Nolan Travels -- Happy trails from Lewis & Betty Nolan
Nolan Travels Getaways 2004
Travel by Lewis & Betty Nolan
Betty and Lewis Nolan
Petite Passage Ferry
Nova Scotia, June 2004
Casey Nolan and dad Lewis at
Tubac Golf Resort, AZ
Betty Nolan and son Casey
in Nogales, Mexico,
Casey and Betty, his mom, at mission San Xavier del Bac
outside Tucson, November
Santa Lewis with Dickins, the
dog elf at home Christmas, 2004
Betty in front of pottery
sign in Nogales, Mexico
What remains of a house
on the beach after a hurricane. December, 2004
Page Updated Feb. 21, 2008
By LEWIS NOLAN
Feb. 5 –8, 2004
Betty and I left Memphis about 2:30 p.m. and drove to Bay Minette, AL on Thursday in her Mustang Sally convertible. Bay Minette, on the eastern side of Mobile Bay, is the site where the Baldwin County Board of Equalization hears appeals for property appraisals at Gulf Shores. We were among condo owners who were faced with drastically higher property taxes due to a county-wide reassessment by the county Appraiser.
Notwithstanding any improvements to our property, we were faced with an increase in perceived value to $88,000, a figure that seemed to be way out of line with what recent sales prices and offers for our and similar condos indicated. Our tiny condo (425 square feet) had been on the market for 18 months at a price of $72,500. But despite using the services of the excellent Kaiser Realty, we had only one solitary offer – for $67,000.
To me, that offer – which was loaded with contingencies – put a realistic value on the condo at $67,000. Making the expense of my preparation and research work required to make a 900-mile round trip to appeal the appraisal was a burden to me. But I had been through the tax appeal process before and fared reasonably well, so I was going forward with the appeal in hopes of reducing the property tax burden.
Until this trip, we had normally driven my Ford Taurus station wagon to Gulf Shores for working trips and vacations. But it already had 54,000 miles on it and I was hoping to drive it for two or more years longer before trading in the Taurus before it hits the magic "sell" mark of 75,000 miles.
For the drive south, we had quite a lot of rain that was heavy in sections, making for a stressful and tiring journey. As usual, we had barbequed chicken breasts for dinner the previous night and made trip sandwiches out of leftovers. We carried a small ice chest of TABs and some cold water. We arrived at the Bay Minette Day’s Inn motel about 9:30 p.m. It was the only motel in town with a name that was familiar to us and I had booked a room at $50 on the Internet.
We arose at 7 a.m. the next morning and had breakfast of ham we had brought from home and free bagels the motel provided, plus some Danish pastry and a bit of fruit.
Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I discovered when we got home that our telephone voice mail had a message from an area real estate agent who claimed her firm was interested in buying my condo. I can be a suspicious guy and wondered if they had somehow been tipped to my tax appeal and figured that I might willing to sell for a "song." As it turned out, a substantial offer for the Gulf Village condo complex came a few weeks later. Had I sold in response to the real estate firm’s interest, that buyer stood to make a killing on a quick turnaround.
My five-minute hearing before the Board of Equalization seemed to go well. My condo’s tax appraisal was accordingly reduced later to $62,000, with taxes due of $409.20 after I advanced arguments that the building was essentially worthless and the value of the building had been severely cut by the storm damage from Hurricane Ivan. I offered the fact that the lack of offers despite having the property on the market for 18 months was proof that greatly diminished the appraisal value.
After the hearing, we drove to the Comfort Inn at Gulf Shores and checked in. We then had a quick lunch at the State Park golf course snackbar just a few miles away. Betty left me there to play golf while she went into the town of Gulf Shores to shop. I had hoped to play 18 holes but a sore knee persuaded me to stop after 9 holes. It was a chilly day and I shot a very mediocre 49 after two pars, 1 ball put into the water and another ball out-of-bounds.
Betty and I had a great dinner that evening at The Spot, our favorite restaurant at Gulf Shores for many years. Owner Kim Stewart again "jumped" us to the head of the wait line and escorted us to an open table. We had a brief conversation with him about beach property values and taxes. It seemed to us that he and wife Julie might be preparing to sell their long-standing, successful restaurant in about a year. He observed, "Gulf Shores has forever changed." When we got back home in Memphis, I sent the Stewarts a shipment of fabulous ribs from one of our favorite Memphis restaurants, Corky’s.
We had a nice room and decent, included breakfast buffet at the Comfort Inn. I stayed with the sliced ham and low-carb bread brought from home, partly to offset the caloric consequences of the breaded, fried shrimp, French fries and shrimp gumbo from the previous night at The Spot.
We pulled out of Gulf Shores about 9:30 a.m. the next morning (a Saturday) for the 3-½ hour drive to New Orleans. The weather was good for the drive, cool and sunny. I had arranged on the Internet service of Priceline a $240-a-night room at the Marriot on Canal Street for a remarkably low price of $80, plus another $45 to cover parking and taxes. The Marriot is a very nice, downtown hotel in a prime location on the working edge of the French Quarter and only a short walk from the ferry on the Mississippi River. We had stayed there about 15 years ago when the Sheraton Hotel across the street had frozen water pipes during a terrible ice storm around Christmas.
Poking around the French Quarter while afoot took up most of Saturday afternoon. The temp was on the cool side, but fine for walking. We enjoyed a Mardi Gras parade demonstration by Big Chief Monk Boudreau of the Golden Indians, offered by the National Park Service office in the Quarter as a tourism development program. We also saw a marching, brass band (a group other than the famous Olympia Band) and other sidewalk/street entertainers during our outing.
We split half of a famous Central Grocery muffaletta (a huge po’ boy sandwich) while sitting on a bench overlooking the Mississippi River and the Quarter’s Jackson Square. The sandwich was delicious and the view of river traffic was fabulous.
Even better was a wonderful dinner we ate at our favorite restaurant in both New Orleans and the planet – Galatoires. I had Oysters Rockefeller followed by sautéed lemon fish served with crabmeat. Betty had shrimp au vin (with wine). We both had green salads and for dessert she enjoyed a flan. By chance, we had a female waitress for the first time there in many years. The small world saying was hard at work since the waitress was married to a medical student about to do a residency at the University of California at Davis, which was where one of my brothers went to college and is not far from the Sacramento I grew up in.
After eating, Betty and I walked around for a while on Bourbon Street. It was so cold that we returned to the Marriot to read and watch TV.
On Sunday morning, I had a good workout in the hotel’s well-equipped fitness center. We then walked several blocks down Royal Street to one of the Quarter’s three Café Beignets snack stores. Betty thought her beignets tasted a little old, but the coffee was fine. My takeout of a half of a muffeletta was a disappointment even though it had more meat and cheese than the one purchased earlier at Central Grocery.
We drove down Rampart and Esplanade streets to the City Park and New Orleans Botanic Garden. I was surprised to learn that they no longer honored our membership in the Memphis Botanic Garden, which had been reciprocal. So we paid $5 each to tour the New Orleans attraction. It was worth it.
A surprising number of camellias were in full bloom even though it was early February. Also in bloom were magnolias and other trees. Quite a few fall roses and other annuals were still in bloom. The garden’s new conservatory is small but nice.
With the chill of the day, we decided to visit the nearby Sculpture Garden at another time. The drive home to Memphis took nearly six hours, with several stops.
Cycling Around Gulf Shores, Birding by the Bay
March 6 – 14, 2004 – To Gulf Shores, AL
We drove to Gulf Shores in our Ford Taurus station wagon during Betty’s Spring Break from teaching Culinary Arts at Northside High School. On the bike rack at the rear of the wagon was Betty’s new, 10-speed bike and my trusty old mountain bike. We had delightful, sunny weather for the 450-mile drive and looked forward to the opportunity to ride our bikes along the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. The new carrier required several stops to adjust the bar settings, straps and bikes.
What made this trip especially nice was nice, spring weather we enjoyed until the day of our drive home, when the weather turned rainy for most of the way.
Our first dinner in Gulf Shores was, predictably, at our favorite restaurant, The Spot. Owners Kim and Julie Stewart graciously "comped" our excellent meals as their way of saying "thank you" for the great Memphis ribs we had shipped to them a few weeks ago.
I played golf at the State Park course on Sunday, March 7, with Dick Graham of Sycamore, Ill., and another companionable golfer, Fred of Wisconsin. As it turned out, the three of us played together on Wednesday and Dick and I played again on Saturday, March 13.
I hit the ball pretty well on the last day, shooting an 85 despite no birdies and so-so putting and my drive on No. 18 ending up in a pond. On my other days of golf, I shot an 87 and then a 97 (following two days of strenuous exercise on my bike). The temperatures rose into the 60s, making for great weather for both golf and cycling but still a bit cool for Betty to enjoy sunning on the beach while I exercised.
On Sunday, Betty boiled some Royal Red shrimp for dinner. The next day, Monday, we cycled a total of 12 miles, riding the bike lane down the length of West Beach Boulevard from our condo to a ritzy development and back. We then drove north to the Maraculture Center on the northern edge of Gulf Shores and then on to Billy’s Seafood, the Bon Secour River, Weeks Bay and the pier on Mobile Bay at Fairhope, AL. We stopped at a number of marked vantage points of the Alabama Birding Trail. In all, we identified 32 species of birds.
Dinner was again shrimp at The Spot, which was excellent as always. Owner Kim told us they planned to stay open until the end of 2004 then sell their prime, waterfront restaurant property to a developer who is putting together a big parcel that will encompass the entire block adjoining the public beach at the foot of Highway 59. Plans are to build a hotel, with both commercial and restaurant space. I’ve no doubt it will be a wonderful development, but admit to an element of sadness that the laid-back Gulf Shores we’ve come to know and enjoy is rapidly becoming a place of the past.
