Vacation Day 4: Fun, Fears, and Food

IMG_3843This morning after everybody got up, which was a few hours after my 6:04 wake up time, we piled into my mom’s car and drove a few minutes down the road to Fort Morgan, which coincidentally is the name of the place where we are staying. Who knew there was an actual fort? It was used in the war of 1812 and that is all that I learned during our fairly short visit there, but it was fun to walk around and argue against my brothers who thought it would be a good place to hide out if a zombie apocalypse were to break out, which is completely stupid because although it used to be a fort, there are a lot of openings, windows and doors leading to the outside, and even if you did barricade yourself inside, you would have to risk leaving every time you wanted food. Basically, although I’m the only one that dropped out of college, I’m the smart brother. The person selling admission tickets at the front told us that we could come back tonight when they would be reenacting some battle complete with a gun show and cannon fire. Given that loud noises is possibly my biggest fear in the world, it wasn’t an issue that I had to think about before taking a hard pass.

This afternoon we went to play putt-putt golf, and I don’t know what it is about being at the beach and playing miniature golf, but the two seem to go hand and hand, and we apparently aren’t the only ones who think this way, because the course was crowded and we had people waiting behind us at each hole, making me nervous and throwing me off my game. I started the game with a hole in one, but my luck quickly deteriorated and by the time all was said and done I ended up in next to last place, my brother’s girlfriend the only one of the five of us that played worse than me. I guess it’s time to check miniature golf off the list of sports I’ll never become a professional in, along with every single other athletic activity I’ve ever attempted. After golf, we went to the wharf in Orange Beach, a place with restaurants, shopping, and various forms of entertainment, and it was here that my wife and I, along with my mom and grandmother, rode the ferris wheel. I don’t love heights, but lately I’ve been trying to branch out a little bit in terms of doing things that I’m not completely comfortable with. As the ferris wheel descended at what seemed like a dangerously rapid speed, I immediately regretted my decision, but once we plateaued and began our descent, it wasn’t so bad. I think it went around four or five times total, and by the end I was actually enjoying looking out at the scenery below, and was a little bit sad when it came to an end, although my hand still firmly grasped the bar in the middle of the pod, as if this would save me if it broke free of the ferris wheel and went careening to the ground.

For dinner we went to the Shrimp Basket, where upon arrival we were told our party of seven had a forty-five minute wait for a table. About an hour later we were seated at two separate tables, which wouldn’t have been too big of a deal if they’d done this initially instead of making us stand around for an hour while parties of three and four who’d arrived after us were seated, but no, they made us wait and then without asking seated us separately. Once understanding our frustration at the situation, the waiter moved some tables together and we were finally seated together. I got the shrimp and grits, which I immediately regretted after ordering, because I feel that the Shrimp Basket is known for it’s fried seafood baskets, with fries, and here I was ordering a meal that I typically get at a more up-scale place, but when the food arrived, I was pleasantly surprised, and all the regret faded away instantly. The grilled shrimp was absolutely delicious and full of flavor and the cheese grits that they rested on was also very good and the perfect creamy texture I’ve come to expect when I order grits on the gulf coast. I’ve been here four days now, and this was the best meal I’ve had so far. I can’t wait to see if anything will top it over the next three days, but it’s going to be pretty tough.

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Vacation Day 1: Sea Food, Eat Food

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I woke up at 5:30 this morning in Memphis, Tennessee, and here I am, twelve hours later in Gulf Shores, Alabama, sitting in the dining room of our beach house for the next week, and letting the smooth crash of the waves wash all of my cares away. We didn’t have to be on the road at any specific time this morning, but since I wasn’t going to Orange Beach with the other side of my family this year, I wanted to make sure I did however get to eat a meal there this year, so the plan was for my wife and I to make it to Orange Beach for a late lunch, then go on to Fort Morgan just in time for our four o’clock check in time. We made pretty good time driving, but did encounter a couple of hiccups on the way. We were in New Albany, Mississippi and it was sometime between seven and eight. My wife had awoken from her slumber and I had managed not to fall asleep and wreck the car up to that point, despite only getting a few hours of sleep the night before, so we started talking about getting a good breakfast to give us the energy needed to get through the rest of the trip.

When I was a kid there was no breakfast I wanted more than McDonald’s, even when my great grandmother had all the ingredients necessary to make sausage biscuits from scratch, I still voiced my opinion in favor of the golden arches, and if I’m being completely honest, I still go there every once in a while as an adult, because sometimes, a greasy breakfast sandwich really hits the spot. I got off at an exit that had a McDonald’s and turned right, following the direction of the area under the logo, saying it was a half mile from the interstate. That seemed unbelievable to me because when it comes to McDonald’s, the golden arches are generally visible from the interstate, but apparently Mississippi just does things a little differently, so I drove along the road for a few minutes before dejectedly turning the car around, accepting that there would be no McGriddles for me at this exit. Just as we pulled back onto the interstate I saw the McDonald’s on the other side, the one opposite from where the sign was pointing. Maybe that’s what people meant when they say Mississippi is a backwards place.

