P is for Profit. I had a great many conversations with many new friends this past weekend about how much money PRIDE brings to Pensacola Beach.
What is PRIDE, you ask? It’s Gay Pride.
There’s a whole movement dedicated to celebrating this vibrant and controversial way of life. I drove for Uber for three days this past Memorial Day Weekend as this decades-long festival descended down onto the beach I call home and I also changed my mind about a great many misconceptions this event perpetuates amongst the locals.
I know you’re wondering just how much, so I’ll tell you: I made about two hundred dollars doing little more than transporting PRIDE-ers between Portofino and Flounders over and over and over. Anyone who worked on the beach over those three days made some impressive bank. As I discussed this fact with my many, many Uber passengers, I admitted to them that just a few years ago when every business on this island was suffering from the BP oil spill, I would’ve bet my life that we would have been begging for their PRIDE dollars back then. It’s tough on this beach when no one’s coming over that bridge to visit.
R is for Responsibility. I also know there was a time when the stretch of beach between Pensacola Beach and Navarre was totally trashed, litter and straight-up garbage washing in and out with the surf. The chatter in the aftermath of MDW when that happened was nothing if not heated about the disgusting destruction that was left behind on the beaches by those people. This is no more. Sometime between midnight this past Sunday night and Monday mid-morning a total transformation took place. Credit goes to the City of Pensacola, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, Escambia County officials and citizen groups like PCoast for learning from past mistakes and then doing a jaw-dropping job with their do-over this year. A mere 24-hours after sundown on Sunday night passed and yet one would hardly even know that a single person had inhabited those beaches, much less hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, as I picked through the left-behinds like a buzzard on a carcass the next day, I noticed many of the festival attendees still out there, too. Perhaps their partying on Friday, Saturday and Sunday stifled their desire to bookend those long, hot day with chores, and I don’t blame them, but for whatever reason, there they were…back late on Sunday night and Monday morning getting their coolers, their tents, and their beach chairs picked up from off the beach. I saw them. They were taking responsibility for the mess and doing their part. Blue Angel Weekend crowds could learn something from them.
I is for Involvement. Listen, I just moved back onto the beach about a month ago and I certainly didn’t return because I love the crowds in the summer. In fact, the first thing anyone says to me when I tell them I live here is, “Don’t you hate the traffic?” Yes, I do. But it’s the price I pay to live in paradise. So just a few days before the chaos ensued, I made a decision about how I would respond to my predicament, knowing that MDW would basically render me a hostage in my own home. I had Option A: stock up on groceries and hunker down with the remote all weekend or Option B: get out there and join in. I chose B. Oddly, I found that PRIDE Weekend is even more fun for straight people than it is for gay people because I was able to engage the crowds and laugh at the debauchery without one ounce of pressure to pick up anybody, or fit in, or stand out. I was just the Uber driver with the cool Jeep that everyone wanted to ride with. On my first night I met Candace, Will, Allen and Evan, all employees of Southwest Airlines but all from different cities like Nashville, Chicago and Ft. Lauderdale. They were extremely professional, highly educated, and even surprisingly conservative on some issues. Will was actually a Republican, like me! We were instant soulmates. Our Uber conversations had little to do with the foam parties and glow raves at Capt’n Funs and more with the 2016 election and how my students did on their AP Government exam. My passengers usually asked me what I did for a living and they always wanted to know more about my life here. They got involved with me because I got involved with them. Quite simply, they’re nice people and I made some wonderful friends because I gave them a chance to be something greater than the stereotypes people slap on them. I had over a hundred people in my car this weekend and there wasn’t a single person I didn’t genuinely like, not a single one I wouldn’t be proud to call my friend, even the ones in the banana thongs with the rainbow-colored pedicures. The three lesbian ladies with the shaved heads and the mean-looking pitbull made me somewhat nervous at first but by the time we got to our destination, they had me totally cracking up. I am proud to know all of them. Different is not scary. Different is awesome.
D is for Determination, my determination to continue to fight for the people of my generation and my son’s generation who continue to battle ignorance. On the AP Government Exam this year, one of the four mandatory essay questions required my students to write on Obergefell vs Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that mandated Marriage Equality. When that test was over, Twitter exploded with exasperation as APG students from all over the country railed about never having heard of that case. That absolutely astounded me because in my class, I taught the daylights out of it. It’s a landmark case!!! It’s this generation’s Brown vs Board of Education! Any government teacher not teaching it is stuck in the Dark Ages.
But I digress. It’s the evolution of society, happening the way it should. My father would have been apoplectic to see the things I saw hanging out of the backs of pickup trucks this weekend, but he is of a bygone era and one day his generation will be gone and with them, their hang-ups about homosexuality. It’s so ironic, since I got my sense of righteousness from him in the first place. As for me, I don’t see the big deal. You can love gay people and hang out with gay people and be friends with gay people and not be gay. More importantly, you can love gay people and hang out with gay people and be friends with gay people and not have to carry the weight of deciding who is and who isn’t going to ultimately burn in the fires of hell. It’s nonsense, some of the things staunch conservative Christians take so… personally. Sometimes it seems as if judging and condemning other people is Commandment #1.
E is for, of course, Equality. (Economy would also be a good choice here but I sort of addressed this already in ‘P’.) Equality between the gays and the straights is here, folks, whether you like it or not. Supreme Court-mandated and ethically overdue, it is a fact of life and a fact of society that you can get used to and accept now or you can simply while away your years being mad about something you will never be able to change. You can love the person and not love their lifestyle. You can respect the law even if you don’t agree with it. You can let people be themselves in the exact same way people forgive you for the things about you they don’t like. But enough preaching. You know God loves everyone, both the fire-and-brimstone country Christians who will refuse to read my blog now and my new friends I met when I was an Uber driver for PRIDE on Memorial Day Weekend.
I like the latter much better anyway. #samelove