We checked our email on the Public Library’s Internet terminals, which have a 30-minute use rule due to the number of tourists and snowbirds using the service. Thankfully, the Gulf Shores area schools are not letting out for Spring Break for another week or two. But there are loads of seniors from snow stations who are spending at least part of the winter here. At this time of year we always bump into bunches of nice people here who live in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Canada and other cold climes. Several have their state societies, which meet periodically for breakfast or lunch.
On Tuesday, we pedaled 15 miles. A brisk, cold wind of 20 mph or more blowing from the west made the ride down the beach from the State Park difficult and rather exhausting. That evening, I cooked some flounder a la Emeril. I found the first of two Billy Graham televised crusades filmed in Dallas to be quite interesting.
It was back to the State Park golf course on Wednesday, where my sore and stiff muscles made a mess out of my game. But the company was good.
Betty boiled two or three pounds of Royal Reds shrimp bought two days’ earlier from a nice vendor near Billy’s. However, we found it to be terribly salty, probably a casualty of careless handling.
Later, I visited with Roger Kaiser and Leslie Johnson of Kaiser Realty about taxes and possible property sale issues. I had learned that local real estate magnate Brett-Robinson is offering $6 million for the Gulf Village development, a figure that seems to me to be ridiculously low and is unlikely to get any serious attention from our board of directors.
On Thursday, our plans to visit Dauphin Island across Mobile Bay were once again thwarted by lack of space on the ferry from Fort Morgan. Consequently we lost more than an hour’s driving time when we had to circle back to Gulf Shores and then drive north and west to Mobile and then to Bellingrath Gardens, a beautiful spot on another finger of the bay where some of the old Coca-Cola fortune made possible luxury living amid tropical gardens built by a wealthy franchise holder.
While some of the azaleas were starting to open, we found that we were perhaps two or three weeks from Bellingrath’s flowers being in full bloom and the place being in its full glory. We had fortunately happened to catch it at its peak three or so years ago, when the beautiful azaleas were out but the crowds were surprisingly light. That made for an extraordinarily pleasant day there.
On the drive to Bellingrath from Gulf Shores we noticed a number of trees sported yellow blooms near their tops, the result of climbing Caroline Jasmine vines. At Bellingrath, the blooms we saw included tulips, several fruit trees, pansies and a few early azaleas.
Later, we had a huge treat while we waited for our dinner reservation on a dock adjacent to the Wolf Bay Lodge. We watched a family of dolphins chasing and feeding on fish in the small bay while three ospreys circled overhead. Seeing those wild hawk-like birds perhaps 50 feet away was a rare treat for us. Our dinner at the lodge included delicious fried oysters and crab claws.
We took a lot of pictures at Bellingrath and around the Wolf Bay Lodge on Betty’s new digital camera. We learned that while the ferry is a good way to take bikes across the bay to Dauphin Island, the best way to get there is to drive around the bay and through Mobile and then on Highway 193 off I-10.
Friday was a relaxing day for us. We cycled 8 miles to the Sea Oats condo development and then to the Pass between the Gulf and the Lagoon. We walked about a mile on the beach and talked to some fisherman being carefully watched by nearby Great Blue Herons hoping to be fed an unwanted fish.
I hit a bucket of balls on the practice range of the State Park golf course and finally figured out why I was consistently hooking my drives (I was swaying rather than turning my upper body). That evening, I cooked a so-so skillet of frittata using leftover, very salty shrimp.
At least my golf practice paid off the next day, when I hit 12 fairways, 9 greens and took only 37 putts. Despite chunking a slice into the lake to the right of No. 18’s fairway and sculling a flop shot on No. 9, I still managed to shoot a 42 on the front 9 and 44 on the back nine for an 86. That was a good round for me, especially this early in the year.
While I played golf, Betty spent much of the day packing and cleaning our condo. The inside work was a shame even though the temperature was a bit too cool for relaxed sunning on the beach.
We made it home in just less than 8 hours even though we stopped six times for food, gas, and bathrooms and to shop for tomatoes at the Burris Market in Robertsdale, AL. I was sorry to see such a relaxing trip – made better by our birding and cycling – come to an end.
Old Waverly Round Produces Score of 100
March 29, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
Curtis and I drove from Memphis to Old Waverly in my Taurus station wagon on a beautiful day with sunny skies and the temperature climbing into the 80s.
The beautiful weather brought out more members and guests to play golf than we had seen in a good while so we cut short our pre-round practice and ate lunch in the golf cart. I got a taste of what was to come when I sliced my second shot on No. 1 hole and the ball hit with a 6 iron went into the pond that guards the right of the green.
I ended up shooting a sorry 52 on the front 9 and 48 on the back 9 for a lousy 100. I had only three pars and three-putted six greens. Worse, I lost several balls and strokes to the out-of-bounds. The only part of my game that showed even a glimmer of skill was my putting from 20 or more feet out. Curtis shot a respectable 90, including a 43 on the back 9.
We discussed the impending dues increases the club will make and resolved to make stronger efforts to play at Old Waverly more often.
To Philadelphia, MS for funeral of Charles Trapp
March 22, 2004- To Philadelphia, Miss.
Betty and I drove her Mustang convertible to her childhood hometown of Philadelphia, MS to attend the funeral of her older brother, Charles Trapp.
Betty’s former college roommate and dear friend, SuAnn Turnage, drove over from Jackson, Miss., to comfort Betty. The funeral ended a tragic and sometimes violent life of a mentally disturbed man. Sadly, the burial of Charles in a family plot at the Coy United Methodist church outside town brought a measure of relief to members of the family he had terrorized at times over his lifetime of 47 years.
Among those at the funeral were his and Betty’s other brothers Harvey, Walton and Lamar; nieces and nephews Tonya (with daughter Maggie), Jeff, Lisa; and several cousins from the Stokes side of his family who were all were related to his late mother. Oddly, no cousins from the Trapp side (his father’s name) of the family attended.
Back To Old Waverly for Another Round of 100
March 25, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
Curtis Downs and I drove to Old Waverly in his Lexus on a beautiful, spring day when temperatures climbed into the high 70s.
I struggled with my golf game all day and couldn’t manage even a single par. The round started badly when I put my 5-iron, second shot into the lake to the right of the first hole. In all, I lost five golf balls during the round, a poor showing indeed. I did hit 7 fairways but only 1 green. I took 40 putts overall. While I hit quite a few drives fairly long and straight, I couldn’t catch a break because my near misses ended up "in jail," in the sand or in deep rough.
After our round, I had my usual Old Waverly hamburger plus some excellent, sautéed vegetables. I told club executive Wilkes Bryan and golf coach Bill Colerado how good the food was. Despite my crummy score, it was a very enjoyable day.
To Nashville to lobby for American Cancer Society
March 31, 2004 – To Nashville
I drove my Ford Taurus station wagon to Nashville, state capital of Tennessee, to help the American Cancer Society with their annual "Lobby Day." I’ve been on the board of directors of the Memphis chapter for some years and have tried to use the legislative contacts made in my corporate government relations work to help the Cancer Society when possible.
The drive from Memphis took just over three hours, about the usual amount of time for 200 miles of Interstate highway. Upon arrival I checked into the Union Station, a Wyndham Historic Hotel in the renovated, Romanesque train station in downtown Nashville a few blocks from Legislative Plaza. I got a great rate, $55 a day through Priceline – that was about one-third the customary cost. My room was huge and well furnished and appointed. The ceiling was at least 15 feet high. Before retiring from Schering-Plough, where I served as Vice President of Communications and had responsibility for government relations, I routinely stayed at a Crown Plaza Hotel across the street from the Legislative Plaza, where rates were close to $200 a day but the bar "watering hole" offered easy contact with numerous legislators.
I had a delicious lunch of baked chicken in Arthur’s Bistro in the Union Station hotel, supposedly one of the city’s best. I took the hotel shuttle to the Legislative Plaza, where I met with ACS’ Chastity Mitchell and picked up a handful of lobbying material at registration in the War Memorial Building’s Auditorium.
My initial thought was that the registration process for volunteer lobbyists like me who had traveled from across the state had not been very well thought out. Of course, my corporate background had made me accustomed to the smooth processes that corporate resources make possible.
With ACS lobbying material in hand and a checklist of officials to see, I worked the Plaza suites of offices and met briefly with Sen. Curtis Person and Rep. Paul Stanley. Both are Memphis-based co-sponsors of bills that ACS is pushing that would restore local government control over tobacco products. This is necessary, we volunteer lobbyists were taught to say, because the Tennessee Farm Bureau did an end run around the health organizations several years ago and put control over tobacco at the state level. That made it much easier for the tobacco company Political Action Committees and farmers to block smoking cessation legislation.
I also visited with Senator Roscoe Dixon and the staffs Senators Cohen, Kyle, Ford and Norris plus several staffers working for various state representatives from Memphis. I was disappointed to be rudely brushed off by one (a smoker who later was sent to prison for accepting bribes).
It pleased me that a big crowd of ACS volunteers (many of whom wore distinctive tee-shirts) crowded the legislative hallways and meeting rooms. However, I was disappointed that the end-of-day reception – to which all members of the Legislature were invited – was so cheap and shabby when compared to the various corporate and business trade association gatherings I had attended over the years. The cheap barbeque pork and potato chips meal was served on paper plates and there were only two, slow-moving self-service lines. It was the first reception I recall that didn’t serve beer, wine or any alcoholic drinks to the always-thirsty legislators.
I quickly decamped the reception and walked back to the hotel, a trek of 1.5 miles. I picked up a quick hamburger at McDonald’s and a beer at an adjacent Exxon station and ate in my hotel room. I then drove 15-20 miles to Watkins College in the Metro Center on the outskirts of Nashville, where I attended a regular monthly meeting of the Tennessee Screenwriters Association. I’ve been a member for several years but rarely attend the Nashville meetings.
