Summer in St. Louis

When I was ten or eleven, possibly even younger than that, I went with my dad on a summer vacation trip to St. Louis. We did a lot of fun things while we were there, that I have vague recollections of, but the overwhelming takeaway from the trip wasn’t fond memories that we will forever cherish, but rather of how hot and miserable it was there. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to St. Louis, Missouri in the middle of summer, but there’s a good chance that satan himself lives there because it is quite literally hell on earth. The first stop on our trip was at Busch Stadium, the old one, to watch a Cardinals baseball game. From what I remember about the game, my favorite player, Mark McGwire, popped up a couple times and struck out the other, not once getting on base. The highlight of the afternoon was the frozen lemonade my dad bought for me at some point during the game, probably after seeing me watching the man walking through the stands with the delicious and refreshing treat rather than watching what was happening on the field below. After the game all of the kids were welcomed onto the field to run the bases, which was pretty cool, despite having to run in hundred degree temperatures with dirt being kicked up from the other runners hitting me in the face giving me flashbacks from my desert storm days.

The other things we did in St. Louis were go to the zoo and go to Six Flags, both of which turned out to be less than thrilling experiences. At least the zoo was free so we didn’t feel obligated to stay all that long and milk as much fun out of the day as we could. There’s a picture of me somewhere standing next to a metal statue of a cobra or python at the zoo, which I inexplicably felt the need to place my hand on, which of course was piping hot from the overhead sun and gave me a nice jolt of pain as I burned my hand. At Six Flags it was even worse because not only was it hot, but we were just standing in line for rides, barely moving, whereas at the zoo at least we were walking around and looking at different animals. The worst thing about six flags was waiting in line for the gigantic wooden rollercoaster. As a child I wasn’t the biggest fan of roller coasters, but I agreed to go on this one because I knew how much my dad really wanted to, but as we inched forward in line, that old familiar feeling started building up in the pit of my stomach, the mounting fear becoming more and more unbearable. I don’t know how long we stood in line but I think it was probably well over an hour, and by the time we got tot the front of the line, I just couldn’t stand it any longer and told my dad that I couldn’t go on the ride. I’m sure he was disappointed, but we made the walk of shame together, back through the crowd who I’m sure thought I was the biggest chicken in the world, but at least I was safe from the sure peril that would come from riding the roller coaster.

We did all of these different activities on different days, using my great aunt Sue and great uncle Milt’s house as our base, the place where we would return to each evening to sleep before heading out again the next day. My dad and I slept in the basement, and despite being across the Missouri border in Illinois, it too was unbearably hot, although it was made better by the presence of a seemingly unending supply of chocolate milk, which aunt Sue poured very liberally and would do so whenever the urge to drink some struck me, which was likely every fifteen or twenty minutes. I remember one day, some of their friends had a pool and said we could go over there and swim, which sounded like the best thing in the world to do on a day that was miserably hot, but when we got there, it was not as refreshing experience as we had built it up to be, the water also having been inflicted with the curse of that summer, causing it to be more like warm bath water than what we had been hoping for. All in all it was a very hot trip that frankly I’m surprised that we walked away from without having a heat stroke, but that being said, I’m glad I had the experience because the miserable stories that were once our reality, can be looked back on now and laughed about.

Summer is the Worst

IMG_3980If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, it’s a safe assumption that summer, its polar opposite, is the worst. I absolutely hate summer, but believe it or not, there are actually some people out there who love it, and while I’m not here to judge, there is little doubt in my mind that those people are insane. I can somewhat understand this thinking if you are a student, and see the summer as a much needed break from school, but even then, I can remember growing tired of the summer fairly quickly, always ready for school to start back again, not because I liked school, but because it signified the beginning of the best months of the year. I know there are some people that think every day is important and a gift to be cherished, but for me, once the vacation is over, I would be perfectly fine fast forwarding the next two months of my life, regaining consciousness once September begins.

