- Where We Started: Pensacola, Fla.
- Where We Ended: New Orleans, La.
- Miles Driven: 268 (2,358 total)
- New States: Mississippi, Louisiana
- Total States: 8 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
We saw our first rain Saturday in Atlanta, but it wasn't until Monday that the weather officially slowed down the FHMA party. Neither Joan nor I had ever been to the Golf Coast before, so the goal was to hug the coastline as much as possible between Pensacola and New Orleans. But we awoke to torrential rain in Pensacola, scrapping the intended drive out to the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the planned stop at Gulf State Park in Alabama. We tried to wait out the rain at the hotel, which meant we also got a later start than anticipated. Even the shoreline drives we did do were severely hampered by low visibility and steady rain that pounded the car all day long.
Although we always intended to go to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, we ended up staying longer, because of the weather and the fact our only other indoor option in Pensacola -- the slightly bizarre T.T. Wentworth Florida State Museum -- is closed on Mondays.
Luckily, the extra time at the naval aviation museum was well worth it. It's located within the Pensacola Naval Air Station, so getting there required an ID check and a special dashboard pass. When we pulled up to the museum, I was disappointed at its small size. Considering it's a museum of -- oh, I don't know, LARGE NAVAL AIRCRAFT -- it didn't look like there was room for much. But, man, I've never seen a museum use every inch of space so skillfully.
The aircraft at the museum ranges from old sea planes, to dirigibles, to WWII planes, to modern naval military craft. In addition, there are displays covering major naval battles such as Midway, the Coral Sea and Guadalcanal. It's a well laid-out museum, and could easily occupy half a day. Here are a few other photos.
Me in the cockpit of an old jet. What you can't see is how hard Joan is laughing about how long it took me to get into this goddamn thing. What she didn't anticipate was how much longer it was going to take for me to get out.
After we stopped naval gazing, we headed back to the wet roads to continue our journey west. After some futile drives along the shoreline, in which we could barely see water, we headed back inland and toward Mobile, Ala. The weather cleared a bit as we pulled into Fairhope, Ala., so we let the boys out the car so Fred could pee on Hank's head.
We finally ran into some luck as we crossed the long bridge into Mobile at dusk. The heavy clouds broke just enough for some sun to peek through, making for great lighting conditions. The city's skyline against the gray sky was stunning, as was the presence of the imposing USS Alabama on Mobile Bay. It was too late for us to visit the park, but Joan did snap this cool shot (from a moving car, no less).
We spent enough time in Mobile to eat and to decide we liked the town. But we needed to keep moving, so after dinner -- and a dog walk in one of the city squares -- we got back on the road. (Great piece of Mobile trivia: Many of the closing interior scenes of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" were filmed there, at the Brookley Field Industrial Complex outside of town. The exteriors were, of course, filmed at Devils Tower in Wyoming).
One of the goals on a journey like this is to stay off the interstates -- of which Charles Kuralt once aptly wrote, "Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything." So we hopped off I-10 just past Pascagoula, Miss. -- which means "bread eaters" for those who were also curious about this odd name -- and hit scenic U.S.-90, which took us through Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis, all towns that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
From there, it was back onto I-10 and into New Orleans, where we got in, walked the dogs and decided to call it a night.
- The aforementioned Gulfport is also the birthplace of one Brett Favre. As a slightly insane Jets fan, I was never in favor of the trade that brought the mad gunslinger to New York last season, and while the deal admittedly looked good at midseason, the end of the Jets' season was typically Shakespearean, and thankfully, Favre chose to retire. So I chose to ignore the fact I was driving through his birthplace -- because, hey, he's a nice guy -- and I ignored it when we drove past Kiln, Miss., where he was raised. But as we were getting closer to meeting back up with I-10, we saw a "Detour" sign that told us to leave U.S.-90. So, being good citizens, we obliged, and soon found ourselves in some pretty desolate territory, with no lights in sight. Joan suggested that maybe we should turn around, ignore the "Detour" sign and plow ahead. I agreed, and we returned to U.S.-90. Seeing no reason not to ignore the "Detour" sign, we shot past it and encountered no trouble. So imagine my surprise this morning when I was checking Google Maps to try and find the name of the highway we were on, only to discover we'd been driving into oblivion -- like the 2008 Jets -- on Favre Road! The car nav called it by its formal name -- Mississippi Route 604 -- but I now know the truth, and can never thank Joan enough for what surely was a life-saving decision. Had we continued, we certainly would have been intercepted by something.
- We were both surprised by how many casinos line Biloxi's Beach Boulevard. It's got a short stretch that makes you feel like you're in Vegas. And, yet, smack in the middle of it all is Beauvoir, the location of the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library. This beautiful, stately old mansion sits right in the midst of the chaos that is Beach Boulevard. It felt a bit out of place, though admittedly, not as much as when I was able to see a McDonald's from Red Square in Moscow.
- Of all the places the American University men's basketball team could have been sent, Philadelphia was always low on the list. Going to Philly would mean driving all the way back home, which is something that would throw us way off schedule. As a result, the FHMA Tour will not be taking a detour to Philadelphia, where the Eagles are now forced to play Villanova in its backyard. What crap. Guess I'll just need to see where AU is ends up in the Sweet Sixteen.