About 10 members of the group were there and the new president of TSA, Jeff Chase, warmly greeted me. We read and critiqued 16 pages of Jeff’s new thriller screenplay set on an Arizona trail ride. He had lived in Phoenix for 20 years and offered much insight into the area’s geography. We also reviewed a sample of the work by TSA member Pete about a comedy involving the sale of a TV station. I met TV writer Tom Robertson, who impressed me with his familiarity with my employer’s former Plough Broadcasting subsidiary and also another former employer, Scripps-Howard Newspapers, publisher of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis and the Knoxville News Sentinel in East Tennessee.
It probably wasn’t a particularly wise thing for visitor to do, but I informally debated with former TSA president Bob Giordano the dissolution of the Memphis Screenwriters Association’s affiliation with TSA. Bob seemed to me to have more talent as a scriptwriter than as the builder of an organization. I also chatted with TSA past president Glenn Whelan, a nice guy.
I got back to the hotel about 9 p.m., had a couple of drinks, telephoned Betty and went to bed. About 5 a.m. next morning, a Thursday, a jerk of a locomotive engineer gunned his motors just as his train passed the outside of the hotel. My room’s windows were rattled and I was among the hotel guests awakened, as he of course intended.
I had some bacon and toast at the hotel and checked out at 8:30 a.m. I drove a few miles to the new home of a long-time pal, former Memphian and corporate lobbyist Neil O’Brien, and his wife, on the other side of Nashville. It was great visiting with them and touring their beautiful home on a huge lot in the countryside. I then departed at 10:15 a.m. for the drive back to Memphis on a partly cloudy day, arriving at my home in Memphis at 1:30 p.m.
Old Waverly Gives Up a ‘93’ score
April 9, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly with my best golfing buddy, Curtis Downs, in my Ford Taurus station wagon on a delightful, spring day. My day on the golf course was so-so, losing five balls but still shooting 45 on the front 9 and 48 on the back 9 for a total score of 93.
At least that was an improvement over the last couple of times I had played the course. I hit the ball fairly well but had trouble scoring well, at least partly due to bad luck. I missed the No. 15 green by no more than 18 inches. But the ball nonetheless rolled left down the shaved bank and into the water. Later, I bitched to golf pro V. J. about the "chickenshit" hole design that encouraged such crappy action since a huge oak tree to the right of the green forces approach shots to the left portion of the green.
I also bitched to him about the unusually poor quality of the sautéed vegetables the clubhouse grill served.
Curtis shot a 90 but wasn’t happy about it. In all the years we’ve played at Old Waverly and elsewhere, the pattern has emerged that his score is typically 10 shots below mine. He’s a better golfer and always has been. But if I’m no more than 10 shots above him, I usually feel that I’m "on my game" for the day.
Going Low at Old Waverly With a ‘91’
April 15, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly with Curtis Downs in his leased Lexus on a beautiful day, under sunny skies and a temperature in the mid 70s. We listened to a Memphis music CD I brought along and also his country music CDs.
Luckily, I played better as the day progressed and shot a 48 on the front 9 and an amazing 43 on the back 9 for a total of 91. Curtis was off his usual very good game, shooting a 93. I was glad to shoot such a good score since I lost three balls because of miss-hits and declared one ball "unplayable" and took the customary penalty. My only birdie was on Hole No. 15, where I hit a 5 iron off the tee and then an 8 iron to the green.
I had a bogey on No. 13 after hitting a 4 iron, 7 iron and then a wedge, which was a better strategy than hitting a driver off the tee for me and risking a slice into the out-of-bounds to the fairway’s left or a hook to the woods on the right.
After our round, I introduced Curtis and club manager Bill Collerado to the delight of fresh berries served drenched in the French liquor Cointreau that has a sweet, lemony flavor.
Golf at Old Waverly With ‘Iron Mike’ and Curtis
May 11, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
Curtis Downs drove his Lexus to Old Waverly with our former boss, Mike Pietrangelo, and me as passengers. It was a beautiful day; with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 80s. During the drive we had some great conversation about our years of working together at Schering-Plough Consumer Operations.
Predictably, Curtis was the best-scoring golfer of the day, shooting an 86. Mike, who doesn’t play very often, hit some good drives but was weak in his chipping and putting, scoring a 108. My putting was beyond awful. I three-putted eight times in all, for a total putting score of 43 that included several misses of three feet or less. Worse, some of my long putts missed by 8-to-10 feet. I was embarrassed so it must be time to "retire" my Ping putter for my older model with a wooden shaft.
I hit a lot of slices on the front 9 but my driving improved to "OK" on the back 9, when I hit 6 of 7 fairways. Curtis kindly remarked that my drives on Nos. 10 and 15 were the longest he had ever seen me hit. With the wind at my back, I knocked the drive on No. 15 about 250 yards, but still bogeyed the hole after slicing my second shot with a three-wood into the rough – behind a tree. Happily, I was on 4 of the last 4 greens in regulation, but failed to par the holes due to my poor putting.
Casey Sees Dad’s Poor Play at Old Waverly
May 20, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
Casey was home from Harvard for a visit so we drove his Ford Explorer to Old Waverly to play golf. We had a beautiful day for the round. He shot a pretty good score of 89 while I slopped my way to a 102.
Nothing in my game was working. I lost several golf balls. My iron play was awful and my putting even worse, with a total of eight three-putts.
But on the positive side, Casey and I had a good conversation about his plans for the future. He was a complete gentleman and spotted me lots of strokes. But I still lost $3 to him on a Nassau bet.
Dad wins a bet on Re-match at Old Waverly
May 25, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove with Casey to Old Waverly in his Ford Explorer for a rematch of our long-running golf games. This trip, I took some extra time warming up by hitting more practice balls than usual and working on my putting game.
My practice at the club – combined with the practice putting on the carpet in our Memphis home’s sunroom – seemed to pay off. My recent pattern of excessive three-putts (on this day five of them) continued, but at least I had some close misses from 4-to-6 feet out. My iron play was happily much improved from recent trys. Once I got past three mulligans on No. 1, my driving was OK. Casey hit several monster drives, including one nearly 300 yards long. He rolled through the Par 5 Nos. 9 and 15 in 2. His putting was unfortunately weak – two seemingly sure birdie putts stopped 1 inch short – so he shot a good 87. I shot a respectable 93 but still won a $2 Nassau bet.
Casey spotted me a half-stroke per hole on the front 9. But after I won that side by 3 strokes we adjusted the "spot" to 1 for the match and only ½ stroke on each of the par 4’s on the back 9. That turned out to be a fair handicap for the back 9 since we ended up all square. I took a 7 on No. 18 after putting my drive through the pine trees and down into the ravine on the right side of the dogleg fairway. Casey smashed his drive on No. 18, but his approach shot hung up in the rough on the backside of the green.
We took some nice photos with his digital camera. All in all, it was a great day of golf and conversation for father and son.
Hustle and stroke ahead of storm at Old Waverly
June 1, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly in my Ford Taurus station wagon while son Casey drove down in his Ford Explorer so we could play 18 holes before he continued on to Atlanta, then Washington DC and finally back at Boston where he attends Harvard Business School.
Separately, we drove through a lot of fog in North Mississippi. But thanks to an earlier than normal start, we arrived at Old Waverly at 9:45 a.m. Heavy dew was on the lush grass of the course. A light rain and mist started just as we approached the first tee. The course was all but empty due to the weather. But we decided to play a few holes and try in the hopes we could get in at least 9 before an approaching storm hit.
To speed up our play, we each drove a golf cart even though the wet conditions made for the requirement that carts stay on the paved cart paths. We hustled our pace of play, which contributed to some poor shot making. I started with a par on the first hole, which I always think is a great way to start a round even though more often than not it’s bogey or worse. I went on to shoot a so-so 48 for the front side, followed by a 47 for the back side for a round total of 95. I hit only 7 fairways and 6 greens in regulation and took a total of 39 putts. But at least my play was an improvement from last week even though I took three 3-putts on the greens.
Casey struggled with his putting, taking seven 3-putts and shooting an indifferent score for him of 95. Our Nassau bet came down to the last hole since we were all square through 17. He dumped his drive into the lake on the left. I took a 5 on the Par 4 hole, winning $2.
It was great playing golf with Casey on such a high quality course even though we had to deal with rain on 6 holes, strong wind on 6 holes and only had 6 holes of sunshine. One might call it a perfect Trifecta.
To Boston for Harvard Graduation, then Nova Scotia
June 9 – 15, 2004 – To Boston, then Portland, Maine and Nova Scotia
(Following is an excerpt from my six-part account of our big trip. The accounts about our stay in Boston and other trip highlights are posted atnolantravels3/nova1.html.
Cruise to Nova Scotia, Part 4
A Whale of a Time in the Bay of Fundy
June 11-15, 2004(Updated Dec. 19, 2004)
June 13, 2004 – Sunday
After calling a half-dozen whale watch boats listed in the promotional material we picked up at the Nova Scotia Visitor Center yesterday,
We settled on Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises. The boat we chose is based at a location on the Bay of Fundy that is nearly three hours from Yarmouth. But we liked the idea of going out on a modern, 52-foot motor vessel that has a restroom and an enclosed cabin even if it meant driving extra distance.
It is one of dozens of vessels that offer whale watch and related activities, which range from sailing ships to high-speed Zodiac boats. Much information on a great number of tours and adventure opportunities in and around the Bay of Fundy is available atwww.adventurenovascotia.com.
