For the past
dozen summers, my family has made the drive of nine or more hours
(depending on the number of putrid gas station restrooms we visit)
from East Texas to Orange
Beach, Alabama. This year, in addition to my wife and three daughters,
I was accompanied by my mother, my in-laws and two of our nieces,
so the drive basically took the entire month of July.
Our reasons for repeatedly traveling to Orange beach are simple:
it's a relatively inexpensive vacation that keeps our children happily
occupied for several days and allows us to avoid going to Disney
World. Although I enjoy being with my family away from the hustle
and bustle of work, school and boyfriend drama, one needs to accept
the reality of the beach. People are always touting the beautiful
sugar-white sand of The Emerald Coast. What they seem to have forgotten
is that sand is really just dirt that's had a bath. In fact, the
bath water is teeming with millions of organisms, and none of them
are housebroken. Why do you think it's salty?
And then there's the dreaded sunscreen ritual. Before we ever get
the pleasure of frolicking around in the water and lodging enough
sand in our crevices to accommodate a family of meerkats, we subject
ourselves to enhanced sunscreen interrogation techniques, primarily
performed by my wife. If sunscreen were paint, my wife would be
Jackson Pollock. She applies it with such gusto and in such vast
quantities that I'm pretty sure it's contributing to climate change.
Despite all of the whining, wailing and whimpering (mostly from
the girls), she always manages to get us fully protected from the
natural rays of the sun by coating us in a thick layer of synthetic
My consolation for putting up with the sunscreen and sand is that
all of these activities are interrupted periodically by patronizing
some of my favorite restaurants on the planet. Since I only visit
these places once a year, I feel like I have to eat enough to make
it last-and embarrass everyone at the table. Whether we dine at
The Original Oyster House, Lartigue's Seafood Market, or Lillian's
Pizza, it's always a beautiful reunion memorialized with the maximum
recommended dose of Pepto.
After dinner, we usually visit one of about a thousand delightfully
tacky souvenir shops lining the main drag along the beach-because
no trip to the ocean would be complete without trying to decide
between a shellacked puffer fish or a shark tooth necklace, all
lovingly made in Taiwan. Actually, my daughters usually choose a
memento that has nothing to do with the beach. One time we came
home with a pig puppet that made an oinking noise, and this year's
purchases included a t-shirt emblazoned with a smiling llama. Ah,
treasures from the ocean!
As night falls on the beach, we like to spend an hour or two tormenting
the local wildlife, namely the native ghost crabs skittering along
the shoreline. Equipped with flashlights and overpriced plastic
critter nets, we flail around like spastic badminton players trying
to capture as many crabs as possible. My main goal in this endeavor
is to avoid getting wet or spraining an important appendage. Inevitably,
though, I'm called upon to run into the surf to get "that big one"
with the massive claws that can't wait to test my resistance to
cursing when I pick it up through the net. Once we have a bucket
full of these weaponized cockroaches, we stand in a circle and perform
the release ceremony, which results in lots of high-pitched squeals
(mostly from the girls).
The yearly trip to Orange Beach has become a special tradition for
our family. In fact, I'm already feeling the longing to head back
east and make more precious memories with my wife, daughters and
steamed shrimp. Until then, I can always get out my pig puppet and
wear my llama t-shirt to remind me of the ocean.