Nolan Travels -- Happy trails from Lewis & Betty Nolan
Nolan Travels Getaways 2008
Travel by Lewis & Betty Nolan
Casey Nolan, far left, at ceremony for completion of
1000 new homes at Fort
Belvoir, Virginia May, 2008
To Gulf Shores & Brother’s Farm near Newton, MS
Dec. 20, 2007 – Jan. 2, 2008
Betty and I drove to Gulf Shores in her Ford Focus station wagon, nicknamed "Fiona." We took our greyhound by that name with us, riding in the back.
Because of our unwillingness to leave our pet alone in case she got into a chewing mood around our new carpet and furnishings, we stayed pretty close to our condo on the beach most days. The weather was cool and damp most days during our stay. Betty went shopping in the 120-store outlet mall at nearby Foley, AL, while I stayed with Fiona in the condo to write on a laptop computer my account about our recent cruise on the Danube River in Europe.
We walked on the white sand beach fronting our condo building along the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. The beach is gently sloped and quite wide – perhaps 50 or more yards from the edge of the surf line to the condo properties on most days. There is, of course, more beach at low tide and less beach at high tide.
We either cooked freshly purchased seafood in the condo or bought takeout seafood from various restaurants in Gulf Shores. During our stay with visited with Kaiser Realty’s Roger Kaiser and staff to discuss the rental program. On one day, we loaded Fiona into the wagon and drove to nearby Fort Morgan at the mount of the Mobile Bay. We poked around what appeared to be the remains of a wrecked or abandoned fiberglass fishing boat mostly buried in the sand.
Once we were back at condo, a plumber named Alan came by to repair the toilet. It had somehow become unseated from the tile we had installed in the bathroom floor a year ago as part of the interior rebuilding work done to repair extensive damage in the condo caused by Hurricane Ivan. The roof had been peeled by high winds, opening up the interior to water damage from heavy rain.
We visited the Public Library in Gulf Shores almost daily during our stay to take advantage of their Wi-Fi Internet connection signal, which was strong enough that our laptop computer could pick it up in the parking lot even when the library was closed. We also used the free Wi-Fi service offered by a bookstore near the big Bruno’s grocery store in the middle of town.
Gulf Shores has a small but surprisingly well equipped library for such a small town. Its publications rival those of the much larger Memphis library. It appears that a majority of the library’s staff are volunteers, many of them "snow birds" from northern climes spending part of the winter in the relatively balmy area.
We think winter offers the best beach walking opportunities of the year. There are not many people on the beach other than walkers and a few solitary surf fishermen. While we didn’t spot any passing porpoises this year, most walks on the beach at this time of year produce good sightings of passing families of dolphins working the shallow waters just off the beach.
Sadly, our favorite restaurant in Gulf Shores – The Spot – is now just a memory. The building that fronted the public beach has been torn down to make way for a multi-story, combination retail-condo development on the former restaurant and adjacent business property. There was no construction activity in evidence; evidently the project has stalled due to the economic downturn that has hurt the area real estate market and caused a lot of misery across the U.S.
We departed Gulf Shores Jan. 2, 2008 and had a four-hour drive to the farm of Betty’s older brother, Harvey Trapp, near Newton, MS, in the southeastern part of Mississippi not far from Meridian. When Betty and I were students at the former East Central Junior College at Decatur we frequently went to nearby Newton to a movie theatre. Harvey, who with Betty and three other siblings grew up on a farm in Neshoba County’s Philadelphia, MS, later became business manager of the community college long after his sister attended it. He now owns more than 300 acres of farmland in Jasper County, where he grows several crops.
Betty and I had a nice visit with Harvey and his former wife, Ann, who joined us for dinner that evening. The two are planning to remarry soon and Betty and I hope to attend their wedding. Their daughter Tonja – who is Betty’s niece - teaches at East Central and lives in Decatur with her husband, Jimmy Nowell, and their daughter, Maggie.
Back to Gulf Shores & Fairhope after Spring Break
Betty and I drove to Gulf Shores, Ala., on Friday, April 11, where we have a small condo on the beach. Since we are both now retired, we had our choice of dates and had waited until the bulk of the area college spring breaks were over to avoid the clutter and hub-bub caused by college students blowing off steam. We pulled out of Memphis at 9 a.m. and had to drive through rain beginning about Grenada, MS on Interstate 55. The rain started intermittently, but got heavy once we approached Mobile, AL. Traffic in south Alabama was also heavy.
