I found out last week how the other half lives. Or should I say the one-tenth of one percent.

It’s at a stunning place where there is a gorgeous white sandy beach with a horizon of blue ocean water. In other words, a very exclusive and expensive address. 

My wife Jean and I spent four days as guests of a well-off friend at WaterColor, Fla., where he owns a fabulous beach house in the ritzy, tropical development. Money seems to hang from the palm trees and palmetto shrubs growing all over the landscape like moss.

All the white wooden “cottages” in this high-class resort town conform to a certain beach style and appearance. They are three and four stories tall and contain plenty of guest bedrooms and living area. In other words, luxury and comfort at its best.  

I read somewhere that all the homes in the ritzy development are in the high six and seven figure range. Some are owned by movie stars, country/western singers and business tycoons with Southern roots. Not to mention wealthy inheritors and lawsuit winners.  

For an East Alabama working stiff like me, the vacation was a wealth of fine — fine living, fine dining, fine sleeping, fine swimming, fine times all around. It was a vacation stay for the old memory book, one not to be easily forgotten. 

While close to Panama City in distance only, WaterColor is a world away from all the other resort developments around it. My, how the city and its neighborhoods have changed.

As a young lad back in the 1950s, my family vacationed a few times in a small cottage across the main highway from the Panama City beach. 

Everything back then was designed and built for folks with small annual incomes. The flimsy beach dwellings were often blown away by the first seasonal hurricane.  

Back in the those days, the beaches were wide open to working stiffs. The oceanfront highway resembled a circus, with Jai alai sport arenas, alligator shows, roller coasters and a well-worn pavilion called the “Hangout” where youths a little sloppy from cheap beer sock-hopped and flirted the night away.

So, you may inquire, “What’s a beach bum like Ralph doing hanging around WaterColor?” Connections, of course. My wife’s sister is the lady friend of the WaterColor homeowner, and she wrangled an invitation for us regular members of the middle class. 

Our showing up at his swanky beach house in clothes worn by the less well-off may keep us from getting an invitation back. That, and our Southern, laid-back lifestyle, could do us in. But, we were delighted to take full advantage of the surprise vacation offer.

It took the two of us a while to get used to that kind of fine living and dining, but we glided our way through it with charm and smiles on our faces. Not to mention the constant refrain of “wow,” in reference to everything. 

In reality, though, our stumbling around in the dense, super-white sand may have given everyone the thought we might be a little phony, that is, out of our league at such a swanky place.

WaterColor, I learned, was developed by the St. Joe Paper Co. from beachfront property it purchased decades ago to provide pulp for its mill. St. Joe obviously spends more now on its developments than it does producing paper.

For years, St. Joe was sitting on property worth zillions of dollars. Now, the company, which owns other leisure developments and forested land ready for development, may be one of the richest businesses in the U.S.

What used to be jungle and swamp property is now worth its weight in gold. Not a bad place to be, in a business world where corporations eat each other for lunch. 

And, what used to be a week-long trip to the beach as an annual summertime necessity is now an expensive undertaking with prices through the roof. A vacation at the beach is now considered a luxury for cash short folks like me.

So, I emerged from the WaterColor visit like I’d just bathed, shaved and put on a fresh set of colorful summer duds. Ready for my camera close-up, with the beautiful beach scene over my shoulder. 

In the back of my mind is the thought: Though white in appearance, WaterColor is really the color of green, if you know what I mean. 

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is r.morris@ctvea.net.

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