I awoke this morning anticipating the dawn of another gorgeous day at the beach. Sadly, instead of a view of white sand and blue-green water and puffy cotton candy clouds, I was treated to a wide-angle of the elliptical machine my husband and I bought in a fit of lunacy. How depressing. Richard and I decided to cram in a much needed and well deserved week off, just the two of us, no kids, other relatives, or cats allowed. Initially, we talked about going to Washington, DC, but the thought of having to get up at the crack of dawn every morning to hit the pavement to see the sights was too much like work. We needed something relaxing with no fixed itinerary beyond when and what to eat. We thought about a cruise, but we've done a few of those. Las Vegas got some consideration, but as fun as Vegas is, we'd been there and done that. Colorado got some airtime, and the idea of cool mountain temps was alluring, but we have family in Colorado and this was supposed to be about the two of us, not nineteen and counting.
Three years ago we wanted to take the kids on a beach vacation and we set our sights on Gulf Shores. Since we are sadly deficient in relatives or friends with beach homes in the area, I settled in for a long visit with Google. After hours and hours of clicking here and there, linking to this and that, I stumbled on a resort called Martinique on the Gulf. From the pictures, it looked perfect and I booked a house for the five of us in July. Shortly before we were due to leave, Richard was abruptly laid off from his job and we were forced to cancel the vacation. We hated disappointing the kids, but we couldn't justify spending thousands of dollars on fun and sun, when the future was rapidly turning dark and gloomy. Fortunately, we were lucky and Richard quickly bounced back on his feet with another job.
The following summer we tried again. This time, I booked a beach side condo at Martinique instead of one of the houses a block or so inland. Then disaster struck --- literally --- when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf killing and injuring workers and kick starting the largest offshore oil spill in U. S. history.
At first we weren't concerned. This was April and we weren't due in Gulf Shores until July; surely the leak would be capped and everything cleaned up nice and tidy in time for our trip. But as the weeks dragged on, and the oil continued to spill, it became apparent we were going to have to make a decision: do we take the chance and go, and hope the water and beaches are clean? or do we cut our losses and cancel AGAIN? And if we cancelled, what would we replace it with? We couldn't disappoint the kids two years in a row. After a lot of shilly-shallying, we regretfully decided to find another beach. Since it was the eastern portion of the Gulf that was getting hit with the black sludge, we concentrated on the western parts. Mexico was out; nobody cared to be caught in a drug cartel crossfire, so South Padre Island became our new vacation destination.
Once more I started Googling, and this time it was difficult finding a place to stay. All the likely looking spots were taken, having been booked months ago. I kept at it and finally found a beach side high rise condominium complex that, while it was nothing like the gorgeous condo I had rented in Gulf Shores, certainly wasn't a hovel, either. Regardless, we went and had a great time. The kids went parasailing and played tennis, and we all took a ride on one of the inflatable banana boats. This was also when my daughter got her belly button pierced.
Back to the present, we decided to aim once more for Gulf Shores and the Martinique resort, hoping the third time would be the charm. Since it was just the two of us, we didn't need the big three bedroom unit I had rented in 2010, so we went with one of the smaller ones instead.
We left Dallas at 5:00 AM last Monday morning for the eleven-hour drive to coastal Alabama. It rained buckets the entire way; I think we saw more rain that one day than we've seen in the last two years. Here's a photo I took of the windshield, somewhere in Mississippi:
It was so bad, Richard got his chauvinist pig on and refused to let the little woman anywhere near the steering wheel, brakes, accelerator, or other functioning car parts. He was tense from trying to peer through the curtain of rain, and I was grumpy from fighting him for control of the a/c. It was not an auspicious start, and it got me to wondering if there was some kind of curse on Gulf Shores; like the Big Travel Agent in the Sky was saying, "I tried to keep you away, but noooooooo...you just had to go. Fine. Enjoy a week of typhoons. That'll teach you. Jerks."
After three years of trying and not getting anywhere, we finally turned the key in the lock of our Martinique home away from home:
We didn't make it to the beach on Monday. It was too late for surf side frolicking, even if the weather had been good. Instead, we settled in and then drove into town for dinner and supplies. Tuesday dawned gloriously (see the very top photo), but it squalled off and on throughout the day. Even so, we managed to get in some beach time. The waves were rough and choppy and I lost my hat. Too bad about the hat, but I like to imagine a sea turtle, or maybe a big grouper, wearing my Aggie hat and singing the War Hymn.
The rest of the week was perfect. The sea was so calm, it was like being in the world's biggest swimming pool, and the water was crystal clear. So clear that on several occasions I could see something big and dark headed in my general direction, accompanied by the soundtrack from "Jaws". It was probably nothing more menacing than a school of small fish, but, wussy that I am, I wasn't brave enough to stand ground and find out. Richard, on the other hand, got up close and personal with small sharks, and he also claimed to have stepped on a sting ray. My guess is that the ray was really a flounder.
