I am driving toward the edge of the known Earth on a remote Franklin County highway. We’re going on vacation, and my old Ford is taking us there.
The speed limit is 65 mph, but we Fords just do the best we can.
I’m a Ford guy. My father and grandfather were Ford men. We Ford patrons have our critics, we’ve heard all the demeaning jokes. But we’re okay with being teased about our vehicles.
You can say what you will about our cars, but I’d rather push a Ford than drive a BMW.
This afternoon, I’m the only vehicle on this chipped, Floridian pavement. Save for a ‘78 Bronco Ranger XLT ahead with a bumper sticker that reads: “That’s not a leak, that’s just my Ford marking its territory.”
I am driving through the real Florida. I roll past Panhandle hamlets and locales the general public rarely hears about.
Port Saint Joe, Apalachicola, Eastpoint, Tate’s Hell State Forest, Carabelle, Saint Teresa, Alligator Point, the Ochlockonee Bay. Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” becomes the “Big Bend” where, mercifully, you often lose cellular service.
I check my phone. No signal. Hallelujah.
The beach house we rented this week is off the map. It’s an outdated shack, built during the Carter Administration. It’s got all the archaic fixtures you don’t see anymore.
The bedrooms are clad in honest-to-goodness shag carpet. In the kitchen is an olive drab rotary phone. They have tube TVs, and a Scrabble game that’s missing all the O’s.
There is a window-unit AC which only works if you slam your beer on it. The water heater is roughly the size of a football; hot showers last 27.3 seconds.
No cable, no internet. I’ll be writing these columns using my trusty 28-year-old portable AlphaSmart word processor—a primitive device that requires nothing but double-A batteries and a few Fonzie-at-the-jukebox slaps.
I’ve almost forgotten how good it feels to be disconnected from a busy world. I’ve forgotten a lot over the past months of pandemic.
Before this pandemic, I was a different guy. I was jovial, talkative, my waistline was smaller, and I was more fun than I am now.
Also, I had a different perspective on my fellow man. This perspective slowly changed once the world got infected and common decency became a precious commodity.
I’ve watched friends disown one another because of nonsensical disagreements. I’ve seen good people—unshakable people—suffer depression.
Not to mention the virus itself. I’ve attended funerals for the parents and grandparents of friends. My buddy, Jason, spent his birthday in the ICU fighting COVID while the man in the bed beside him died from the same. Happy birthday.
This has been, perhaps, the longest season of my life. And the weird thing is, I feel guilty for telling you that.
Because I have no room to complain. I have much to be grateful for. Too much, in fact.
I have my health. I have my family. I have dogs who occasionally behave. And lest we forget, I have a 20-year-old F-150 with 121,902 miles, which has carried me to 40-some states, and died in only 38 of them.
I bring this up merely to say, I’m looking forward to vacation.
Speaking of which…
We’re here. We’ve arrived at our cabin, which sits upon the mud-colored Gulf of Mexico on an overcast day.
These are the backwoods. Our nearest neighbors are doublewides in flood zones, perched 12-blocks high. Beside our cabin is an abandoned horse trailer. A rusted water heater sits dead in the weeds.
The Real Florida.
My wife and I pull into the sandy driveway of the dilapidated rental. The storm shutters are falling off; the porch leans slightly southeast.
My wife leaps from her seat and immediately starts unloading the tonnage of junk, hanging clothes, cosmetic bags, and Coleman coolers we are obligated to travel with because one of us is female.
And I’m watching her in a trance. Because I love this woman, you see.
I throw my gear selector into P. I toss open my doors and turn my dogs loose. Two canines sprint onto the vacant beach, chasing shorebirds. And this year just got a lot better.
For a few minutes, I’m arrested by the view of the big water and my humble family. I am replaying our previous shipwrecked year in my mind.
And I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to be a different, kinder person than I was before coronavirus was a household word. I’m ready to be more compassionate. I’m tired of my own selfishness and narcissism. I want to be a better guy. Maybe this vacation will help me do that.
My wife slips an arm around my shoulder and delivers a kiss on my cheek. We are both watching the Gulf perform for God’s pleasure.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” she says.
“It sure is.”
We fall into silent mode.
If it hadn’t been for this woman, I don’t know whether I would have survived the last year. Furthermore, I don’t know whether I would have wanted to.
She rests a hand upon the warm hood of my truck. The engine is tinking and cooling from its four-hour adventure.
My bride whispers to the old half-ton for my benefit. “Speed kills. Drive a Ford and live forever.”
I don’t have to take this kind of abuse.
Tammy S. - May 4, 2021 9:24 am
joan moore - May 4, 2021 10:48 am
Enjoy your time together!And don’t forget to write! Just remember:Fix Or Repair Daily!
Mageran - May 4, 2021 10:57 am
Beautiful as usual. Like the sunset. Happens every day, but each time is a miracle. ❤️
Peggy - May 4, 2021 11:21 am
This is my Florida, too! And I love that I live in The Forgotten Coast area!!! Thank you for your writing that I love❤️
Liz Watkins - May 4, 2021 12:09 pm
Sounds like a wonderful vacation! No cell phones or internet!! Delightful- I must find out where this cabin is!
