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Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Redneck Riviera

The "Redneck Riviera" is the nickname of the Gulf of Mexico coast that lies between Pensacola and Panama City, Florida. I grew up in Fort Walton Beach which is slap dab in between the two. It is an area that boasts sugar-white sands and clear turquoise waters rich in gamefish. Jimmy Buffet also grew up 50 miles West of here in Mobile, Alabama. It's a laid-back lifestyle kind of place. 

The area got it's nickname from the tourists that visit during the Summer as they mostly hail from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. They are mostly a fun-loving bunch that add to the area's reputation as a party capitol. The U. S.'s biggest Spring Break venue is down the road in Panama City. I fondly remember the days of my youth when my buddies and I would roam the beaches like sharks trying to "poach" the tourist girls. Sometimes we actually got lucky, it was a numbers game. Don't tell my mom.

So, back to the recent trip. I exited the plane at the VPS airport, collected my bags and went to the arrivals area. There was a big celebration there as some troops were coming back from overseas (it's a big Air Force town) but I didn't see Mom so I went to the bar to get a beer and call her to tell here I had arrived. She answered the phone and she said she was back at home. Come to find out, she had been there at the time of my arrival but we did not see each other due to the festivities at the arrival area. She went back home thinking I had boarded a later flight. Trip snag #1.

Mom and I spent the next 2 days visiting and relaxing. I had some ex-coworkers and friends from St. George, Utah that were going to meet me there and my brother was going to drive down from Huntsville, Alabama. There were 2 factions coming from Utah. For simplicity (I know, too late!), Faction 1 is a married couple and their 16 year old son, Faction 2 is a couple of my pool-shooting buddies.

Faction 1 was going to Savannah, Georgia for a wedding and were to fly back to ATL and then VPS the next day. Well, the flights from ATL to SAV were full so they rented a car and drove to SAV. Faction 2 got to ATL and sat all day trying to get space available seats to VPS but couldn't and decided to cut their losses and return to Utah. I don't blame them, ATL will suck the soul out of you especially when Florida-bound. At the same time, Faction 1 could not get a flight back from SAV to ATL because of worsening weather and decided to drive from SAV to VPS. Trip snags #2 and #3.

Faction 1 finally got to Ft. Walton after a harrowing drive through a nasty coldfront. My brother had also arrived. We all went out for seafood that night but the weather was colder than a witch's fun-bags with brass you-know-whats. The female contingent of Faction 1 had to get back to Utah the next day for work duties so we called it an early night. Her and her son were to drive to ATL the next morning leaving her husband to catch a flight a few days later as he is a lazy SOB that has a cush job (Just kidding!).

The weather worsened overnight and being concerned about the Faction 1 wife driving to ATL, I called her when I arose the next morning and was surprised to hear a flight attendant announcement in the background when she answered. "Where the hell are you?" I asked. She was aboard a Continental flight in VPS to IAH to SLC to SGU. As it turned out, it had snowed as far south as the Alabama-Florida state line which is very rare in itself and the inclement weather had all but closed down the Atlanta airport not to mention the connecting interstate highways.  Snag #4. She did made it to Utah in time for work.

So it was now me, Faction 1 husband and son, Mom and my brother the rocket scientist. We all met the next day at a rustic surfside restaurant for raw oysters on the half shell and beer. The weather had improved and the sun was out. For those who have never sampled fresh Apalachicola grown oysters on a cracker with hot sauce and a suds chaser, you are missing one of the great pleasures of life. Some say they are still alive when you eat them. I try not to think about that! You really can't tell by looking at them anyway.

The next day we visited the fine weapons technology and historic aircraft on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base. Jimmy Doolittle trained here for the surprise WWII Tokyo aerial attack back in the day.

So to make a long story short (again, too late!), My brother went back to Huntsville, Faction 1 hubby and son went back to Utah and I went back to Abu Dhabi. My flight was enjoyable as I had popcorn and Heinekens while I watched "Slumdog Millionaire" and the new James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace" in business class between naps. Both are two thumbs up!

I am so fortunate to have good family and friends. I miss them greatly and appreciate the effort they made in hooking up under less than ideal conditions. I hope I can return the favor soon.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

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