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.

The Gunfight in Jackson Hole

Jackson HoleIt was about just after six o’clock on a warm summer evening in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and I was standing nervously behind a rack of sweatshirts in a local gift shop on the main town square. I was seventeen at the time, too old for such antics, but my fears that have plagued me for most of my life had me behaving like someone of a much younger age. It was a family vacation, a two week long road trip that would take us through various points of interest on our way to Yellowstone National Park, and though this was only the second or third day of the trip, I had already abandoned the family, extricating myself from activities that they, like most people found enjoyable and entertaining, but I did not.

It’s a long standing tradition in Jackson Hole to have a staged gunfight on the square every evening in the summer, an even so popular that masses of tourists gather around each evening to experience the wonder of the old west, an era that I’m grateful that I did not have to live through. At the first mention of gunfight, my eyes began darting around looking for a way out. I wanted to be normal, to enjoy the theatrics and the loud pops of gunfire that Americans have come to equate with patriotism and the great country in which we live, but I could not. A couple of actors walked out on the square as I stood by, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, nervously anticipating the loud noise that was now inevitable and getting closer by the second. It doesn’t matter that I know the noise is coming, in fact I think it makes it even worse, knowing when something bad is about to happen and have no power to stop it, like a very non masculine psychic.

The first blast came from a pistol in the form of a loud POP, and it was worse than I ever could have imagined. Whether the noise was amplified by the surrounding Grand Teton mountains or it was something done cosmetically to the guns in order to bring wonder to the crowd I do not know, but it was abundantly clear that I had to get out of there, which is why I took shelter in the nearest place I could find, the gift shop. In retrospect I probably should have ventured further away from the square, but I mistakenly assumed that being inside a building, any building would at least dull the sound of the ensuing gunfight at least a little bit, but unfortunately I was wrong. The gunfire was so loud inside the gift shop that I began to wonder how people up here survived the cold Wyoming winters with walls so paper thin. I don’t remember how long the show went on, but I’m sure it felt much longer to me than it actually was as I tried inconspicuously to cover my ears, the almost adult afraid of something that children and their families were taking in with smiles and laughter just a few feet away. I wish I could say that was a turning point for me, that I was humiliated so much by my fear of a harmless noise that I stepped from that gift shop a new man, someone who went on to enjoy live reenactments with guns and even fourth of July fireworks shows, but that would be a lie. If anything I’m worse than before, every earth shaking boom or pop sending me further and further away from the person I would like to be.

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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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