Vacations are fun, right? You know what’s not fun? The end of vacation and having to go back to work. Nothing mind blowing, I know, but I feel like all of our brothers and sisters just returning from vacation deserve a shout out. It’s tough. For example, as I’m writing these very words, I realize my mind is still lying on the beach in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida. It’s also trying to comprehend the length of baseball seasons while at the same time trying to wrap itself around what it witnessed at a minor-league wrestling match in a Mississippi American Legion. In another example of my brain wizardry, and in an effort to not do this “work,” my mind just invented a, “Mark-hack,” on how to clean your bathtub by using a mop.
So, my beautiful New Orleanians and Gulf Coasters, to get this article in the books, I’m going to have to let my mind go back on vacation. Let’s take a little trip, shall we?
It all started in Bay St. Louis (potential title of my autobiography). Sitting less than an hour from Uptown, the beach’s perpetual siren call fills my ears. So, naturally, this is where Melanie and I started our vacation. I dig this town so much I’ve invented Twitter hash tags – #KingOfBayStLouis and #BSaLiens – about it. And, even though there are many state-based rivalries between Louisiana and Mississippi – Southern University vs. Jackson State, Tulane vs. Southern Miss, LSU vs. Ole Miss – Bay St. Louis, Mississippi is without a doubt Saints Country. The Black and Gold flies on flags in the bars, and covers the bodies of the resident and transient beach bums. In a related note, we flew to the bars, and covered our bodies in SPF 5000. After collecting rays we ended our night at the Blind Tiger, a place we hit so often I’m starting to think they think I’m a local. We closed the bar down, which as wild as it sounds, was only at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night. We grabbed go-cups and, before heading to the hotel, sat on a deck overlooking the harbor and talked about how I wished Tulane was in the College World Series, and what it would be like to look into the eyes of Netflix’s “Peaky Blinders,” leading man, Cillian Murphy.
The next day was a new day, and as we cruised down the coast we bumped into a lot of cool spots around the way. We admired how the Waffle House in Long Beach, Mississippi might have the best view of any Waffle House in the nation overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Later we laughed and spoke of time travel as we kept running into Shaggy’s restaurants in the Mississippi cities of Pass Christian, Gulfport and Biloxi.
We had our collective minds blown by downtown Ocean Springs, Mississippi. That town is evidently not afraid of opening a pub. We were only there for an hour max but had a pint at The Beer House (40 taps!), and picked up a cream soda at Lovelace Drugs, a pharmacy decked out with its old-timey counter, soda fountain and Elvis Presley posters adorning the walls.
It was hard leaving Ocean Springs, but we had a date with a beach in Pensacola, so we kept moving, and definitely did not put the top down on my hardtop, beat-up Saturn, which I call Mad Max. We kept travelling down Highway 90 past Gautier and through an ancient void in space and time called Pascagoula, which I nicknamed, “Sad Town.” As I drove on, being forced by Highway 90 to head north towards Mobile, I wondered why I like to nickname things, and if Pascagoula was really sad. For all I know, there was a secret downtown somewhere that was filled with pubs where everyone knew your name and had magical nights like Free Pizza Tuesday and Four-for-One Friday. Smiling to myself, I decided that Pascagoula, though quite lonely, might need further research and that “Cheers” is arguably the greatest comedy series of all time.
It gets foggy after crossing the Florida state line, which I assume means this was the point of the trip where Melanie and I were re-creating this famous scene from, “National Lampoon’s Family Vacation.”
Pensacola was a blast. We walked down Palafox Street into some area of downtown that I’m sure has a trendy name and found a bar called Hopjacks. A large crowd shouted over ‘70s hard rock as I saddled up to the bar to see a menu featuring pizza pies and a wall of taps that numbered over 100. Through tears, I looked at Melanie and told her I was never leaving. She thought I meant Pensacola, but I meant the very chair I was sitting in.
We rambled the next two nights away in Pensacola. At one turn, we heard a large crowd off in the distance, which turned out to be the minor-league baseball team Pensacola Blue Wahoos. This is where I could tell you I ran into the ballpark and watched a great minor league baseball game, and would go on to compare and contrast it to our own New Orleans Zephyrs. But I didn’t, because I heard there was a craft brewery called the Pensacola Bay Brewery a few streets down and I was on vacation, darnit. But as I sat over their IPA, I did think about the soon-to-not-be-called Zephyrs.
Like – why doesn’t New Orleans follow this team? According to milb.com, the Zephyrs are averaging 2,512 fans per game. That’s dead last in the Pacific Coast League…by a mile. According to census.gov, Pensacola is a town of just over 50,000. Its baseball team averages 4,482.
Sure there’s always something to do, and a deluge of festivals to attend, your family is in town, and it’s too damn hot – we all know the reasons for not showing up. But an excuse that may be going away is the product on the field. Sure, the Zephyrs are once again sub-.500, sitting at 33-36, but this is a very competitive ball club. And while their affiliation with the Miami Marlins always seems like a hindrance, the Marlins are surprisingly sitting in second place behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East. So, let’s not start yelling championship, but let’s get out to the park and yell for the home team.
And like most great vacations it all begins to blur together. There were other Shaggy’s, night swimming and watching a restaurant umbrella launch itself 30 feet into the afternoon sky and rocketing away never to be seen again. And then there was the semi-pro wrestling match.
In New Orleans, there is a wrestling organization called Wildkat Sports. They say they’re extreme, and I’m sure they are. They’re also putting on a match at that most hallowed of sport arenas known as the Shamrock Bar and Grill on July 25th. If it’s anything like what I witnessed in Bay St. Louis, it’s going to be a hoot.
As with many great nights, it all went down at the local American Legion. Bodies slammed together and men sort-of punched each other. Title belts were up for grabs as were $2 beers in two flavors: Bud Light and Miller Lite. America never tasted so good. However, the names of the modern day gladiators were quite common – Chris Black, Jesse and Tommy. I decided if I chose a career in wrestling, I would call myself The Incredible Mark. One guy’s nickname was, “Beast.” He was a bad guy. I rooted for him, and he won his match to the local’s lament. And, believe it or not, the main match – which pitted archrivals Chris Black against Tommy – ended in controversy, and then spilled out of the ring onto the yellowed linoleum of the American Legion. They fought their way into the restrooms and back out again. Tables were broken and somehow they found their way back into the ring. I have no idea who won. I wore a sparkly cape and bow tie. The night was perfect.
So, however you get your groove on, New Orleans – have a great and safe summer. Or, as we like to say around my house, “Happy Summering.”
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every wacky story should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Pensacola Bay Brewing “L’il Napoleon” IPA
Playlist Recommendation: The Go-Go’s – “Vacation”