"Whatever ails you the cure is the same: saltwater. Be it sweat, tears, or the sea." - Anon.
Of those three options, the last has always been my choice. Summers have always been a time of rejuvenation marked with a trip, visit, or move to the beach. The ocean is the great sauna of the soul, a distraction from current or approaching realities. At age seven, those frothy shores provided an opportunity to splash in the waves, dive for seashells, and construct sand based cities. By age twelve, the beach was a place to hone body surfing lest an opportunity to go pro in such a sport presented itself all the while delaying the onset of becoming a teenager.
There was a summer before the dawn of the Age of Terrorism spent among the piney beaches of Sea Island supervising the Turnipseed boys and the daughters of Coca-Cola. The summer after that spent pirating from a base in Tortola ferrying dive tanks and bags of ice in a rigid inflatables, slaloming around the British Virgin Islands. At night, I honed a taste for good Caribbean rum and chasing women. It should be easy to figure out which one I was better at (hint: there are eight rums in my liquor cabinet and one wife in my house). Another summer was spent living on Ono Island and deep frying Captain's Platters. 3 oysters, 3 shrimp, a crabcake, some clams, and amberjack, battered, fried, and served with toast, fries, and tartar, chased with a visit to the Flora-Bama. Another summer brought me to the beaches of Southern France and Northeast Spain, where the water was as icy as a martini.
This time we headed to the beach for a trip before the impending responsibility of parenthood. The natural target meant we were going to the Gulf Coast. That white diamond and emerald bracelet of land and sea stretching from the USS Alabama to Florida's elbow. Hoping on I-10 and heading east fills me with the same excitement as falling asleep at age six on Christmas Eve. Eventually we decide to pull off Eisenhower's folly and head for the less traveled road. This gives us the opportunity to pass by the Red Bar (below) in Grayton Beach.
I do not believe in time travel, but I do believe in place travel. And this spot has managed to transport an English pub located in the Ste. Germaine or Latin Quarter to a beach in Florida. The servers are French or Belgian, the beer cold, and the food spectacular. Crusty fish and chips are perked up with a liberal dousing of malt vinegar. A plump and juicy chicken sandwich from this spot was the single best thing I have eaten this year. That is no idle boast.
We stayed in a carriage house in Rosemary Beach, perfect for just the two of us. We dropped our bags and soon we were walking along the beach and preparing for an invasion into the water. After a quick swim and a drink or two, it was off to the Cowgirl Kitchen for a delicious sausage dip and thin crust pizza. The rest of the trip was mainly devoted to sitting on the beach, eating Pringles and thick slices of Creole tomatoes, soaking in the water, and doing less than nothing. But we did manage a trip to Seaside to check out Barefoot BBQ. The BBQ was dry, but the macaroni and cheese was fantastic. Avoid George's in Alys Beach. The care and cooking don't nearly justify the prices.
A few days later, we woke up at six a.m. and were the first on the beach. One last trip into the water. One last sink of the toes into the sand. One last opportunity to listen to the waves break a few yards out. You ready to go, I asked. "Not really...but I guess we have to," said Lindsay.
On the way home we took the longest route possible. Not willing to jump on the interstate and get home in a hurry. We passed cheesy beach shops peddling t-shirts, boogie boards, and shovels, condominiums with their parking lots full of RVs, and two tiki carving markets within one thousand yards of each other on Hwy. 98. At the second one I found a deal, a tiki carved from a palm tree; another souvenir, a lasting memory from a visit to the place where the land meets ocean.