Day 2: Happy Birthday To Me!

Friday, 9 April 2004
Gulf Shores, Alabama

Slept in and woke to a beautiful sunrise down the beach from us. After a few more hours of sleep, I spent time on the balcony taking in the view and reading.

A quick word about where we’re staying. Gulf Shores is a State Park, and our hotel is called Gulf State Park Resort. The name is a bit misleading. “Resort hotel” brings to mind a big white hotel with ornate columns, a golf course, and a sweeping green lawn in front. This two-story concrete building couldn’t be farther from that image, with its rustic accommodations (by resort standards.) It’s made of concrete and frankly, from the street side, it isn’t much to look at; the other side of the building tells the real story. Every room has a wall of windows facing the Gulf, with a balcony overlooking the beach, literally steps from the sand. Another reason we like staying here is it’s located far from the center of town with its main drag of hotels, condos, fast food restaurants and tourist trap trinket shops. This section of the beach is relatively deserted and, well, you can’t beat the price either.

This morning, we decided to take a drive and explore the city of Mobile, with lunch at Dreamland, a barbecue joint we’d read about. Smoky good ribs in a spicy sauce, with excellent baked beans on the side. The meal started with a quarter-loaf of Sunbeam white bread and a side of sauce for dipping. Oh yeah, we’re in the South!

After lunch, we decided to poke around Mobile to see what there was to see. In two words—not much. The town was pretty deserted, probably because it was Good Friday, and try as we might, we couldn’t find anything to see or do. One thing we did come up with, the Museum of Mobile, was closed until 2005, when it will reopen as a Mardi Gras museum. Oh well. The only building that was remotely interesting was the Government Building, which looked relatively new compared to the rest of downtown with its abundance of vacant old buildings with “For Sale” signs in the windows. We went inside and as we were gawking at the atrium (Hey, we’re from Chicago, we dig big buildings, alright?!) this guy walks by, gives us a bemused look and says “You like this building?”

We had a funny experience when we stopped at a local gas station. Full service only, so we pull in and wait. This elderly man comes out and gestures for me to put down the passenger-side window.

“Are y’all here for gas?”

Hmmmmm…”Yes?”

“Well, I’m all out of gas. Ran out this mornin’.”

This became the running joke of our trip. At Acme Oyster House, “Y’all here for the oysters?” At Café du Monde, “Y’all here for the beignet?”

After we successfully filled up the tank, we took the scenic route back. We passed through Fairhope again, which we remembered well from our visit two years ago. Where Mobile was dead, Fairhope was bustling with people walking along the flower filled sidewalks. There were petunias everywhere, on every street corner and even on top of the garbage cans. A really cute community with attractive historic homes. When we travel, we like to play the game, “Could You Live Here?” Fairhope was a winner.

Followed the road down to Mobile Bay where we walked on the pier and saw laughing gulls, pelicans and a grebe that’s uncommon to the area. There were also lots of purple martins building nests in the purple martin houses on top of poles in the water all along the waterfront.

We stopped at a Winn-Dixie on the way into town, where I got an unexpected birthday present when the checker carded me for buying wine. “We make it a practice to card anyone who looks under 40.” Yessssss!

Lasting Impressions:

  • The scan button on the car radio, what would we do without it.
  • Britney’s Toxic and Usher’s Yeah (“Take that. Rewind it back. Ur-sher’s got the voice make your bootie go schwack.”) on the radio like every — other — frickin’ — song.
  • Things may move slower down South, but that doesn’t include the traffic.
  • Laughing gulls, laughing, laughing, laughing…they’re named that for a good reason (listen here).
  • Sunsets on the balcony, drinking wine out of plastic cups and listening to the gulls.
  • Birding the Alabama way—from the car…Herons, bluebirds and egrets.
  • Planet Venus, so much brighter down here in the Alabama night sky.

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5 Responses

  1. RAJA

    Enjoying your site–even picked up the laughing gulls, tho one crapped on my ibook–Birding from the car–the Alabama way–sounds like birding in KY–except we carry shotguns down here and kill ’em from the car–to decorate our”ns basement rec rooms or to tasty up our’ns burgoo…..

  2. Karen

    Just finished an excellent book that mentions Fairhope. The author, Samuel Hynes, writes about spending time in this burgh as a young boy during the Depression. In his excellent memoir, he writes about the beach and the bay and swimming in the bayous behind town. “Sometimes,” he recalls, “a cottonmouth swims past, ignoring me, minding his own business.”
    Not to digress too much from your trip, but I highly recommend this book, called “The Growing Seasons.” It takes you into his world of growing up in the Midwest before the start of World War II, making you feel as if you’re recalling pieces of your own past, reliving your own memories. It’s beautiful, with nary a whiff of sentimentalism. I’m eager to check out more of his books.

  3. Zach

    So what’s on your must-have list for living in a town? Let me get the list rolling: a (non-religious) bookstore; a place that serves good (i.e., no Folgers crystals) coffee early in the morning, late in the evening, and all the hours in between; places of natural beauty (a fountain in a mall doesn’t count); no mall; either a place to purchase a decent newspaper or daily delivery of same to the home; religious services of varying faiths (not that I’d ever attend, but I wouldn’t want to live in a town controlled by a single denomination–you saw what happened in “Footloose”…..

  4. Karen

    Re the list of must-have-this-in-my-town: I recall many trips to local grocery stores (during various vacations) and ruling out the town/city based solely on the sad, all-Kraft cheese/all-Inglenook wine selections. I also remember a trip through Nebreska with my mother where we rejected an otherwise lovely town because the local restaurant’s salad bar served iceberg lettuce, onion rings from a can, and jello cubes.

  5. Lisa Kaseff

    I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts and pictures from your recent trip. It sounds like a great way to spend your birthday. Thanks for sharing.

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