I believe in omens, and the grimy experience at our first stop in a Clarksville meat-n-jiggle set the appropriate theme for vacation 2015: Ick. I don't expect much in the way of clean bathrooms or any clean public places in the south, but usually they contain the overt griminess to the rest rooms. I knew the filth was running over when I saw a half asleep pregnant teenage waitress come out with toilette paper on her shoe. It was a meal complete with the usual hairs, grease soaked buns, and sticky seats: I don't know why I expected more. After using a powerful solvent to extract ourselves from the booth, we fled, thankfully putting that part of our fledgling newborn vacation behind us.
The drive through Tennessee was an outstandingly normal amount of hair raising automotive piloting. Our arrival in the fair city of Chattanooga was positive. Maybe the dark and stinky oracle at Clarksville was an aberration, and we were charmed, after all we made through Tennessee without any horrifics. It was hot but pleasant and we stuffed as much touristy stuff as we could stomach into a two night one day stay; ya know: lookout mountain, the great aquarium, and the kin folk took us to a hip meat market for supper and drinks. A woke late for a travel day, chewed through time at some biscuit place my tooth did not like, but my stomach did. Almost stayed another night because some group had set up an enormous water slide down a steep city street. Reluctantly got in our car and blammo, an agent from the dark side broke our already dwindling charm.
I was ready to step on it, but the fuel gauge was nearing a quarter full. So being proactive I drove to the nearest filling station. I was focused on the mission, and hadn’t noticed the place was a bit shady and only started to realize this during my altercation with the bad fuel pump. As I was not filling er up, a weak sith lord drove up and asked me how to use the tiptronic shifter in his car. He must’ve used the force to sense my tiptronic expertise, and I still wonder why this didn’t surprise me in the least. I gave him pointers, after all I'm from the middle of the Midwest and seem to be genetically inclined to friendly naivety. Then he asked me for gas. I could have ripped his head off, it was just slightly poked out the open window, like he was offering it up, but I just said, "er.... No" I don't think I even used a capital “N”. As he drove away dodging the submarines, I noticed he had only a flimsy antique paper dealer plate — it was probably stolen. Another check mark: tally two.
After every dark passage it brightens, and soon we were making good time admiring the land, and ready to hop in the cool gulf currents just hours away. Of course the zombies in the backseat knew nothing of this, grunting out an occasional, "are we there yet" but even that soon changed at Birmingham. The brake lights went red like a hoard of low angry demons barring the gate to the holiday, damming us to the purgatory of stop-and-go.
My wife was driving, this normally fills me with angst, but my tooth over rode any masculine dominance issues, leaving me with plenty of free time to look up alternate routes, all of which were exceedingly indirect. Stopping then going then stopping was making me sick, I had to look up from my course plotting, and noticed a car overheated on the side of the road. It was fairly new car, I shouldn’t expect that to overheat, “it doesn’t even look that hot out”. She said “it’s ninety eight”, “wow”, then I noticed there several other cars pulled over with the windows open, not good. I got worried, that’d suck screwing the car up on vacation, so at the next exit we go got off, and began our ten hour short cut through rural Alabama.
Sore tooth or not I couldn’t take it anymore and we switched seats, leaving my S.O. with the navigation. I thought I had explained to her the route I had so painstakingly plotted. Maps estimated just hour or so extra to our arrival time, and I always beat it. Just keep on the little blue line. It was going great, we were seeing a the part of Alabama that existed outside the reach of the interstate. Beautiful, idyllic, the temperature off the big road was a lower, and were were getting on down the road. Nearing Auburn it went wrong.
Maybe I took a wrong turn, maybe she just wanted to see Tuskegee. I have heard of the Tuskegee airmen, and evidently this was place according to the sign. It could be educational for the undead in the back seat, besides one of them needed to excrete some fluid. It was right there, we could’ve drove in, but it looked deserted, in fact the whole town looked deserted. The placed looked like it had been dolled up then forgot. There were some new roadways, curbs, and drainage; but it was all overgrown. I immediately investigated. Of course, I should have spotted it right away. I had just vacated a similarly deserted place. It had the wrapped up, see ya next fall, look, of a college town. It was the home of Tuskegee University.
