Orange Beach, AL

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Wake up at six in the morning, load up the car, then got on the road a few minutes later. Once I’m out of the city I roll down the windows and let the summer air blow through my hair, the feeling good against my semi-balding scalp while I have the music turned up way too loud. Although it’s early, the world is bathed in the soft glow of the morning sunlight. I’m happy; everything is perfect. I’m leaving behind all my responsibilities, all my worries and cares, there’s a smile on my face, and it’s likely to stay tattooed there for the next week. There is so much possibility about the days ahead, so much hope, so much excitement. It’s a little like Christmas morning as a child, only it lasts for seven wonderful days. I’m going to Orange Beach, Alabama, one of my favorite places in the world for one of my favorite weeks of the year, and life couldn’t get any better.

I’ll pull into the parking lot of the beachside condominium complex with a name as tropical as the ocean on the other side of it. I’ll step out of the car and although my windows have been rolled down for most of the drive and faint scents of the sea air have passed through my car as I inched closer to the coast, it was never as strong and beautiful as it is here, at the source. With it comes longing to be strolling in the sand towards the gulf and a flood of memories about all of the great summers past. I walk into my grandparents condo, set my bag down on the glistening white tile of the kitchen floor and make my way through the living room towards the sliding glass door, through which I can see the beautifully hued blue water that stretches much farther than I can see or even comprehend. I open the door and there’s the smell again, the salty sea aroma of a perfect day, then I take a seat in one of the reclining lounge chairs on the back porch, taking in the sight of pure tranquility as the symphony of gently crashing waves washes over me, lulling me into a state of contentedness that I haven’t felt for some time.

By that night the condo will be full, full of family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and a cozy warmth will have descended over condo number 111 that will remain until we all say our goodbyes a week later, but we’re much too happy to think about that so early in the vacation. Over the course of the week there will be lots of fun to be had, reading in the big padded beach chairs down by the water, splashing in the ocean, and late night trips to the sauna and the swimming pools. We will eat many fantastic meals featuring the best seafood I’ve ever had, and have Sunday brunch at a fantastic restaurant overlooking the marina packed with boats of all shapes and sizes bobbing gently in the water below. We might even go see a late night movie or two at the spur of the moment, because when you’re on vacation, there’s really no need to make plans. We’ll do what we want and we’ll have a great time doing it. I can’t wait to be in Orange Beach, a paradise that will be waiting for my arrival in five months.

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In the Gardens of Versailles

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I don’t remember much about the train from Paris to Versailles, how long it took or what I did to occupy the time, but I do remember the events on either side of that train ride, especially the Merguez Frites we had for lunch before embarking on our journey to visit the famous palace, once home to French royalty including King Louis the 14th and Marie Antoinette. I remember the Merguez Frites, which is basically a spicy sausage sandwich in a baguette with a side of fries, so vividly because while we had so much good food on our trip, this was my favorite meal by far. Not only was it was so delicious, but the simplicity of it was absolutely perfect, getting it from a street vendor and sitting on a street side bench, enjoying our lunch while taking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city of Paris on a cool spring day.
 
After lunch we boarded the train for Versailles, and that is where my memory goes fuzzy, perhaps due to a food coma that the delicious lunch put me in, or maybe because for a fourteen year old kid, riding a train through the country wasn’t all that exciting or noteworthy, but whatever the reason is, the train from Paris to Versailles is just a haze, and my memory doesn’t return until my dad and I were standing in front of the tall golden gates in front of the palace. It was magnificent, and it seemed as though each room in the palace was more beautiful than the last with ornate decorations and intricate designs everywhere you looked, but what really stood out to me, were the gardens.
 