Unlike in most of our 20 years of making about four trips per year to Gulf Shores when I handled the wheelwork, Betty and I shared the driving responsibilities on this trip since I had not completely recovered from my two years of recuperation from a brain aneurysm and tiredness pushed out whatever compulsions I might have to "tough it out" and drive for nearly 8 hours straight through.
Arriving at Gulf Shores at 4:50 p.m., we picked up carryout oyster and shrimp po-boy sandwiches with French fries from the Bahama Bob’s restaurant on West Beach Blvd. about a mile from our place. They were good.
The next day, Saturday April 12, we bought some light bulbs at Breezeway and met with the rental agents at Kaiser Realty. Then on Sunday, we had a customary lunch (cheeseburger with French fries for me and BLT sandwich for Betty) and visited with snack shop employees Sunshine and Joan, two of the longtime employees who keep the place so spic and span and the food and service quite good for the modest prices charged. We later drove from the big bridge over the Perdido Bay pass to the end of the lagoon development.
Fortunately, I brought along my HP laptop computer so I was able to work on my trip accounts of our long weekend "getaways" about our stays at Gulf Shores and other locations including daytrips to Old Waverly Golf Club at West Point, Miss. It is truly remarkable how much writing I can get done now that I have at my fingertips the capabilities of the Microsoft Word processing program loaded onto a first-rate laptop given to me by Betty and Casey.
On Monday, April 14, Betty and I drove down the coast to Fairhope, Ala., where we visited our side-by-side favorites on Mobile Bay, a big pier that juts into the bay and the landside rose garden the town keeps extremely well planted and manicured. While in Fairhope, we stopped by the Colony Clothes store for women that was just a few steps off the main drag through the shopping district. It is owned by Kim McLemore and her sister, who inherited it from their late mother. Kim is the wife of our college pal from East Central Junior College in Decatur, MS, Harry McLemore, a retired high school track and football coach and also a teacher.
We had a nice visit with Kim, and were joined a little later by Harry. Afterwards, Betty and I drove back to Gulf Shores and enjoyed a nice dinner at the Original Oyster House there.
That day, there was a cold wind blowing and the temperature dropped into the 30s that night. For the first time in our about 20 years of coming down in the Springtime, I passed on sunning on the beach due to the coolness and rather stiff winds. Betty did get out a couple of times and sunned for fairly brief periods of time, sheltered from the wind in the pool area.
On Tuesday, April 15, thankfully having our crush of tax preparation work behind us, I was able to accomplish some more writing and added my personalized accounts to my Getaways-1999 installment to be posted on the Internet once we return to Memphis. Betty was suffering a bit from acid reflux and was dealing with it thanks due to some prescription medication she had brought from home. We took a nice beach walk on the tightly packed, gently sloping sand near the waterline. The afternoon was a little chilly, with the high temp climbing only into the low 60s (about 10-15 degrees below what I remember as normal for this time of year).
We purchased over a pound of fresh shrimp from a seafood store on Highway 59 for dinner the next day. The afternoon temps climbed into the upper 60s, but all but a few sunbathers stayed on the beach except for the adolescents, who ventured into the coolish ocean. I stayed inside our condo during most of the day and also the next day, writing my accounts of our 1997 and 1998 Getaway trips (seewww.lewisnolan.com/Getaways-1997.htm, and so forth by changing the year). Betty cooked a great breakfast one morning. We visited Kaiser Realty again and talked with Leslie Johnson about improvements to the property we were considering. She has been in charge of rentals for several years and we’ve always found her to be helpful and supportive.
The biggest reminder of the damage from Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina 3 years ago is the really sorry state of the remaining forest timber still standing around the big, brackish water lake of the Gulf State Park. Most of the pine trees are dead, forming a battalion of gray sentinels standing around the lake. It seems that the hurricane surges washed salt water a half-mile and more inland and it stood for long enough to kill the trees. So far, park personnel have allowed them to shed their leaves and small branches, forming tall spears of doom where their green foliage once bloomed year-around. We think it would be an improvement if park personnel would remove the dead trees even thought the wildlife would probably lose homes and perching places.
The area real estate market has been "soft" since the hurricanes ripped up so much new and established construction about three years ago. I well remember our annual income from rentals of our condo dropped from nearly $10,000 a year to zero for over a year because of the hurricane damage. Our roof was peeled, opening up the interior to extensive water damage from the rain. The power poles along the street were blown down. Even our sewers were destroyed by the surging storm water.
