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Woke up feeling awesome and refreshed after a night splurged on a motel room. Took my car to be serviced, and got on the road by 11am. I made good time, flying down a straight west shot of I-10, dodging 18 wheelers while chatting on the phone with dear, and far-flung friends I hadn't been able to catch up with when I was working 60 hour weeks. Thanks to a convenient time zone change, I reached my destination by 4pm.
The only tent-friendly campground near Pensacola was actually in Navarre Beach, one town east. It was expensive, but lovely, a standard private establishment primarily catering to the massive RVs that most Americans do seem to favor over tents. There were clean showers, a pool, a dock, and a water front visible from my spot. I even had my own water spigot and electrical outlet. It was strangely and laughably ritzy compared to the rustic public campgrounds I usually frequent. I decided to settle in and get my full pleasure out of it. Made camp, left some bean stew mix to soak in the sun, and set off for the water and a slice of tropical paradise. However, from the dock I could see that all the adjacent properties were derelict and abandoned. I supposed that a hurricane had wrecked them, and in the present economy their owners had no choice but to leave them. It was so odd to see vacations homes at their very end right next to a new resort campground. I walked along the beach to get a better look at them and took photos, but didn't enter. It felt too wrong, like desecration, like trespassing upon the graves of summer dreams. What is happening in this country that we cannot fix these homes or restore that land? It does not seem right to have a lot of weeds and trash right on the Gulf of Mexico doing nothing but bleaching away in the sun.
With a weight on my mind, I walked back to my camp site to make dinner. Cooked up my bean stew on my camp stove, opened a bottle of cheap white wine, and washed off a peach while wearing nothing but my swimsuit, living that beach life. As I worked, a man walked by with long white hair and beard. He paused and watched me for a moment before waving and saying, "that's real cool" as he pointed at my tent, an flimsy squat oddity among the monolithic RVs. A little confused, I obtusely asked, "what?" "It's cool you still do it that way. Don't see that much anymore", he replied. I chuckled a little to myself, and gave him the "yeah? thanks!" and wave he was waiting for. Please with himself, I think for recognizing something of his younger self in a contemporary young person, he hobbled off to his motor home where his round wife was cooking dinner in a tie-dyed shit, kaki shorts, and plastic sandals. I went the other way. Took my dinner to the dock to watch the sunset, while I listened to a radio broadcast of a live show a bunch of friend's bands from back home were playing that night. It was one of those perfect, golden moments. The thrill of the open road with a direct line connecting my ears to the Mid-Atlantic suburb where I keep my heart. The food was savory in that special way that camp cooked food is, a bracing wind from the west blew my hair back, and my feet dangled in the lusty Gulf of Mexico, as my ears were filled with my friend's music straight from my dive bar and complete with the ambient background sounds of clapping hands and clinking glasses. When the showcase was over, I took a quick dip in the pool to cool off, and went to sleep with the tent flaps open, slept sound caressed by sea breezes.
Once again woke feeling fantastic. Packed up camp, and set off to explore a public beach on a thin spit of land in the gulf that I could see across the water. The beach was stunningly postcard perfect, white sands, sand dollars the size of my hand, and crystalline waters. For all the edited and strategically cropped photos of beaches, no photo could do this beach justice. The kind of exotic polished shells you can only find in tourist shops at other beaches, simply just washed ashore in clusters here. I swam, and splashed, and sun bathed by myself for several delightful hours. This was the Florida beach experience I had been questing for, my buried treasure on a beach I had never heard of before. Super fantastic! I waited to get back on the road until the last possible minute, but finally had to admit that New Orleans was still four hours away. I drove the length of the barrier island through more beautiful scenery and a wildlife refugee until I reached Pensacola, where I got back on the interstate.
Blew through Alabama and Mississippi, because I was all kinds of anxious to get to New Orleans. I had been to the French Quarter for the first time a couple years ago, fallen in love with the place, and been desperate to get back ever since. Various plans for accommodations and couch surf hosts had collapsed that day, but with a little luck I met up with a last minute host around dinner time. Patrick was a young massage therapist who had moved from middle America to the gulf a few years before. he had Asperger's, but was keenly interested in honing his social skills and broadening his circle of friends. We went to a local place for dinner, and then set out for a local Couch Surf meeting to bar hop.
Our band of bar hoppers was small, a world-traveled MBA, a young wandering English major, a Chinese exchange student, a couple local hosts, and a couch surf pro from Kentucky. I was the only woman, and I will dare to venture the most socially savvy. The first couple bars we went to were rather main stream with rude staff, over-priced domestic beer, and boring people out to live their lives fuller in the only way they knew how. However, as the booze set in their blood, we got less awkward, and more adventurous with our drinking establishment selection. After good conversations with the English major about early 20th century literature, the MBA about dynamic business models, and the pro about Kentucky bourbon, we found ourselves at a hipster dive bar with a sick lady DJ. Finally digging the scene, I started a tab and prepared to shake what my momma gave me.
While taking a break to cool down in the run down courtyard outback, I couldn't help but sneak glances at a tall, skinny man with a dark goatee and wavy shoulder-length hair. After a few stolen looks, I realized he was staring back. He got up slowly, started walking towards me, and then I realized it was Josh. Carlos had introduced me to Josh during a trip to Miami a little over a year earlier. Josh was a talented musician, who had moved to New Orleans to work on a graduate degree in jazz. I hadn't thought to look him up while I was in town, because Carlos had told me that Josh had gone to South America for the summer, and was doing well playing clubs in Columbia. We both recognized each other at the same time, our faces lit up, and we rapidly began questioning each other about various recent exploits and why we were both in town at the same time. The more I travel the more I realize how small the world is, how much people move around, and how connected you are to like-minded people. Haha, mad glorious! The human race, we are so fantastic! Turns out Josh had come back just the day before, and happened to end up at the same bar as me. And so, I caught up with a random acquaintance, and made new friends to a Bowie singalong, until it was nearly 3am, and I was told that we simply must check out the paragon of local dives before it was too late.
As it was my first night in town, I had taken it exceptionally easy. Still quite sober I drove everyone from our bar crawl across town to a place that was a little more like a shack, practically with a dirt floor and lit up with Christmas lights in summer, for dollar cans of bad beer. We got a round and a table, talked some more, and the locals ran into friends, it was a popular joint. We took our second round outside to smoke, and were standing around my car chatting, when I very young looking girl, carrying her shoes and crying approached us. In between sobs she asked us if we would give her a ride a few blocks back to her dorm room. The guys kind of chuckled, said she'd be fine and declined. As she started to walk away, I felt my soul get a little dark. It didn't matter how stupid or careless or pathetic she was, if anything happened to her I would feel responsible after turning down her request for help. I sent the English major running after her, and offered her a ride. It took less than five minutes to get her back where she belonged, but on the way she explained that she had come to the bar with friends, who ditched her when it turned out she wasn't old enough to get in. As she got out of the car she thanked me, and I leaned out the window and said, "you might want to change your standards for friendship."
By this point in our adventures it was after 4am and my compatriots were thoroughly smashed. I took them home, and then my couch surf host and I headed back to his place. I passed out sun burnt and road weary, still wearing my clothes in the pre-dawn light on his exceptionally comfortable couch. What a welcome to New Orleans!