Thursday, August 12, 2010

Florida Escaped

Florida Escaped.

We flew from Tallahassee as fast as we could. This was it – the day we were to leave this state. We were to be free – free at last. But then, of course, something caught my eye.

I saw a sign for Pensacola. I don't know anything about Pensacola - I don't even know why I know the name of the town, but I do. Seeing it just off the interstate left me with no choice but to veer of course, and prolong our stay in this place of terror and horror.

Alright, so Florida isn't really all that bad – how could a place with a free Naval museum be anything but, at least passable?

In Pensacola if you'd like to see it, you can head on down to the military base and check out their air plane museum. It's free. And to be honest, pretty wonderful. Before getting there you must pass through a check point, and obtain a permit. It's a simple painless process, but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who has anything on them that they shouldn't. Access here is for a military base. Seeing that once in you were just told what roads to take and then left to your own devices was a little strange. But then again, surrounded by the military, in a gated community what are you really going to try to do?

The museum has an F-14 out front, and so many more fighters inside. There's a three hour tour, if you're really interested – but then you're listening to someone talk for three hours. We tried, we really did, but it just went on and on. Every time the guide said he wasn't going to talk about something, he then spent a dozen minutes describing what it was, and why it wasn't something he'd want to get into.

I have nothing but respect for the retired flier, but lordy could he go on.

Aside from just looking – and touching – the planes, there were also cockpit trainers you could jump into. For me, it's probably the closest I'll ever get to being in a fighter jet. Although, I never expected to spend a year travelling the world either, so stranger things could happen.

The pictures are goo enough to fulfill that desire within me. I couldn't help but wish my cousin was here – at a young age he loved planes, and it was his enthusiasm that got me into them. Without him, I'd have never seen Top Gun, and then what type of man would I have been?

Most importantly – there was a gift shop which sold astronaut ice cream. Yes, the hard chalking bricky substance that felt like nails on chalk boards when bit through, but when dissolving on your tongue becomes such a unique and near-forgotten experience.

The strangest thing about the entire museum was seeing images of US Naval blimps. Zeppelins are things I had only even pictured the Nazis using. And even then, only the Nazis thrown overboard by Indiana Jones. Apparently there was one incident where a Navy blimp crash landed without any officers on board. Top Secret documents remained behind, by those who should have been piloting were never heard from again.

And then, only then, could we finally put Florida behind us. Into Alabama we crossed. In all my time in America over the years, this was my first time getting into foreign locations. This part of the country remained as mysterious and mystical – the further west we pushed, the stronger these feelings would become. Still, things started slow. We were to spend the night in Mobile, but getting there and finding it with little to offer we quickly pressed on. Nothing to offer except for quaint houses, beautiful streets canopied with foliage, and a feeling of being back in yester-year, that is.

We made haste to Bayou Le Batre, home of Bubba. Mobile was where Forrest Gump was born and raised, and when the text described his bus journeys from one city to the other, I pictured them as long drawn out affairs – not the half hour drive it really would have been.

Bubba's town seemed desolate as well, though some side roads contained homes low to the ground, and not at all overblown – the type you'd expect to find, and are indeed delighted to find when perception becomes reality.

There was one saving grace – we were hungry. The welcome sign claimed this place as having the best sea food in the state, and if the shrimpin' business was anything like in he book and movie that brought us here, that would be the case. I plugged in sea food and let the GPS find us a place to eat. Its first location was long since gone, but the second – Lighthouse Restaurant – seemed to still exist. In the middle of nowhere it stood, parking lot nearly full. A good sign. Inside it felt like the place your family returns to night after night. Everyone would know everyone, and the staff would be a family all their own. This was the south I had been seeking.

And if there was a decorated Christmas tree in the middle of summer? Well then so be it.

We ordered the sea food platter, nacho fries, and award winning gumbo. And the food did not disappoint. The gumbo was good, and any fries with Jalapeños on them are perfect in my eyes. The sea food? Well it's food that really makes you feel like you've experienced a place. Now I've tried to eat when I've travelled, but it was this meal – after so much fast food – that really reminded me what dinner could be. The bill would remind me why I experienced this so irregularly, but that would be later. The hardest part was determining what was what. Fish, shrimp, crab, and claws all look a little alike when pulled from the deep fryer. Still, throw on some Heinze 57, and you're good to go.

After dinner it was just a matter of finding a place to sleep for the night. Alabama was out, as we had no Room Saver guide, and I could not bear to pay full price. Then Mississippi was cut due to its information centre being closed, and not supplying the guides outside. They taunted me through the window. Still, it was late, and we needed sleep. Motels would be abandoned for camp sites. It is with great dismay that I discovered you can not get a camp site after seven at night in these states, as the offices were closed. With the clock nearly ten our time was long past.

RV sites, found from signs on the highway proved the same – closed, or private (why advertise then?!) - we pushed on to Louisiana. I had become quite familiar with this state from the quarter that keeps popping up in our change every other day. This has also led to some unfair annoyance with the state. In our quest to collect all fifth (or more is the territories have them) any 'special coin' we already have is just a blow against us. And when it keeps showing up? How many of these ones did they mint?

Things didn't look good as we neared the information centre, but luck would be ours. One final copy remained, pointing out a cheap place on the outskirts of New Orleans. Our path was set, an we were off. The Big Easy: Here we come.

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