Sopchoppy, Florida Part 1 of 3

Sopchoppy, Florida 30° 3′3 6″N, 84° 29′ 28″W

My Bingo Friends

My Bingo Friends

We here in Atlanta commonly refer to the strip of panhandle Florida’s sugar white beaches as the “Redneck Riviera.” Whether this name is affectionate or derogatory though is up for debate. The water sure is amazing, and the allure of these supposed “rednecks” in their natural habitat proved for me a stronger draw than all the glossy brochures laid out in tourist offices dotting this quite beautiful coast.

Surely no self-respecting tourist is going to venture inland to a town whose claim to fame is the Worm Gruntin’ Festival the second Saturday of every April. I’m just sorry this suaret didn’t coincide with my own visit. My original plan was a quick flight to Panama City, make a two hour beeline over to Sopchoppy, see if this curiously named megalopolis of 426 lived up to all its worm gruntin’ glory playing out in my head, and then hightail it right back to the airport.

A healthy bout of “get-there-itis” holding me hostage caused Lucky’s Bingo at the corner of N East Avenue and E 15th Street in Panama City to grow ever smaller in my Mazda’s rear view mirror as I calculated whether or not I’d have enough time to even make it to Sopchoppy and back. Though observing an authentic bingo parlor in full action mildly piqued my interest, I told myself you don’t have time for that sort of foolishness. Press on. Sopchoppy. You’re here for Sopchoppy.

Bingo!

Bingo!

Well, about a mile down 15th Street, I said you know what, to hell with the plan. I am going back in there and playing me some good old fashioned bingo. Even at ten thirty on a Tuesday morning, this joint’s parking lot was jam packed with hoopties rolling on chrome 24’s along with assorted rusted out crap spawned in 1970’s Detroit. I slid my completely boring 323 between a blinged out Escalade and beat up Chevy in the overflow grass parking. Doesn’t anyone work in this town? This place was packed during normal work hours.

Once I finally figured out where the hell this bingo palace’s well hidden entrance was, a cloud of stale cigarette smoke rained its nicotine laced horrors all over my fabric softener fresh Neiman Marcus and Polo clothes. Inserting myself into this den of iniquity packed full of rough looking, polyester clad folks took me so far out of my element I just knew I was going to be eaten alive. How does one pay? Is seating assigned? Will they notice I am woefully overdressed for this? Most importantly, how is Bingo even played?

As to the question, “Will they notice me?”…Oh yeah, they most certaintly did and I now know how a piece of fresh meat feels dangling near a lion. I know they were thinking who the hell does this pompous jackass think he is coming in here. After forking over an entire buck for the necessary ink blotter to stamp my bingo card, fear paralyzed me. I had no clue what to do next as I clutched that plastic ink tube for dear life. Yes indeed, my smug arrogance was already knocked down a few notches as I watched this Walmart crowd navigate the intricacies of bingo with the greatest of ease. I told myself over and over don’t be hating. No hating. Stop with the hating. These are nice people just here to win some quick cash with money they probably don’t have.

Vintage Redneck Riviera

Vintage Redneck Riviera

Thank God a woman draped in a muumuu as big as the Buick I watched her roll up in must have seen the deer in headlights look frozen on my face since she shook her head and said, “Lawd Jesus, baby, follow me. I show you how to win some cash money! Hey, hey!” Yeah, I’ll admit it. This friendly 350 pound bingo maven scared the bejeesus out of me as she began my crash course in Redneck Riviera depravity via a dubious primrose path leading right into the belly of this beast.

Evidently, all of us with dollar signs clouding our good judgment can exchange one measly silver George Washington for a sheet of three Bingo cards and the chance to pocket up to $50. Hell yeah. That’s a tank of gas. I spread my sheet out and carefully watched as my tutor pulled a wad of singles and a bag of quarters out from under her herniated bra strap and laid them on the formica table for eventual collection each round by the roaming cashier. This super friendly cashier told me that for one paper George Washington I could use an electronic device that would track everything for me automatically and let me know when I had achieved that elusive bingo.

I’m sitting there thinking no thanks; this shit is way to easy. Gimme a freaking break. Bingo for dummies? Some woman calls out numbers, and all I’ve got to do is stamp a row of five. I’ll take the self service, old school option, thank you very much. Of course, I kept my sarcasm to myself and politely told her I’d like to try it the normal fun way. I had after all just plunked down a buck for that ink thing which was not about to go to waste.

Exploring the Backwoods

Exploring the Backwoods

Just as I was wondering what the proper protocol would be to let someone know should I achieve “bingo,” my large and in charge companion suddenly yelled out, “Bingo Jesus! Gimme my fitty dollar! Hey hey!” Copious amounts of flab were waving around like fleshy weapons, and I truly feared those corpulent arms and mammoth torpedo titties would swat me into oblivion. She looked right at me, stomped her feet several times, and said, “Now that’s how a bitch win fitty dollar. Hey, hey!” And for those of you from the blue blood country club set, “fitty” is merely an easier way to indicate “fifty.”

OK, if she can win, I sure as hell am going to walk out of here with some cash money of my own. Game on you most interesting looking Gulf Coast people! I’m taking you down! The loudspeaker blurted out to everyone’s vociferous approval, “Nines are wild. Mark any number ending in a nine.” I went to town. 49, 59, several 19s. Even a 39. My card was now awash with a sea of green dots. My tutor yelled out, “Don’t forget your wilds baby! Hit that 9! Hey, hey!” Sadly though, the cashier inadvertantly and instantly deflated my enthusiasm by saying, “I won’t charge you for this round since you probably didn’t know to do your wilds.”

Oh hell no lady. You obviously do not know who you are dealing with here. I marked each of those nines just as instructed! I even held up my sheet to proudly display my newfound bingo prowess like some first grader showing his mom some macaroni art and in the process got behind a few numbers. Never fear though for I smugly thought to myself my IQ is probably higher than most of this room combined as I caught up and then diligently inked every subsequent number called out like some overachiever in advanced Bingo placement studies. Oh yes. I realized right there I was being that same sort of big city elitist jerk I so despised back home, but I didn’t care.

Well, I take that back. I cared some for I try to find the good in people. It’s just that I was so far out of my element with this crowd, I was running a bit nervous. But what scared me most was enjoying their little world carved out inside that bingo parlor a little bit more than I was comfortable admitting.

To be continued…

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Categories: travel

One Comment on “Sopchoppy, Florida Part 1 of 3”

  1. January 27, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Reblogged this on Walking, Rambling, Sauntering, Strolling and commented:
    two roads diverged…..& i chose 1….

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