Standing in a thrift shop so stuffed with used clothes I can hardly breathe, I’m reading the warning signs (“Customers, Watch Your Young ‘Uns”) while the proprietress smokes cigarettes and a motorcycle roars by outside and I’m thinking this is worst thrift store I’ve ever been in. Outside, stray cats roam. When we pass the Old Carrabelle Inn trying to make a go of it, it seems the type of place where you’d vacation and, believing you’d found a little piece of paradise, you’d buy the fixer-upper, only to discover the town is infested with motorcycle gangs and fire ants. When the bottom later falls out of the local economy, you’d be stuck with the mortgage and no customers, your own little nightmare come true.
Atlanta’s unrelenting sprawl is choking the life from the Apalachicola River. The increased salinity of the river is killing the oyster beds that make the town of Apalachicola thrive and from which comes 90% of Florida’s oysters. Atlanta don’t care. They urge their U.S. Senators to file legislation cementing their claim to the water, and the Corps of Engineers takes the position their only obligation is to maintain water flow at the level required by the Endangered Species Act. I guess the oyster—not to mention the towns all along Florida’s Forgotten Coast—aren’t considered endangered.
In the future, we will fight over our water like bickering children until the time comes when the federal government realizes this is the exact type of thing they must mediate. But by then we will be in an Israeli settler situation. Those living where they should not be will buy guns and proclaim, “We won’t budge.” Meanwhile, downstream, there is no stream.
The fire ant bites ache. “Itch all the time?” the pharmacist wants to know when asked about a remedy. The bites don’t itch. They hurt. Hurt to touch, hurt to even look at. Like the “For Sale” signs and boarded windows up and down the Forgotten Coast, a place we’ve grown attached to over the last five years. In the patches of spiky grass beside the boarded-up restaurants, the poisonous fire ants—drawn to dry conditions—lurk, waiting for unwary tourist toes, eager to finish what Atlanta started.