We spent part of one morning hiking through a wildlife refuge that hugs the eastern boundary of Martinique. We didn't see much in the way of wildlife, mostly a small lizard called a racerunner, and butterflies. The most interesting part of the refuge, to me, anyway, was the sign at the entrance to the trailhead. Among the usual no-no's like no pets, no camping, and no fires, was a prohibition against nudity. We also toured Ft. Morgan, because Richard is a Civil War fanatic and wanted to see something he'd only read about in books. At the fort, there was another interesting sign honoring the first Alabamian to be killed in the war, a young man named Noble Leslie DeVotie. I foolishly assumed Mr. DeVotie was killed by a minie ball or an exploding shell, but the truth is he tripped boarding a steamer at the Ft. Morgan pier, fell into the water and drowned. Rather anticlimactic.
Dr. Seuss famously said, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Well, screw that; our vacation's over and I'll cry if I want to.
If you follow college football, then you know that Texas A&M is now a proud card carrying member of the SEC. The Aggies finally got fed up with being under the thumb of those emasculated bovines in Austin, and decided it was time to go their own way and chart their own destiny. Our family welcomed the change, and if the picture above is any evidence, so did most Aggies. Of all the traditions A&M is famous for, midnight yell was never a favorite of mine, even as a student, but I'm really sorry I missed this one. Unfortunately, I was asleep and oblivious to all the (w)hoopla going on 200 miles away.
9:30 AM on Saturday, we were trudging from our car to our tailgate spot on the east side of the stadium. The weatherman had promised a cold front and boy, did he deliver. For about a half-hour it was actually a little too cool, but it warmed up and turned out to be a very pleasant day for early September. Amazing when you consider it was in the triple digits less than 24 hours prior. As they say in Texas, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.
For years, we didn't tailgate. Being endowed scholarship donors, courtesy of my parents, we got invited to rub elbows with the other Aggie wheelers and dealers at the Briarcrest Country Club before every home game. These were really nice affairs, with everyone dressed in their maroon and white best. But then the 12th Man Foundation, the host of these shindigs, did some calculating and decided it was too expensive to feed and water us. Without so much as a fare thee stinkin' well, we were cast out of the country club and forced to mingle with the great unwashed in sweltering heat, monsoonal rains, and freezing cold.
Initially we tailgated from the back of our minivan in the parking lot immediately west of the stadium. We were lucky enough to have a reserved space with our names on it, so our spot was ours and no one else could claim it. But tailgating in a parking lot is a blistery business; the sun bakes off the concrete and reflects off the metal of the surrounding cars. Besides that, the lot wasn't designed for tailgating, it was designed for parking, and if you weren't careful, you could get mowed down by a passing car. Tailgating in our reserved spot meant huddling in a tight group around the back of the van using the actual tailgate as a sort of table. After a season of dealing with the miserable heat, my husband bought a canopy/tent and we set that up behind our van. But whenever something bigger than an ordinary car needed to go through, we'd have to get up and move the thing forward a couple of feet, let the vehicle pass, then move it back, only to have to repeat the process for the next big truck or van or Hummer or battleship...this IS Texas, after all.
Then about five years ago, the 12th Man Foundation, probably pissed because we had been ignoring their pleas for more money, demoted us from our reserved spot in the prime "A" lot to an unreserved spot in a parking garage on the other side of the stadium. At first I was upset about the change, but then quickly realized they had done us an enormous favor. For one thing, our car was cool and covered. For another, the garage is close to the Corps quad where our younger son lived during his student years. Thirdly, it is across the street from the Memorial Student Center, the hub of campus life. But best of all, it was just steps from our friend Brandon's tailgate. His setup was on grass with vast oceans of space to stretch out. No more hard, hot concrete, no more worrying about getting flattened by a passing car while scarfing down a sandwich. THIS was tailgating heaven.
Back to the present. Last Friday, as I was meandering around Kroger looking for munchies, my cell went off. It was a text from Jared saying he had our spot staked out in the usual place. Jared is Brandon's cousin and because he has the misfortune to live in the College Station area, it falls to him to make sure we get our spot reserved. I don't envy him the job; there are too many people's weekend happiness riding on his success or failure. Here's how it works: at noon on the day before a home football game, a horn sounds to bring the Aggie faithful to Mecca, aka as "set-up day". I envision something akin to the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, with Aggies scurrying like ants all over the campus to stake out their precious tailgate spots. Naturally, those who have been squatting for years on the same spit of land get very territorial, and woe to any newbie who tries to shoehorn in so much as an ice chest.
We have had so much fun with our current setup, that we don't miss the country club affairs of our earlier years. Well, there was one exception last season when the wind was so bad, with grit stinging the skin and getting into eyes, that we were flat-out miserable. Unluckily, we had chosen that day for a fish fry, and the two deep fat fryers had to be sequestered in a building alcove for safety's sake. Even with the windbreak, leaves and other debris got blown into the fryers, harassing our two fry cooks to no end. Here's a picture:
As I said, we don't miss the country club scene. Football wasn't meant to be stuffy and fussy and dressy-uppy. Check out the photos below from last Saturday's SEC inaugural. It's a shame the football team didn't come through with a win, but we had an awesome day, regardless!
Midnight yell practice: http://tamutimes.tamu.edu/2012/09/19/texas-ams-sec-debut-delivers-over-6-5m-in-media-exposure/#.UpLSduJW-Gs
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