Roads: I-10 to I-110 to US-98 to US-49 to I-20
Time: 6 hours
Today started early again at 5. I’ve been going to bed by 9 pretty regularly with little to do at night and thus, 5 AM becomes a natural waking time. With the stress from the car issues yesterday along with an unusually big driving day, I was out early last night and up early this morning. This works out pretty well since I can’t seem to write much at night but 5 AM writing comes pretty naturally. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
I arrived at Allen Turner Hyundai in Pensacola at 7:30 on the dot when the service center opened. Of course, this morning all the warning lights were out on the car so I began to wonder if it was all a bad dream. As it turned out, it wasn’t but it was under warranty, they had the part in stock and I was out the door with no charge at 9 AM. As an aside, I’m not from Pensacola obviously but I can’t say enough nice things about the folks at Allen Turner. They were pleasant, they got right on the changes and had hazelnut coffee and breakfast. One more data point in the “Hyundai is great” stack.
Yesterday, my plans had been to be in Mobile and play around there today on day 13. But the dealership was in south Pensacola and I hadn’t been on the beach any this trip which initially was a contributing factor to taking it. Plus, my dad said the beach in Pensacola was really nice with white sand. So I headed south to try and find my way out there. It was a little adventurous because I-110 doesn’t have any on ramps from where I ended up. South Pensacola isn’t the most wonderful neighborhood but at 9 AM, I figured all the troublemakers were still sleeping things off from the night before. I eventually ran out of southern real estate and made my way on to US-98, the road across the bay towards the beach.
The morning was thick with fog and thus, the drive over the 2 mile bridge wasn’t particularly scenic. There were several signs posted before getting on the bridge to check fuel levels because there was a long bridge ahead. I expected it to be 10 miles or something but it was only 2. This warning made me think of the Hankook tire commercial where some freak in a Batman suit jumps off a cliff to promote tires (if you can make that logic work, I’d love to hear it) and there’s a disclaimer at the bottom “Professional-do not try at home”. Thank God for disclaimers, I was totally pulling my Batman suit out of the closet and headed to the nearest cliff to try. Ahem. Needless to say, the bridge was only 2 miles long and if you ran out of fuel in that time frame, you were going to run out before you got to the nearest gas station anyway.
There is a second bridge over to Pensacola Beach, much shorter and without the warnings. Once in town, the fog began to lift. I stopped at the Visitors’ Center which clearly has a life mission of making things easier for snowbirds. They had signs and leaflets everywhere specifically targeting snowbirds. AFter the visitors’ center, I drove up and down the main drag of the town a little. It’s a typical beach town with brightly colored shacks selling a variety of wares to the tourists. There seems to be a general carefree attitude though I may be projecting given my affinity for beach towns. The real estate market in Pensacola Beach seems rather depressed though as I saw quite a few for sale signs. I would imagine that in the current economy, a second home on the beach isn’t high on the priority list anymore. After scoping out the real estate scene, I headed for Casino Beach. Once upon a time, there was actually a casino here but it was razed in 1974. Pity. I wasn’t prepared for the beach but I rolled up the jeans, took off the shoes and headed out.
It’s is a beautiful beach. The water is a gorgeous blue-green. The surf was high and crashing, a fact that made the 10 or so surfers quite happy. This time of year, the water is cold, at least by Gulf standards, somewhere around 75. That sounds warm until you get your legs soaked because you misjudged the height of the waves. The beach is a beachcombers dream. I was there late but I would imagine that arriving at daybreak, you could find some good shells. As it was, there were hundreds of broken sand dollars and colorful shells. The sea bed 10 feet offshore looked rocky so I’d guess that many shells get broken or crushed before arriving on land, hence the white sands. I walked up and down the beach several hundred yards.
I have always been a beach person. There is something about the sand, the salt air, the sound of waves crashing on the shore wiping out all other immediate sound, these things nourish me. My mental outlook on the tail end of this trip has oscillated quite a bit but walking up and down that beach turned it back towards the positive side. I’m glad the car broke down because I would have missed this wonderful little beach town if it hadn’t.
After walking the beach, I changed into some dry pants and ate lunch on the beach at Crabs, We Got ‘Em which sounds like something Dennis Rodman said to Madonna once. Odd euphemistic restaurant names aside, they are right on the beach with a view of the crashing waves and the food is good. I could have sat there all afternoon I think and in fact, briefly considered it. But it would have made for a long trip home on Saturday, over 12 hours and I just didn’t want to do that. Pensacola Beach will have to wait for a longer vacation another time. But it was a destination that never would have been on my itinerary if not for a broken down car.
Obviously, this wasn’t a planned part of the trip. Some might say that everything happens for a reason. I don’t think this is true save for the micro-level “my throttle position sensor broke” but it is an exceptionally useful mental perspective to take to heart. I’ve always been a worrier. Worried about this and that, what might happen at some point in the future or what did happen in the past. Lately, I’ve been growing away from that through conscious effort. Last night, when the car first decided to die along the highway 80 miles east of Pensacola, I initially got a little worked up. This is only natural. But in the past, I might have let this event affect the remaining portion of the trip. Instead, I took it as a chance to change directions, branch out and try something unexpected. Thousands of people wiser and more eloquent than me have said it before but it bears repeating for those of us who are slow learners. Adversity can either be the beginning or the end of your trouble. With a mental framework of “Everything happens for a reason”, it’s far easier to adapt and adjust to adversity, to grow from it, to do things that are unexpected. When your mental framework is built around “Bad things always seem to happen to me”, growth is impossible.
My throttle position sensor broke because things break in this world. How you adapt to the broken things in life that can transform your experiences from a constant stream of frustrations to a constant opportunity for growth and change. No matter how much we plan, we have such precious little control over our lives, a tiny little sphere of influence that’s limited to essentially the immediate present and possibly a few weeks into the future. No action on my part could have changed the fact that the car broke down before I reached my destination. All I could do was deal with the adversity in the most positive way I could think of. I’m not very good at this yet but I’m thrilled it worked out yesterday.
After lunch, I pointed the GPS to the Mobile Botanical Gardens. It seemed fitting that 14 days ago I started this trip with a visit to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and that now, I’d essentially end it at one. The Mobile gardens aren’t nearly as extensive but they did have a winter garden with azaleas that still bloomed. Being so much farther south, there was more color in the Mobile gardens. The camellias were still very pretty and I captured a small box turtle in some photographs as he stared placidly at me. I left around 2 to ensure the drive north was done in the daylight.
US-98 and US-49 from Mobile to Jackson are quite scenic, more so than than the highways of North and South Carolina with the sentries of pines infinite along the road. There are hills and white sand rivers through Mississippi, pretty rolling vistas of meadows and verdant green fields dotted with cattle. For the most part, the road was quiet with few other cars headed north on an early Friday afternoon. I ran into the front around Hattiesburg that had been dumping water on home for a couple of days. The sun disappeared and the rest of the drive became gloomy and rain filled, the brightness and warmth of Pensacola gone for now. But they’ll return another day on another trip, hopefully in the not so distant future.