Saturday, June 8, 2013

25 Notes on Escaping to the Ocean


Margaritaville
  1. The shortest way to the Gulf from southwestern Missouri is east from Springfield across US 60 to US 63 and then down through Mammoth Springs and Hardy, Arkansas. Shortly thereafter, the rolling Ozark Plateau flattens out to become the edge of the great bottomland that stretches more than 50-miles to Old Man River. Almost immediately, the hill country timberland changes to plains of cropland, much of which is planted in rice—yes, rice at 35-degrees north latitude. I've been across this expanse of flatland numerous times, and the low-diked plots of 40-to-80 acres of rice never fail to amaze.
  2. The further south traveled in this early summer of 2013, the lower the price for regular gasoline. Missouri pumps at $3.49. The lowest paid was in rural Mississippi, north of Gulfport, where it was priced at $3.13 per gallon.
  3. Cattle are outnumbered by Nissan vehicles in Mississippi, apparently because there is a huge Nissan manufacturing plant at Jackson, Mississippi and much of the land between Hattiesburg and the Tennessee border is given over to pulpwood pine, trees 40, 50, or 60 feet tall and less than one foot in diameter. 
  4. I couldn't decide if the vines wrapping the dead pines along the roadside were kudzu.

  5. Once a grilled oyster
    There is one long public beach between Pass Christian and Ocean City, Mississippi, almost entirely all accessible to the public. In random spots there are piers, boat docks, restaurants, casinos, an oil refinery, and the port of Gulfport, but there remains dozens of miles of white sand, only randomly occupied by swimmers, sunbathers, and vacationers at the first of June. US Highway 90 fronts the beaches, a four-lane structure, on the north side of which are built the aforementioned casinos, restaurants of every stripe (try the grilled oysters at White Cap in Long Beach), hotels, all interspersed with grand old mansions (durable survivors of hurricanes, some built atop piers, some note) and new structures (most built on piers). In a few places, the houses are protected by sand berms or small levees, but mostly they have a clear view of the Gulf horizon. Prices range from $500,000 to $5,000,000 (we looked), and commercial lots scoured clear of structures by Hurricane Katrina are priced in the millions.
  6. Miles and miles of open beach
    Actuaries rule insurance. Given the frequency of powerful hurricanes striking the Mississippi Gulf Coast—let's say, one each fifteen years—would we be forced to assume
    the insurance rates on that $500,000 home might range toward $25,000 to $50,000 annually?
  7. The waiter at Steve's Marina said he lived 4-miles inland, no doubt marking the distance where housing prices begin to reach middle-class income affordable amounts.
  8. Margaritas taste different everywhere, even from one side of the highway to the other.
  9. Beer gives me a headache. Light beer givens me a headache and rapid heartbeat. Tequila makes things tolerable.
  10. Oysters are really better grilled than raw.
  11. Crab fingers seem to be the equivalent of chicken nuggets—i.e., the means of using former butcher scraps into something edible by batter and deep frying.
  12. I remember at the end of the Vietnam war many Vietnamese refugee fishermen settled in Texas and Louisiana and took up shrimping. There were several boats at Pass Christian, Mississippi with Vietnamese names.
    Flying for crumbs
  13. Shrimp boats are exceedingly small considering their meant to fish on open ocean water.
  14. If you're eating a banana somewhere east of the Mississippi River, it's likely it arrive from the tropics at Gulfport, Mississippi. At the entrance to the docks, there were innumerable Dole and Chiquita containers stacked awaiting loading for shipment inland.
  15. The consistently most traveler-friendly hotel chain seems to be Holiday Inn Express. Room rates are relatively high—think $100—but the staff is friendly, the facility is clean top to bottom, there are pools, and there's a complimentary breakfast.
  16. Pools are a must when traveling with children.
  17. A complimentary breakfast—invariably both plentiful and good, with eggs, pancakes, hot cereals, yogurt, etc.—knocks $25 to $30 off the effective room price when four people are traveling.
  18. AT&T provides 4G service between Springfield, MO and Long Beach, MS almost
    Wading for dinner
    continuously, excepting a few dead spots.
  19. The iPhone (4S model) and Google Maps provides service equal to or better than TomTom in finding the way point-to-point.
  20. The TomTom lost satellite connection several times in southern Mississippi.
  21. The iPhone eats battery power when Google Map'ing. A wise traveler would use the battery connection plug-in to tap into the vehicle's 12-volt system.
  22. The four-year-old TomTom might perform better with the paid update.
  23. Met a USAF mechanic with 11-years in service at hotel pool-side. He'd done several tours in the stan-land, including Afghanistan, and he was using his 30 day leave to give his elementary-school age daughter a near-circumnavigation of the USA, beginning in NM, across the south to FL, then up the seacoast to Maine, and then across the northern tier to Montana before heading home to New Mexico.
  24. It is necessary to visit Graceland but once. There is little to see, or to contemplate, unless one is a rabid Elvis fan. The house is small. The grounds are very nice. The souvenirs are over-priced. His aircraft is unaccessible to anyone using a wheelchair. There is no discount even if one's surname is Presley. 
  25. No matter how accommodating, there is a milieu, a dynamic, an aura within a hotel room that makes it seem never-quite-home, at least for me. A member of my family is the manager of a relatively posh hotel, and he tells me that he has one client that lives in his hotel permanently. She is an older lady, and rents a suite. She eats her meals, generally, in the hotel's restaurant. It makes sense, in some measure. Free parking. Shuttle service to the airport if one is ready to travel. Maid service. No utilities. No insurance. I would guess her expenses are perhaps $5,000 a month, which depending on retirement income, may not be unreasonable. But I wonder if her suite feels like home to her?
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