I remember an old café where old fishing boat captains used to hang out. I was a kid. I lived up the road from the joint, in a cinder-block house. I frequently walked to this greasy spoon to listen to the old men jaw.
Destin was different back then. We didn’t have 4.5 million visitors. Highway 98 wasn’t America’s largest automotive parking lot. We were small. We were unknown. We had old men.
They were vile old men. Unshaven. Unwashed. Unsanctified. Undomesticated. Unfriendly. Un-everything. They smoked Luckys and survived on bad habits. Their skin looked like chewed-up boot leather and their teeth had gone to be with Jesus long ago.
They were commercial fishermen. The real deal. A dying breed. These men did not like where the world was going, so they were always ticked off. Their favorite thing to say, “Hell, I don’t know anymore… I. Just. Don’t. Know.”
This phrase was their theme song. They said it often. But then, they were roughnecks. They did not use politically
correct language. They did not listen to Michael Jackson. They smelled like sweat. They always wore trousers—even in 280-degree weather. Their pants were stained with fish guts, Clorox, and non-synthetic motor oil.
Whenever they stood, they swore loudly as their joints crackled. Whenever they stooped, they winced in pain. They had scars all over their sun-browned forearms. Sometimes they were missing fingers. Dogs and children followed these men around.
Their stories were a joy. Namely, because they spoke of olden times. Of the way Destin used to be before it was overrun with G-strings, T-shirt shops, and zip lines.
The men spoke of old time street dances, community fish fries, dinner on the grounds, all-day singings, unsinkable Fords, and the price of gasoline.
I remember hearing them discuss the first fishing rodeo. The fishing rodeo was held here in ‘48, to attract visitors during the slow season. Harry Truman was…