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 3: Sunburns and Shrimp

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Today started as any good day should, on the back porch with a cup of coffee, watching the sun come up over the ocean. I spent most of the morning down at the beach, alternating between jumping in the waves like a carefree child, and sitting up in the beach chair, reading, and silently praying with all the effort within me to let me not get sunburned. Getting sunburned is one of the most miserable experiences I’ve ever had, and while in the big scheme of things it’s a mild problem that goes away after a few days, it’s not something that I wanted either, which is why I had my wife spray me down with the strongest sunscreen we could find, caking my shoulders and back with the stuff, causing me to feel like a protective plate had been attached to my back, which didn’t bother me, as long as it got the job done. I figured the hair on my legs would prevent them from burning, but unfortunately I was wrong in my thinking, so now I sit here with both of my legs throbbing with an intense burn, all thanks to my assumption.

The water was nice and cool, a welcome contrast from the hot sun beating down on me, so from time to time I dove in and splashed around for a few minutes to cool off, but had to get out before too long because I kept stepping on fish, which disgusted me every time I’d feel one wiggling beneath my foot. I saw some dolphins and a couple of flying fish, one more athletic than the other who could only hop once out of the water before taking a breather, rather than skipping multiple times in quick succession like his friend that was in much better shape. It was a pretty cool moment, being able to relate to the first fish that tires easily. Speaking of which, since we arrived at the beach on Saturday, I’ve been so tired every single day, to the point where my body physically needs a nap, and maybe it’s because I’ve been getting up earlier, or perhaps this is all the exhaustion that has built up since my last vacation, allowing itself to be reconciled now that I have a week of doing nothing, but hopefully the rest of the week doesn’t continue in this fashion, because I’m not too keen on sleeping the vacation away.

Tonight the whole family went to dinner at Lulu’s, a popular restaurant owned by musician Jimmy Buffet’s sister. We tried to go early to beat the crowd, but at 4:45, it was completely packed and we had about a forty-five minute wait, which was fine because it gave me a chance to do some shopping. In all the years that I’ve vacationed in Orange Beach, my grandpa has always bought me a t-shirt when we go to Lulu’s and they’re actually some of my favorite shirts, at least one of which I wear every single week, so in keeping with the tradition, I looked for a shirt to get. This might sound ridiculous, but the shirt I bought tonight, is exactly the same as the one I wear all of the time, same design and everything, only it’s a different color, so I think that makes it okay. For dinner I ordered nachos with blackened shrimp, and if you haven’t had seafood nachos before, that might sound disgusting to you, but I tried it three years ago in Destin, and since then, it’s been hard to pass up if I see it on the menu.

I recognized the waitress we had from the last time I was there two years ago, and I remember her being pretty terrible, to the point that we were discussing at the table how little of a tip would be acceptable, because we literally waited over half an hour for her to come back with our check after she said she was going to get it, passing by our table several times and avoiding eye contact. I think I tipped fifteen percent, shame on me, but I’m pretty sure she remembered, because she refilled my brothers sweet tea several times, will ignoring me and my empty glass of unsweet tea, that she only filled when asked after we were done eating any way. Despite the grudge held by the waitress, it was a great meal, made even more enjoyable by sharing it with family. I look forward to what the rest of the week has in store.
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Vacation Day 2: Lunch at Lambert’s

IMG_3761Have you ever been hit in the face with a piece of bread flying through the air? I haven’t but if it was going to happen, it would have happened at lunch today. We went to church this morning, my wife and I, along with my two brothers, my mom, my grandmother, and my brother Landon’s girlfriend, and since the communion cracker turned out to be less than filling, we were eager to get something to eat afterwards. We decided to go to Lambert’s, a place famous for throwing rolls, that I hadn’t been to in more than a decade, so my wife, my brother, and I sped over to the restaurant about fifteen minutes away to get our name on the waiting list, and the rest of our family followed shortly. I was shocked to see the parking lot so full of cars, because from what I remember of Lambert’s, it wasn’t all that great, more hype surrounding the thrown rolls than the actual food it served. I dropped my brother off at the entrance and began circling the parking lot looking for a single parking space, which turned out to be much more difficult than I’d thought.

It was 11:30 on a Sunday morning, and I had to circle the parking lot twice, which took about ten minutes, before I found a single place to park. I assure you that I’m not the sort of person who spends any significant amount of time looking for a parking space near the front of any given lot, so it wasn’t like I was being picky; I literally couldn’t find an open spot. When we finally parked and found my brother in the crowd of people, who like us were waiting for a table, he told us it was going to be a thirty minute wait, so we sat down on a bench a baked on high in the hot Alabama sun for half an hour. Unfortunately the wait time had been extended, perhaps because the restaurant goers had decided they weren’t going to stand for the mayhem anymore and decided to fight back, throwing rolls back at the employees as fast as they themselves could dish them out, a full fledged roll fight ensuing, but whatever the reason, it took longer for us to get a table, so we took shelter from the sun for the remainder of our wait.

Inside we were seated and each handed plastic menus, that seemed obnoxiously big at first, before I realized that they had to be that big in order to fit all of the food onto the page, which included barbecue, burgers, fried chicken, and steak, among other things. It took me a while to decide what I wanted, because there were several things that looked pretty good, but eventually I settled on chicken fried steak, with mashed potatoes and french fries, potatoes on potatoes, carbs on carbs on carbs, most of which were topped with gravy. While we waited for our food to arrive, various side dishes were brought around, fried okra, black eye peas, macaroni and tomatoes, like hors d’oeuvres at a redneck wedding, for us to munch on. With a paper towel spread before me, I munched on the fried okra atop it each time I was lucky enough for the okra girl to pass by. The side dishes passed by multiple times over the course of about twenty minutes, and there was still no sign of the famous rolls, but eventually they arrived, hot from the oven. The roll thrower tossed the rolls in every direction at raised hands throughout the restaurant, and I’m pleased to report that I caught two, one for myself and one for my grandmother.

The rolls were big and pretty filling, but not all that special aside from the fact that they were thrown to you. By the time my food arrived I was already feeling full after eating several helpings of fried okra, eating a giant roll, and drinking like a half liter of water that sat in the huge mug before me, but being the true American that I am, I was determined to at least eat some of the food that I ordered. Like I said, I didn’t remember much about the food at Lambert’s when I visited years before, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good everything was. The chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes were both really good, and the french fries, while I figured would be an afterthought, thrown on the plate as a filler, were actually really good. Of course the portion was much too big, and I only ate about half of what was on my plate, but on the bright side, I now have another good meal waiting for me in the refrigerator. Lunch ended about four hours ago and I still feel incredibly full, but maybe later my wife can roll me down to the beach so I can enjoy a beautiful sunset.

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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.