We finally got food we so desired and continued on our way to the beach, spending about twenty minutes in downtown Mobile, Alabama, trying to figure out which way to go because Siri, the idiot inside my phone, kept sending me in circles and I was getting nowhere, but eventually we went through the underwater tunnel and left Mobile, where we sat in slow moving traffic for about half an hour. How dare anyone else’s vacation inconvenience my own. We arrived in Orange beach a little after 1:30 and we went straight for Doc’s, a place known in the area for their fried seafood, and apparently their gumbo, according to the flashing sign out front. It wasn’t until my last trip to Orange Beach that I really gained a liking for Doc’s, because I think in previous years it always just seemed like a place overcrowded with tourists, and the one time we did go there when I was younger it looked pretty dirty inside, but since then, my family has one by one come around and now we’re all pretty big fans of the place.

Despite being close to two when we arrived, Doc’s was pretty busy and we had to wait about fifteen minutes before being seated, but eventually our thing buzzed and we were ushered to the back of the restaurant. Our ordered a combination platter of fried shrimp and fried oysters, that came with crinkle cut french fries, cole slaw, and hush puppies. The fries were forgettable, more of a plate filler than anything else, but the hush puppies were pretty good and the coleslaw actually provided a nice sweet contrast to the savory seafood, which is the first time I think I’ve ever made that connection before. The shrimp was good, but not as good as I remember, lacking flavor beneath the deep fried surface. The oysters however were excellent, however a couple of them had to go uneaten when I bit into them and realized there were pieces of the shell inside of them, which was really disappointing because they were easily the tastiest thing on the plate. Two years ago in Orange Beach I think I ate Doc’s three times in the span of a week, but even if I was staying closer on this trip, I wouldn’t be going back. Maybe I’ll go back sometime in the future, or maybe I won’t, but I’m not going to worry too much about it. I’ve got some relaxing to get back to.

Car Trouble: A Bad Start to Vacation

You know that feeling you get when you leave work for the last time before your vacation? That is the feeling I had today, but unfortunately it didn’t last long. I walked out of the bank, and it was pouring down rain, but I didn’t care, vacation had started and that’s all that mattered, so I rain carelessly through the rain to my car, hitting the automatic locks as I got closer, ready to jump in as soon as I reached it. When I finally got there, I grabbed the door handle and pulled, but it didn’t open, so I hit the button a couple more times and tried again, still nothing. I thought that perhaps the rain had broken my electronic key, but still I wasn’t upset, because how could I be, with the beach so near in my future? I unlocked the door manually, like a caveman, and slid into the seat, slamming the door behind me, now sheltered from the pouring rain. I put the key in the ignition and turned, ready to leave work and let my body sink into the relaxing vacation mode that it so desperately needed, but the car didn’t start, and all I heard were clicks. My car was dead, which had happened to me on numerous occasions when I owned a crappy 1994 Honda civic that didn’t politely beep to remind me that I’d left the lights on, but had never once happened in the two years that I’ve had my CR-V. Sure, there have been countless times that I left the lights on, but before I could exit the car, I was reminded to turn the lights off, but perhaps today my car was more depressed than usual, because it didn’t beep, allowing itself to die while I worked, completely unaware of the situation.

I know how it happened too. I was sitting in my car on my lunch break, which is the time I typically work on the book I’m writing, and I noticed a car parked in front of me with a front license plate that just said “Jesus” as if that were the person who owned the cadillac. It was parked like a jerk, taking up two parking spaces, so I thought it would be funny and took the picture, captioning it, “I guess the son of God probably deserves two parking spaces”, but it was dark outside and difficult to read the license plate that was really the focal point of the joke, so I switched on my headlights to get a better shot, and unfortunately didn’t turn them off again. I left my car and knocked on the window of my coworkers car who hadn’t left yet and asked her if she had jumper cables. She did not but suggested I check with the building’s security to see if they did, but when I trekked back through the rain and entered the building, the security desk was empty, so I decided to call triple A, who over the years have rescued me from my own stupidity.

While on the phone trying to enter in all of the information, my wife who was aware of my problem put in a service request with Geico road side assistance, which we get through our car insurance, and told me that somebody would be there in an hour to help me out. I was stuck at work, but with little to do, I sat in my hot car, the windows fogging up as the cold rain fell around it, writing the beginning of today’s blog. The tow truck arrived sooner than expected and the mechanic jump started my car, all the while looking at me like I was a complete idiot, which is hard to disagree with. An hour after the bank closed for the day, I finally pulled out of the parking lot, officially starting my vacation. I just hope that my initial problem wasn’t a sign of bad things to come.