I had hoped to see the 33-foot-high tidal bore that races up a river at the throat of the Bay of Fundy. The opposing tidal waters and river flow creates an enormous, haystack wave that attracts adventuresome surfers, kayak paddlers and white-water rafters from throughout the world. But we had learned the prime viewing spot it is a 4-to-4-½ hour drive from Yarmouth and the peak tide would be just after 7 a.m. this day. That meant we would have to leave Yarmouth about 2 a.m. in time to see the monstrous tidal bore charge up the Shubenacadie River at 50 kilometers an hour.
There was no way we were going to get up in the middle of the night and drive narrow roads in hopes of making it in time. So the either-or decision of tidal bore-versus-whale watch was really made for us by the tide table. As a saying on a sailorman’s clock given to me by Betty many years ago goes, "time and tide wait for no man."
It’s too bad we passed on the famous high tide because we probably will not pass this way again. My advice is that those who really want to see the Bay of Fundy’s tidal bore consider checking the tide tables well in advance of bookings and plan lodging and transportation accordingly.
Notwithstanding my disappointment of missing one of nature’s spectacles, the prospect of seeing humpback and other species of whales was not a bad second choice. Besides, we did see the beauty of the exposed rocks, seaweed and scallop shells of the Brier Island estuary during the location’s tidal low point, which dropped the waterline 17 feet.
The Avis car rental manager delivered the car to the hotel at 9 a.m. as promised. We dropped him at the Terminal and drove north on Route 1 towards Digby Neck, so named because it is at the narrow point of a thin peninsula that juts into the Bay of Fundy. We then drove south on 217 to Petite Passage. Our whale watch boat is based just offshore from the end of the peninsula, on Brier Island. We had to take two car ferries to get there, the first serving Long Island and the second Brier Island. We had been warned not to tarry for picture taking since the ferries are synchronized to minimize wait times.
Traffic was quite light and it was a pleasant, uneventful drive. The main road from Yarmouth to Digby – famous for scallops – was wide and in excellent condition. The speed limit was 100 kilometers per hour, about 65 mph. The road down the length of Long Island was narrow and of uneven quality; the speed limit dropped to 50 kph through the fishing villages.
The countryside reminded me of Northern Minnesota – with salt water. There were miles and miles of smallish pine trees. Among them was what appeared to be the same variety of Norwalk Pine planted by my late grandfather in what is now the Lewis E. Nolan Memorial Pine Grove in Cass Lake, Minnesota.
Like in the North Woods, this part of coastal Nova Scotia consists of occasional, gently rolling hills breaking up the forested flatland. In between several of the low hills are blue lakes that glisten in the sunshine. But unlike most of Northern Minnesota, piles of junk more often break up the flattish land here. We were surprised to see so many trash heaps – even adjacent to the "front porch" ramps of the car ferries. At times it made us think of certain backward areas of Mississippi, where living in the midst of weeds and rusted eyesores is not uncommon.
(Oddly, we had expected a lot of junky landscapes when we visited Cajun country some years back but were pleased to see the homes and yards of Southwestern Louisiana neat and well maintained. Maybe there is something of an indifference to orderly appearances in the hardscrabble heritage of the Scotch-Irish that transcends the Atlantic Ocean into parts of Appalachia and the Deep South as well as Nova Scotia. We’ve traveled throughout France and never encountered the junkiness we’ve seen in the slummy areas of Britain and some of its former colonies.)
Southwestern Nova Scotia largely consists of untilled land dotted by one-story, wooden houses about the size of small cottages. It seemed that every house we saw on the drive to Brier Island had a pile or two of stove wood and fireplace logs, probably a necessity for winter heat when Atlantic gales drop the power lines. Stacked lobster traps made of wire gave testimony to the importance of fishing to the economy. Every vista of the protected salt water has a small, bobbing fleet of anchored, lobster and net fishing boats.
The Canadian government closely regulates lobster fishing. The season for this part of Nova Scotia closed two weeks ago. But it opened just to the north, ensuring a steady supply of lobsters for the tourist and export market and work for those willing to brave the Atlantic.
We missed the first ferry from the mainland peninsula to Long Island by a few minutes, which meant we were delayed 45 minutes. We had a beautiful view of the island across the whitecap-tossed Petite Passage, an expanse of salt water perhaps a half-mile wide. The car waiting behind us contained two middle-aged women engaged in an animated conversation in French. We bought sandwiches and soft drinks at a café a few steps from the dock.
A modern, steel ferry shuttles between the mainland point of East Ferry and the island point of Tiverton, a tiny fishing village. It runs every hour on the half-hour (7:30, 8:30 etc.) and holds about 15 autos. The round-trip fare of $4 (Canadian) was collected by a polite young man who kindly took our picture with one of Betty’s two cameras.
Once across, we were part of a small convoy that drove without delay the length of Long Island to the village of Freeport in about 20 minutes. We only had to wait a few minutes before boarding a second ferry, which runs every hour on the hour (7:00, 8:00 etc.). The round-trip fare (collected only on the outbound passage) was also $4. The expanse of water between Long Island and Brier Island is perhaps a mile wide. Our convoy of autos from the first ferry filled the second boat; one late arrival had to wait an hour to be first in line for the next trip.
Brier Island is the western-most land belonging to Nova Scotia. It is shaped something like a broken golf ball coming off the club head of Long Island and the club shaft of the Digby Neck Peninsula. The island’s village of Westport is a leading fishing station on the western coast. Westport’s roots date to 1769 with the arrival of the island’s first settlers. The first school was built in 1789 and stood until a terrible storm of 1976 washed it away. Electric lights reached Brier Island in 1929 and the first paved roads were built in 1960.
The rocky island has been the Fundy Graveyard for scores of ships over the generations. But as it’s truly a foul wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good, the shipwrecks brought salvage opportunities for the islanders. The wreck of the vessel "Aurora" in 1908 provided all the lumber as the Westport Community Hall.
The British liner Corinthian was lost in 1918 but provided "God’s Special Provision" of pork, bedspreads and fine china for the islanders.
Westport was the first port of call for famed mariner Joshua Slocum and his sailing sloop, "Spray." The two made sailing history in1898 when they completed the first solo voyage to circle the globe. Many years ago when I was fixated on sailing, I read Slocum’s account of the three-year trip that started in Boston in 1895 in his book, "Sailing Alone Around The World." His mother was born in Westport and Joshua lived there as a boy before running off to sea after she died in 1860. He returned to his boyhood home many times. A monument on the island honors the intrepid sailor. One of the two Westport ferries is named "The Joshua Slocum;" the sister vessel is named "The Spray."
Fishing boats based at Westport seine and drag for scallops, hake, flounder, mackerel, haddock, cod and Pollock during the summer. They also trawl for herring and trap lobster. A gigantic fish pen that covers perhaps 3 acres of water in the middle of the harbor is an aquaculture enterprise that farm-raises salmon.
Brier Island is a wild and beautiful island. Its rocky coastline is washed by tides that vary the waterline by 17 feet. (Other parts of the Bay of Fundy have the highest tides in the world, with vertical variations up to 54 feet. These tides completely empty some harbors farther up the throat of the bay).
The small island (about three miles long and a half-mile wide) has lots of hiking trails, interesting geologic formations and an array of coastal wildlife including shore birds and seals. The island blooms with wild flowers during the summer, when it also is the seasonal home of warblers and a stopover point for hawks and other migrating birds. The island offers several lodging facilities, including a resort inn and a hostel, as well as a small number of restaurants, stores and churches. More information is available atwww.brierisland.org.
But the island’s big draw is its proximity to one of the prime whale feeding areas in the world, the teeming Bay of Fundy. Strong tides scour the rocky, sea bottom shelves beneath the salt water around the Brier Island, forming a critical habitat for zooplankton. The seasonal plankton attracts large schools of herring and mackerel, which in turn serve as food for whales, dolphins and seabirds.
According to the Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises brochure(www.tartannet.ns.ca/brierisl.html), researchers began investigating reports of frequent sightings of whales around the island in 1984. Two years later, a cottage industry was born when the public was allowed to pay a fee to join the research cruises. There are several whale watch boats based at Brier Island; dozens more are at Freeport and Tiverton on Long Island and also at East Ferry and other locations on Digby Neck and elsewhere on the western coast.
Most species of whale and porpoise are absent from the Bay of Fundy during the harsh winter. But come springtime, Finback Whales, Minke Whales and Harbor Porpoises begin to arrive. Humpback Whales start arriving in June after their long swim up the Atlantic Seaboard from their winter breeding grounds in the Caribbean Sea. Sightings of Humpbacks are more frequent late in June, when Whiteside Dolphins are fairly common. In late summer and fall, there are occasional sightings of the North Atlantic Right Whales, an endangered species. Less frequent cetacean visitors that have been sighted include Sperm Whales, Pilot Whales, Beluga Whales, Sei Whales and White Beaked Dolphins.
Like other whale watch boats we’ve been on in California, the Brier Island boats generally guarantee sightings of whales. (We once used a free pass issued by a boat in San Diego for a return trip three years later).
The Brier Island company has two boats, the 52-foot M/V Cetacean Quest (the vessel we were on), and the 45-foot M/V Cetacean Venture. Both are fitted with open viewing decks, seats, rails, restroom and enclosed cabin. For safety reasons, the boat’s pilot/captain has the uppermost deck to himself. The vessels are certified by the Canadian Coast Guard for travel up to 20 miles off shore and are piloted by experienced, licensed captains. Our boat also had a crew/guide staff of three, all twenty-somethings with sharp eyes who seemed to know their marine biology and related stuff.
The company’s office is in a one-story, wooden building that includes a well-equipped souvenir shop. The shop offers every imaginative knickknack emblazed with whales and lobsters. The building has clean restroom facilities, which are called "washrooms" in Nova Scotia.
