The very first thing I learned in the very first computer classes I ever took, some 25 years ago, is still one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, and not just in terms of computers.
“No one ever learned anything by clicking ‘Cancel’ in a dialogue box.”
We were there to learn what our computers could do, the instructor explained. So the work product wasn’t what mattered, it was learning what would happen “if” …
The same thing holds true for most things in life, including the last day of our recent vacation.
We had been in Florida for a week, and were heading home. I was in Pensacola and needed to get to I-10, and somehow managed to miss one turn. I knew within a few blocks that I had made a mistake, didn’t recognize anything.
But I figured, the freeway is north of me, and as long as I don’t cross it, I can’t get lost. This may not be the right road to the freeway, but it’s the right road to somewhere. Home is west of here. Eventually I’ll run out of Florida and be in Alabama. As long as I keep heading generally west and don’t cross the freeway, I’ll be fine.
Kate and Max were mostly asleep in the back seat, so Tori and I decided to just kept going. And you know what? We drove through a lot of very nice country. I had to completely change my mind about Alabama on this vacation. At the resort we’d stayed at there were a lot of people from Alabama, and they were mostly really nice people, pleasant, funny, polite and hospitable. OK, they’re completely and aggressively wrong about almost everything politically and socially, but they’re really nice, and that counts for something. And the countryside of southern Alabama is really pretty. Not spectacularly beautiful, like the Pacific Northwest can be. But lovely, pine-clad rolling hills dotted with farm land and sprinkled with small towns that were the neatest, tidiest little towns I think I’ve ever seen.
We were passing through Foley, Alabama, nearing the point where we knew we’d have to veer north and catch up with the freeway in Mobile. That’s when Tori reached into the glove box and pulled out a map. Yes, an old school map, the kind you unfold and then have all kinds of trouble refolding. And at her suggestion we backtracked half a mile to an an intersection where we turned south and soon found ourselves on Alabama’s Gulf coast, traveling west on the dune islands until we reached Fort Morgan, the Civil War fort that had protected the entrance to Mobile Bay. We were out of land, which is what we were planning on, because in very small print on the map Tori had read the word “ferry.” Sure enough, we got in line and half an hour later we were loading onto a ferry boat that took us on a 25-minute ride across the mouth of the bay to Dauphin Island. From there we drove northwest through more bucolic scenery until we wound up in Grand Bay, on the western border of the state.
From there we finally got onto I-10 and less than two hours later we were home,. But not before we had had one more adventure on our vacation trip. And we had that last adventure because we didn’t hit “cancel” and go back to correct our mistake.
The vacation also included:
• The Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival in Fort Walton Beach. Meeting up with our old friend, singer Tom Mason, was great, and we met Captain Davey, a children’s pirate performer (music, magic, juggling) who is the busiest pirate in the world, doing 25 gigs a week. The festival was a nice community festival with a sprinkling of pirate over the top, and we had fun.
• The festival parade. Not enough marching bands for my taste, I’m a sucker for marching bands in a parade, but it was fun. Lot of floats with a pirate theme and krewes from all over the place, tossing beads beads and more beads. Max caught a lot – he was so heavily bedecked that he was practically bullet proof. Just what we needed to bring home to New Orleans – more Mardi Gras beads.
• The Marina Bay Resort, which we chose because it was within easy walking distance of the festival site, literally about 100 yards. We were lucky in February to reserve the very last available room, and it was actually cheaper to take it for a week than just the five days of the festival and parade. And lucky as well because it was a great place to stay. A game room where we played a lot of pool – I hadn’t played pool in at least 20 years, probably a lot longer, and I was never very good at it, but it was fun. We swam in the pool, sat in the hot tub, used the exercise room and sauna, even played shuffleboard for the first time in my life! You know who was best in the family at it? Max. Figures that the youngest in the family would be the best at the old man game.
• A terrific meal, one of the best I’ve had in years, at Joe’s Crab Shack. It’s a chain of casual dining seafood restaurants, and because it’s a chain I didn’t have any expectations. But I wanna tell ya … Tori had a lobster that came with a side serving of bacon-wrapped shrimp that were amazing, they exploded with flavor in your mouth. I had the seared redfish in lobster sauce, and this wasn’t just a sauce with a little lobster shreds – it was thick with big chunks of lobster. Rich and delicious, my cholesterol is going up just thinking about it. And Max the iconoclast had a chipotle cheeseburger that looked awfully good. This was the same day Max and Tori got tattoos. Max’s involved getting a notarized statement saying we gave permission, because he’s not 17 for another month.
That was the longest vacation we’ve taken, probably ever, and the first in years, unless you count our peripatetic lifestyle as a sort of vacation. And we had a great time and a lot of fun and we’re already thinking about what we’ll do next year.
But now we’re back home, and I’ve gotta get my nose to the grindstone. There’s a lot to take care of if I want the book to come out on schedule this August – and I do. But at least I had the chance to relax.