Think about all the good things that happen once September arrives. Football starts, which is unarguably the greatest sport we have to watch. Today I went over to my dad’s house for lunch and we watched the NFL Redzone replay of week sixteen last year while we ate. I delighted in watching Antonio Gates score on a short touchdown against the Browns, because one of the great things about football is being able to watch with interest a game that happened seven months ago. The next event of interest, primarily my own, is my birthday. I’m one of the people who likes their birthday, because again, it marks the start to the greatest time of the year, but I can see why other people might not be all that excited about September 4th, so feel free to disregard this point altogether. Moving on.

Once October gets here, the leaves begin to change and the air begins to cool and their is just an unidentifiable quality that brings me copious amounts of happiness every day when I step outside in the morning and the world just smells like fall, whereas now when I step outside and a wave of heat punches me in the face, I’m already mad at the world by the time I get to my car with beads of sweat gathering on my forehead. I really hate summer. So once fall gets here, Halloween follows soon after, a holiday that I don’t really celebrate much as an adult, but a day nonetheless that acts as a milestone on the journey towards Christmas, which really is the greatest time of the year. Less than a month later comes Thanksgiving, a holiday that combines my two favorite things in life, eating a lot of food and watching football. By this time the happiness comes on a daily basis, each morning a crisp new beginning full of hope, these feeling only growing more intense as December rolls on.

Finally Christmas arrives and it is a great time spent with family, enjoying all of the traditions that I’ve practiced for a lifetime that make the day so special. By now it is cold outside, and I’m the happiest person in the world, enjoying the simplicity of sitting around a table, playing board games with my brothers, while laughter fills the air. There is nothing like this in the summer time. Summer vacations are great and full of good memories, but once they are over, they’re over, there is nothing left lingering to carry over into your daily routines, but in the fall and winter, there is just something magical about the way those days make me feel, where I look forward to leaving the house every day, feelings that summer just can’t bring to me. I guess what I’m really trying to say is this; vote Kendall Curtis for president in 2028 and I will do everything in my power to ban summer, the worst time of the year.

4th of July: A Walk in the Park and a Great Movie

IMG_3983It’s the fourth of July, independence day, so it’s pretty common to go watch a fireworks show tonight, but it’s raining, I hate loud noises, and I don’t feel like fighting traffic downtown, so the thunder shaking the walls of my apartment will have to suffice. Growing up I always celebrated this holiday in the same way, having a big cook out at my grandparents house, with burgers, hot dogs, cheese dip, watermelon, and homemade ice cream, but over the past few years those traditions have fallen by the wayside so I really wasn’t sure how I was going to spend my day. Last year was great, my wife and I, along with my brothers, mom and grandmother were all in Minneapolis watching a Twins baseball game, which is really the most American way to celebrate America’s independence, but unfortunately, my vacation was last week so all hopes of starting a new tradition on the 4th, involving going to a baseball game, diminished rather quickly.

I woke up early this morning, about five, and after reading for a little while, decided to go to the park for an early walk before it got unbearably hot outside, as Memphis summers tend to do. It was a beautiful morning, a bright blue sky with the sunlight on my back as I walked along one of the trails at Shelby Farms. It was early enough so it wasn’t very crowded, which was nice, because after having passing just a few people, I was already growing tired of saying “good morning”, an insane ritual of having to speak with a complete stranger just because you are walking past them, but I nodded and mumbled the words anyway, lest I seem like a jerk for not responding. I walked for an hour, but it didn’t seem that long, walking past several lakes surrounded by trees and smelling the fresh honeysuckle along the way, sweeping me up in the spirit of summer.