My navigator must have been thrown off by my refusal to stop, and we must have went in circular route to Dothan Al. To tell you the truth the only thing I remember about it was the sheer number of traffic lights for such a small town. It was almost like they wanted a traffic jam. Maybe they thought it was the ticket to big city fun. Finally I was allowed to drive again and we made excellent time to coast.
We got in late, but not in the dark. Our rental place was close but we had prearranged for the key to be left in a safe box. Excitement was mounting as we left with the key. The salt air was making the meat bags in back ancy. My legs were falling asleep, good thing I was driving. No problems finding the place, it was on a sand spit that everyone on the internet said made for great wildlife viewing, and was a family fun hot spot. We passed the famous oyster shack on the way in, oh boy. Pulled up to a light blue house way up in the air on old power poles, that was the first clue. All the other houses on this precarious piece of real estate were also on stilts. Some wood but most concrete, not nearly as high as this one, and not old crusty tarred lumber.
There were two different sets of badly designed stairs leading up to the same doorway, I’m not sure why. It looked as if there was some sort of construction feud. They converged and came up through a nice big deck, rendering it all but useless, couldn’t tell this from the pictures. The clue was the elevator, it had been put in after the house had been built and had used the original entry stairway position.
This set the theme of the place: a couple of odd decks, awkwardly placed rooms, a living room kitchen combo that was large and useless, and the best room in the house, a glassed in portion of the formally nice big front deck that the elevator dumped into. It was tiny but it we ended up spending most of our indoor time in there.
Alright I thought I’ve stayed at some badly designed places and have had a great time, hell my house is badly designed, but there was another layer to this subversion. It was dirt, the place was filthy. The walls had hanging layers of dust, the lampshades were dusty, the floors were all greasy and dirty, the kitchen chairs had never been cleaned, and on and on. The dustiness, I later learned from peeping up through he encrusted intake vent, was cause by ancient furnace filter that only covered two thirds of the intake.
The slimy greasy part of the mess was caused by frequent frying. I hadn’t really thought about it, but this particular place was a fisherman paradise. It was located right were the Apalachicola river dumps out into the gulf of Mexico, incredible amounts of wild life. The guys on the beach drove there buggies and trucks right up to the water's edge and put as many polls as they could into the water. This led to another eye opener, that night we went for the customary first walk on the beach and noticed it was one of the busier roads we had encountered in the area. They were friendly enough, somebody even waved hello with a beer in his hand as his pick up bounced by. The paroled backseat inmates were swimming as we strolled along, but the water was murky, and things were bumping into their legs. Sissies, kids these days, I didn’t think much of it, I’m from a place where swimming in muddy water is what you gotta do if you want to get away from the chlorine. Well after a day or so of watching my fellow ghetto dwellers pulls sharks of many descriptions out of our swimming hole, I decided maybe we ought to look for another place to bath, although hammerhead sharks are fascinating.
We ended up sitting on the wonderful beach at the state park, and snorkeling in st. Joe bay, which is fantastic. This became a daily routine, as it became clear that our piece of beach was a shark infested, drunker Daytona five hundred.
For a side trip we made it into Apalachicola, had and expensive but great meal, it’s great function town. Wandered into a marine research station my wife thought was the museum, that was interesting. My youngest primate thought he might become a marine biologist after a gaggle of college girls disembark from a snorkeling expedition. Found the small ocean side aquarium by Carabella, it was a hands on, personal type of experience for the kids.
Then made the long ride back down the coast to the ghetto, making it back just in time for drinks and treats under the shack, amide the swaying stilts on the concrete pad at the picnic table: this had become our hang out, it was the cleanest spot in the rental unit. It also provided us some distance, gave us all some breathing room, we still evidently hadn’t entirely gotten over the car ride down.
Within the first hour of our landing at that large shack on stilts I had been plotting our escape. I had logged into Fake boast to see what my “friends” had been posting, and actually gleaned some useful intel. Apparently a cousin of mine was going back Illistan when we were coming down and had been caught in a gigantic traffic snarl around Birmingham. I starting looking, and learned this is nothing out of the ordinary. There was just no easy way up. I came up with three scenarios: we could leave a day earlier and just eat a day's rent (honestly it would’ve been a relief to get out from under the grime); Suck it up and sit in traffic — no freaking way; or Head west to Mobile.
