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.

My Regrettable Decision

I’m not above admitting when I’ve made a mistake, which is exactly what I did, earlier this week, on a Tuesday. Since I had to work on Saturday, I only had to work from eleven to two on Tuesday, so I spent the morning writing and drinking coffee, and then perusing my bookshelf for the next book I would read, since I just finished Lust and Wonder, by Augusten Burroughs the day before. When browsing a bookstore, I wait for the spine of one of the books to interest me, then I pull it out to read the back to see if I’m interested, and only then do I make the purchase, and that is the same way I choose what to read at home, looking at my bookshelves until something jumps out at me. I’m not sure why, perhaps I liked the style of the font on the spine of the book, or something about the author’s last name, Navarro, spoke to me, but for whatever reason, I decided to start reading Story of a Sociopath, and now I regret it immensely.

Don’t get me wrong, the book so far has been fantastic, but my timing couldn’t have been worse. A week from today, my wife and I leave for a weeklong vacation on the Gulf of Mexico, along with my brothers, my mom, and grandmother, and I’m not at all confident that I will finish this book before that time comes. It may seem insignificant that I finish the book before vacation, and perhaps I’m a total nut job in the way that I think, but I absolutely don’t want to take Story of a Sociopath on this trip, and it has nothing to do with what the book is about. I grew up going to the beach every summer, and one of my favorite things was picking out the books I would take, interesting books that I had restrained myself from reading, reserving them especially for week where I had nothing to do, and could lose the day, sitting in the sun and reading them.

For me there is something special about the books I read on vacation, picking them up years later and being transported back in time to those wonderful days of summer spent at the beach, and for some reason, taking a book that I’ve already started before vacation just doesn’t have the same effect for me. I have 708 pages left in this monstrous book I’m reading, so now it’s a race against the clock, to see if I can finish it in the next six days, which given that I have to work forty hours, write six more blog posts and ten thousand words in my book, and somehow find time to get the sleep necessary to have the energy to perform all of these tasks, it’s seeming more unlikely by the minute. I’ve consulted my wife, the resident expert on all of my personal problems, and she suggested putting it aside, and resuming it when I return home from vacation, but that too doesn’t appeal to me. I’m too invested in the story now to put it aside, while reading something else, my mind will likely wander back to Thomas Spencer and what is happening in his world, so it seems that I have no choice but to read on, trying my best to finish the book before we leave next Saturday. Wish me luck.

Summer Vacation 2009: The Outer Banks

IMG_3698We woke early in the morning and got on the road leaving Little Rock, my mom in the drivers seat with my grandfather beside her, atlas in his lap, ready to open it up to help navigate, despite the new GPS system that was between them, attached to the windshield. My grandmother and me sat in the second row of seats with my two younger brothers behind us, all six of us crammed into my mom’s aging white Honda Odyssey van. Our destination was North Carolina, the beaches of the Outer Banks, a long drive ahead of us, with multiple stops along the way, a true american road trip. We passed through Memphis with ease as there was little traffic on that particular Saturday morning, but as we approached Nashville, traffic came to a stop. As far as we could see ahead, the interstate was deadlocked with cars and trucks alike, all desperately trying to move forward to no avail. It was at this time that I heard on the radio that Michael Jackson had died two days earlier. This was before I had twitter, so pop culture news didn’t come to me so easily as it does now. We drove on.

When we finally got through the traffic, which had been caused by a car accident, we made pretty good time the rest of the way. We stopped in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the childhood home of Andy Griffith, and went around town, visiting various places that had been popular in the television show he starred in, which was my granddad’s favorite. We ate lunch at the town diner, and I don’t remember anything about the food or even what I had to eat, but the place was packed, a popular tourist attraction. We stopped at the town jail, and posed for pictures, then left the charming North Carolina town and continued along the way. We stopped at Duke and the University of North Carolina, walking around the beautiful campuses that I would never attend as a student, then once again got back on the road, inching closer and closer to our destination.

When we finally arrived at the Outer Banks, we parked the van in front of the realty company while my mom went in to sign the papers and get the keys to the house where we’d be staying for the week. It was a really cool looking house, three stories high, suspended from the ground on large wooden poles. There were wrap around balconies on each floor, where you could stand and look at the ocean just blocks away over the tops of the other, similar looking houses, and hot tubs where you could relax on a summer afternoon, with a cool North Carolina breeze blowing, a nice contrast to the hot day. This was my first time at the Atlantic Ocean and despite being summer, the water was much colder than I’d been expecting. The waves were much more rough, and bigger than those of the Gulf of Mexico, that I’d grown up playing in. The vacation was full of lighthouse visits, where you could walk up numerous stairs to stand at the top, a thin railing the only thing between you and a long fall to the ground, and look out at the beautiful scenery below. We also spent some time at the sand dunes, which were very cool, nothing like I’d ever seen before. All in all it was a great vacation, and maybe one day I’ll get to go back. I miss the carefree summers of my teenage years, perhaps that more than anything.