Column | Sun, sand, seafood and pig puppets
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 chemicals.
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.