On Saturday, April 19, Betty and I drove from Gulf Shores to the farm near Newton, Miss., owned by her brother, Harvey Trapp. We attended the 6 p.m. wedding of Harvey and his former wife, Ann Trapp, at the United Methodist Church at Decatur, Miss. The church is across the street from what was formerly called East Central Junior College (now known as East Central Community College), where Betty and I met in the mid-1960s and Harvey later served as Business Manager. Ironically, we had attended the wedding back when we were at school of SueAnn Bates (Betty’s suitemate) and John Turnage.
We recognized a few townspeople and others at the wedding, including the current college president and others, including SuAnn and Tonja Trapp Newell, whose husband, Jimmy, participated in the wedding. Tonya is the daughter of Harvey and Ann who now lives in Decatur and teaches at the college.
Betty and I spent the night at Harvey’s home and drove from there to our home in Memphis the next day, on Sunday, April 20.
To Fort Belvoir to Mark Completion of 1,000 Homes
May 9-12, 2008
Note: There are 60 photos posted atwww.ritzpix.com that were taken at Casey and Caroline Nolan’s home at Arlington, Va., during the trip there May 8-12 by Casey’s parents, Lewis and Betty Nolan. The photos include shots of the Nolans’ new Golden Retriever puppy "Rugby," the Nolans’ recently improved front and back yards designed by a landscaper, and quite a few photos at nearby Fort Belvoir during an outdoor celebration May 10, 2008 of the completion of 1,000 homes for military families done by Casey’s real estate development company. To see these photos (and order copies if desired), go to the below URL by clicking on the colored URL address tag and follow directions to see images in a slideshow:
Betty and I were up early on a Friday morning so we could eat a light breakfast before boarding Delta Airline’s flight 1498 for the 10:20 a.m. flight to Atlanta. We had nearly an hour in Atlanta to eat at the airport sandwiches we made at home, then boarded Delta Flight 818 for the hour-and-a-half flight in to Washington National Airport at 1:20 p.m. We arrived at 3 p.m. and were met at the curb by Casey in his Ford Explorer and drove a few miles to his home across the Potomac River at Arlington, VA.
When Casey’s beautiful wife, Caroline, got home from her work at an Arlington-based Certified Public Accounting firm, where she works as a CPA, we repaired to a nearby Mexican restaurant (Taqueria Poblano). We had an excellent dinner, with me going for a restaurant specialty of shrimp tacos which were recommended by Caroline.
The next day, Betty and I admired the extensive yard improvement work done by contractors to make Casey and Caroline’s home so inviting. The front and back yards were re-sodded with grass and a range of flowering shrubs had been planted. A low stone wall was installed in the back yard and it was filled with rich earth and topped with new mulch and blooming plants. That evening, we had a delicious dinner Casey grilled on a new outdoor cooker that included charbroiled chicken breasts, corn-on-the-cob and slices of fresh pineapple.
We dined in Casey and Caroline’s dining room, equipped with a large, wooden table they had purchased. It was a lovely setting they matched with a bottle of champagne. The dinner and great conversation was a fine ending to a wonderful day at nearby Fort Belvoir, where Casey had put together a milestone celebration for the big construction project he has been managing for his employer, Clark Realty Development. Fortunately, the rainy morning partially cleared and we had cloudy but dry skies for Casey’s big event.
To Gulf Shores and Harvey Trapp’s Farm
June 15 – 22, 2008 – To Gulf Shores, AL and then to Newton, MS
Betty and I departed from our home in Memphis at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday in Betty’s Ford Focus station wagon for the long drive to Gulf Shores, AL. Betty handled most of the driving due to my slow recovery from a brain aneurysm in early 2006. I slept for an hour or so and she drove us through a few sprinkles of rain to just south of Jackson, MS, where I took over the driving duties for a while.
We stopped at the most nasty McDonald’s restaurant we can ever recall seeing. It was at 7749 Moffett Road on the northern outskirts of Mobile. There was a disgusting pile of food-flecked trays on the service counter in the front of the store and wads of dried-up ketchup here and there on the counter. A dirty mop in a bucket was in the waiting area in front of the counter. The tile floor was slick with spilled water.