Across the parking lot is a general store where islanders hang out and the whale watch crowd buys sand-wiches, snacks and drinks.
No food or cold beverages are served on the boat (maybe it is a seasickness issue) but passengers are encouraged to bring their own. A crew made light of possible seasickness during the orientation briefing, casually mentioning "it happens to everybody at some time." She advised that passengers with unsettled stomachs should stand in the center of the boat and look at the distant horizon; if that doesn’t work, "go to the downwind rail and ‘toss the cookies.’"
There is a pot of hot coffee available in the boat’s large cabin. Also available in the cabin are wool blankets to ward off the chill. With our senior discount, the fare for the three-to-four hour cruise was $36 (Canadian) each.
The Bay of Fundy is noted for changeable weather and for fog. But the weather gods stayed with us as our day at sea turned out to be sunny, with mild winds and only a moderate amount of wave chop. The temperature was near 50 degrees but it seemed colder because of the wind blowing over the chilly ocean. We wore wool sweaters over cotton shirts, topped by Gore-tex rain slickers.
I brought along my well-traveled, 7x35 binoculars. I think I was the first of the about 25 passengers on the boat to spot a whale. One of the guides identified it as a Finback, which was swimming by itself about 300 yards to starboard. Far better sightings were to come a little later. There were two other, full-size whale watch boats in the vicinity, plus an orange Zodiac-style boat populated by a half-dozen hardy passengers clad in thermal jackets and pants. I didn’t envy those in the open, rubber boat even though the quickness of the craft gave it an advantage in terms of speed over comfort.
Maybe the biggest thrill for us came when we sighted a solitary Humpback Whale off the bow. The captain maneuvered the boat to within 40 yards of the magnificent creature. We were told it was a young adult, perhaps 30-to-35 feet long. Its distinctive "fluke print" of black and white markings on the underside of its tail gave away its identity. This whale had been registered and named "Platform" by a scientific research group that keeps up with the humpback population and their migrations.
Platform was ponderously feeding (probably on herring) in the 330-feet-deep water about two miles west of Long Island. The boat captain followed the whale for about 30 minutes, being careful not to approach too close or too fast. The guides told us the blunt, rounded shape of the Humpback’s head and body is why the species arches its back and raises its flukes out of the water when diving. That graceful action gives the mammal extra diving power, just as humans dive into the water so much easier after vertically jackknifing their bodies.
The whale would "flip us" his flukes then disappear underwater for 5-to-10 minutes before resurfacing for a few minutes to breathe. A "spout" of expelled breath blown out of the hole on top of his head formed a column of mist when the warm air from the whale’s lungs met the chilled air above the water. We were surprised to learn that a humpback’s throat is no wider than a large grapefruit, limiting the size and species of fish it can swallow.
The crew also told us that the whale watch boats have agreed to cooperate so that no more than two boats would be "on a whale" at the same time, minimizing the stress on the creatures.
The policy is even more restrictive in San Diego, we learned several years ago. The whale watch boats there are forbidden to change course to approach passing Grey Whales; the boat must maintain a parallel course to the whale’s usual, north-south course. That way, the whale is free to change direction and swim away without interference if it so chooses. Fortunately for viewers like us, some of the Grey Whales that annually migrate from the Arctic Ocean to the breeding waters in Mexico seem to be as curious about humans as we are about them. In fact, one transiting mother and her calf swam from side to side of our boat near San Diego, eyeing us and swimming so close we could almost touch them.
Three Finback Whales allowed the M/V Cetacean Quest to get within 10 yards from them. These young giants of the deep were 50-to-60 feet long. The "fins," as they are called, can grow to be 80 feet long and are the second largest species of whale. Their bodies are more streamlined than those of their humpback cousins so they usually do not need the extra leverage gained by raising flukes above the water for a deep dive. We were told that, unlike other large whales species, the fins are plentiful in the oceans of the world and have never been an endangered species. That is because they are fast swimmers and could outrun the sailing whalers of the 18th and 19th Centuries. We followed the three fins for about a half hour and had many close sightings in between their deep dives to feed.
We also had excellent views of a playful Minke Whale, one of the smaller species with a length of about 20 feet. Normally shy, this particular Minke was quite a showman. He swam around and around the boat and occasionally beneath it. We could see him eyeing the camera-snapping humans crowding the rails of the boat. Somebody later told me about seeing something on TV news about the time we were in Nova Scotia about a whale bumping a whale watch boat somewhere in the northeastern waters.
The report was that a man and his young son lost their footing and plunged into the cold water. Both were recovered but the boy supposedly died.
Our boat’s captain spotted a distant group of Whiteside Dolphins although we never got a look at them. Unlike their warm-water cousins we’ve seen in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean, this species are not generally playful and have no interest in riding the wakes of passing boats.
But we did see many dozens of pelagic birds, chiefly the locally common Northeastern Gannets that spend most of their lives on the open ocean. Bigger than the familiar Herring Gull that hangs out all over American shorelines, the Northeastern Gannets dive bomb the water when feeding. I also saw several low-flying seabirds the crew identified as Shearwaters and a single Loon swimming at least a mile from shore.
Despite a serious amount of No. 8 sunscreen on my face, I was as red as a beet when we returned to port at mid-afternoon. Part of the sunburn/windburn was probably due to a side effect from the antibiotics I’ve been taking for more than a week to fight off a nasty sinus infection.
We were glad the boat came in after three hours because we were chilled and tired. Besides, we had been greatly rewarded with excellent sightings of three species of whales. It was a highly productive and enjoyable day and second only to the overall highpoint of our trip that came when we saw our son receive his MBA last week.
We thanked the crew and hurried off the boat. By gunning the Grand Prix, we barely made it to the 4:30 p.m. ferry, with less than a minute to spare. We were the last car allowed on the boat, a rare occurrence of perfect timing during our vacations. While nearly all the other whale watch passengers had an hour to kill waiting for the next ferry, we drove across Long Island in another small convoy. By hitting the ferries at the exactly right time, we made it back to Yarmouth and our hotel in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
We paid a little more than $4 (U.S.) a gallon at a Shell station to refill the rental car’s tank. Gas is sold by the liter here (4.54 to the gallon). Today’s price is 94-to-98 Canadian cents per liter. That is roughly double the price back in Memphis, which was an outrageous $2 a gallon when we left home last week.
We finished a great day with an excellent meal at the Grand Rodd Hotel. I had the Digby Scallops and Betty had fried clams.
To St. Louis for Baseball, Ozarks for wine & sights
July 7 – 10, 2004 – To St. Louis and Washington, MO
We drove from our home in Memphis north to St. Louis, MO in Betty’s new Ford Focus station wagon, which she nicknamed "Fiona." Just across the Mississippi River at the West Memphis greyhound racetrack of Southland Park, we dropped off our pet, Dickens, at the boarding kennel about 8:30 a.m.
We had an uneventful drive up Interstate 55 to downtown St. Louis, where I had booked a room at the Mayfair Wyndham Hotel on Charles Street for a bargain rate for the historic, three-star hotel through Priceline of $50 a night. We had a huge room that was nicely decorated. We didn’t use the heated swimming pool on the roof, the fitness center or other amenities since we were in St. Louis to see some of our favorite sights, not stay around the hotel.
We checked our 5 bags with the hotel bellman about 1 p.m. and drove out to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park to see the highly vaunted "National Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commemoration." It was a terrific exhibition, costing us $10 each for the senior rate. We were amazed that so many artifacts from their famous journey of discovery have survived 200 years, including some of the original notebooks, a telescope, tools and other scientific equipment.
There was an excellent multimedia show on the 1804-1806 expedition of the "Corps of Discovery" which was dispatched by President Jefferson to map his Louisiana Purchase and find the long-rumored Northwest Passage. It was an amazing and wonderful production of one of the most important journeys. I was very glad to see so much of our American history on display, especially after reading Stephen Ambrose’s memorable book, "Undaunted Courage."
Also on display at the Museum was a Centennial exhibit of artifacts and promotional material from the 1904 World’s Fair at St. Louis, which was properly called at the time the "1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition." On display were lots of Victorian-era souvenirs, furniture, clothing, keepsakes, photos and posters. The staging and displays were excellent in every respect.
That evening, we had a light supper of soup and salad back at the hotel restaurant. We then walked just under a mile to the old Busch Stadium (which will be replaced in another year or two by a new, adjacent stadium under construction now). Throngs of St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans walked down 8th street and other feeder streets to the ballpark. There was a long line of fans waiting at the stadium’s "will call" window to buy tickets ordered on the Internet. I paid $30 each for our tickets in a section above the 3rd base, about halfway between the ball field and top of the stadium.
With the weather being so warm and humid, we were glad our seats were open to a gap in the stadium wall so the breeze could blow through and keep us reasonably comfortable. I couldn’t quite bring myself to pay $6 for a cup of beer so went without my usual ballgame beverage. Betty and I split a large ballpark pretzel and a Diet Coke. We left after the 5th inning to escape the crowds, with the score tied at 2-2. (The Cardinals went on beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-to-2, giving the Cards a five-game lead for the pennant in the Central Division of the National League.
St. Louis is definitely a baseball town. It was fun seeing so many fans of all ages decked out in their team’s colors, jerseys and ball caps.
We pretty much had the streets to ourselves for the walk back to the hotel from the ballpark. Downtown St. Louis is as dead as it was in Downtown Memphis in the 1970s. There are lots and lots of neat, old buildings with stone facades that are now empty. There seem to be more stores that are vacant than there are stores showing economic activity. Here and there are brave attempts at re-developing the buildings into loft apartments and other uses. Our hotel is a nice one that is less than a block from the St. Louis Convention Center, but there seems to be only a few dozen guests there now – probably the reason we got such a good deal on the price of our room through Priceline.
