Monday, June 14, 2010

The Gulf Coast

Two days of anticipation as to what we would find here on the Gulf Coast so it seems only right that I start with the destination and work backwards on the trip.

June in Dauphin Island, Alabama.  Could not be sweatier.  We arrived around 5pm just as five or six Jeep loads of clean up crews were leaving the beaches for the day.  A sobering first sight.

The usual car/beach vacation scenario of unloading and running to the beach was not quite our inclination when we arrived.   Air conditioning is gooooood.  Eventually we all followed the smoker out to the porch and after a gin and tonic I started to think it wasn't really too bad outside.  Silly gin.

I was anxious to see the beach and chased down the first Alabaman who looked my way.  She’s a native of Birmingham but has been coming to Dauphin Island for many years, having adult children that played here as kids.  She and her husband have owned a condo on the east side of Dauphin Island since 1995, hosting kids and grandkids to beach vacations and boating trips around the island where she says they lure dolphins routinely to “show out” behind the boat, standing on their tails and nickering for the bait fish that the kids fling from the back of their boat.  

Last week in Birmingham, she told her husband, “I just have to go see it.”  He said, “Why?  It will just make you sad.”  She said, “Well, then it will make me sad but I have to go.”  They’ve been here since Monday and she speculates that because of the wind currently blowing out of the southwest this eastern beach along the Gulf has been spared the gross oil blobs washing ashore.  Not so lucky on the western part of this island where there is oil in abundance washing ashore, devastating the economy here yet again just as it was coming back from Katrina and Rita.  She tells me, “I’ve cried and I’ve prayed and I keep praying.”  Further along the Gulf coast to the east, Florida is getting the worst of it the past few days.  Bon Secour, Gulf Shores, Perdido Key swamped with oil. My brother-in-law tells me that many tourist businesses' bills are coming due about now and with no customers they are in fear of losing everything.  I'm glad I'm here to spend some money because what else can I do but wring my hands.

The skimmer is right there, literally situated off of our beach according to how the water currents are flowing so as to optimize its catch of oil in the water.  But the truth is, the fish are swimming to Texas, BP isn’t returning phone calls and my new friend from Birmingham has oil on the bottoms of her water shoes.  “The oil is out there even though you can’t see it.  This is the most I’ve had on my shoes all week. You should rinse your feet.”  And I do.  As we talked, a mullet jumped high out of the water.  She found that encouraging.  I wondered if he was jumping not because that’s what mullets do but because he was starving for oxygen in this water choked with oil and dispersants.  It’s too much to think about. As my friend wrote recently, so succinct and perfect, “Poor Gulf.”

No tar balls here.  yet.

We traveled Highway 45 for almost the entire day, from Tennessee nearly to Mobile.  It’s a dandy road with a 65 mph speed limit but no trucks due to its limited local access and no brake zones.  A hidden gem of a road with just the right amount of towns to keep it interesting.

Traveling with a smoker provides an alternative look at travel compared to our family’s usual “iron butt” strategy of driving.  My mom will tell you she can go as long as it takes between cigarettes but I’m telling you she can go about 90 minutes before the Life Saver unwrapping, Goldfish cracker eating, ice chewing and finger tapping makes me want to push her ever so gently out the car window.  And since smokers love their cold drinks, I am won over by the gas station fountain drink guzzler with loads of ice.  Sipping Dr. Pepper on a southern highway was befitting of the journey...if only Lynyrd Skynyrd had been on the radio.  However, as a newbie to the 64 oz. slow sip society, my pacing was off and I was in a little bit of a pickle mid afternoon.

I announced to Mom and Olivia that what we needed was some good karma following a perplexing search for food in downtown Meridian, MS.  Apparently they don't eat food there.  So seeing a sign for fresh peaches, I swung a hard left across the highway south of Meridian in need of food and a reststop.  Fontaine's Peaches Farmstand not only had a restroom for customers (whodathunk), but also the most chin-dripping peachiest peaches I've had in a long time.  I bought fifteen peaches more out of gratitude for their being plumbed than anything.

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