It was an overcast and cool day, the kind of weather that both me and my dad enjoy, making it the perfect day for a stroll through the gardens of Versailles. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve always really liked tall hedges and hidden paths in gardens, and Versailles had plenty of both. We walked down the back steps from the palace and turned right along the path with no particular destination in mind, just out for a nice stroll through the garden on a nice day. Everything was so beautiful and I particularly liked the fountains that were hidden throughout, made of stone with crystal clear water shooting out, pieces that could have been the centerpiece in an art show hidden deep within the garden of Versailles. We walked and walked and eventually we started to grow tired and felt sure that we were getting close to the palace again, having followed stayed mostly on the path at the outer edge of the garden that would lead us all the way around in a circle and end where we started. There were a lot of trees where we were so we weren’t able to tell for sure, but we were fairly certain that once we emerged from the brush we would see that we were right next to the palace and our trip through the gardens would mercifully come to an end.
 
We emerged from the trees and sure enough the grand palace was in view, unfortunately it wasn’t as close to us as we’d thought it would be, directly across from us and separated by a large body of water, we were at the halfway point. I don’t know how we made it, but I think the Merguez Frites probably had a lot to do with it, sustaining us on our harrowing journey through the gardens. Despite the fact that I was exhausted by the time we were through, the gardens were still my favorite thing about Versailles and one of my favorite things overall about that trip to France. My dad even bought me a book from the palace gift shop all about the gardens and the fountains, a reminder of that fun March day that we had together thirteen years ago.

They Don’t Want Me to Go on Vacation

Somebody doesn’t want me to go on vacation, and while I don’t know exactly who that somebody is, I have a strong feeling that it’s a ghost or some other paranormal being. The first vacation I took at my new job, back in late June of this year, got off to a terrible start wherein when I went to my car after finally leaving work for the last time before my vacation, I found my car dead, so I was forced to start my vacation sitting in my hot car in the pouring rain while I waited for Geico roadside assistance to get to me and start my car. Okay, so that one was definitely my fault since I’m the one who left the headlights on when I went into work earlier in the day, but normally when I leave the lights on, my car beeps an annoying reminder to turn them off, but on that day, I don’t remember hearing that terrible sound, maybe because a ghost happened to be covering my ears at just the right moment.
 
So while that one might be a little to out there for you to wrap your mind around, even though it could easily be within the realm of possibility, what happened yesterday, will be a lot easier for you “non-believers” or “skeptics” to get on board with. Before you judge me and think that I’m crazy, that I’ve completely lost my grip on reality, just take a listen to what happened to me as I was getting ready to leave work yesterday. I’m taking a vacation next week, the first week of the new year, because it only makes sense to blow a week of vacation as soon as the new year rolls around and my vacation time resets, right? Well whether it makes sense or I just lack self control when it comes to waiting to use up my vacation time, it doesn’t matter, because the point isn’t about that, it’s about the fact that yesterday was the last day before my vacation, and something in the universe apparently had a problem with it.
 
Starting when I get back from my vacation in January, I’m going to be sequestered in the bank drive thru for the quarter, so before we left yesterday, me, and my coworker currently serving drive-thru duty switched places, which meant me moving everything from my desk, papers, pens, stapler, tape, rubber bands, paper clips, deposit and withdrawal slips, rolled coins, and personal items, to the back of the room, the cold dark corner where the drive-thru is located. I had a master plan that would make the whole transition easier, because if there’s anything I excel at in life, it’s making things easier on myself. I placed my little plastic garbage can on top of my rolling chair, and proceeded to fill it with all my supplies, where I would eventually roll it to the back and lock the entire bin in the cabinet, and worry about rearranging and organizing everything when I got back to work in more than a week. Everything was going fine until I put the last of the rolled coins in the garbage can, because upon doing so, the whole bin tipped off of my chair and fell several feet to the floor, causing all of the contents within it to spill out, including a lot of rolled coins, that burst open upon impact and scattered in every direction. Something in the universe wanted me to stay, to spend the next forty-five minutes re-rolling all of the quarters that were no longer tightly rolled in ten dollar increments, but I wasn’t going to let the evil spirit win. I tossed everything back in the trash bin, loose coins and all, then rolled it to the back and locked it securely in the cabinet where it will stay until I return to work a week from Tuesday. I’ll deal with the headache then.

