Emerald Coast Magazine October/November

Page 70



ROOTED IN A SMALL TOWN Pensacola novelist’s characters are tied to a tiny place by STEVE BORNHOFT

Lenny Jr. built a little place out back to live in and decided he was going to run the store until he died. … It had had a good run and was now ready to fade away and become another abandoned lot.” Schuck, a student of history, earned a master’s degree in English from the University of West Florida. He taught school for 10 years before starting a business, Emerald Coast Tours, in 2012. He narrates history tours that are conducted on bicycles, on foot and on Segways. “Panhandlers” reflects much of Schuck’s personal experience as a surfer, teacher and father, but never was he challenged to escape the confines of an insular place. For residents of the fictional Sullivan, Florida, the setting for much of Schuck’s book and the kind of town at whose outskirts prisons are built, Pensacola Beach might as well be a world away. Sullivan, “quiet, swampy and nearly forgotten,” is located on Highway 29 just south of the Florida-Alabama line. It is, Schuck writes, “a town once known for lumber, but now making headlines for crystal meth, dog fights

B and bingo parlor robberies. A town where making good money meant being able to afford a case of Busch beer on payday and people fished and hunted and dreamed, but the dreams stayed mostly dreams, rarely becoming a reality. … Once the lumber industry dwindled, the rich moved on to other ventures in other cities and the workers were left with nothing but a half-hearted will to survive.” But some do get out, riding the rails of education, athleticism or even criminal enterprise. Rodney is a ballplayer who brings to mind Arthur Miller’s Biff from “Death of a Salesman,” but he is not deluded by a father’s fantasies and instead arrives at a realistic selfassessment much earlier in life.


Nic Schuck spent 10 years as a public school teacher. In 2012, in addition to earning an MA from the University of West Florida, he also launched a historic tour company in his hometown of Pensacola, where he lives with his daughter.





f Nic Schuck had not named his second novel “Panhandlers,” he might have opted for “Highway 29 Revisited.” Schuck has long been intrigued, he said, with tiny towns north of Pensacola along that artery: Century, Molino, Flomaton — communities that flourished during their long-ago lumbering heydays. Today, they struggle to remain viable and relevant, and Schuck is a compassionate observer. “These are towns that don’t enjoy an influx of dollars from outside, they don’t have a tourist trade,” Schuck said. “They have to try to make it on their own. They are easily forgotten, and I wanted to tell their story.” A country store, operated by Lenny, who inherited the business from his father, serves as a metaphor for the region. “It rarely saw a customer except old Merle and George,” Schuck writes. “They seemed to be the only reason the place stayed open. But