Betty complained to an African-American woman who looked to be in her 20s, a uniformed employee who appeared to be in charge, about the piles of paper and trash in the ladies restroom. The woman who appeared to be the manager and her fellow employees didn’t seem to care.
I resolved to write a letter of complaint to corporate headquarters, which was answered a couple of weeks later with a polite apology but no offer of any refunds or discount coupons. I am amazed at how a great chain like McDonald’s can allow its company-wide system of uniform quality be so undercut by such unacceptable store management as we saw on this day. Maybe it’s because Moffett Road is so far off the beaten track and the scruffy businesses and houses nearby reflect a lower standard of what can be tolerated by regular customers.
This Sunday was Father’s Day so it wasn’t much of a surprise to see a lot of cars on the streets near the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., once we arrived there. We were pleased to find that our condominium on the beach had not been damaged again by the recent hurricanes. While our unit was reasonably clean, we discovered way more disorder than we like to find in our usually well-stocked and well-organized cabinets and drawers in the small kitchen area.
Thanks to a mail-order Smoked Salmon from Sea Bear of Seattle, we had an excellent dinner that evening in our condo. The wild Sockeye Salmon was delicious. A bottle of Taylor Extra Dry Champagne – accompanied by a tin of Sturgeon Roe Caviar from the Tsar Nicoulai California Estate and a salad made for a wonderful meal.
In a way, partly offsetting some of our perennial frustration at the lack of dependable, orderly maid service done in our unit by the constantly turnover cleaning staff hired by Kaiser Real Estate (our management company), was our finding a decent First Aid Kit somebody had left in a cabinet. We’ll leave it in the unit for the use of future renters in need.
The next day, we stopped at the Kaiser office to complain (again) about the cleaning staff leaving the wrong-size sheets on our queen-size condo bed. We visited briefly with our pal Roger Kaiser, who was the agent that handled our purchase of the condo more than 20 years ago. Despite our recurring frustration with the clean-up work done by their crew just before our arrivals about four times a year, we’ve concluded that Kaiser is probably the best in the business so we stay with them year after year. We’re sorry that their longtime rental manager, Leslie Johnson, with her equal portions of just-right toughness mixed with Southern manners and hospitality, resigned in favor of returning to her home in Michigan.
We dropped by WalMart to fill up the car’s gas tank and do some light shopping then drove over to what is now our favorite restaurant in the area, the Wolf Bay Lodge about 20 or so miles to the north and east. We had some terrific fried oysters and crab claws.
I spent most of the next morning, a Tuesday on June 17, working on my portable HP Laptop computer, writing about our short trips in 1994. The Getaways segments compilation is one of my latest projects that will be uploaded to the Internet a little later.
Betty enjoyed the early summer sunshine on the beach while I stayed behind in the condo to write. Later, we drove to the Tanger Outlet Mall at Foley, Ala., about 15 miles to the north of Gulf Shores on Highway 59. Buzz purchased some loafers and tennis shoes, allowing Betty to get a free pair of Reebok sandals under a promotion. We went on to the Wolf Bay Lodge a few miles away and had their wonderful Gumbo and a Po Boy with heaping piles of fried oysters served with seasoned French fries for a late lunch.
On Wednesday, June 18, I spent most of the day in our condo writing and polishing my accounts of our short travel trips in 1995. Betty sunned on the beach in front of our condo building. We later walked through our Gulf Village property to the dock and admired a new, concreted ramp that allows small boats to be launched into the lagoon. The wooden dock has been rebuilt since one of the hurricanes pretty well demolished it a year or so ago. It has poles topped by electric lights at the end, which must make for a pretty sight after dark.
That evening we had leftover smoked salmon for dinner, served with chicken noodle soup and chunks of fresh cantaloupe and a green salad. I was delighted to find an old account I had written of our trip with our son Casey to the Hawaiian Island of Kuwai in 1993.
We slept in the next morning, Thursday June 19. I worked on transcribing my notes for the Getaways series of travel accounts for 1993. For lunch, we drove a few miles to the east to a new commercial development near the Orange Beach entrance to the Foley Expressway Bridge. We had a very good lunch at a new, seafood restaurant called "The Wharf." I had an Oyster Po Boy with seasoned French Fries. Betty went for the Crab Cakes Remoulade. We agreed that it was the best new restaurant we’ve tried in a good while on the Gulf Coast. With tip, the tab came to $45, which is a little pricey for this area.
That evening we watched the move "Troy" on a cable TV channel in our condo. It seemed to me that the movie was longer than the copy I have of the movie on a DVD at home.