Pancho’s: Dinner with the Grandparents

IMG_3720It was raining tonight, which meant it was the perfect time to sit in a dimly lit restaurant and eat Mexican food, but if I’m being completely honest, any night is a good night to do that. My wife and I went out with my grandparents to Pancho’s, their favorite Mexican restaurant in Memphis, a place that is quickly growing on me. We wanted to see them before leaving town on Saturday to head to the beach for a week (this is completely unnecessary information but I thought I might as well rub it in) and they suggested dinner, and since I’ve never in my life turned down cheese dip, and wasn’t about to start today, I agreed. We arrived at the restaurant and sat in a corner booth that was in the section of a waitress my grandparents knew by name. It really is astounding to me that basically no matter where we go to eat, they always have a favorite waitress that they ask for, because when I’m out at a restaurant I rarely engage in anything more than pleasantries with the waitstaff, much less know about their personal lives or ask about their grandchildren, but my grandparents are just those sort of people who make friends wherever they go.

My wife and I both ordered nachos, which neither of us had tried here before, and when the plates arrived I was shocked at how big the portion was. It looked incredible. On a bed of chips was ground taco beef, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños, with two separate bowls made of a giant tortilla chip holding sour cream and guacamole. For good measure I dumped out the remainder of my cheese dip on top, and dove in fork first. It was really good, and really filling, and my wife and I realized pretty quickly that we could have shared the plate of nachos, and that there was no way we would come close to finishing our own, which is saying something for me, who more often than not finishes the food I order.

Over dinner we talked about the first time Leticia had ever eaten at Pancho’s. It was the first time I brought her to Memphis to meet the family in 2012 after we’d been dating for about six months. I remember that most of my dad’s family was there, my two grandparents, my uncle Brett and his family, and of course my dad. Leticia, whose parents are both Mexican, ordered a chicken sandwich that night at the Mexican restaurant, which everyone thought was pretty funny, given that they thought her of all people would get something Mexican. I occasionally joke about this with my wife and she defends her decision saying she was just in the mood for a chicken sandwich that night. It was a good dinner and it’s always good to spend time with my grandparents, so overall it was a great night. Maybe when we return from vacation we can do it again, because if I’m being completely honest, I’m already in the mood for more cheese dip.

Accused of Animal Abuse

I would never physically harm my dogs. I feel like that’s a weird thing for me to have to clarify, but evidently it’s imperative that I do so, because yesterday, someone who was practically a complete stranger, looked down at Mocha, my three pound chihuahua, and asked “what have they done to you?” and “are they hurting you?” in a very excusatory tone. This lady couldn’t comprehend why our dog didn’t want anything to do with a stranger approaching her and yelling “look at the baby!” If you were a dog in that situation, would you not feel uncomfortable and not willing to jump happily up in the arms of this lunatic reaching out to grab you? I realize there are dogs that are very friendly and playful, and I love those dogs, because, well, I’m human, but Mocha is not one of them. Shortly after she was born, her mom tried to eat her, but was heroically saved by my wife, so yeah, that is where Mocha’s inner fear comes from, and although I’m afraid of many things now, I can’t imagine how terrified of a person I’d be if my mom had tried to make a meal of me.

This woman who happens to live in the same apartment complex that I do, knows none of this, but still she likes to act like it’s our fault that mocha is the way she is. Inside our apartment she is much more comfortable than she’s ever been around me, following me around and licking my ankles, but once she crosses the threshold to the scary world, she becomes traumatized of what might happen, often deciding to lie down on the ground rather than continuing to walk. Without asking this woman picked Mocha up and started asking questions about the “baby.” My wife told her that she is actually six years old, and the woman’s jaw dropped before asking the dog whether or not we were feeding her. Mocha didn’t respond but the woman’s assumption was pretty apparent, and then she asked how long we thought until she would die. I’m constantly saying things that I wish I’d thought more about before verbalizing them, but never have I ever asked someone when I thought their pet would die. That’s a morbid question which I can only assume is asked by someone possessed by some evil spirit, which is now what I assume our neighbor is.

My point is this; I know I joke a lot about the dogs when they are in my blogs, and sometimes they can be a bit of a nuisance, but I would never do anything to hurt the dogs, because the truth is that I kind of like having someone who will follow me around the house, or jump up and peek over the side of the bed where I’m lying down and reading. If I had my pick of any dog in the world, these two loudmouthed chihuahuas would not have been at the top of my list, but now that they’re here and part of my crazy household, it would probably seem weird if they weren’t around.

