My Tips For The Obama’s Gulf Coast Vacation

014-060414 Dear First family:

You have taken a beating lately about the number of vacations you have taken and your choices of holiday destinations.  It has come to my attention that you are planning a short trip to the gulf coast, fulfilling a promise made earlier in the year.  A most excellent choice.  Being a lifelong visitor to the northwest Florida and Alabama coasts, if I may, I’d like to suggest a few pointers to help you have a good time and do a little salt-of-the-earth PR fence mending at the same time.

1. DO NOT go to Seaside, The Beaches of South Walton, or even Destin.  We’re trying to project an image here.  You COULD do Grand Isle (they have suffered the most) or Gulf Shores (FloraBama!), but I would suggest the perfect compromise: Fort Walton Beach.  It’s a good combination of classy and tacky, and is a military town to boot!

2. You could get a nice condo on the island, but I’d suggest the Four Points Sheraton .  You can’t miss the place, it’s the first one you see after you cross the Brooks Bridge.  The Holiday Inn is nice, too.  Much better than the old Playground Motel in town (don’t ask me how I know).

3. Make sure to walk across the street to Fudpuckers (the original).   Order a Fudburger and Bud (let’s skip the Heinies and Blue Moons this time), and I’d suggest  an Ultimate Fish Pucker for Michelle.  There is a wonderful menu for the kids as well.  Make sure to grab a "You ain’t been pucked till you’ve been Fudpucked!" T-shirt for Malia.  Her classmates at Sidwell Friends will love it!

4.  You probably don’t own any plastic flip-flops or inflatable dolphins, but there is a Wings souvenir shop on just about every corner.  If you MUST go high-rent, try Alvin’s Island.

5. Visit the Gulfarium to see what’s left of the gulf sea life.  It really is a fascinating place.

6.  While Michelle and the girls are gathering sea shells and tar balls, give a visit to the Green Frog.  (wait – I’ll bet Bill Clinton’s already told you about that one).

7. Instead of chartering a boat, throw a line off the Okaloosa Island Pier.  Take Rahm and bring a case of Bud, because the fishing stinks this time of year there.  Strike up a conversation with the little old Vietnamese ladies with the live bait.  They could teach you a thing or two about patience.

8. After a long day drinking beer at the beach and throwing down a few more with your dinner at Pandora’s, make a 2am run to Waffle House.  Knowing what "scattered, smothered, and covered" means is worth 2 points in the polls.  Actually eating it is worth 3.

9. You’ll learn this pretty quickly, but you have to walk Emerald Coast sand barefoot.  The sand is far more fine and powdery than anywhere else, especially Martha’s Vineyard.  Also, you will be getting it out of your limo, Air Force One, and various body parts for months to come.  Fort Walton Beach sand is the gift that keeps on giving.

10. Sasha absolutely, positively MUST get a henna tattoo. 

I Want Peaches

I’ve told you before, I love stories that follow the quest story line. I love the story of the travel, of the meeting of new people in new lands, and especially of spots where the hero rests and rejuvenates: an inn, an oasis, a familiar way-stop.  Think of Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring: the house of Tom Bombadil, The Prancing Pony, Weathertop, Rivendell, Lothlorien.  Each of these is a (most of the time) familiar place of rest on The Journey.

Well, I’ve been journeying between Nashville and the panhandle of Florida for well over 40 years.  For me, one of the sweetest parts of the long journey is stopping at Durbin Farms in Clanton, Alabama.  Nestled halfway between Birmingham and Montgomery, and consequently, at around the halfway point between Nashville and Destin, the open-air farmers market is truly like an oasis on I-65.

Produce at Durbin Farms

I know what you’re thinking: produce is produce.  Buy local!  Maybe you’re right.  But everything is better on the road, I say. 

And, what is REALLY special at Durbin Farms, what they specialize in, is peaches.  The peaches are just wonderful there, especially in season. 

I had forgotten how much I miss stopping in Clanton, AL, till this last trip to drop off the kids.  I’ll be stopping there again this weekend.  I can’t wait.

How About A Cheap Trip To Spain?

Later in the year, maybe the fall when Lintilla has some time built up, we might seriously consider this program.

From a Kiplinger’s article  about it:

I never thought my foreign-language deficiency could be an asset. Not speaking Spanish helped me and my wife, Alice, land a free week at a four-star resort in western Spain. All we had to do was talk — in English.

Madrid is headquarters for two companies that recruit English speakers to help improve the conversational English skills of Spaniards, most of whom are employees of multinational corporations. These are English-immersion programs, so the companies prefer that the instructors not know Spanish. English speakers aren’t paid, and we had to pay for our airfare.

A four-star resort in Spain, for talking?  Where do I sign up?  With the dollar at incredible lows against the euro, any trip to Europe would be out of the question, otherwise.

AND, once you’ve “graduated” from this program, you can sign up to go to Italy (which is where we really want to go).

Yes, you have to work to earn your keep, but that work is talking.  Something Lintilla and I do entirely too much, naturally.