Weekend Getaway: Up and At ’em

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5:09 am- I wake up. My body doesn’t seem to care that my alarm clock is set for 5:30, just like how on weekdays, no matter when my alarm is set for work, or how late I stay up, I always manage to wake up, to my dismay, earlier than I need to. I normally wouldn’t get up this early on a Saturday, or any day for that matter, but I’ve got a full day ahead of me, making the early start imperative. My wife and I are going to Branson, Missouri, traveling the five plus hours from Memphis to meet my mom, grandmother, youngest brother, and his girlfriend to spend the day at Silver Dollar City. After spending fifteen or so years not going to Branson, this will be my second time going since September, and I’m pretty excited about it. It might seem like a long way to drive only to make that same five hour and eighteen minute drive the next morning, but I think it will be worth it. We’re getting on the road early enough that we’ll arrive in Branson before noon, so it won’t seem like we’ll be spending most of our day driving, plus, once we get there we’ll be at an amusement park, which is obviously more fun than anything I would be doing at home, so between a day of fun and excitement, or a day sitting on the couch watching college football bowl games that I don’t have any interest in, the choice cannot be any easier to make.

The rides and everything will be great, they were last time, but the park closed at six, and although we had a lot of fun, we weren’t nearly ready to go yet, and tonight we won’t have to. Once six o’clock rolls around tonight, the fun will just be getting started, because Silver Dollar City, much like many other parks this time of year, has a christmas lights displayed throughout, meaning the park will stay open until nine. I’ve been to six flags, universal studios, and even disney world a couple of times, but I can’t think of a single time that I rode amusement park rides after dark. That’s what makes the fair so much fun. I’m not huge on fair rides, but there’s just something comforting and exciting about the atmosphere of being at the fair, surrounded by all those lit up rides at night, so I’m very much looking forward to experiencing that in Branson, only with christmas lights, which are like, a billion times better than boring, regular lights.

I’m going to go ahead and wrap this thing up because we’re about to get on the road, and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but it’s kind of difficult to drive and type at the same time, not that I can’t do it, but it’s just an unnecessary distraction that I don’t need to have in the early hours of the morning. Make sure to come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about Branson and Silver Dollar City. Until then, be well.

The Problem With Vacations

Vacations are great, and one of my favorite things in life, but with only two weeks allotted for vacation time each year, tough decisions have to be made, and I for one, am tired of it. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the time that I do get, and appreciate the fact that there are people who aren’t so lucky and aren’t given any paid vacation time, I know because that used to be me, but it can get really overwhelming having to choose how to spend those two weeks of vacation. First world problems, am I right? Just give me a couple of minutes to explain, and you will understand why this is so difficult for me. I’m completely out of vacation time for the rest of the year, but I find myself already feeling the pressure of what I’m going to do with my two weeks next year, and am not sure what I’m going to do. Here’s my dilemma.
 
Just about every summer in my childhood I would go with my dad and his side of the family to my grandparents beachside condo in Orange Beach, Alabama, and aside from holding a special place in my heart because of all the good memories, it is one of my favorite places in the world. I wasn’t able to go this past summer, because somebody at my work had already requested off for the same week that the whole family was going to the beach, and although everyone was understanding about me not being able to make it, I could tell my grandmother in particular was upset by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to go. I hated that I was going to miss Orange Beach, but I assured them that I would put my vacation request in really early for next summer so that nothing would stand in my way of getting to take the weeklong trip, or so I thought.
 