We thought the Mayfair staff was nice and very professional and the facilities very good for such an older property.
We spent a good part of Thursday at our favorite spot in St. Louis, the superb Missouri Botanical Garden. Founded in 1859 by a wagon train outfitter (millionaire Henry Shaw), it is America’s oldest botanical park. It is second only to Great Britain’s Royal Gardens at Kew in our eyes. Even though the St. Louis facility encompasses only 79 manicured acres, the Kew Gardens dwarf the St. Louis attraction in both size and scope.
On this trip we especially enjoyed the Kemper Center for Home Gardening and the Gladney Rose Garden and plantings adjacent to the Linnean Camellia House. In all, I figured we walked 4 or more miles under partly cloudy skies with temperatures near 80.
Due to the humidity, on this trip we passed on a customary visit to the park’s Climatron Geodesic Dome and its block-sized interior of tropical plants. We repaired to Union Station, the onetime railroad station redone to a shopping center and tourist attraction where we’ve stayed several times. This time we were disappointed to see how junky and trashy the two-story mall had become. We ate dinner at the development’s Landry’s Seafood, where the food was a little pricey but quite good.
A "Dinner Cruise Train" was parked on tracks that ran into Union Station, which we speculated offered an expensive way to enjoy a two-or-three-hour ride around the area with fancy food.
Back at the hotel, I arranged for room service to deliver a serving of ham, potatoes and toast (carbs galore this trip!) at breakfast time the next morning. We planned to check out about 10 a.m. I had used a "self park" option at the hotel, parking in a nearby garage for $10 a day rather than pay the $25 a day for the hotel’s valet parking option.
Betty and I had long wanted to see the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers a few miles north of St. Louis. But it has only been in the last few years that is has been possible to see the confluence by driving instead of flying over it in a rented airplane. The State of Missouri has developed the Jones-Confluence State Park on 1,000 acres of land along the riverfronts. But, we learned, the Park was temporarily closed a few days ago when floods damaged some of the park’s entry roads that are still under water.
A park ranger advised me by telephone to visit the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area on the opposite side of the Missouri River – right where the two rivers merge. We did visit it and were treated by the glorious sight of America’s two great rivers meeting.
The Bottoms have 4,300 acres of wildlife preservation areas. Corn is planted on parts of the land to provide food for waterfowl. Many miles of hiking and cycling trails plus construction of boat ramps and observation area parking sites along with a Visitor Center have been built. The outdoors complex opened to the public three months ago. A huge flood in 1993 had much of the area under as much as 15 feet of water.
After driving around the area, having a look at the Confluence and poking around the Visitor Center, we drove about 50 miles west on Interstate 44 to Washington, MO. We passed the big Six Flags amusement park on the way.
Washington is a scenic, small town on the Missouri River where the Lewis & Clark expedition camped two centuries ago. It has been the site of a bridge across the river since 1936. One of its claims to fame is that John F. Busch – brother to the famous brewer Adolphus Busch – established a brewery in Washington, where he bottled the first Busch Beer. Another claim to fame is that while camped here Lewis & Clark met with a French trooper/fur trader on May 25, 1804. Two members of the Lewis & Clark expedition later settled in what is now Washington and are buried nearby.
The town is in the heart of Missouri’s wine country and is large enough to be served by several chain motels. The nearby town of Hermann – which is equally scenic and also historic – has several dozen B&B’s but no chain motels. As noted in other postings (see nolantravels) our experience with B&Bs has been mixed, at best. So we opted for a brand-new Sleep Inn & Suites, where we got a very large, upgraded suite for $71 a night.
We visited five area wineries, tasted their products and bought some wine at each one that we could take home and feel good about serving to friends. By and large, the dry "Chantelle" varieties we sampled didn’t appeal to us. But some of the semi-sweet wines like the German Mosels and Liebraumilchs were quite good. Also, we were introduced to an expensive varietal called "Ice Wine" at the Blumenhoff Winery at the town of Putzon.
Ice Wine is made of grapes that are left on the vine until very cold weather freezes them. The delay in harvesting the grapes and the processing of them into wine produces a very sweet wine. I think it is excellent when poured over berries and other tart fruit. But I speculate that too much of it could produce a world-class hangover because of the sugar content.
We also tasted some white (but not red) wines in the hilly area of Central Missouri at:
Augusta Winery at Augusta
Mount Pleasant Winery also at Augusta, a large operation with a first-class tasting room.
Balducci Vineyards between Augusta and Washington. Two ladies we met there had visited Memphis.
Montelle Winery near Fort Defiance, site of a gorgeous, high view from a ridge that overlooks a valley and the distant Missouri River.
Oddly, there seemed to be no German restaurants in this heavily Germanic town of Washington. So on the advice of a local waitress at Montelle Winery, we drove about 30 miles west to the scenic town of Hermann, also on the Missouri River. We had an excellent dinner of German food at the Wild Grape restaurant. Betty went for the pork schnitzel in a thyme-cream sauce and I had the really good Jaegger Schnitzel in a hunter sauce with mushrooms. We had some red wine with our food. It was an excellent dinner.
Earlier, we drove perhaps 20 miles out of our way and down narrow farm roads to see Daniel Boone’s onetime home of long ago. But it seemed to not be worth the trouble to continue the lonesome drive so we cut our time losses and beat our path back to the Sleep Inn at Washington. The next morning, we had an excellent, free breakfast at the motel then drove five hours to the greyhound boarding kennel in West Memphis, where we picked up Dickens and got home by 3 p.m.
Thankfully, we had good weather the entire time of the trip. It was a nice getaway we may take again, but at such time arranging for two nights in Washington rather than just one.
Return to Decatur, MS, our JC stomping grounds
July 18 – 30 – To Decatur, MS and Gulf Shores, AL
Betty and I drove south from Memphis to Decatur, MS, where we first met and attended East Central Junior College for a year in the mid 1960s. We made the trip in her Ford Focus after we attended our separate Sunday School classes at Evergreen Presbyterian Church.
We had wanted to see Betty’s older brother, Harvey Trapp, who had been – some years after we graduated - the business manager for what is now called East Central Community College. He gave us a good tour of the little-changed campus and it was great having so many fond memories or our time at our alma mater return.
It was our first visit back to ECJC since we graduated in 1966. We saw several new buildings and also a wooden bench honoring Betty that I had donated to the college several years ago. I was particularly pleased to see a large photograph of her mounted in the school’s Hall of Fame display in the entrance to the auditorium. She was highly deserving of the honor, which I helped her secure by acting as her unofficial "campaign manager" so many years ago.
Today, about one-third of the students at ECJS are African American. When Betty and I were there, it was an all-white, traditional Mississippi institution.
Later, we drove to the farm near Decatur owned by another of Betty’s older brothers, Walton Trapp, and his wife, Joyce. Unfortunately, our conversation turned hostile when up came the disposition of the estate that belonged to the late head of the family, Benjamin Trapp, father of Betty and her four brothers.
Upset by the hostility expressed by Walton (a major beneficiary of the estate), we left his home and drove to Harvey’s 330-acre farm in a remote part of Jasper County to discuss with Harvey Trapp various family matters. I soon went to bed while Betty and Harvey continued their discussion.
The next morning, Harvey gave me a short tour of his farmland, which includes a small lake reputedly full of fish and an elaborate barn system he built. Then Betty and I drove on to Mobile, AL via Laurel, MS and then to Gulf Shores, AL, where we stayed for nearly two weeks.
It was a relaxing stay at the beach even though the daytime temperatures were hot. Our Gulf Village complex seemed to be at maximum tenancy, with the heaviest crowd of vacationing visitors I had ever seen. Every parking space was taken. Our routine was pretty set, with Betty sunning on the beach most days. I played golf at the State Park course four days, shooting a very mediocre 90, 94, 93 and 90 due to my poor putting and iron play.
Due to the hot weather and timing of the high tide, the wide beach wasn’t too inviting for long walks. So I did most of my walking on the pedestrian path that runs along West Beach Boulevard. I saw that construction of new high-rises continues unabated.
The acoustic tile ceiling in our bathroom had been damaged (maybe vandalized?) and it took several calls and visits to Kaiser Realty to get the tiles repaired and replaced. We bought a new GE replacement microwave oven at the new Gulf Shores Wal-Mart store on opening day. We also bought a bunch of replacement flatware, paper towels, new bedding and other supplies the condo needs and then drove to Fairhope, AL to see the town’s rose garden by a magnificent pier and to have lunch at the town’s branch of the Mobile fish house Wentzell’s. I was surprised to see that the portions served were quite chincy and not nearly as good as I remember having had at the mother restaurant years ago.
During our stay we had two good dinners at The Spot, good oyster po’ boys at Bahama Bob’s and OK takeout at a new place next to Al’s sundry store in town. I accomplished quite a bit of trip account writing on a Compaq laptop provided by my company, Schering-Plough, and completed my six-part travelogue about our recent cruise to Nova Scotia. We also shopped at the Tanger Mall in Foley, where I purchased two pair of walking shoes.
We bought a couple of gift cakes to give to the Park Golf Course staff, who much appreciated the gesture. They are wonderful ladies we’ve gotten to know over our many visits there over the years.
During our stay, I had to deal with Heavenly Pools in Memphis by telephone with a "crisis" concerning the error by a company employee miss-setting our home pool pump to suck water out of the pool and send it down the sewer. Among the excellent dishes we cooked in our condo were trigger fish, grouper and fresh crab, Royal Red shrimp and stuffed mushrooms. Due to a last-minute, weekly rental arranged by Kaiser Realty, I had to withdraw an invitation for old friend, Tim Parks, to use the condo at no charge the following week.
Old Waverly Gives Up Round of 92
Sept. 3, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly with my good friend and fellow member Curtis Downs. I was fortunate enough to shoot a 45 on the front 9 and a 47 on the back 9 for a total score of 92.