I have a great picture of it in my mind!
My Hubby loves Fords too😊😊
Terry Holloway - May 4, 2021 12:12 pm
Never met your wife, or you but feeling is that she is a very special Lady.
I’m a Ford man myself.
Ted - May 4, 2021 12:14 pm
A Ford truck and a Florida beach have been doing it for me since 1983. I understand.
TJ - May 4, 2021 12:27 pm
We are a Four Ford Family. Enjoy your vacation and recharge. Hug the wife and four legged friends.
Bob Brenner - May 4, 2021 12:33 pm
I love your wife! Please forgive me! Also I love your line about the Bronco marking it’s territory, CLASSIC ❤️ 😉
Brenda - May 4, 2021 12:48 pm
These start my day, thank you. My hubby and I are headed to Carrabelle on Sat. We fell in love with “the forgotten coast” a few years ago. A few of your books are going with me. I so enjoy your writing and can hear your voice and feel like you are reading to me. Enjoy your vacation.
Phil (Brown Marlin) - May 4, 2021 1:00 pm
Many years ago my wife and I left Montgomery for Nashville in our Ford. This was during the Carter Admin when there was gosh-awful inflation, a gas shortage, high prices and loooong lines at the pumps. I decided we would adhere to the Prez’s request to stick to the 55 mph limit to preserve fuel. So, we went all the way to Nashville on Superslab 65 staying on the “double-nickel.”
After visiting relatives for a few days we started for home, 55 mph. Every other car on the highway passed us. A kid on a bicycle went by on the shoulder and waved. After 25,878 miles of this my wife suddenly screamed, “I can’t take this anymore!! Pull over and let me drive!” I knew better than to argue with this demon-possessed lady, so we quickly swapped seats. She left tire marks in the pavement that may still be there. NASCAR drivers would have been envious. We set a new land speed record getting home. Our Ford was never the same.
Debbie g - May 4, 2021 1:12 pm
Mageran. What a great comparison.!!! Sunsets and Sean 😀😀have great vacation Sean and Jamie. Love y’all
Ellen - May 4, 2021 1:25 pm
My home town is Carrabelle, Franklin County is paradise and I see it more now that I’ve moved away. My mom is still there, owns The Carrabelle Junction across from the post office, they have the best sandwiches and ice cream, you should stop by and say hey!
AlaRedClayGirl - May 4, 2021 1:26 pm
Sorry, we have “bowties” on our vehicles 😊 but I loved yours (and Jamie’s) Ford jokes. I hope this vacation is everything you need and want. Enjoy it!
Greg - May 4, 2021 1:45 pm
121,000 miles??……Rookie! LoL
Karen Holderman - May 4, 2021 2:07 pm
It sounds like a dream vacation. Enjoy every moment. I look forward to a kinder and more civil population. It has been hard trying to keep depression at bay. My dogs would love your trip. My husband is tied to the TV. He would cry.😁
Tom - May 4, 2021 2:07 pm
I agree. Ain’t nothing like an old F-150, a good bird dog and a great wife. I couldn’t live without her. I’ll let you figure out which one “her” is!!
sharon suleski - May 4, 2021 2:07 pm
I have a Ford Truck 2002 Explorer with 60,000 miles on it I love it it is beautiful I love it because it was my fathers I inherited it He died at age 91 in his home in his slippers in his recliner of a heart attack quickly no suffering the way we all want to go Before that I drove my sons tracker for 10 years he died of a heart attack at age 35 on a bike trail in 2007 he was my sonshine I love those vehicles because the people who I loved and miss everyday hands touch the same steering wheel I touch After this year may we all live in peace and cherish what matters
MermaidGrammy - May 4, 2021 2:31 pm
“…watching the Gulf perform for God’s pleasure”. Man, what a phrase! Absolutely stunningly beautiful. You are a great way for me to start my day. Stay away from the chiggers, no-seeums and whatever other pesky critters abound.
Bobbie - May 4, 2021 2:46 pm
Love this because I can so relate to it. I could write a novel on the ‘Forgotten Coast’ and my discoveries and adventures while there. Am a little disappointed you didn’t mention Panacea…there is were I purchased my first property on this idyllic forgotten stretch of land. I could picture every scene as you traveled. Also have stayed in a couple of places like your rental. They’re never quite as described. As I read, the picture of a place I rented once came to mind…had hoped I’d forgotten it!! I have to tell you briefly the surprise I got when walking into the bedroom. Besides the decor being sooo dark, not beachy at all, when my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I saw it. A waterbed!!
Can’t even describe that night! Guess like being on a stormy sea on a raft!! Plus my two King Charles spaniels were on the sea voyage with me! I know this is too long…but just had to share some of my memories of the FC. thank you Sean for your gift you share every day. Today’s was very special. Re: the virus…I pray we all take something away from the past year and a half..as you said, be kinder, more compassionate and tolerant. Most of all be grateful! You and Jamie are so special and so blessed. ❤️
Shirley - May 4, 2021 3:10 pm
Helen De Prima - May 4, 2021 3:46 pm
Hallelujah — another Ford-lover! FORD: “fix-or-repair-daily”I, just jealous talk from non-Ford drivers. I’m on my sixth F-series and still get a big chuckle when someone tells me, “Nice truck, little lady.”