While the tradition on my dad’s side of the family is to go to Orange Beach every year, with my mom we usually go somewhere that we’ve never been before, so it’s always tough when I have to miss those vacations, because I never know if I’ll ever have another opportunity to go to those places. Recently my mom started talking about vacation next summer and decided that she wanted to go on a weeklong Alaskan Cruise, so with the cruise plus the travel days, the whole trip would take the better part of a week and a half, which would mean that I wouldn’t be able to go on the trip to the beach, which I’d already said that I would go on. It’s not like I don’t want to go to the beach, I love Orange Beach, but I’ve never been on a cruise or to Alaska before, and this is my opportunity to do both, a dilemma that could maybe be solved if only I were given more vacation time, but guess what, even if I could go both to the beach and to Alaska, there would still be problems, because one of those vacations would be with my mom, and the other with my dad, and none of that time off would be spent with either of my wife’s parents, which we obviously would like to do, but even if we cast aside the Alaskan cruise, we still wouldn’t be able to go to Orange beach with my dad, and go visit both of my wife’s parents, because one lives in California and the other lives in Florida, which would need to be two separate trips, so really we’re in a lose-lose situation in terms of coming up with a fair way to split vacations with our families, because that seems to be practically impossible when only given two weeks to do so. I often hear that divorce is toughest on the kids, but if we’re being completely honest, I think divorce is way tougher on the adult children who have to make tough life choices about who to go with on vacation.
 
Even if all of that gets resolved and we find a way to spend meaningful time with all four of our parents, there question still lingers of when my wife and I could take a vacation on our own, to go somewhere we’ve always wanted to go and spend some quality alone time together. There’s just not enough vacation time for all of these different trips that I want and need to take, but after much deliberation, I’ve finally come up with what I think is an adequate solution. I’m going to quit my job and spend the rest of my days on the road, traveling around and experiencing all that life has to offer. That was a lie, which is really unfortunate because so badly I want for it to be true, but it’s just not in the cards for me right now. I guess I’ll just keep hoping that something changes in terms of my vacation time, like Donald Trump declares a federal law that everyone gets a full month off work every year. I mean he’s bound to do something good while he’s in office, right?

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.

Ginny Lane: Terrible Tacos

IMG_3785Repeat after me; go with what you know. It seems pretty simple enough, but it’s something I tend to forget, especially when eating at restaurants that I’ve been to before. If I eat somewhere and have something that is great, I my mind does this crazy thing where it decides that everything else there must be just as good, despite this rarely ever being the case no matter how many times I disappoint myself, which unfortunately happens to me quite a bit, most likely because i’m an idiot that doesn’t learn his lesson. Last month, when I was on a family vacation in Gulf Shores, Alabama, I made this critical mistake at a restaurant I loved, and it turned out just as terrible as the rest of the times I did this. Here’s the story.

Ginny Lane happens to be one of my favorite restaurants on the Gulf Coast, so while we were down there for a week it was imperative that we go eat there, so one afternoon, my wife and I went. They gave me a menu, which is where the problems started, so I guess I can safely blame them for everything, because up until that moment, I knew exactly what I was going to eat. I’ve been to many restaurants in that area, and I can tell you with all sincerity that Ginny Lane has the absolute fried shrimp that I’ve ever eaten on the Gulf Coast, which is saying something as you can’t toss a seashell in any direction without hitting a seafood restaurant. The whole drive to the restaurant I was thinking about the shrimp, but once the menu was placed before me, I began to look at some of the other options, thinking that blackened fish tacos would be fantastic. They were not.

The food arrived pretty quickly, and I immediately regretted my decision when I saw that the three tacos were in one of those three slotted metallic devices that are intended to keep the tacos upright. Surely I’m not the only person who hates these right? They’re great until you take a bite of the taco then you run into the problem of needing to set it down but the bitten tortilla never fits cleanly back into it’s slot, and contents of the taco inevitably spill out onto the taco holder. It’s a disaster, but determined not to let that bother me, I began my meal. For me there is no better seafood than blackened fish that is freshly caught, but unfortunately this particular restaurant sinfully overcooked it, giving it an almost chewy texture. The other huge downside that there was way more lettuce and tomatoes on the taco than the really small portion of fish, which didn’t really matter since the fish wasn’t that good to begin with. My wife ordered the same thing, and she was just as displeased with her tacos as I was, so suffice it to say, it was a pretty terrible meal. Hopefully I’ll learn my lesson moving forward and stick to ordering things that I know are great.