I’ve never seen anything like this.  We are in the Country Inn & Suites in Bessemer, AL (a suburb of Birmingham).  We are, almost quite literally, the only people here.  It’s not like it’s a bad hotel or anything; it’s quite nice.

It just feels weird – we have the breakfast all to ourselves.

BTW, next time we take the van instead of the xB.  I’m having flashbacks of the year in my childhood where we rode to Florida in my dad’s Camaro.  Three kids and luggage.  This isn’t quite that bad, but it’s close.

See y’all in FL.

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Random Thoughts From the Vacation

The most distinguishing feature of Fort Myers Beach (besides the sunset) was the water.  I’m used to Destin/ Fort Walton Beach, where the ocean is tepid.  Well, in FMB, especially in the afternoon, it feels like a nice, warm bath.  That took some getting used to.

It was in the upper 90’s all week with high humidity.  No wonder it’s the off season there.

More than anything else, Lintilla and I enjoyed visiting the summer homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Thomas Edison has always been a man who fascinates me, and it was really cool to see a place where he came to relax…by…WORKING!  The man’s brain never, ever stopped.  A patent a year for 60 years, that’s incredible.  And I love the fact that he was so pigheaded in the wars with Westinghouse; he NEVER admitted that AC was a better choice than DC.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “Edison Westinghouse current” and read about the world’s first standards fight.

The Edison Beach House (the Hotel we stayed at) is simply the cleanest hotel in the world. Mr Monk certainly runs the place.

The northeast US must be a youthful, cheery place, because every grouchy old person from the northeast was in Fort Myers beach last week.  And that was the offseason!  Florida is the only state in America where you have to travel north to get more southern.  Try ordering sweet tea, and see what happens!

In every beach community, there is a seafood restaurant that doesn’t cater to tourists, it caters to people who love seafood.  (For instance, in Gulf Shores, Alabama, there is the Original Seafood House).  In Fort Myers Beach, I would recommend a place called “The Fish House”.  It is a little hard to find, but I had the Jerk Mahi, and it was glorious.  AND, it was the only restaurant I’ve ever eaten in with an all-male service staff (at least when we were there). 

FMB is quite a casual place. No shoes, no shirt, no problem.  I saw so many people stroll directly from the beach into stores in their swimsuits.  Which reminds me of a sad fact: I’ve reached the point in my life where every female who can wear a bikini well is simply too young for me.  The fun is gone – they’re all young enough to be my daughter.  Sigh. 

(For all you uptight people – I’m NOT talking about ogling or lusting; girl-watching is a time-honored activity, as is boy-watching.  Unfortunately, we men have really dropped the ball in these matters.  Don’t men work out anymore?  My wife was quite disappointed)

Perkin’s Restaurants need to come back to Nashville. On the last night of vacation, we always have an “encore” night; we eat at the family’s favorite restaurant. Of all the expensive, kitschy places we ate, Perkin’s was the favorite.

Speaking of, I was afraid to weigh when we got back.

Irony:  I’ve finally gotten over my fear of flying, I’ve gotten to where I actually enjoy it; now they say it’s much worse for the environment than driving.  And I’m trying to gear my life more toward being a Teddy Roosevelt style conservationist (this lets me embrace environmentalism without having to lump myself in with tree-hugging Gaia worshippers 🙂 )  So, what’s a guy to do?  I guess on my next vacation, I’ll just bike to Murfreesboro.  Guilt trips? Moms have nothing on environmental scientists.

Our anniversary was absolutely delightful.  We didn’t do much of anything at all.

Like I said, delightful. 

Back Home Again

We are back in good ole Nashville.  I can’t tell you how much good this trip has done for my body and soul.  I had not realised just what a frazzled mess I had become – I literally was being swallowed by my life.  Both Lintilla and I have been able to step out of our busy lives and put things in their proper perspective.  This is, as my friend newscoma says, “of the good”.

I see that much has changed in my absence.  I need a few days to absorb and digest it all to figure out what it all means.

I know now that I need to purge a few things from my life.  On the blog side, I’m going to start shying away from those who are perpetually pissed off.  It doesn’t matter if you post with a sense of bemused detachement or full-on rage, if the underlying premise of two-thirds of your posts are rants about things that upset you, I’ll kindly tip my hat and move on.

I’ll quite happily wear the badge of being a pollyanna.  Life is too short.

I’ve also discovered that I really, really love food.  Cooking it, analyzing it for nutritional value, eating it at restaurants, all of these are passions for me.  I hope to incorporate that passion into a new project soon, which I’ll let you know about as soon as I get settled back in.

Thanks to Susie, and Cindy for their help while I was gone.  The gekko seems none the worse for wear.

There is much I want to tell you about the trip itself, which I’ll do as I get more time.

Wish You Were Here!

We are having an absolute blast in Fort Myers Beach.  How about I give you a taste of the view from my beach chair?


