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Friday, September 10, 2010

Oysters & Hurricanes

"@JimCantore:Wow #Hermine still is a TS.  It's pulling an Erin on us." 
         Retweeted by MJansenMiller

I didn't have to look to see who retweeted that on Twitter.  I knew.  I simply knew.

We vacationed in Destin, Florida for seven straight years after we discovered the Sea Oats Motel, a quaint little motel yards from the teal blue water's edge of the Gulf of Mexico.  We were utterly captivated by the water, the white sand, and the tranquility of our tiny nook of paradise.  We spent our days sitting in our blue chairs reading under our blue umbrella.  We'd  occasionally wade out into crystal water to cool off and swim before returning to our chairs to read, nap, and sun.
I managed to start and finish Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True in one week.  Tranquil feat.

We spent our nights eating.  We strolled up and down the beach with wine and flashlights in hand at sunset choosing which restaurants suited our moods.  Captain Daves?  The Crab Shack?  Captain Daves had succulent butter poached grouper topped with lemon juice and parmesan crust.  The Crab Shack offered up metal buckets of Old Bay dusted steamed crabs with drawn butter, corn on the cob, and cole slaw. All were beach friendly with walk up bars, sand strewn floors, beautifully tanned workers, and impeccable seafood.  After languid dinners of flowing wine and snarky obsvervations, we'd stumble back by flashlight through ankle deep water to our beach home. Stolen night moments.

Our favorite Harbor restaurant, a short drive from the motel, was The Lucky Snapper.  It was a huge four story fishing dock, boat harbor, restaurant, and bar.  The top deck tikki bar had patio seating with views of the harbor.  It was always festive, loud, and fun.

On August 2, 1995, we were sitting in the second floor glass walled oyster bar overlooking the harbor and eating dozens of oysters at a voracious pace.  The bartender couldn't shuck them fast enough for us or for the other diners. Tobasco Sauce, cocktail sauce, and saltines were the only garnish.  Gulp after gulp without chewing. Plump and briny. Amazingly fresh and light.  That night, Destin was hopping.  Tropical Storm Erin was meandering in the Gulf with her sights set somewhere on the Tampa Bay coast of Florida.  Everyone in Destin was pumped with energy about the tropical storm, planning hurricane parties and festivities to celebrate landfall.

We watched the track of the storm while devouring our oysters.  Every television in every bar was broadcasting the weather channel.  Bets flew, handshakes bobbed, and money-pools overflowed with gleeful predictions of the stormy landfall. It was fun.  Good fun.

We ordered our final tin tray of plump oysters, washed them down with a fine crisp chardonnay, paid our tab, bid our fellow revelers good night, and returned to our island home.

The following morning we awoke to startling news.  Tropical Storm Erin, now Hurricane Erin, had been swept into a strong jet stream and changed her course.  Overnight, while we all slept off our previous nights indulgences, Erin turned toward Destin.  By the time any of us knew what was happening, the bridges and mainland connecting causeways to Destin  had closed.  There was no way out.  We were told  to ride out the storm.  We were a hundred feet from the water in an old quaint motel with a hurricane making landfall in short time. Ride out the storm. 

We had a bag of potato chips, a half eaten pint of pimento cheese, a sleeve of Ritz Crackers, and a liter of vodka.  Hardly hurricane provisions.

At 10:00 am, we poured vodka over ice cubes into our stained coffee cups, and waited for the hurricane.

Erin was not a particularly strong hurricane.  It was a category 1 with sustained winds of 85 miles an hour.  Still, for two Kentucky boys used to summer thunderstorms and rain, 85 mile an hour winds seemed excessive.

As the first bands swept into the area, most people were filled with anticipation.  If it was going to rain on vacation, it might as well really rain.  It seemed like any typical storm situation until the big winds kicked in.  We actually went out onto the beach to experience it like the stupid people on television.  The sideways rain felt like bullets and the blowing sand like needles.  Piercing.  Pelting.  We could actually lean into the wind without falling, suspended like marionettes on strings. We were told to go back inside our room.

The sound of the wind seemed to last forever.  Over and over howling with the occasional cracking and ripping of trees and rooftops.  Eventually, the sound of the wind became our new normal.  White noise.

The power went out before dark, so we had time to adjust to the loud quiet. The wind just kept blowing and gusting, driving us mad.

All of a sudden, the winds stopped and the air got very very still.  The sun came out as the eye of the storm passed over our motel.  Within minutes, it started all over again with the winds coming in a different direction.  The back side of the hurricane.  Good God, we thought.  Let it end. To take our minds off things, we ate pimento cheese Ritz Cracker sandwiches and slugged vodka.

It was over by morning's sunrise..  At least, the hurrican was over. Destin was on a city wide lock down.  Nobody could go anywhere.  Crap.  It  got  No power, food, communication, or  air conditioning eventually took its toll.  We were over it.  The novelty of it was gone.  Period.  We had four days of vacation left.

They opened a few supermarkets with police gaurds by mid afternoon for stranded tourists and residents.    We waited in line to get in.  Once inside, we were handed  flashlights to navigate the  aisles.  It was disgusting.  Opened bags of food were strewn everywhere, half eaten and disgarded.  The cold food sections smelled  of rot.  The floors were wet, dirty, and slippery.  Thrilled. Horrified.  We were not third world people.  We were in Destin Florida, for Gods sake. Destin was supposed to be pretty.

We filled our cart with Cheese Puffs, Funyuns, Chef Boyardee Ravioli, Dinty Moore Beef Stew, Spaghettio's, water, cokes, and beer.  Anything that didn't have to be cooked and could be easily opened went into our cart.  We paid our grocery bill by flashlight and calculator and drove back to paradise.
We sat on our deck over looking the muddy seaweed water and ate our cold Dinty Moore Beef Stew with Cheese Puffs for crunch. Fun.

The following day word got out that a few restaurants had reopened.  The Lucky Snapper was one of them.  We took whore's baths with cold water, threw on dirty clothes, drank a shot of warm vodka, and headed to the Lucky Snapper for hot food and cold wine. There was a line for the parking lot and a three hour wait for dinner.  We waited.  And drank.  Heavily.

After hours of waiting, we were joyously seated for dinner.  No oysters that time around.  Oysters seemed excessive.  Uppity.  To high brow.  We were refugees in a swank tourist town.  I ordered the Deep Fried  Fisherman's Platter.  And.  Didn't.  Care.  Michael ordered the Fried Shrimp Platter.  Everything looked identical on both gigantic platters.  Big piles of brown fried food with crispy seasoned crusts and soft juicy meats. Lemon squeeze.  Tartar sauce.  Cocktail sauce.  We wanted everything.  We deserved everything.  The fried seafood was hot,  heavenly, and really good.  Most importantly, it felt good.  We left the restaurant and stumbled to our car.  A brightly colored stuffed cloth parrot had blown from the top floor tikki bar during the hurricane and landed in a bush  near our parked car.  We tossed it into the trunk, winked at each other, and drove back to the motel.

We woke up the next day, packed our bags, loaded the car, and left Destin. We felt sorry  the residents had to deal with the aftermath and the clean up.  We really did.

We had to leave it behind and get the hell out of there. 

We wanted to be home.

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