There were a number of interesting groups staying at our Fairfield Inn in Orange Beach. When we went down to get our complimentary breakfast yesterday morning, the lobby was abuzz with a little league baseball team from Puerto Rico. Teenage boys munched on corn dogs (yes, for breakfast) and futzed with the waffle machine.
After an hour or so off weights and running in the hotel's small but functional "fitness center", I finally saw an alligator. The lazy reptile apparently hangs out in the canal that ran beside our hotel, and was totally uninterested in the many people who crowded around to watch him loll about in the water. There was even a sign on the fence that read: "Do not feed the alligator." I did not get close enough to measure him, but my guess is that he was about as long as I am tall. I know he has many very sharp teeth and enough jaw strength to break my femur, but watching him move slowly through the water didn't strike fear into my heart. It also didn't inspire me to take a dip in the canal.
But we weren't in Orange Beach to see 'gators. We'd come to see the Gulf coast, and we went to Gulf State Park to do that. I didn't know what to expect when I got to the beach. Truthfully I expected to smell oil--or gasoline. I expected to see pelicans drooping with tar and ducks drowning in black crude. I did not see what I expected to see. The first thing I saw when I walked down the little ramp from the parking lot to the beach was this sign:
The phrase "oil-related chemicals" is an interesting locution. Are they talking about the oil itself? The dispersant? Some other unknown oil-related chemical? And the word was "advised" not to swim, not a terribly strong statement, and one which a few brave (or stupid) souls clearly ignored. We did not swim.
I'd heard the phrase "tar balls on the beach" again and again, and a few of my loyal readers even requested that I bring them a tar ball or two. To that request I can only say: go to Gulf State Park; walk 50 feet in either direction from the entrance, keeping your eyes on your feet the whole time. You will have tar balls of many shapes and sizes and sheens to choose from. The word "ball" is misleading because it suggests something round, like a golf or tennis ball. And there is something orderly about the word that is distinctly untrue of the deep brown globs and slabs and chunks of oil we stepped over and around on our brief walk down the beach. Let me not misrepresent the facts. Most of the sand on the beach was white. And there were quite a few people sitting out on the beach under their umbrellas, enjoying the sun, building sand-castles, frolicking in the surf (though very few swimmers). The sea birds I saw (and we saw plenty) were not covered in oil and appeared no worse for wear from the disaster.
What strikes me about this particular disaster (and I am sure there are places much worse off than Gulf Shores, AL) is that in some places people will be able to ignore it--or almost ignore it. The people we saw sitting in their chairs by the water, reading novels and drinking beer out of koozies appeared to be doing their best to do just that. Their was still enough sand on the beach that wasn't contaminated for us to enjoy. But every few steps something brown and sticky popped out or stuck to my feet. And I could see where last night's tide stopped hours after the sand had dried because of the brown stain the water left.
I hope that's the worst Gulf Shores and Orange Beach sees. Of course as I write this sentence another 42 gallons of oil (a barrel) has already risen out of the earth and into the Gulf.
We drove on to New Orleans. We are staying in the French Quarter, a block down from Bourbon St. And on Bourbon St. there's very little evidence (save the many drinks with hurricane related names) of Katrina. But driving into town I could see that many houses and clusters of houses are stills boarded up. I was surprised to see so many skeletons of houses, structures without walls, just the framing and a few scraps of roof remaining. Today we're going to go out into the city and see more for ourselves.
I dislike Bourbon St, or at least the most touristy part of it up the street from our hotel. It seems like a seedy Disneyland--self-contained, self-referential, and self-indulgent. And expensive. We did manage to find a Rio Mar, a nice seafood restaurant on the other side of Canal St. where we had a fine meal. We are both a little tired of fried food, but we found the yuca fries and the fried eggplant with honey glaze delicious. And we both had fish from the Gulf that was well-cooked and didn't taste anything at all like oil.
So we went looking for an after dinner drink. We took the obligatory stroll down Bourbon street and saw very young looking girls wearing nothing but booty shorts and nipple pasties. And we heard rock and blues (almost no jazz) played at such high volumes it seemed impossible that the music from one bar didn't interfere with the music from another. And men in suits attempted to persuade us to come in and get lap dances. ("Nothing says I love you like buying your man a lap dance.") And we decided pretty quickly to get the hell off of bourbon street, so we wandered down Dauphine street, until we came across a dark, fairly quiet place called Good Friends Bar. I wonder what it means that I am more comfortable in a New Orleans gay bar than I am on Bourbon St. It is also worth noting that Rebecca didn't realize we were in a gay bar until I pointed it out, about half way through our 5 dollar Heinekens.
I forgot to mention that when we checked into our Hotel we ran into a former colleague and his girlfriend. We went our for drinks with them at the quiet, dark and expensive Bombay Club, the bar attached to our hotel, where we told them the story of how we got together. That's too long a tale to get into now, but it was a nice way to spend our evening (and a hundred dollars on drinks). At one point they even compared the telling of our tale to the 1989 Rob Reiner classic: "When Harry Met Sally".
We had beignets for breakfast this morning.