|Tori and John on their hotel balcony. Happy.|
Pirates, penguins, porpoises and more. What a great, serendipitous road trip we had.
Tori and I were talking about going to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., this June for the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival. It's an easy drive from here, it's supposed to be a really good festival, and our friend Tom Mason is the featured performer.
|Tori on the road.|
But we don't know the town. The only time either Tori or I have been in Florida was stopovers on flights from the states to the islands. We were having trouble figuring out where would be a good place to stay so we could enjoy the festival and do as little driving as possible during the event.
Finally, Tori said, "What the hell! Let's go!" Thursday we jumped in the car with our toothbrushes and a change of underwear each and four hours later we were in Fort Walton Beach. (Whoever told us it was two hours to Pensacola lied – or drove about 130 miles an hour. But that's OK, it was a nice drive. Who knew Mobile has such a great skyline?) We felt right at home. It's a beachside town, and there's something similar about them, whether in Florida, Southern Cal or Oregon. A certain sandy funkiness that we recognized instantly.
|Gulf of Mexico sundown.|
|Pirate and pirate|
Unlike our last attempt to enjoy the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, this was a really nice place. I could stay there a while.
We found the waterfront park where the festival takes place, and found a resort approximately a hundred yards away. That would be perfect. We spent the night there, liked it, and the next morning we reserved the last room they had available for the early June festival weekend, a room big enough for us and Kate and Max.
While we were packing up to check out, the phone rang. It was my doctor, who wanted to talk over the results of my blood test. Nothing to worry about, in fact he said it was pretty much exactly what I had told him when I first walked into his office. The only thing to be concerned about is high cholesterol, which I had told him. I've got a cardiac stress test Thursday and assuming all goes well (or at least well-ish) we'll talk about how to get the cholesterol down.
That having been said, a big, greasy road trip breakfast was off the schedule. Tori insisted. For some reason, she wants to keep me around.
We asked at the desk for a good local spot for breakfast would be and they directed us to an out-of-the-way, not at all touristy restaurant called the Neighborhood Cafe. Well named, because that's what it is. It's a neighborhood place that tourists wouldn't even find, let along want to go to. But it was really good. I had an omelet made with egg whites only. It was delicious, and the best part was the hash browns. I'd swear they were cooked in bacon grease. Maybe not the best thing for my heart, but delicious!
But here's the thing –
The cafe was full up – Friday, I guess, the local clientele comes in for their chicken fried steak or biscuits and gravy. And except for the table of guys from the nearby Air Force Base and one other table, we were the youngest customers there – by far! I'm not kidding, I can't think of the last time I saw so many walkers and canes. It's not often these days that I walk into a place and lower the average age of the room.
After breakfast we stopped in at the chamber of commerce, which has a sign boasting "the Billy Bowlegs Museum," which turns out to be their conference room with a bunch of pictures on the wall. We introduced ourselves, Tori mentioned TLAPDay, and the next thing I know the chamber director is out there signing me up to do some radio spots announcing this year's festival.
|Tori chats with Cranberry.|
|Tori and Cranberry|
In the afternoon we went to the local aquarium, the Gulfarium. I'm sure during the tourist season it's a terrific place. In February, it was cold, cloudy, there was hardly anyone there, and half the exhibits were closed for the season. But it was a fun afternoon with a dolphin show, at the end of which, Tori got to feed a penguin. She and a girl, about 12 or so, were given instructions and told to sit cross legged. The little penguin, a South African penguin called Cranberry, wasn't interested in eating. Instead, she jumped right into Tori's lap!
It was, all in all, a terrific road trip, two days of just me and Tori. The weather was cold, the sky was cloudy, and we had a great time together. And this the same week that we celebrated Mardi Gras.
Sometimes life is too good.