Amerigo: An Italian Father’s Day Dinner

IMG_3703Well today is father’s day and I didn’t see my dad at all, but before you go casting stones at the ungrateful son, let me clarify that I did take him to dinner last night as our way of celebration. Why didn’t I take my dad to dinner on the actual father’s day? He had planned to take his father out to dinner that night, and there are only so many meals to go around, so I told my dad to pick wherever he wanted to go and my wife and I would meet him for dinner the night before. We settled on Amerigo, one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Memphis, and said we would meet him there at seven. I showed up right at seven o’clock, my wife left behind at home with her sore back not feeling up to dining out, and my dad was already there for standing in the dimly lit waiting area. We told the hostess I had arrived, and like a celebrity seated immediately upon arrival, we were ushered directly to our seats without a wait.

We quickly looked over the menu, deciding what we wanted before the waiter even arrived to introduce himself and take the drink orders, so by the time he showed up, we were prepared. My dad got the goat cheese and walnut salad with smoked salmon, while I got the goat cheese penne pasta with grilled shrimp. We talked for a little while, the only interruption being the loud family at the table behind us who had taken it upon themselves to do some sort of happy birthday chant, paired with rhythmic clapping that echoed against the walls throughout the restaurant, completely unprovoked by an employee, the first time I can ever remember seeing this take place. It was annoying but over soon enough, and before long the food arrived. The first thing I thought as I looked down at the plate before me was “that looks like a lot of tomatoes”, and it really was. With each bite of pasta I tried to get one or two tomato pieces on the fork with it so that I wouldn’t be left with an excess of tomato scraps at the end of the meal, but that is exactly what ended up happening, about a third of my plate completely covered once everything else was eaten.

The pasta itself was pretty bland, which would account for the excess tomatoes and goat cheese trying to hide that obvious and glaring flaw. The star of the dish were the grilled shrimp, four perfectly cooked and seasoned crustaceans at the corners of my plate. I cut each of them up into little pieces, trying to get as many bites with a piece of shrimp as possible, but I certainly would have opted for more. The service was fantastic, my water glass never less than half full before the waiter would arrive with a refill, and it was a nice dinner with my dad, despite my food being altogether disappointing. The important thing about last night was taking time to appreciate and honor my wonderful father, and everything else, including the food, didn’t really matter all that much.

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The Continuing Saga of my Wife’s Hurt Back

It had been a week since my wife’s first visit to the doctor for her back pain. After a surprisingly short time in the clinic, the doctor had concluded without a shred of evidence that my wife had a muscle strain, causing the unbearable pain in her back and her legs to go numb. She prescribed two medications, a steroid and a muscle relaxer, convinced that they would both relieve her pain, and heal her body, but they did neither, which is why I found myself crossing three lanes of traffic at the last second to get into the turn lane for this chiropractic clinic that my wife had found online. We opened the door to the clinic, the lobby was dark and empty, and the girl behind the desk said welcome to “The Joint.” That’s right, the fate of my wife’s back lies in the hands of a place named something that sounds more like a hip new restaurant or a local bar than a doctor’s office, but without many other options, we continued on inside and my wife filled out the seven pages of paperwork, which turned out to take longer than the actual time spent with the chiropractor.

While she was filling out the forms, a man in his mid twenties walked in and scanned a keychain at the front desk, as if he had security clearance at a top secret government facility. The scanner beeped its recognition and he took his seat. A few minutes later a doctor summoned him to the back, where loud noises ensued. It sounded like someone was picking a heavy table off of the ground from one end, then slamming down against a marble floor as hard as they possibly could. I feared for the man’s life back there, sure that he was being beaten to death, not that I made any attempt to help or avert my eyes from the book I was reading, but after a couple minutes of the mayhem, he walked back out into the lobby like nothing had happened. After a few minutes, my wife was told to go into the back to meet the doctor and the receptionist asked if I would be joining my wife, to which I politely declined, opting to sit in the lobby and strain my eyes reading “Story of a Sociopath” by Julia Navarro. Perhaps the story is about me, the man who refused to join his wife when she went to consult with the chiropractor, but I haven’t read that far yet.

After only about ten minutes, and some more of the crashing sounds, my wife returned, feeling better than she had in more than a week. The chiropractor told her that her alignment was off, that one leg was an inch longer than the other due to some sort of shift that had moved her spine slightly out of place, but not too worry, after a few more sessions, she was sure my wife would be healed. I have my doubts about the legitimacy of the practice, likening the chiropractor to the new age healer that turns George’s face purple in Seinfeld, but after two sessions my wife seems to be getting better and the pain has subsided drastically, so whatever the chiropractor is doing, seems to be working for the moment, and hopefully my wife will continue along this trajectory until she’s good as new, or at the very least, comfortable getting out of bed in the morning.