The Westward direction won out. On deciding we weren’t going to bail, I clean a path through the place — literally mopping our chosen pathways into white clean tiles. I also just cleaned where we sat on the chairs, one spot on the handle to the fridge. Dusted a glaring square into the wall, and many other forms of devious cleaning. The bathrooms weren’t to bad, just dusty. I think this is because whoever the cleaning service was used them, or maybe it was my wife.
The only other time we ate out was on the last day, at the clam shack down the road. It looked like a mom and pop shop, but was really a high end eatery for the southern bow headed, visor wearing, aristocratic crowd. I believe they liked the slumming, dirty, yick—don’t go to the bathroom, vibe of the place. It was decent food, and very expensive, but on the upside I only got a little sick. I don’t know maybe my stomach wasn’t used to the hot food. We had basically given up on cooking the entire week, and existed on cold cereal, sausage, cheese and crackers. Our two youngins went through a pallet load of frozen waffles, Literally.
Time came to pack up and head back, I dreaded it. We left early and were making good time, the road was deserted, and I had a short cut in mind. It was the best short cut I have ever taken, if successful it would avoid the dreaded outbound Panama city traffic. On the map it was a major county road. I traced the whole thing days ahead using the satellite view, two lanes the whole way.
Too our west I had noticed some dark skies, the radar showed some light rain, but when we made the turn onto the shortcut the dark and damp seemed to grow. One minute it was dry the next it was a very tropical, down pour. It wasn’t awfully bad, no traffic, and the road was nice... but then we rounded a curve and it turned into a black top. Still no worries, but then the water was building on either side of the dwindling roadway.
I looked on the map. We were crossing some sort of swampy creek type of thing, if it hadn’t have been raining like crazy I would stopped to look. But then in the distance yellow machinery loomed ahead, No signage, no nothing but a torn up red mud pathway. It was coming down when I stopped the car and got out to have a look. It wasn’t all mud, looked like there was quite a bit of rock, probably what the road was before they paved over it. It was muddy just from all the scrapping a smoothing they had been doing. Emptied the bladder, got back in, backed up a ways, and got it up to a smooth twenty or so before I hit the gravelly mud and hydroplaned across the half mile to the pavement on the other side. Got some red dirt on the car, some people might’ve accused me of going native.
That tropical rain is crazy, and I think it might have quit, and become completely dry just a mile or two away from the muddy crossing, and a mile or two from there we turn up onto a four lane, and few miles from that onto the interstate proper, headed for Mobile and a battleship.
If you have people who are into those type of things the USS Alabama could turn out to be one of the best stops in the whole experience. In fact if you ask our offspring about the vacation we took, and they’ll just mention the battleship, nothing else.
It must’ve been hot tropical existence in that gigantic piece of metal. Parts of it are air conditioned, but many aren't, and the gun turrets reminded me of an oven. I squeezed into one or two, smashing sweaty kids out of the way, wiping off the eye paces to get a look down the sights, I think they all still worked.
We got there by Ten A.M. and beat some of the crowds and heat, but in time both were in full force. Two and half hours is enough battleship for me, besides I was hungry. I had noticed quite a few seafood places very close the ship, they all seem to have good reviews and the price was right. My wife had been looking also and wanted to drive through the old part of Mobile to the supposedly oldest restaurant in town. Ya know Mobile was founded in 1702 so that could be one hell of old eatery. Drive through the old part was nice, it was neat city, at least in that area. After a few wrong turns we finally made it to the antique eatery, and I was surprised by the dark brick exteriors. It looked to have been built in the late 1970’s. So I went inside of the packed place to have some of mobiles historical delicacies. I ordered the red hot chili dog and battered fries, it was fantastic. The two zombies ordered their usual hamburgers, I guess that's what zombies eat now, and my wife had a po’boy, or pull pork. It was was the cheapest we had eaten out all week, and so we left Mobile with our wallets intact and drove good old route Forty Five up to Tupelo Mississippi, the birthplace of the bishop of rock and roll — Elvis Presley. We didn’t see much but the hotel room, we were tired and wanted to get home.
The next day we left, I suppose. We had more great pulled pork in Marion IL.., and finally made it home. While surveying the toll of time on our sweet dwelling, and wondering if the mower would trim grass that high, all us made a vow never to go on a mid summer beach vacation again. I was relieved until my wife notified me that I was to go on vacation to Tybee Island, Ga, In the summer of 16. Her mother was coming with us as we were to stay with her entire family in some as yet to be determined beach ghetto.