Old Waverly Gives Up Round of 90
Oct. 1, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly in my Ford Taurus station wagon accompanied by Dave Darnell, a hugely talented photographer with whom I worked with years ago at The Commercial Appeal. He is a proficient golfer who plays regularly with several other CA staffers in for the long haul. He shot a good score of 86. I was fortunate to shoot a 47 on the front 9 and 43 on the back 9 for a total score of 90, which is about as good as I’ve shot at the club in a long time.
Dave and I had a leisurely lunch with our former boss, Bill Sorrels. Bill had been managing editor of The Commercial Appeal. He has been retired from the newspaper business for several years (later taught journalism at the Mississippi University for Woman in nearby Columbus) and has a home adjacent to the Old Waverly golf course at his hometown of West Point. It was great seeing Bill and getting a chance to remember some old CA stories with him and Dave.
Back to Normal Scoring at Old Waverly
Oct. 22-23, 2004 – To Birmingham via Old Waverly Golf Club
I drove Betty’s "Mustang Sally" to Birmingham after stopping at Old Waverly about half-way there for a round of golf. My round was a mixed bag, with several good drives offset by snap hooks off the tee. My putting was OK. But I had no birdies and only four pars, equaled by the same number of bogies. The weather was cloudy with mild temperatures.
I shot 47 on the front 9 and a miserable 52 on the back 9 for a total of 97. Worse, I lost four or five golf balls, including two on No. 18.
As bad as my golf was, I had an excellent dinner in the clubhouse, where I took advantage of the weekly seafood buffet. I then drove east another 3 hours, mostly on U.S. 82 via Columbus, Miss., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Birmingham. I stayed at a nice Holiday Inn in the suburb of Homewood.
The next morning, the Gulf Village Owners Association (parent of the condo we own at Gulf Shores, Ala., that had been ravaged by Hurricane Ivan earlier in the year) had its annual meeting. It was at Homewood, where the president lives, because the usual venue at Gulf Shores had been damaged last month.
It was akin to a radioactive meeting of the condo owners. We approved a budget of $350,000 to cover the non-insured damages to the common property made by Hurricane Ivan. We were briefed on several offers from development companies wanting to buy our complex at prices ranging from $25-to-$30 million.
Among the fellow owners I met were a couple from Las Vegas who flew in for the meeting and a couple from Michigan who drove all night to attend. There were some impassioned speeches made by several owners who seemed to have recently purchased their property and were eager to sell. However, the association bylaws require that 80 percent of the owners agree before the complex can be sold. I was among the minority who voted against the proposed sale but among the majority who voted in favor of proceeding with repairs.
Round Abandoned at Old Waverly but Lesson Taken
Nov. 9, 2004 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove by myself to Old Waverly in Betty’s 1998 Mustang convertible that has new tires that made the ride smooth. It was a beautiful fall day, with the high temperature near 70, sunny and with only light winds.
I played in Bermuda shorts and walked the front 9 holes in 1 ½ hours. Unlike the beautiful conditions, my golf game was really ugly. I muffed 3 drives and missed many putts that were only 24-to-36 inches out from the hole. I bailed out of the solitary game on No. 12 and took a desperately needed putting lesson from the club’s head pro, Chris Jester. Among the points I learned were:
My putting was OK mechanically.
My aim was way off, mainly because I "see" the line well to the right of where it really is. That results in many misses.
Chris advised me to line up the ball by making the lettering point in a straight line to the hole and to try to keep the tension out of my arms and shoulders.
I should practice my putts by being careful that my putter is squarely lined up with the line of line of dots on the ball.
I should try putting from several distances by feel, thereby avoiding looking at the ball.
There is no "right way" or "wrong way" to hold my arms or the putter. Great putters on the PGA tour have different grips on the putter.
After my lesson, I returned to the course and played No. 11 and 12. I actually did putt better. Afterwards, I had a delicious hamburger in the clubhouse and departed Old Waverly, making it home at 7 p.m.
* * * * *
The following is an excerpt from the four-part travelogue I wrote about our trips to Tubac, Ariz., south of Tucson. Part One may be accessed at nolantravels3/tubac1.html, which like that below has links to the other parts. Also available are links to photos taken during our 2004 and 2005 visits to Tubac.
Thanksgiving in Tubac, Arizona desert, Part 3
Tubac Village, Tumacacori and Nogales, Mexico
Nov. 24-28, 2004 and Nov. 23-27, 2005
(Part 3 updated Feb. 26, 2008)
Index to 18 Photos - 2004 / Index to 17 Photos - 2005
Comments welcome. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lewis Nolan
Nov. 26, 2004 – Friday. Tubac to Nogales, Mexico
Tubac’s historic claim to fame is that it was the first European settlement in what is now Arizona. It was established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, or Presidio. The Spanish arrived in 1687. The Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino established more than 20 missions in the region to bring Christianity and Spanish control to the Native Americans in the area.
The first mission was built of adobe in nearby Tumacacori in 1691; it was destroyed in Indian raids and rebuilt several times.
Tubac Presidio is now the centerpiece of a State Historical Park that traces the growth of southern Arizona. Spanish colonists settled here during the 1730s, raising cattle, sheep and goats on the northern frontier of what was Spain’s New World empire. A bloody revolt by the Pima Indians was put down in 1751. The Presidio was built and garrisoned by Spanish cavalry to protect colonists and the nearby mission.
The second commander of the Presidio, Juan Bautista de Anza II, led two overland expeditions through the southwest and to the Pacific Ocean. He is credited with the founding of San Francisco in 1776 – a year when much history was being made on the other side of the North America continent. Once Anza returned to Tubac, the garrison was moved to Tucson and the Tubac Presidio was abandoned. For a decade, the area was left unprotected and Apache Indians killed and plundered at will. The Spanish Viceroy who ruled Mexico reactivated the fort in 1787.
Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. The Mexican flag flew over Tubac until 1848, when another Apache assault caused great loss of life and abandonment of the fort.
Tubac was part of the Gadsden Purchase by the U.S. government in 1853. One of the early entrepreneurs set up shop in the abandoned fort commander’s house, performing marriages and establishing the first newspaper in Arizona. By 1860, Tubac was the largest town in Arizona. But the Civil War drained it of troops and resources to the point that it was again deserted in the face of Apache raids. Among the celebrated Apaches who did battle here were Geronimo and Cochise, whose name today graces some rugged canyons known as "Cochise Stronghold."
Although the Tubac area was resettled after the Civil War, the discovery of silver in the Tombstone area about 120 miles to the east as well as the routing of the first railroad through Tucson about 50 miles to the north drew development interests away. Tubac never regained its earlier importance.
Today, Tubac has transformed itself into an artists’ colony of considerable renown. About 90 art galleries and shops line the meandering streets and offer a wide variety of arts and crafts. The emphasis is on Southwestern design and style.
The weeklong Tubac Festival of the Arts draws hundreds of artists and crafts people and many thousands of potential buyers in February. Betty and I have attended it twice.
A number of pottery and metal pieces we’ve purchased in the shops of Tubac grace our home. My favorite is a copper fountain about three feet across and three feet high. Pumped water cascades down its stacked, metal leaves into a small pool. There is a small group of artisans who fabricate the fountains and assorted wall hangings in their studio here. Their shop is called "Designs in Copper."
Tubac Village has a hacienda architectural style that is laid-back and inviting. It has a half-dozen or more places to eat, ranging from fine dining to quick sandwiches. We had a very good sit-down meal at Shelby's Bistro plus some delicious carry-out subs.
There are several inns and B&Bs in Tubac. One mile away on the Anza walking trail along the grubby Santa Cruz River is our favorite, Tubac Golf Resort, with 46 rooms and suites. More than 1,500 miles farther down the historic route but way to the west is San Francisco.
The Tubac area has become attractive enough that a new, zero-lot line development is going up next to the art village. "Barrio Tubac" is the name of the upscale community offering "homes from the low $200s." The "barrio" name is a curious one since to me it suggests negative, L.A. slums. We drove through the development and wondered why the homes are being built on such tight lots since land is cheap around here. Our real-estate-developer’s son observed that high density yields higher profits.
Five or fewer miles down the frontage/service road that parallels I-19 is the Tumacacori (pronounced too-muh-COCK-ahh-ree) National Historic Park. The National Park Service manages the ruins of three, ancient Spanish colonial missions and attendant farm-related structures. A modern, interpretative display recounts the building of the first mission here in 1691 and the recurring cycle of abandonment and rebuilding in the face of ferocious raids by Indians. The somewhat restored main building of the mission falls well short of the grandeur of the much larger Mission San Xavier del Bac to the north. But it’s worth a stop because the Park Service exhibits tell the story of Father Kino and other determined missionaries so well.
Tumacacori also offers a non-descript restaurant that serves very good Greek and Mexican food. The owner is of Mexican ancestry; his wife is Greek. The New York Times favorably reviewed the no-frills establishment a few years ago. It is located in the desert version of a grungy strip center across the road from the Historic Park.
Nearby is Santa Cruz Chili & Spice, a 60-year-old business that operates a small spice factory and retail outlet. Visitors can watch women working the machines that grind up and package dozens of spices, which are sold in the shop along with other souvenirs. Put out for sampling are trays of tortilla chips and different dipping sauces. The sauces are based on chili peppers with varying degrees of hotness. The store is also a good place to buy a cold soft drink or bottle of water.
The best shopping – at least in terms of prices – is found about 10 miles to the south in Nogales, Mexico. It’s an easy and fast drive down I-19. The return usually takes longer because of Border Patrol checkpoints.