Helen De Prima - May 4, 2021 3:49 pm
Hallelujah! Another Ford-lover. “Fix-or-repair-daily” is just jealous talk from drivers who aren’t cool enough to drive a Ford truck. I’m on my sixth F-series and still get a chuckle when some guy tells me, “Nice truck, little lady.”
JonDragonfly - May 4, 2021 3:49 pm
“I don’t have to take this kind of abuse.”
Aww c’mon. You love it comin’ from her.
Elaine Butler - May 4, 2021 5:03 pm
Love your stories, read them every day! They always make you look at life in a better way. Thank you Sean!
Bill - May 4, 2021 5:31 pm
I couldn’t have said it any better.
tamrags - May 4, 2021 5:37 pm
Linda Moon - May 4, 2021 5:46 pm
My stepfather was a Ford man. The current man was a Corvette guy. Please keep telling me how you feel. I care.
And I love your woman, so please tell her I, “Uma”, said that. While reading about your Panhandle I thought about teenage me, mother and grandmother me, and Matt Hooper, too. Continue to disconnect down there, you two. Connect only with beauty and silence for a long, long while.
Suzanne Moore - May 4, 2021 6:31 pm
In order to reach our two favorite beaches, St. George Island and Cape San Blas, we ride through those little places you mention. we also travel a state road (59) through the pine forest and pass through Monticello, Waukeenah, and Wacissa before reaching 98 and traveling along the coast. We know every bump in the road along the way, and we enjoy the journey as well as the destination. I hope that your vacation is great!
Annie - May 4, 2021 6:42 pm
Mr Dietrich, I smiled and cried reading this. Please don’t stop writing and sharing. Covid has taken so much from so many. You haven’t lost your gift. It’s just taken a different turn. A turn so many of us need. Mike Rowe suggested reading your daily writings. Look him up if you don’t know him. I’m so thankful for your daily words. In a straight forward way, you are saying what so many of us feel. I thought only weak people got depressed. That’s not true. I found this out through my own journey. God bless you and may he fill you with inner peace.
Patricia Gibson - May 4, 2021 7:47 pm
Chasity Davis Ritter - May 4, 2021 7:50 pm
Sounds like paradise and also sounds like you have a good game plan set in motion. Enjoy your time with Jamie and your Fur kids… watch a sunset or two for me while you’re at it ❤️🙏
Christine H Mayle - May 4, 2021 8:14 pm
I’m so glad I found you Sean Dietrich! Your posts make me laugh and they make me cry. Often simultaneously. And I love how you love God. Thank you for sharing yourself and your authentic life with us.
Christina - May 4, 2021 9:07 pm
Long live your Ford! Thanks for taking us on your ride to the simple and beautiful corners of your world.
Linda L Woodell - May 4, 2021 9:14 pm
You’re a slacker Sean – my husband’s F-150 has 300K on it and still going strong. (: You two need to hit the road more. Enjoy your vacation in a place that sounds like paradise!
Susan from Wausau - May 4, 2021 10:48 pm
Shush,Sean! Stop telling people where we live! They’ll all move in, and then they’ll pave everything and ruin it!
I love your stories and read many of them aloud to my family and friends. Have a lovely time, but let’s keep what’s not already ruined to ourselves.
Harriet - May 4, 2021 11:37 pm
I’ve stayed in Carabelle, before. I know the area you are talking about! I’ve been to St Joe’s Piggly Wiggley and stayed at Cape SanBlas. I’m glad my family and I got to see that part of Fla. I agree is it the best part. So quiet.
But I really love Chevy’s more then Ford. Anyway I’m sure we can still be friends. Have fun 🤩
Lauren Lopez - May 5, 2021 12:04 am
May y’all enjoy a beautiful and peaceful vacation!!
Betty Ann Gregory - May 5, 2021 2:36 am
Why don’t you rent a decent cottage with clean carpet and air conditioning. Your wife deserves it. I can understand you not getting a fancy condo. Not your style , but surely you can rent a decent, clean place someplace on the beach. I read all your columns and relate to most of the things you write. We all know that you are a humble, nice guy. Just rent a decent place for goodness sake🤪
E F K in Greensboro, AL - May 6, 2021 12:12 pm
You are so good. Ll oil forward to your stories everyday. You bring up memories to savor, tears to my eyes and smiles to my face
Floyd Budd Dunson - May 8, 2021 2:37 am
121 thousand ain’t nothing for a F 150 especially if you haul dogs, they will last forever. Google gulf coast hurricane net, you will find plenty 9f topics.
DiAn - May 11, 2021 7:11 pm
Sounds like the start of a very memorable vacation. And yes, we all need that kind of abuse! Enjoy!