two years ago next month, lise and i were planning our spring break. we didn’t have much money and didn’t have a lot of time. we decided to do what we enjoy best when taking trips: put gas in the car, pack some clothes, grab a couple maps and just drive until we hit someplace cool – no destination in mind. we did this frequently in maryland / delaware / virginia / pennsylvania while we lived on the east coast and can’t name a bad trip in the bunch. the adventure of driving back roads, discovering small towns, festivals, shops, restaurants, parks; seeing scenery, a different way of life, spending time together where it’s just the two of us, talking, looking, hanging together – best kind of vacation, in our opinion.
at any rate, spring break 2005 is coming around and we decide to take a longer jaunt than usual. we’ll drive down to the gulf coast with maps for panama beach, pensacola, biloxi, and new orleans, stop at whichever one comes first, see if we like it. if we don’t? get back in the car and travel to the next stop. and so on and so forth.
we take $250 or so, gas up the car, and off we go. first stop is for a MASSIVE accident somewhere in alabama. we’re stuck for 4 hours on I-65 in the middle of nowhere. we then stop in birmingham for a memorable night (motto: Scariest Super 8 Motel in the Continental United States Located Here!) and in the morning hit the road again.
that afternoon we hit pensacola, florida as our first stop. small-medium town, nothing incredibly flashy about the metro area. we cross over the three mile bridge to pensacola beach and we’re struck by what we see: the beach.
i mean, we’re used to hitting ocean city, maryland or rehoboth, delaware where you have to FIGHT to see the beach – fight the 130 blocks of adulterated oceanfront property, flashing signs, half-naked women, bars, clubs, pay outrageous fees for parking, then after walking block after block to finally hit the overcrowded boardwalk that is lined with candy shops, video arcades, and cheap jewelry and beach shops – bleah.
but here’s the gulf of mexico! no boardwalk! no entertainment district! free parking! miles and miles of public beach just waiting to be walked on and swam in. oh, man – i can’t tell you how neat it was to get to be down there.
we spent the afternoon just soaking up the sight, getting all sandy, finding gorgeous seashells just floating up onto the beach as we stood there and watched, breathing deep the salty warm air. that evening was fun as we found the pensacola Super 8 10 miles out of town, first-come first-serve @ $38/night. we ate at Crabs and sat watching the waves crash. we hit the beach again that night and stayed until we were too tired to stay any longer. the next day we spent the morning and afternoon in the water, collecting bags of seashells, breathing foamy waves of salt water and looking at each other as if to say, “how on earth did we stumble on such a cool place?”
we went back that christmas and spent 4 days in a condo on the gulf shore – dirt cheap and beautiful! temperature was 60 during the daytime (and 40 at night). the sunsets were spectacular – unlike any we’ve ever seen before. we had the whole beach to ourselves and agree that it was the best vacation we’ve ever had. discovered the downtown and surrounding areas a bit, found some parks to visit, shopped a bit, lounged on the beach (and even got in the water every day, much to the surprise of several locals who were bundled up in heavy coats, hats, scarves, mittens and said to us with thick southern accents, “y’all aren’t from ’round here, are yuh?”) and spent the evenings together in the condo having a great time (none of your business – sheesh!)
we returned again for 5 days, same condo this past august and once again had the beach to ourselves (school starts first week of august in florida – beach was dead!). we explored even further during this trip, discovering some places in outlying areas, found new sections of the 8 mile long beach to hang out on, new state and federal parks to visit. we also stopped in the pensacola chamber of commerce and picked up a stack of materials, magazines and information on the area… and began dreaming. not serious dreams, just “wouldn’t it be neat to live down here” kind of dreams.
we made our spring break reservation for the condo back in november – the week of april 1, we’ll be there for seven days.
and the more i thought about our need for things to change, for something to fight for, for a crisis that would bring us back together and cause us to really take charge of our lives again – well, the more i thought about the one place we’d been to in the last several years that we continually look forward to being in. the one place that is big enough to have everything we need, but small enough that we’re not overpowered by an over-crowded, people-crammed city. a place that isn’t a tourist trap. a place that respects the beachfront and the people who come and visit and live there. a place where we could start again with new jobs, a new home, new adventures awaiting us, new discoveries to make, new friends to meet, new day-long drives on unknown backroads, soaking each other up again and getting a new lease on life.
so about 2 months ago, lise and i spent the afternoon in a favorite restaurant of ours for many hours, talking about life, talking about change, talking about the complacency we’ve hit and how hopeless and out-of-control we feel.
and this is where i asked lise if she were interested in exploring a move to pensacola. and she said yes.
and the light started as a small spark.
i’ll tell you how the spark became a flame that has continually gotten brighter in the next post.