Dearly Beloved... We're gathered here today for Spring Break.
Hallelujah. Here on the beautiful Northwest Florida Gulf Coast we are gearing up for the return of the Spring Break hordes. From the colleges of the South, the private prep schools of the mid-West and the sprawling high schools of the gated-suburbs of the metropolis they come.
For the watching congregation of locals, this passion play is almost a biblical experience with the pilgrims arriving on the Sabbath and departing 7 days following - having broken bread and taken their communion at Red Bar inbetween. As one party of worshippers depart, within 4 hours their place at the altar is taken by a fresh, eager and equally-exultant crowd.
Don't get me wrong, we are please to see them.
As the return of the Speckled Warbler to the lakes of the north indicates Spring is upon us, the first SUVs and laden-MiniVans signify the return of the income, revenue and spare change we have been deprived of for the sleepy months of winter. Our collection plates are dusted down and ready to gratefully receive.
Every year more come, parting the Choctawhatchee Bay to make it to the Promised Land.
Each Spring new accommodation is provided for their weary checkbooks and exhausted credit cards. This year, we are blessed with new hotels, condos and beach cottages from Sandestin along the 30A to the Bay County borderline answering the tourists' call to prayer.
All religious experiences seem to have a formality to them. They follow a well-worn path and ache with familiarity. Spring Break vacations are no different - rich in pageantry and pomp.
First, the clutter-fest as the rental bikes, beach chairs, sun-brellas, golf carts and Chinese-made brightly-colored plastic bats, balls, buckets and boards are disgorged on to porches, driveways and decks.
Next, the ritual supermarket-sweep. Shopping carts overflowing with one swig-sized bottles of gatorade, slabs of water, hard and soft seltzer, sweet treats, savoury snacks, cereals and energy bars - fuel for the faithful - and a landfill's worth of packaging.
And finally, the day out. Everyone back in the SUV to join the procession of the observant on the slow, traffic-clogged ascent to the high altar of Spring Break - the beach.
But for many, like modern day Borgias, worshipping with the masses isn't quite the ticket. Each year more of the sacred sand is closed off to the hoi-polloi, its healing powers reserved for those with the right colored wristband or the four-digit code to the gates of Heaven.
And those few acres of sun, sand and surf which do accept hedonistic allcomers are now just as difficult to access. Throngs of bikes, golf carts and vehicles spar for the limited parking spots, unfenced verges and unoccupied gravelly driveways, much to the discontent of the more puritanical neighbors.
The high priests of tourism, the TDC and County Commissioners, are aware of the grumblings from the pews at the back.
They are trying to find parcels of multi-million dollar property to build more parking lots and access points. They have schemes to bus true-believers from holding pens to the beach, restaurants and stores. New multi-story temples to parking are proposed on any little parcel of land available, squeezing more and more worshippers into ever smaller and smaller spaces.
In six weeks it will be over. The pilgrims will head north and west. We will be grateful for all that they provided. The Lord giveth and, thankfully, taketh away.
For now, the call of our beach seems unrelenting. Let us pray no one loses faith with the whole experience.
Martin Liptrot is a lover of life at the beach on NW Florida's Gulf Coast. He scratches a living writing, making videos and podcasts, providing PR, marketing and advertising ideas and campaigning to 'make good ideas happen'.