- One of the places we skipped on our drive through Alabama was Lambert's Cafe in Foley. Its claim to fame: It's the only restaurant in the United States that, when you order a roll, the wait staff throws it at you. Seriously. Is this really the best selling point for an eating establishment, the fact they turn food into projectiles? Reminds me of this hilarious SCTV skit featuring Bill Murray.
- Why, every single time you want to get gas these days, does the payment process at the pump have to include the "Do You Want a Car Wash?" question? Is a car wash an impulse buy for anyone else? I'm usually already annoyed I've had to waste five minutes to fill up the tank. But I can't tell you how many times I've thought I'd filled up the tank, only to come back to find out the pump is hanging on the car wash question. Yes, I am anal.
- In Gulf Shores, Ala., we passed B&L's Happy Shak, billed as a hippie boutique. Maybe I'm just perpetuating stereotypes here, but I don't draw a natural association between Alabama and hippies. Is there a subculture here I'm missing?
- Reader Jason Manning mentioned that, when writing about our passing through Fort Walton Beach, I failed to mention that's the home of Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, who led the Florida Gators to a national championship in 1996. I didn't forget. I just wanted to stick to mentioning athletes who had professional careers of note. :-) By the way, we did drive Danny Wuerffel Way -- a small portion of U.S.-98 that commemorates each of Danny's 12 NFL touchdowns, though presumably, not his 22 NFL interceptions.
- Lots of police activity along our route yesterday. We saw a bad car accident in Foley, Ala.; a man being worked on by paramedics outside his car at a McDonald's in Ocean Springs, Miss. (ordered the Big Mac Double Cheeseburger, perhaps); and saw cops trying to rescue a car mired in sand on the beach in Pass Christian, Miss. We hope this is not a sign of things to come.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Training," by Elmer Bernstein, from the soundtrack for "The Magnificent Seven." Yes, more film music. But if you're not a film music fan, and are willing to give it a shot, "The Magnificent Seven" is a great soundtrack to start with. The theme is one of the most famous in movie history, and in general, it's a terrific score. Not to mention the fact the movie is one the best Westerns ever made, though the movie that inspired it -- "The Seven Samurai" -- is even better.
- Most-played albums: Feeling a little fatigue again toward the end of the drive last night, I jacked up the volume, and played some "Back in Black," by AC/DC; "Led Zeppelin I," by Led Zeppelin; and "Boston," by Boston.
- Lunch: Jerry's Drive-In, Pensacola, Fla.: This place was a lot easier to find in the daylight, and also because we now knew it wasn't, despite its name, actually a drive in. In fact, it's a teeny hole in the wall with room for about 20-30 people at any give time. We sat at the counter, and Joan got a shrimp salad she was wholly unsatisfied with. I did get one of the burgers that Jerry's is known for, and thought it was pretty good, but no Five Guys or Hudson's Hamburgers. I also got a side salad instead of fries. Grrrr. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). Burgers are fine if you don't load them up with toppings, and the side salad substitution adds a half-star. Restaurant Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).
- Dinner: Wintzell's Oyster House, Mobile, Ala.: This place was recommended by Roadfood, and by multiple readers, making it an easy call for our one Mobile meal. We started with a dozen fried oysters and raw oysters, and I thought they were terrific. Joan was less impressed. We then decided not to have oysters as a main course, which was probably a mistake. I had a chilled seafood plate, which was fine, and Joan had some she-crab soup and a salad she thought were pretty unremarkable. The place has a great atmosphere, however, and a very social feel. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). Yes, I did have a few fried oysters, but everything else was healthy. Restaurant Rating: 3 stars (out of 5). However, I think this might have been user error more than anything; when a place is called "Oyster House," you should get as many oysters as possible.
- Weigh-In Note: OK, we're lame. When we valeted the car last night, we forgot to get the scale. If we take the car out today, we will make sure to grab it and do the dreaded Jim weigh-in.
- W New Orleans - French Quarter, New Orleans, La.: Yes, we're in the lap of luxury again. This excellent little hotel -- where we've stayed a number of times -- is smack in the middle of the Quarter and puts us in walking range of a ton of great New Orleans sites. The rooms are small, but the bed is very comfortable and the room full of amenities, such as an iPod player and DVD player. Plus you can hear a little of the French Quarter in action, which I happen to like. Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- Bonus W French Quarter Story (excerpted from the 2003 Fred Takes America tour):
- We decided to take Fred on a stroll down Bourbon Street. But before we did that, we wanted to take him for a quick pee. So we walked out of the hotel and Joan innocently asked the valet parking guy, "Do know where we can find some grass?" The guy got a quizzical look on his face, and was thinking for quite some time. After about 10 seconds of uncomfortable silence, I realized a little clarification was necessary. "Uh, for the dog to pee on." At that point, he says, "OHHHH! Yeah, make a right and go one block." We both laugh, and wonder whether he was planning on answering the question he thought we were asking.
- CivilWarTraveler.com: If you're a Civil War nut like me, this site is a great help. Only downside: the search stinks.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: New Orleans, and a Katrina disaster tour.
- Tomorrow: Back to Mississippi, including Vicksburg and the Natchez Trace Parkway.
- The Day After Tomorrow: The Elvis Tour, including Tupelo and Memphis.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO
Hank wanders a town square in Pensacola, Fla., wondering how he got himself into a position where he was wearing a raincoat (with a hood, no less). In Joan's defense, I will acknowledge putting this rain gear on the dogs makes the car a lot cleaner and less musty-smelling. There, I said it.
BONUS ST. PATRICK'S BEAGLE PHOTO