“Have fun on your stupid trip,” said Caitlyn One Waitress at our diner as we ate breakfast before leaving for a 14-hour drive to Pensacola, Florida. Of course, Caitlyn One also told us, “I could barely go to Wisconsin Dells,” a two-hour drive away. 18 June.
Crossing the Ohio River from Illinois into Kentucky, my wife said, “Now it’s really vacation. We’re not in Illinois anymore … though I’m not really sure now much ‘Kentucky’ says ‘vacation.'” 18 June.
“Alabama is definitely the Nebraska of the south: a long frustrating state … between me and where I want to be,” my wife said as we drove south on I-65. Alabama is “prettier,” she said, but “just as unrelenting in its nothingness” of roadsides showing but wall-to-wall forests. 19 June.
“Truck nuts of a state road sign,” my wife said of the Alabama logo, where the gulf coast part of the state does seem to dangle a bit. 19 June.
As M. drove on I-65, she said of other drivers as she was speeding up, “Alright, fukkers, you’re between me and my beach.” 19 June.
At lunch in the Boardwalk Cafe at the Quietwater Beach at Pensacola Beach: A mom-ish woman said to a teen-ish girl, who’d been talking about parasailing: “You know what you’re gonna do? You’re gonna end up talkin’ yourself out of it … and it’ll all work, and if you did drop your sunglasses, you can say, ‘remember when I went parasailing and watched ’em go smash?’ It’ll be a better memory.” And then the young woman said, “Are you guys gonna be out on the boat with us?” And the older woman answered, “No, we’re goin’ shoppin.” 20 June.
“Think of Jeezus as you’re doin’ me from behind,” I heard someone say as we both spied a woman with a crucifix tramp stamp. 20 June.
“No shirt, no shoes, no problem, but please, no Speedos,” said a guy on a dolphin cruise boat — the “CHASE-N-FINS” — over his loudspeaker. 20 June.
Two days later, I heard a roll-call coming from that same boat. A young adult was calling out these names, to which elementary students answered “… Analise, Oliver, Micah, Isabelle, Hunter, Kaden, Isaac, Riley … Scarlett…” 22 June.
“Atticus was the daddy I always wanted,” said a woman at the hotel pool who saw me reading To Kill a Mockingbird. 21 June.
“Wur ’bout to do this thang,” said a white guy, seemingly in all seriousness of accent, outside of a watercraft rental place at Pensacola Beach. 20 June.
“Life and death. There it is, right off the end of the marina,” I said of big fish chasing little ones. 20 June.
“seh-CURE-ih-tee!” mock-shouted a 50-60-year-old dark-haired woman at the hotel pool as she tried to adjust her chaise lounge. She finally said, “I got it!” Another of the women in her party said, “I doubt it.” “Security!” was about the only spoken word of hers that I could make out through her southern accent. 21 June.
“He’s swimmin’ nay-ow!” said the dark-haired older woman to a gray-haired women, who had been teaching water-motility skills to a young boy. “And that’s how you can float on your back,” she’d said to the boy earlier. 21 June.
At the beach at evening, a woman said to a toddler, “Let’s go show ’em what we fy-ound,” with that last word having two syllables. 20 June.
“I’m almost sick of the ocean — there’s too much of it,” said my wife as she was a little overwhelmed on the morning of our second day at the beach. She was less overwhelmed after a nap. 21 June.
“Now he’s walking slow as molasses … he hasn’t gone all day,” said a woman to another woman, perhaps about the 3-4-year-old boy as they and my wife and I all rode the hotel elevator one floor. 21 June.
At the Cactus Flower restaurant on the boardwalk, a 40-ish-year-old woman whose button-down shirt stopped well short of her white-patterned bikini bottoms came in with her family. A posted sign said that shirt and shoes were required, but the sign hadn’t claimed the necessity of pants. 21 June.
Be “ready to catch the meatball,” said the sax player at Lillo’s Tuscan Grill as he picked up his horn and aimed it toward my wife and me. His guitarist had already started playing a jazz version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Later, near the end of the song, the sax player added, “meatball’s comin’.” 21 June.
We went to Lillo’s the next night, too, and we heard him joke of the place, “you can tell it’s a classy place when they have lefthanded forks,” said Joe, the sax guy, 22 June.
“Don’t try to jump on that, dude. It’s pretty unpredictable,” said an adult guy in the pool. He had a full (but not long) beard, sunglasses, and a rust-orange baseball cap with an outline of the state of Texas on it. He said this to a young boy who was trying to jump on a floating object from the edge of the pool. After warning the boy a second time, the man said, “I did that one time; it didn’t feel good.” 22 June.
A little later, that boy, or his brother, was told by their mother, “five minutes time out. If he wants to act dumb at the pool, I’m gonna act dumb with him, too.” 22 June.
A waitress asked if she could get the plates “out of yer-all’s way?” 21 June.
“Would you stop talking like that? You’re gonna do it in public and then we’re gonna have to get killed,” my wife said of my repeating certain southern-accented phrases, such as when I heard a man at a breakfast place order “a sahd of” hash browns or something. 22 June.
A young girl declared that she was about to do a “butt-sit” on the bottom of the pool. 23 June.
From the balconies above the hotel pool, I heard a Southern- accented teenage female voice shout: “Let me see ’em — Ah get to pick!” A short time later, I heard the same voice shout, “You take one mo-er and this goes off the balcony!” 23 June.
I asked a serious-seeming woman about the fairy tales books on her table at the Pensacola Beach Drowsy Poet coffeehouse. She said she was doing academic research about fairy tales and Shakespeare, and we talked about teaching writing. It was a fun conversation. Later that day, I searched her name, “Tana” (short for “Montana,” she said), and “Shakespeare,” and I found this website that seems to be hers, and it lists a number of her publications, several of which I was glad to read. It was neat to find out someone I had just met was so accomplished, but had I known that before meeting her, I might have acted like an awed fan, and then I might not have had as good a conversation. This was something I thought about again when I went to the Harper Lee hometown and thought of Lee not as a regular person but as an idea, quasi-magical Writer Harper Lee.
After a tense couple minutes during which several lifeguards had searched for a missing boy at the Quietwater Boardwalk, the boy was found and he was safe, and as the lifeguards were leaving the boardwalk, a bystander teasingly asked if there were any sharks out there. “We checked all the waters: you’re set, man,” responded one lifeguard. 24 June.