This afternoon I went to the movies with my dad and watched “Baby Driver” a film I knew nothing about going in, but was a little skeptical of due to what struck me as an odd name. The movie focused on “Baby” a young man indebted to an apparent mobster, although I don’t believe an official organization is mentioned, pays him back by being the getaway driver for various heists and robberies. It’s a very compelling story of someone being forced into a bad situation, and his struggle to get out of it to save himself and the girl that he has fallen in love with. “Baby” has a strong connection to music which is apparent throughout the movie, bringing a completely new perspective to music in film. Overall I really enjoyed the movie, however there were a couple of things toward the end that struck me as pretty unbelievable, the director seeing how far he could stretch the reality to cram even more action into the last few minutes. I’m giving it a 4 out of 5 rating, and I definitely recommend you checking it out, but of course you don’t have to, because we live in America, and you’re independent to do as you please.

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Vacation is Over

This morning I woke up at 3 a.m. and didn’t go back to sleep. Before that I woke at 1:30 and before that at 12. In a normal night I wake up maybe once, but the universe seems to conspire against me when it knows I plan to wake up early to drive long distances as I do today, and shows no mercy towards my tired body. We left Fort Morgan, the vacation was over and I had to drive home, which is the worst part of the vacation as I’m sure it is with most people. We left the beach house a few minutes after four, and a few minutes into the trip I was already tired, but soldiered on pretending like everything was okay. My wife saw through the act, asking me numerous times if I needed to stop for coffee, which I did, along with a couple more hours of sleep, but I couldn’t let everyone down, so I drove on. After about three and a half hours I stopped for gas, and let my brother drive, which made me so nervous I wasn’t able to sleep at all.

Four hours in we stopped for breakfast at Hardee’s, a place I’d been envisioning in my mind for days. I got two biscuits, one with pork chops and gravy and the other a steak biscuit. My wife, Leticia took over, and I ate my breakfast like a ravenous squirrel as we continued dos the road. I wasn’t too worried about Leticia’s driving, but for some reason I was unable to fall asleep, a problem that I encounter on airplanes and now in cars apparently. We arrived in Memphis shortly after 11, and I unpacked the car, my suitcases, shopping bags full of new shoes and anything else resembling a great vacation. My brother went home, but how his car didn’t get towed from the apartment complex that I live in I will never know. It took two trips, up and down the stairs and now everything we brought back is sitting in my bedroom, waiting to be unpacked. Maybe I’ll deal with all of that tomorrow, because right now I’m exhausted, and the thought of putting t-shirts on hangers in my closet and shorts in my drawer seems way too tough to handle.

I will miss the beach, I always do, but I guess the fun we had outweighs the trouble I have unpacking. Memphis isn’t so terrible. There are great restaurants to eat at and fun things to do, the only downside being that these things are no longer accompanied by a week at the beach. My wife asked me early in the trip if I thought I could live full time in the beach house, and I originally told her no, thinking that I needed to live in a town with a lot more culture, but now that I’m here, it’s hard to not want to live that life. Maybe one day I’ll have enough money to live that life, carefree on the beach, but until then, I’m content to keep doing what i do, working too much with the hope that perhaps I will get another vacation like this in the future. Please excuse me, I think it’s time for me to go and take a nap.

Last Day of Vacation: Beach Fun, Mexican Food & the Weird Waiter

IMG_3859Today was the last day of our beach vacation, so forgive me if I’m not my typically cheery self tonight. I slept in today, didn’t wake up until 7:20 and then went down with the rest of my family to the beach. I had my wife spray me down with sunscreen, and to give you an idea of how paranoid I am of getting sunburns, and how much I don’t want that to happen, we used up the entire can solely on me, on only two separate occasions. I probably didn’t need it today though, because there were six of us at the beach and only five chairs, so instead of sitting on the shore, baking in the sun, I opted to head into the water where I splashed around, trying to keep my balance, and having innocent childlike fun for the better part of an hour. I would have stayed in longer but some dark clouds appeared out of nowhere and I figured I’d already been fortunate enough to avoid a shark attack, and wasn’t to eager to press my luck against getting struck by lightning in a thunderstorm, so we went back up to the house and got ready to go for lunch.