I slept in until 8 a.m. the next morning, Friday, June 20, which is late for me at the beach this time of year. Betty cooked another in her long line of great breakfasts – bacon and fried eggs with toast. After eating, I did some more writing on our Getaways 1993 compendium of short trips for that year. We repaired to the Gulf State Park Golf Course for our usual, excellent lunch at the spic-and-span snackbar of a BLT for Betty and a yummy cheeseburger with French fries for me. It’s always fun talking to the Korean ladies who manage the place and cook the tasty food.
I also talked to golf pro Harry Dwyer about my need of a new golf swing to compensate for my inability to swing normally since late 2005 when I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder with a foolishly monster swing at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. To my profound regret, I haven’t been able to play golf since then and let my membership in the swanky, private club lapse. Harry has worked with golfers of about my age (65) with similar rotator cuff injuries before and thinks he can teach me a less powerful swing that I can handle. I plan to take a lesson or two from him during my next trip or a later visit to Gulf Shores.
Meanwhile, Betty purchased a pretty, new swimsuit at the Smart & Sassy store she favors in Gulf Shores. It has a floral design that resembles an older suit I’ve long admired.
We drove to Perdido Pass along the Gulf Coast beach to the east and admired the coastline and the differing shades of light blue and dark blue water just off the beach and the jetty under the arching bridge at the pass. Several new high-rise condo buildings are under construction on both sides of the road, including a monster with blue-glass walls at Orange Beach and Romar Beach.
Later that afternoon, Betty sunned by the beach in front of our Gulf Village condo complex while I worked on my calendar and read the day’s edition of the Mobile Press-Register, which I think has transformed itself into a better newspaper than it was when we started spending a lot of time in this area 20 and more years ago.
There was heavy rain on Saturday morning, June 21, so I continued writing my travel accounts of our short trips in Getaways 1993. The clouds parted and we walked for an hour along the beach and at one point walked out to knee-depth water in the small waves. We went to DeSoto’s Kitchen for lunch, which is one of our favorite places in Gulf Shores now that our most favorite restaurant, The Spot, was sold to make way for a complex of condos and retail stores at the high-traffic junction of Highway 59 and Gulf Boulevard. Betty had some very good Fried Shrimp served with hot vegetables. I had six Coconut Fried Shrimp with French Fries and Cole Slaw. Betty had a nice Margarita while I enjoyed a generous pour of Chardonnay wine plus a Coors Lite Beer.
It looked to us like there were more cars parked under our "Middle Building" and the "East Building" at Gulf Village than we had seen at the complex in a very long time. Some of that may have been due to casual beach visitors parking in owners’ reserved spots. Interestingly, the staff at the State Park Golf Course said play at the course was down from usual at this time of year. It could be that more people are visiting the beach but fewer playing golf this year, maybe due to the economy collapsing.
We pulled out of Gulf Shores about 10 a.m. Sunday, June 22, after we carefully left the place cleaner than it was when we arrived and all the clean linens back in place. We drove to the farm of Betty’s older brother, Harvey Trapp, near Newton, Miss. Harvey and his re-united wife, Ann, fed us a wonderful country dinner that evening that included roast beef, new potatoes in cream sauce, green beans and field peas he grew and fresh corn cooked in a skillet by their daughter (and Betty’s niece) Tonya Nowell with help from her young daughter, Maggie, age 6.
Tonya’s husband, an entrepreneur in the pallet business and former Mississippi State football player Jimmie Nowell, and Maggie joined us for dinner at the Trapp farm. We learned that Jimmie’s hobby is racing a stock car he owns and largely built.
The next morning, Monday, June 23, Betty went outside to see if her cell phone would work and ended up getting stung-bitten on her sandaled feet and ankles by a hive of fire ants that are plaguing this section of Mississippi farmland and woodland. The stinging was a painful nuisance for Betty that lasted for over a week.
Harvey showed us how his hay-bailing machine works to form huge rolls of hay that look like gigantic rolls of yellowed toilet paper.
We departed from his farm about 10 a.m. and drove north to Hattiesburg and then Jackson-Canton, arriving back at our Memphis home about 2:40 p.m. We transferred into our Ford Taurus station wagon and drove it over to West Memphis, Ark., where we picked up our pet greyhound, Fiona, from the boarding kennel at the dog track. We made it home a little after 3 p.m.