(click to embiggen)

I don’t quite know how to explain it properly, but I think we’ve found the perfect place for us to beach vacation.  Our first impression of southwest Florida (besides the airport) was of Sanibel and Captiva.  Upscale/Disney-ish, yet perfect for Birkenstock bohemians feeling a little environmental guilt, Sanibel/Captiva is quite the expensive, yet gorgeous place.  But, on Saturday, when we arrived here at the hotel (which I’ve GOT to tell you about later), we found a different dynamic. 

Fort Myers Beach is Sanibel’s redneck cousin. Lots of beer and tattoos (Lintilla may be the only woman here without a lower back tattoo).  Tacky gift shops, restaurants, mini golf, a casino cruise, and bars that brag about how cold their beer is, bellies that aren’t sculpted (far from it).  You can’t help but get the feeling that the rest of the area looks down on, and is a little embarrassed by Fort Myers Beach.

This is the perfect place for us.  Anyone who knows us knows this to be true.

And the sunset!  Oh.My.Lord.  It is so incredibly beautiful, yet so fast.  You can literally watch it going down (being here so close to the equator).  If you turn your head, even for a minute, you miss most of it.  I will do my best to properly photograph it this week.  It won’t be easy; I’m no photographer.  There’s so much other stuff to get into (I find it fascinating that July is their “off-season” here; that’s the opposite of Destin).

Nobody’s burned themselves yet, and we’re trying our best to eat healthy (I had stuffed flounder while watching the sunset at our oceanside table last night).  I’ll gain a few pounds because we’re taking it easy and enjoying ourselves, but that’s OK.  It’ll be fun losing it. 

I’m following through with my promise to Lintilla NOT to overplan, or to rush her to get anywhere.  We WILL have to wake up a little early tomorrow; we’re going deep-sea fishing.

So far, this has been really, really nice.  I am already extremely relaxed (for me).  I’ll tell you more, but we’re about to go back to the snooty island for some good shelling.  In the meantime, could you hold my beach chair for me?  

Click here. 

The Moon and Saint Christopher

When I was young I spoke like a child, I saw with a child’s eyes.
And an open door was to a girl, like the stars are to the sky.
It’s funny how the world lives up to all your expectations
With adventures for the stout of heart, and the lure of the open spaces…
…Back when darkness overtook me on a blind man’s curve
I relied upon the moon, and Saint Christopher.

– Mary Chapin Carpenter (The Moon and St Christopher)

Being the king of the melodramatic, vacation is never just vacation to me. It is always something deeper. But to get to why, we’ll have to back up a little bit.

During the early years of my tormented teenhood, I discovered Tolkien.  Now, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are really about love of Hearth and Home, and getting back to them.  Yet, Tolkien’s most beautiful storytelling was about leaving home, seeing strange, new, wonderful places, and meeting new people and learning their customs.

My favorite parts of LOTR are not battle scenes, or the wonderful love scene between Faramir and Eowyn, or the desperate heroics of Sam and Frodo.  Those are wonderful, and I love them all in their own way.  What stirs my heart, in a way I do not fully understand, are the travel sequences in Fellowship; the first, between Bombadil and Rivendell, the second between Rivendell and Moria.  The movies almost skip over these sequences entirely, so you’ll only know what I’m talking about if you’ve read the books.

There is something about the thought of being in a new, strange place, under the open sky, navigating by the stars and the moon, resting after long travels by a campfire that just quickens my soul.  I think I know now why. 

Do you have any idea what these imaginary adventures meant to an oft-tormented, socially awkward 15 year old boy?  I know it’s bad form to complain about a comfortable (materialistically) childhood, but there is a kind of inescapable tyranny subjected to those of the bottom of the social order in suburbia.  Daily humiliations are an incredible weight to bear for an immature, fragile soul.

Through Tolkien, in my mind’s eye, I could leave the bottom of the high school caste system and see the beautiful magical world that I knew was out there, that just HAD to be better than the world I knew.  This thought was implanted deep within me, it resides there still.  I now know this to be a secondary reason (behind patriotism) that I attempted to join the army in 1983.

But God had other plans.  Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, I never got out to see the world as I dreamed.  But the few times I have traveled, it has truly been an adventure.  One day, I’ll need to tell you about our amazing, unexpected adventure to Michigan to welcome Trillian into our lives.  Who ever thought Detroit could provide such happy, exciting memories?

You see, despite my attempts to have a profession where I could see the world, God instead gave me exactly what I had prayed for.  Travel is not work for me.  It is not drudgery.  It is high adventure. 

Thursday we leave for Ft Myers Beach.  I am so excited, it’s hard to concentrate.  Ft Myers?  The redneck Riviera?  You’ve seen one tourist trap beach town, you’ve seen them all, you might say.  But you see, it is more than that to me.  It is a new, exciting place that I’ve never been before.  It’s an adventure.

We will not steer by moonlight, we’re flying.  We won’t be calling on St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, we will instead call on the good grace of Jesus himself.  It does not matter to me.

That part of me that was awakened in my youth has been stirred, and it will not calm until we get back.

I feel so alive,  I cannot properly express it.