Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Emerald Coast Crazy Making

So, with a bushel of peaches between us, we meander down to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

We plan on spending a couple of days wandering along US Highway 98 starting at Panama City Beach all the way to Mobile, Alabama.  There are some fantastic state parks and a handful of beach towns that influenced me a great deal while growing up.

Destin Beach, was a family favorite for years, most of my summertime memories are split between my grandparents in Salt Lake City and our little beach condo in Destin.  We stayed at the Holidome for years, until they opened SunDestin  in 1985, where you could buy a condo and rent it out for most of the year to pay your mortgage while saving the prime dates for your own personal retreat, or you could rent aforementioned condo for a week or two at premium prices.

There wasn’t much to do in Destin back in those days, except play at the beach or at the tacky Big Kahuna water park across the street- not that we minded hanging out at the beach all day and all night. That was always perfectly fine by me.

Flash forward 27 years to major freneticism…

From Panama City Beach all the way to Gulf Shores, the summer crowds fill the newly paved and widened streets, which are flanked on both sides by brand new shopping malls and master planned inclusive communities, major resort hotel chains with architecture to rival that of Vegas. Anything and everything that one could want is crammed into every possible open space, all competing for your attention (and dollars), while crowding out the ocean views and powdery white sand.

There was not a single space at any RV park or campground to be had for sixty miles. It was hot and muggy and threatening to rain, which meant that, not only would we be hot, sticky and uncomfortable while boondocking (sleeping in your RV or camper in a spot- usually at a Walmart or truck stop- while not plugged into shore power. In other words, no A/C), but there was a likely chance that we would have to either close our windows and nearly suffocate if it started to rain, or risk soaking all of our bedding in the downpour.

So, while only the second day into our RV adventure, we gave in and found a shitty beach motel that had one vacancy (it was also Friday night- the third one of the summer- great timing) for the low, low price of $120.  When we pulled into our parking space, the neighbor in the next room, was sitting out on the sidewalk, drinking beer and throwing trash into the bay to see if he could make it from his seat to the water. He was also yelling at his girlfriend about pizza, and  he had a stack of cans  as a testament to how long he had been drinking.

The motel was shabby and run down, but, to it’s credit, the sheets and bedding were clean and new, if nothing else in the room was. There was also a large raptor feather tucked lovingly into the lights above the mirror- we don’t know to this day if some kid found a Pelican feather and forgot about it when they checked out, or if it was some kind of ritualistic symbolism. All I know is that it was the first time I ever slept in a hotel room with a pelican feather.
Shitty hotel room in Ft. Walton Beach

Eager to get the hell out of the craziness of the Gulf  Coast, we made a bee line for Gulf Shores and turned inland to Foley, AL in a bid to hit Mobile before dark. The heat and humidity were unbearable and between the terrible crowds and  stifling weather, we never once managed to put a toe to ocean. We just moved into survival mode and ran for solid ground.

We did enjoy some parts of the coast and I asked Katrina to allow us to visit again when the weather and the crowds were both more manageable.

We did notice that our coach A/C- which we had promised to use for only emergencies in a bid to save gas and keep us acclimated to the outside temperatures so that we could boondock more comfortably (a notion that lasted 36 hours into the trip)- was not as cold as it was earlier in the day. I remembered the previous owner warning me that the coach A/C needed to be charged once in a while. He had it checked out and swore that there was no leak, but we would need to get some XYZ123 (R134) once a summer to charge it. Since I never planned to use the A/C, because air conditioning is for wussies, I brushed aside the thought.

We found an auto parts store and ($50 later) had the XYZ123 (R134) canister and  doohickey (charging system) in hand, we charged the system all by ourselves. The helpful employee mentioned that the compressor was charged because the conduction hose (uh-huh?) was cold, but he noticed that the Schrader valve was leaking (yes, of course, the shredder bulb is leaking, yes…) and would just need to be replaced to stop the leak, which was very slow and nothing to worry about anyway.
Savvy Mechanic...
He also mentioned that we should have the A/C on Max setting  for the first few minutes to cool the cab down enough for the A/C not to labor… I have literally lived without A/C for the last four years and completely forgot about MAX. I had it on bi-level in 101 degree heat because I wanted it to blow on my feet to keep the cat under my driver’s seat cold- yes, I have a cat under my seat at all times while driving… and he needs to be cool… he’s fat and black and he pants when he gets too hot, so I have it on bi-level, dammit…

We decided (now that we were cool and comfortable) to catch up with US 98 again and drive around Point Clear, through Fairhope and into Mobile, AL.  Katrina was never really keen on the drive through Mobile, but after twenty-two years together, I wanted to share with her a part of my history from before we met. I know so much about her youth and childhood, simply because we’ve lived less than 30 miles from her childhood homes for most of our marriage, and I wanted those fragmented pieces of my life BK (my own take on the Greco-Roman calendar) to finally fall into place as shared experiences.
I am so glad that she agreed to see Fairhope and Mobile because, much to our mutual shock, she was enchanted by both communities.

Fairhope is a well-to-do, resort  style area in Baldwin County, across the bay from Mobile, and many of the elite live over there, in large homes with well-manicured lawns. But the town proper and the neighborhood surrounding it, are much like St. Augustine or Park City- clean, artsy shops set in a beautiful outdoor setting flanked by historic homes.

There are wide sidewalks and biking trails everywhere- which is weirdly one of Katrina’s most adamant requirements for our next city to settle in. There must be sidewalks and easy-to-use multi purpose paths around the city. It’s the one things that keeps Myrtle Beach from the top of her list and, as much as she loves it there, the lack of user-friendly (meaning, that the walkways go somewhere that you actually want to go) walkways are at the very top of her cons list for Myrtle Beach.
Mobile has changed a great deal in the last twenty-three years, but the historic district is still charming, if a bit more run-down than I remembered. I lived in four places in three years in Mobile, and we visited them all, one by one.
The house where I lived on Dauphin Street. it's now a law office.

The visit for me was surreal, because my memories were selective and established- meaning that, in my mind, nothing had changed in 23 years and the day-to-day details of life in Mobile had become hazy and indistinct. I knew that Mobile had changed- cities change drastically in as little as six months- but with no frame of reference, I had no concept for what that entailed.

Changing the neural pathways of memory is an uncomfortable, if fascinating experience. I kept marveling at things I had forgotten about or remembered incorrectly- or simply remembered differently at nineteen versus what I perceived at forty-two. The trip created a mental conundrum in my head that was kind of cool to witness, first-hand.  Feeling my mind sort and assimilate the new sensory information on such a large scale was titillating. I felt my perception change a little bit  and I am grateful to have shared that experience with Katrina.

Next episode: Chickasabogue; Instinct on the Atchafalaya, and the rest of the Gulf Coast… 

1 comment:

Dianne said...

It's good to see you're still out there traveling and living the nomadic life. We (Sandy and Dianne) met you about 2 years ago in Camp Croft State Park. We are still living in our camper but waiting for our house to be finished in Gaffney, SC. Cowpens National Battlefield has been our home for the last 9 months. I volunteer in maintenance and love every minute of it. My email is and I would love to hear from you. Keep up the good work on the blog.