Leticia and I decided to get Mexican food for lunch, because Mexican food is the right choice anytime it is made, and I will argue anyone who tries to tell me differently. We saw a place, Sol Y Mar, at the Wharf in Orange Beach the other day that was fairly new and we hadn’t eaten at before, so we decided to go there. We walked through the doors and were immediately taken to our table by a mustachioed hispanic man who clapped in time with the music, all the way to our seats. I immediately regretted our decision to come here and upon looking at the menu which wasn’t all that impressive, I was ready to throw in the towel and go somewhere else, but my hunger won out and we decided to stay. The same man returned to the table, this time singing the song that was playing throughout the restaurant and asked what we wanted to drink. I asked for unsweet tea, and he said “we don’t have unsweet tea, just tea without sugar” so I told him I’d take that and he stared at me for a couple of seconds before walking away. I asked my wife if it would be rude to ask for another waiter or waitress because this guy was really bugging me, but she, the voice of reason, told me it would be okay, so I didn’t say anything. While we waited for our food, I noticed a bottle of ketchup sitting on the table, at a Mexican restaurant. There was no hot sauce or any other condiment in sight, and I took this to be a bad sign.

Our food came and we didn’t see the waiter again, which was a good and bad thing, until well after we’d finished the meal. On the one hand we didn’t have to put up with his strange and awkward behavior that included making dumb jokes and singing along to every song that was playing, but it would have been nice to get a refill on the chips and our drinks, which remained empty for too much of the meal. I got the chicken chimichanga lunch special, which came with rice and beans. To be honest, the chimichanga looked pretty pathetic in comparison to those I’ve had in the past, looking very similar to a crepe in its thinness. The beans and rice were both really good, and despite the way that it looked, the chimichanga was fantastic. The food was really good but I’m not sure if it’s worth putting up with the waiter that we had. My recommendation would be either calling in a to-go order or going to another restaurant altogether, because there are few things worse than being uncomfortable while out at a restaurant.

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Vacation Day 6: Reading, Shopping, Dancing, and Eating

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Today was a lazy day, and is there anything better on vacation than having absolutely nothing to do? I woke up and it was raining, so I drank some coffee and finished my book, Beartown, by Fredrik Backman, which I’d begun reading on Saturday upon arriving at the beach. I was introduced to Backman last year, and the two books I’ve read by him, “A Man Called Ove” and “My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry” were both really good, so I was very excited to read his latest novel. Despite hearing good things about it, I was not all that impressed and it didn’t really wrap me up in the story the way his other books have, but even so, I will continue to read what he writes in the future, because his first books were just that good. The rain continued, so my brother thought it was the ideal day to go to the outlet mall and do some shopping, so my wife and I drove to Foley to meet them there. It took us too long to get there, confirming my suspicion that it’s not just the state of Tennessee that has criminally slow drivers, and when we arrived it was raining.

We called my brother to meet up and while we waited for him we walked into a shoe store to look around. Unfortunately, being on vacation doesn’t just magically give us an unlimited boost to our income and we quickly realized that we’re not rich enough yet to just shop without giving any thought to price tags, which makes shopping much less fun when you have to actually think about your purchases before making them, so because of this and since we didn’t want to walk from store to store in the pouring rain, we decided to call it quits on the outlet mall and head back to the house. When we arrived back at the beach house, my wife and I were both exhausted for some reason, and since we had nothing that needed to be done, we decided to take a nap, which is always a good idea.

