it being this long,” about the wait at Peg Leg’s, lean in, hug her, and give her a good ole, “bless your heart.” Because it has been and it will be. The wait, that is.

But the reality is this, we can’t do it without ‘em y’all. Not Louisiana, Mississippi, nor Arkansas. And not without their Ma and Pa. But we can do without cousin Joe, because he likes to unscrew the lids from the salt shakers, and that gets really old when you’ve been serving vacationing Pascagoulans all week. Y’all leave that one at home.

You see, change can be a pickle. We want things to stay the same, but we also want economic growth and jobs. We want things to stay the same, but want new places to eat. We want things to stay the same, but we love the benefits of things getting better. 

I know what’s “better” is subjective and it’s hard to deal with change. People throw their trash down in the wrong spot. I don’t like it and the turtles don’t either.

What I do know is this, when folks come and visit, it’s an economic win. Visitors to Escambia County spend over a billion dollars each year. 70% of that is in retail shops, restaurants, gas stations, and so on and so forth. 

Those are restaurants owned by our neighbors, retail stores run by the parents of our children’s classmates, and gas stations…well those are owned by Circle K. But don’t tell me you don’t like that $1.10 Polar Pop.

16% of Escambia County residents are employed by the tourism industry. Without tourism, over 22,000 of our neighbors and friends wouldn’t have a job. By the time we add in Santa Rosa county, it’s just a whole bunch of folks.

This next week, March 13-17, is spring break for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. I reckon it’s spring break for a whole bunch of other places, too. And they’re headed straight for Pensacola, Navarre, and Perdido Beaches. On most “in-season” days, you can finish the license plate game with one trip over all our bridges.

It’ll be easy to get our undergarments in a wrinkled-up kinda way. But we don’t have to. As we head into this tourist season, let’s choose to slow down, plan ahead, and keep that sunshine state of mind in our hearts and on our faces. 

We can reframe our expectations over the coming months and be thankful for our tourists.

It’s punishment enough they have to drive a minivan full of sunburned and worn-out kids back to Yazoo City or Poplar Bluff.

It may take us a little longer to get to the beach during tourist season, but when they leave, we don’t have to. 

And all Pensacola’s children said, “Amen.”

Family meeting: adjourned. 

Facts gleaned from this handy dandy site right here.