Greetings, dear readers, and hello from Crescent City. When we last left you, we were departing Tybee Island, our home since late October. I’m proud to report we may be some of the few people who come to New Orleans and find alcohol laws that are more restrictive than the place they came from. Nevertheless, we persevere.
Our time on Tybee wrapped up with two monstrously sized breakfasts from Sunrise, a final walk on the beach, and of course, The Great Repacking. I thought we were professional at this by now, but I hadn’t foreseen the difficulties of repacking after being somewhere for a month. With just ten days each in Helen and Charleston, we frankly didn’t have enough time to spread out much. But in Tybee, we made ourselves at home, and despite throwing out, selling, and otherwise leaving behind a fairly large number of things, we somehow still had trouble getting the car packed up.
Our trip from the Savannah area to Morgan’s parents’ place outside Jacksonville would typically take a bit over three hours. But, leaving on the night before Thanksgiving, at rush hour, it took us…a bit over three hours. I think I have deep-seated trauma from years of Thanksgiving traffic in the northeast – driving from Washington to New Jersey, trips out to Long Island, or even seeing relatives within New Jersey, all in heinous, soul-crushing traffic, soundtracked by “Alice’s Restaurant.” This extraordinary travel phenomenon repeated itself on Sunday, where we sailed over 500 miles in only an hour or two more than a typical DC to NJ drive.
Due to some generally shoddy planning on my part, we’ll get to know this stretch of I-10 from the Florida panhandle to New Orleans pretty well over the next few months. We drove it west coming here from the Jacksonville area after Thanksgiving; we’ll drive it back east next month, heading to southwest Florida for Christmas. We’ll drive it back west once again in mid-January, to Mobile and eventually Austin. At least there is a Bucc-ee’s.
Morgan and I were not previously familiar with this apparent institution down here. We started seeing signs for the location we visited more than 250 miles away. Every few dozen miles through the panhandle, there was one of these billboards. Frankly, it was a masterpiece of advertising. By the time we actually arrived in Robertsdale, Alabama, several hours later, we felt almost religiously compelled to stop. I went in first while Morgan waited in the car with Linus. I promised to be back shortly, but immediately upon entering, I knew that might not be possible. There’s barbeque, there’s a jerky bar, there are homemade potato chips, there’s a clothing section, housewares, and so much more I didn’t even get to look at, on top of all the typical snack and drink options you’d expect from a highway rest stop.
To be clear, I’ve seen truck stops and such before with restaurants and showers and big stores, but this was different. This felt more like a Wal-Mart, perched on a hill, luring weary travelers in from the road. It’s enough to inspire some serious loyalty, apparently – I saw at least a handful of people shopping there wearing Bucc-ee’s t-shirts or other attire.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here – first, there was Thanksgiving. This was the first of all of my 32 Thanksgivings with anyone other than my family (or just Morgan, in the case of 2020.) On Thursday morning, we wished Linus a happy Thanksgiving and hopped in the car from Morgan’s parents’ house to her grandfather’s property on the Suwannee River near White Springs. It’s one of the most interesting homes I’ve ever been in, and you could tell how much well-deserved pride he took in building it when talking to him about his home. It also includes one of the most jaw-droppingly impressive Christmas villages I’ve ever seen.
As for the meal itself, it was different than Pisano family Thanksgivings in a number of ways – not the least of which that we ate outside on a gorgeous northern Florida November day. No pasta (one of the strangest elements of Italian Thanksgivings), but barbecue pork and collard greens, instead! It was potluck style, which must be a massive relief to hosts everywhere. We also ate early, a Thanksgiving lunch type of a meal, perfect for providing a reason to avoid watching abysmal Detroit Lions football. In any case, I had a great time eating great food and couldn’t have felt more welcomed.
After we ate, we hopped in the golf cart with Morgan’s parents, who gave me a tour of the property. We walked down to the Suwanee River, along a portion of the Florida Trail, a 1,400-mile route through the state that I was previously unaware existed but now feel compelled to look into walking.
The Suwanee is beautiful, but the talk of limestone cliffs downriver didn’t sit well with me. When Morgan and I returned from a drive around the property, there was also a surprisingly competitive wiffleball game being played on a gravel driveway as a field, with somewhat unclear boundaries, rules, and teams. I took note of this. (This is what’s called foreshadowing.)
I even got to try my hand at skeet shooting, where I hit my first two targets right out of the box before my beginner’s luck promptly wore off. Fortunately for me, if she ever gets angry, Morgan handles axes better than shotguns. But she got off some good shots nonetheless.
This week was also the first time I’d seen the Smith’s house and property since it had been finished. When I last visited nearly two years ago, Danny, Daphne, and their dog Harley (rest in peace, buddy) had been stuck living in a tiny camper for months as their house was finished. Today, it’s exactly what I think they were hoping for – a beautiful home on a spacious piece of land where the entire family can gather and have a great time. This is pretty much what we spent the rest of the weekend doing – an afternoon of playing cornhole and shooting pool on Friday and an evening around the fire on Saturday.
The apparent calm of the second photo belies the pure chaos a few hours earlier, at a Caron family softball game for the ages organized by Daphne. With an impressive turnout, we were nearly able to field two entire teams. Unfortunately, by the time it was over, the family resembled more of an urgent care waiting room than anything else. A partial list of those injured includes myself (scraping my knee trying not to barrel over Morgan on my way from third base to home), Morgan (a sore wrist from a highlight reel-worthy diving catch attempt), Morgan’s aunts, Morgan’s mom, and surely others. This does not include Morgan’s brother, who was injured in the previously mentioned Thanksgiving Wiffleball Gravel Classic a few days earlier and didn’t play. Without a doubt, this is a family that does not half-ass it when it comes to competition.
I was a bit apprehensive, as my baseball and softball experience is primarily limited to playing with the grass and trying to avoid having to catch or throw the ball through one season of little league two and a half decades ago. But despite a fielding error in the first inning, I managed three hits and three runs on three plate appearances. If I weren’t so sore, perhaps I’d look for a spot on the Savannah Bananas sometime in the future. Morgan’s path to playing went roughly as follows:
- “I shouldn’t play, I’m going to hurt my knee.”
- “I really want to play though. Maybe I’ll just hit.”
- “Ok, I’ll hit and play catcher.”
- *playing third base, sailing through the air trying to make a catch*
In any case, I’m looking forward to the next year’s game already, at which point I hopefully won’t be sore from this year’s game anymore.
Meantime, we continue to settle in here in New Orleans. We’ve got a bit over three and a half weeks here, enough time to thoroughly saturate ourselves in jazz, creole cooking, and swamp life. Our new temporary home is, as we’ve come to expect, delightful in some ways and somewhat bizarre in others. We’re occupying the second floor of a house on Royal Street just outside the French Quarter, a shotgun-style apartment with a shared balcony, no couch or TV, a big, spacious kitchen, and a bathroom with a clawfoot tub.
I feel compelled to specifically point out the strangest part of this place – the vintage photo of some lady staring directly at the shower and tub.
Apropos of nothing, Morgan has specifically instructed me not to tell her if I see any ghosts here unless they seem to be threatening us.
Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler,
Nick and Morgan