Tonight we went to dinner at The Hangout, a place I’d seen for years but had never visited. There was about an hour wait, which wasn’t a problem since there was a stage for live music with beach chairs gathered around it, a fooseball and ping-pong table, and various things to take pictures in front of, all for the sole purpose of being entertained while waiting for a table. I got the shaka wrap, which had grilled shrimp and cheese, with a “secret sauce” that had a little bit of spice to it, all rolled up inside a flour tortilla, with french fries. The wrap was really good, the shrimp juicy and flavorful and the fries were cooked to perfection, crispy and perfectly seasoned. Given that these french fries are the best kind in the world, it’s crazy to me that more restaurants are stuck in mediocrity, serving steak fries with no flavor whatsoever. While to food was good, the atmosphere was a little more party-like than I care for when out for dinner, although their name kind of gives that fact away. It was so loud between the live music and the DJ that I had to yell my order to the waiter and couldn’t really hold a conversation with anyone else at the table. Halfway through the meal, somebody with a microphone encouraged everyone who was on vacation to get up and do the cupid shuffle while the music blared around the restaurant. It was at this point that I realized that perhaps this restaurant might not be the place for me, especially given my pessimistic outlook on life, but even so, the food was good and no amount of embarrassing dancing around me, can change that.
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Vacation Day 5: A Tale of Two Meals

IMG_3856It was the best of meals, it was the worst of meals, the contrast between my lunch and dinner more different than a cumulous rain cloud and a dollar store bag of nacho flavored chips. My wife and I went into Orange Beach today, to exchange a t-shirt I bought a couple of nights ago, and decided to grab lunch while we were there. Since Orange Beach is where I typically go on a beach vacation, I’m fairly well versed in all of the good dining options there, and after listing off a few for Leticia, we decided on Cosmo’s. It was around 11:30 when we arrived so the restaurant was not yet packed with the tourists we’d come to expect every time we went out to eat, so we were seated right away. I ordered a blackened mahimahi sandwich, which was the fresh catch special of the day, with fries and an unsweet tea to drink. The waiter was fantastic and very attentive to our needs, never letting my glass of tea drain empty before refilling it for me. The food itself was great, the fish was cooked perfectly, blackened with a thin crust and the meat so tender that it came apart easily, but not so much so that it completely deteriorated and fell apart with each bite. The fries too were perfect, not too thick and cooked to a crispy perfection with a flavorful seasoning on them. Yesterday I said that my shrimp and grits was the best meal that I’d had to that point, and it was, but it’s time to make an amendment to that declaration. My lunch today at Cosmo’s is not only the best meal I’ve had on this trip, but it might possibly be the best meal I’ve ever had on the Gulf Coast period.

I should have realized that my nearly perfect streak of meals on this vacation was too good to last, because it did, but I had no idea that it would happen tonight, in the very same day when I had my best meal. We went to a place called Tacky Jack’s and while the name should have been a clear signal that this was no place I needed to get involved with, it was a place that came recommended to us, so a little after six, the whole family was sitting outside the restaurant, sweating and waiting for our names to be called. Nobody asked if we wanted to sit outside or inside, so they put us in the more miserable of the two environments, the only conciliation being that there was a large fan pointed directly at our table outside, the downside being that it wasn’t plugged in. I looked at the menu, which lived up to the tacky reputation that the restaurant’s name had me expecting, calling nachos “Mexican Garbage” and Sandwiches “Samiches.” It took me the entire fifteen plus minutes in which we were waiting for our waitress to make her first appearance, to decide what I was going to get, and it wasn’t a problem of having to choose between several options that all sounded really good, but rather picking the meal that seemed like the least terrible option.

I went with the blackened shrimp tacos, and while they were blackened in a hot skillet at some point, it wasn’t done after I’d ordered it, because when the food came it was all cold. The shrimp tasted okay but since it was all cold, the entire meal was pretty unenjoyable. My brother asked me if I would get the same thing if I went to eat there again and I told him no. Then he asked me what I would get and I told him directions to a better restaurant, which perfectly sums up how I feel about Tacky Jack’s. The waitress made very few appearances at the table, and once we finished eating and were waiting for the check we didn’t see her for at least twenty minutes, not that the place was busy, empty tables all around us. I wish we’d gotten the memo like everybody else that this place was to be avoided, but at least I’ll no better in the future, and if my experience can help at least one person to not go through this disappointing ordeal themselves, then I suppose it will all be worth it.

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