Sunday, July 20, 2008

When is a lost key a good thing? When it's in Florida

It's hot outside today, almost 100 degrees, and that has me thinking of cooler times to come.
Let me tell you about autumn on the Gulf Coast, a glorious time to be in a glorious place. Let me tell you specifically about Perdido Key ("The Lost Key") in Florida. This gem of a beach town is directly over the state line from another great beach area, Orange Beach, Alabama. It offers gorgeous sand and water, nice hotels, good food, some state parks directly on the water and all manner of beach sports and fishing along with some unlikely nightlife. We could only find one RV park in Perdido Key proper, Playa del Rio RV Resort, and we moved in for a week last October. It was a very small and tightly packed RV park with only a single road in or out and is located fetchingly close to the beach (right across the street) while the rear of the tiny park is directly on an inland bay with a beautiful view of the water. The friendly folks here allow pets in the park. We left the Jeep behind and took only our bikes with us as transport. We planned to relax in a large way and this was just the place for it.

Now, let me tell you about a VERY popular hang out, bar, eatery, music venue, package store, lounge and architectural freakshow called the Flora-Bama. Any attire is appropriate here and the ambiance just screams "Come one! Come all! Wash your hands if you touch anything!" The Legendary Flora-Bama is on the Florida-Alabama state line and is supposedly one bar in both states. In reality it’s a series of rooms, indoor and out, upstairs and down, and looks like it was designed by a blind monkey and put together by a group of angry clowns. It’s little more than a series of lean-tos and areas made of various building or building-like materials. The room I came to call “the big warm room” is actually a circus tent. Graffiti covers every available area of the bar/s ( in both states) and some places it shouldn’t. I puzzled over the graffiti a good 25 feet off the floor in the circus room. How did it get up there? ( Then I remembered the incredible powers of drunk college students. Ah, yes. Where there's a will and enough beer...) There were bras hanging on ropes ( think clotheslines) across the room. The ladies room was patched together out of cement block and wood, held together by more graffiti. The outdoor bars offer a grand view of the ocean. There's several stages for musical events and a boardwalk that leads onto the beach. Some young thing, male or female, wrote “ Taylor Hicks is f****** hot, but I’m a Clay fan!” on one bar. I had to wonder how much alcohol fueled that particular declaration of love. Now, before you inform me you would never set foot in such a place - not even to attend their annual world famous Interstate Mullet Toss held every April - let me tell you this: Oh sure you will. Everyone from lawyers to laborers goes to the famous Flora-Bama. This place attracts all ages, professions and incomes from miles around. It opens for lunch and the food is really good. John had a shrimp po-boy with waffle fries and I had the spicy, very tasty gumbo, with plenty of crab claws in it.

“Suck a crab claw?” I offered John. He looked at me for a moment. He's from the New Mexico desert where people don't usually say such things and if they do, it's probably an insult, but he catches on fast. He took it.

Further down the beach on the main road (Perdido Key Drive ) is The Crab Trap restaurant. Wonderful food – overpriced for sure, but a good restaurant with a super-beachy feel. I once had some gumbo here that wasn't very good, but I've been several times since and always been happy and full when I left. This time I had a crabmeat and shrimp salad which was well put together and full of flavor, John had a fried oyster plate with cole slaw and fries and some nifty tasty hush puppies. Hush puppies are something most restaurants do badly. Many otherwise good eateries make hush puppies that taste like dense camel spit and I avoid them but the Crab Trap makes them so right: round, tasty morsels of fried cornbread and spices. We walked on the beach to get to the restaurant and then back on the beach highway, where as night fell we were greeted by a moon so bright it cast our shadow as we walked. We started to sing the Cat Stevens song "Moonshadow".

This is a great area to ride bikes and we did. It's mostly flat and there's much to enjoy as you pedal along the sparkling coast. After a long sunny bike ride one afternoon we went to the homey Simply Southern to eat, also very close to the RV park. There was a tiny iridescent beatle on my knife (bugs are everywhere in Florida and especially at the beach) and a hair – not my own – on the side of my plate, but these were minor annoyances to be brushed away. To be honest I was so hungry they could have served my food on the floor. The smoked pulled pork was absolutely perfect, some of the best I’ve ever had and the potato salad was served still warm and it melted in my mouth. The cole slaw was just okay but we were very happy.

Having the bikes as our only mode of transport forced us to slow down, think about things and pay attention to our environment. It was a very interesting experiment for a couple who like to go, go, go and try new things. This might be Florida but the nights were cool in October and we slept under the blanket my Aunt Dee made for us for Christmas last year. The first day we were there it was cloudy and rainy, but I loved it. Every other day included bright sun and temps in the 70s. It felt like a real vacation.


The Flora-Bama

Lose Yourself In Perdido Key

No comments: