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Last weekend I was in Panama City Beach, Florida, for a work event. I’d never visited this city, known for the wild parties and all-night boozing of Spring Break. If any of my readers live there, I apologize in advance for this post. I only visited a very small area of the city, and I’m sure it’s not representative of all of Panama City Beach – although it sure felt like it.

There’s a lot I could tell you about this trip. So much delirium was packed into two short days. To start, I’ll give you some tips for when you travel to Panama City Beach.

  1. Be nice to your ticketing agent at the airport. Because guess what? She’s also your gate agent. And the one who will retrieve your luggage when your flight is canceled. And the one who will re-book you on another flight. And the one who will greet you the next morning when you finally take off. And the one in charge of moving the rubber wedges under the plane’s tires. (True story. I saw her outside my plane window.) A woman of many talents! Also, a really small airport. FAA regulations prevent me from knowing for sure, but I have a hunch she was also the pilot of my plane.
  2. Get used to second-hand smoke. Apparently CDC messaging hasn’t made it down to Panama City Beach yet, and the Marlboro Man has yet to leave. Rental cars still have ash trays… that are full of ashes. I can’t get the smell of smoke out of my hair, even after washing it several times. May attempt the tomato juice remedy reserved for skunk victims.
  3. Automatically deduct one star from any hotel rating. I say with some level of expertise, as I stayed at three hotels in two days. Don’t try to do the math; it makes no sense. A three-star hotel is definitely a two-star motel in Panama City Beach. Dogs will incessantly bark on your floor, hotel construction will make it impossible to sleep, and Wifi? Oh, that’s hilarious.
  4. Pre-pay your rental car gas. I normally don’t support this practice because I’m a stickler for not wasting money. But if you think you’re going to pass a gas station on the way to the airport that is in the middle of nowhere, good luck. It ain’t gonna happen. You will pass acres and acres of trees, and a shady-looking man running a cantaloupe stand.
  5. Walk on the beach as soon as the sun comes out. Because if you don’t, a tornado warning will roll in unexpectedly, the wind will reach 100 knots, and you will lose your chance to dig your bare feet into the sand.

After a long day of work that ended at nine o’clock in the evening, I did my usual work-trip dance of driving around to see which restaurant I would grace with my presence. After a few miles of roaming, I realized the nicest restaurant in Panama City Beach is Red Lobster. Just call me Beyoncé.

“Table for one, please.”

shrimpAbout 15 minutes and two cheese biscuits into my meal, I started looking around and felt a strange phenomenon. It appeared that everyone in the restaurant was looking at me. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time I had cocktail sauce on my face, but I checked and the napkin returned void of seafood condiments. Was this all in my head?

My waitress brought me popcorn shrimp and a baked potato. Fully loaded. I earned it by dealing with numbers one through five above.

I slowly raised my eyes and noticed even more people staring my way. I’m not a self-conscious person, but this was starting to get to me. Is this what it feels like to be a Kardashian?

I popped another popcorn shrimp in my mouth.

And then it hit me.

It was Valentine’s Day.

Oh, $&@%.

All these people felt so sorry for me and think I got stood up. Or that I was just lame altogether and never had a date to begin with.

I sort of laughed to myself. I actually laughed to myself a lot. What’s the big deal with eating alone at a restaurant? And what’s the big deal with being single on Valentine’s Day?

If you ask me, I think we’re missing out on the bigger issue here, folks.

In Panama City Beach, Florida, Red Lobster is the go-to restaurant for couples on Valentine’s Day. I love a cheese biscuit as much as the next guy, but I wouldn’t exactly call this romantic.

“Check, please!”

~Ruth