This section of the Arizona-Mexico border has the heaviest load of "undocumented" persons in the U.S. The Mexicans and others trying to sneak into the U.S. pour across the border by the thousands every month, seeking work and a better life. Most are captured and returned to Mexico only to try again.
Heavily armed Immigration and Naturalization Service agents – some wearing body armor and some accompanied by drug-sniffing dogs – inspect cars and trucks at seemingly random times of day and night. The checkpoints are set up at different stretches of roadway. Some of the signs on I-19 are hinged so they can be opened as needed to direct motorists to slow down and stop. Sometimes a bus is parked near the checkpoint, the better to load up and haul illegal aliens back to Mexico.
It is a problem driven by economics that seems to have no solution. The hiring by the U.S. federal government of several thousand additional Border Patrol agents and investment of many millions of dollars in fencing, surveillance equipment and other measures has not stemmed the tide.
On our last visit to Tubac we talked with a craftsperson about the problem. Some of her friends had moved out of Nogales, Arizona (whose immediate proximity to the same name of the border town in Mexico) because of the flood of illegals crossing and abusing their property from Nogales in Sonora.
The twin cities have populations of about 20,000 each. It’s a visual shock to drive past the new and shiny shopping centers on the northern edge of Nogales, Arizona and then over a hill. The sudden sight of shabby stucco on an opposite hillside presents a view of unkempt Mexico at its worst.
While drastically disparate in appearance, both towns are driven by tourism and distribution. A wide range of products flows both ways. One of the biggest is produce grown in the warm climate of Mexico, where labor is cheap. There are several dozen produce distribution companies along I-19 just north of the border. Big trucks transport the fresh lettuce and other vegetables from Mexico to wholesalers across the America.
With all this hustle and bustle in the area, we were surprised that our Cingular cell phone service did not work without roaming charges. Even Tucson is outside Cingular’s service zone.
Nogales was a favorite spot of Mexico’s legendary hero and revolutionary Pancho Villa, who would slip across the border at will. He once brought an 85-piece band with him to entertain his American friends.
It’s the easiest crossing into Mexico that we’ve experienced. It’s far quicker than crossing from California into Tijuana; from Del Rio, Texas into Ciudad Acuna; and from El Paso into Juarez. We’ve found that what works best for us is to drive the main road into the center of Nogales, Arizona and park in a pay lot near McDonald’s. The pay lots are fenced and watched by the people who collect the $5 parking fees. There is at least one lot that provides free parking for patrons of a sponsoring drug store on the Mexican side of the border, where many prescription drugs are sold at large discounts.
From McDonald’s, it is a walk of a block or so to the crossing. One enters Mexico through a stadium-style gate. A bored Mexican policeman eyes everybody but we’ve never seen him stop or question anybody.
It’s more time consuming to cross back into the U.S., especially now that anti-terrorism measures have tightened border security. We’ve seen that showing the Immigration or Customs agents a passport (an American drivers license with a photograph also works) seems to considerably speed up the process. This is especially true if you look like an American tourist. An individual is allowed to bring back the equivalent of a liter of liquor duty free. I think duty fees kick in when the monetary value of the total purchase exceeds $400. There can be exceptions for certain items manufactured in Mexico, such as jewelry.
This being the day after Thanksgiving and part of a long weekend for many Americans, we found Nogales jammed with tourists and area residents seeking bargains. We didn’t arrive until after lunch and had to park on the street.
Several drugstores have sprung up within 100 feet of the border, taking advantage of the throngs of Americans looking for ways to stretch their medical budgets. The stores are generally spic-and-span and advertise some of the most popular medications at discounts of 30-to-50 percent. Several had signs about the availability of flu shots – hard to get in the U.S. this year because of supply shortages.
Since Casey was with us, I purchased three bottles of Controy, an orange-flavored liquor that is Mexico’s version of France’s Cointreau. I paid $10.50 each, one-fourth of what the French import costs back home. We hugely enjoy a tablespoon of it poured over a small bowl of low-carb raspberries, sometimes mixed with blueberries and strawberries.
Betty purchased a half-dozen liters of white vanilla, a product she uses in baking cookies and other treats. She has not found any of the clear liquid in any Memphis stores. Betty also bought several silver bracelets to give to friends back home and a mirror framed with hammered metal and Mexican tile for Casey. Casey bought a small sombrero for his girlfriend, Caroline Cardon.
The line to the U.S. crossing was 50 yards deep. That was at least 45 yards longer than the lines we encountered during a half-dozen or more previous crossings. But those crossings had been at midweek or off-season and were pre 9/11.
Once back at the resort, Betty and I decided to have dinner at Shelby’s Bistro in the village of Tubac that evening. Casey wanted to stay back to relax and watch TV at the Casita. I had a very good green salad topped with grilled Ahi tuna. Betty had an excellent pepperoni pizza. We got a takeout pizza for Casey.
To New Orleans For Cooking School, Gulf Shores
Dec. 27, 2004 – Jan. 1, 2005 – To New Orleans and Gulf Shores, AL
We dropped off our pet greyhound at the Southland Park dog track boarding kennel in West Memphis, Ark., on a Monday morning. We then headed south toward the Gulf of Mexico on Interstate 55 even though many of the side streets and shady areas around Memphis were still covered by ice left by a bad storm that moved through the Mid-South the previous Tuesday.
We drove in Betty’s Ford Focus station wagon, nicknamed "Fiona." Once we got south of the ice at Batesville, Miss., we had a nice day for the drive. It took 6 ½ hours to get to New Orleans, where we stayed at the Marriott on Canal Street by one of our favorite tourism spots, the French Quarter. I had again gotten a great rate - $55 a night - through the Priceline Internet service.
Despite the usual slow period that follows Christmas in New Orleans, the Gumbo Shop (one of our favorite restaurants in the French Quarter) was packed and a long line of bargain hunting tourists like us waited for tables. We moved on and had a delicious meal at the nearby Palace Café on Canal, a Brennan-family owned restaurant. I had some wonderful mahi-mahi and Betty had shrimp in a fancy menuier sauce. I found a tiny pearl in my "Werlein," or Caesar salad. The manager told us that the building housing the restaurant once was the headquarters of Werlein, a noted sheet music company whose clients included the great trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
We walked around after dinner and soon formed the opinion that Bourbon Street seems more tidy than it had looked on previous visits but continues to be raucous and raunchy.
Given our memory of the horrors of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Towers in New York in 2001, we had to wonder if our room – No. 911 in the Marriott – was "good luck" or "bad luck." The next morning, I enjoyed my class at the Cajun Cooking School down the street in a shopping mall along the Mississippi River. It was my fourth class at the school, a favorite spot for me to spend a morning when Betty visits the nearby Saks Fifth Ave. and other stores in downtown New Orleans.
The school’s visiting chef taught the class of about 20 how to make Shrimp Etoufee, Creole Vinaigrette and other dishes.
While I cooked, Betty shopped in the French Quarter and enjoyed some beignets and creole coffee at the famous Café du Monde just steps from the Mississippi River. I returned to the hotel after class and did 20 minutes on an exercise bike in the Marriott’s Fitness Center.
We drove about 15 minutes to the Longvue House and Gardens, a celebrated and fabulous eight-acre site next to the New Orleans Country Club. A businessman by the name of Stern and his wife (an heiress of the Sears & Roebuck fortune) built their 22,000-square-foot mansion and elaborate gardens. We were given an excellent tour of the home for free, thanks to a reciprocal arrangement with the Memphis Botanic Gardens where we are members.
That evening, we had a great dinner at our favorite New Orleans restaurant, Galatoires on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. I had pan-fried drum fish and Betty had oysters Bruchette-Vouvray, all served elegantly and expertly for $125 including wine.
The next morning, I had a bagel delivered to our room in the Marriott and repaired to the Fitness Center where I did 6 miles on the exercise bike and did some stretching. We went to the Central Grocery in the French Quarter and bought one of their famous takeout Muffalettas to eat on our drive to Gulf Shores, leaving at 10:30 a.m.
As expected, our place and surrounding property in Gulf Shores was a mess from the month-earlier’s hurricane. We met with Danny Endress, president of the Gulf Village Association, Jon Lundy (general contractor hired by the association to make repairs) and construction superintendent Keith White. We toured the destruction visited on homes and condo complexes on West Beach Boulevard. Several homes had been washed across the road or totally destroyed.
We had a so-so dinner of hamburgers. Our condo was a wreck and without power. We spent three nights (at $62.50 per night) at the Holiday Inn Express north of us in Foley, AL, across the highway from the Tanger Mall.
The next day, we met with rental agent Kristi Jones and her manager, Leslie Johnson, at Kaiser Realty. I played 18 holes at the Gulf State Park course, shooting 49 on the front 9 and 45 on the back 9 for a 94. I was lucky enough to hit a great 5-iron over and thru trees on No. 9 and make a one-putt for par and then drop a 6-foot putt on No. 18. We visited Gene’s Floor Coverings and had a very good shrimp dinner at the Shrimp Basket in Foley. While in Foley we stopped at Bebo’s service station and had the salt and sand grit washed off the car.
On Friday, Dec. 31, we decided to head home a day early since our business of getting repairs started was as complete as we could make it. Betty had enjoyed shopping at the mall the previous day while I played golf. We left Foley at 9 a.m. on an unseasonably warm morning. The temp started out in the 60s but rose into the low 70s during our drive home. Traffic was light and it was an easy but tiring drive.
Among our conclusions from this productive, post-hurricane trip was that there is a big difference between staying in our own condo on the beach versus staying in a nice Holiday Inn. We missed walking on the beach a lot, which is now all but impossible due to the destruction of so much beachfront properties. We also missed looking at the ocean from our condo deck and all the ambience and rich memories of so many experiences we’ve enjoyed at Gulf Village during our stays there over the last 19 years.