The Gulf

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Our plan was originally to end the honeymoon after our time in Orlando, but then Deanna switched jobs which gave us more time and the option to extend. So we did! And we went straight for your typical honeymoon destination, Alabama.

Okay, it was actually a mini road trip around the Gulf, but I had never been to Alabama and was unusually excited (yes, excited) about spending some time in the state. Though I would’ve loved to see some of its historic spots, it’s small strip of very white sanded beaches would do for starters. We had a good time here.

I had a really interesting talk with a new British friend this week, about what American politics and culture look like from the outside. He’d lived in the U.S. long enough to admit it’s easy for outsiders to bash, like low hanging fruit. I’ve spent enough time in international hostels to get what he was talking about. But he also mentioned that it takes a little more effort to get to know a place and its people well enough so that its’ peculiarities, even the frustrating ones seem unsurprising, and even understandable to a degree. That sort of perspective won’t right wrongs or anything, but it does make everybody seem a bit more human, and that counts for something.

I had a similar chat with another new friend from Georgia, about how the Pacific Northwest (accurately) values racial tolerance, but doesn’t exactly have the diversity or the long and tense history of trying to make coexistence happen to challenge that claim. Looking at every region that’s attempted it, it’s not so easy. I finally got to visit several southern states this summer, since it had been my one unexplored region for such a long time. When your background information of a place comes from statistics like literacy scores and moments in history books like the Jim Crow Era, it’s easy to write it off. But a region is made up of people, who are crazy complex, and are capable of things as despicable as sundown laws, and things as amazing as true hospitality. And gumbo.

This summer let me visit Alabama for the very first time. A lot of what you hear about Alabama isn’t always flattering, but I liked what I saw. Of course, it helps that I drove into Gulf Shores, which only accounts for a couple inches of Alabama, but man, these sands are actually quite beautiful. And, we met some really friendly, interesting people here.

This is one of the reasons I love to travel, and one of the reasons I still insist on going to places with mixed reputations. Sometimes they live up to them, sometimes they don’t. Most of the time, it’s a bit of both. Gulf Shores was a nice surprise.

When the crowd is massive and the ratio between locals and out-of-towners is about 1:1, you know you’re eating somewhere good. I can totally understand the appeal of Sea & Suds. Coming through on the weeknight that we did brought everybody out for the happy hour on oysters, and Gulf Shores actually gets some good oysters.

This is where we met the friendly Russian, working away at shucking oysters, and sneaking us some for free every now and then. Our new friend had lived his first twenty three years in Russia, then Philadelphia, then Chicago. Finally he decided he was over cold places and wound up deep in Alabama. Fun guy.

I could read words on words written about the American work ethic. For whatever reason, theories and curiosities about how work fits into the broader picture of life will always interest me.

I found a good one in The Economist. “Work was a means to an end; it was something you did to earn the money to pay for the important things in life. This was the advice I was given as a university student, struggling to figure out what career to pursue in order to have the best chance at an important, meaningful job. I think my parents were rather baffled by my determination to find satisfaction in my professional life. Life was what happened outside work.” That’s a view of work I think I have.

The piece went on to talk about how modern work no longer fits well inside the confines of working hours, due to everything from technology to living costs, but also, work satisfaction is at a historical high. Perhaps work has evolved and adapted by making itself more fun and fulfilling for some, resulting in the modern increase of labor hours.

If you’re gonna spend that much time dedicated to a single endeavor, I think it’s good to find it fulfilling. But no matter how great the job is, I don’t think it’s a worthwhile spot to rest your whole identity. Finding the happy medium, well that’s just a constant challenge, isn’t it.

Mobile, Alabama

This house we stayed at in Mobile was like seeing Pinterest spill out of a glowing laptop screen and on to Alabama soil where it grew into this.

Our hosts were extremely sweet and kind, and they let us play with Moses the shepherd pup.

They welcomed us to help ourselves to any of the very fresh eggs they had set out on the table. Very fresh as in, these just came out of a chicken in the past day or so, didn’t they? And I’ll bet the chicken isn’t too far away either.

Whether it’s been through Airbnb, through friends, or through friends-of-friends, and sometimes even through people I’ve just met on the spot, while traveling, I’ve constantly been greeted by abundant hospitality. It’s been one of the best reminders of the good that’s also out there in the world, and it’s the reason I try my best to practice abundant hospitality myself. You end up giving the people you welcome so much more than a place to stay.

The Mobile Convention Center offered us a sneaky way to get across Downtown Mobile without having to try and outlast the summertime heat for too long. Plus it looked pretty neat inside and out and had one of the coolest pieces of outrageous carpet outside of the PDX airport.

The South is such a bizarre, wonderful, slow-to-progress, welcoming, tense, and self-contradicting part of the world. I’m completely unsurprised by the amount of brilliant authors, artists, and musicians who were raised by it.

As we drove into Mobile, I realized how little I knew about the city.

Then I remembered a certain YouTube video and it was leprechauns from then on.

Sorry, Mobile.

Sweet historic church right in the middle of historic Mobile. We sat here for a little while since it was pushing a hundred degrees but the shade was nice.

We looked up and saw we weren’t alone. In the middle of the day a bunch of older people were all gathered on the different benches, talking, napping, taking it slow. Happy to know that a place exists where the townspeople still sit with each other outside of the house to feel the breeze.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Prior to this year, I’d seen every region of the United States with one glaring exception– the South. I mean, I’d been to Florida before, but you know the rules, Orlando most definitely doesn’t count.

This year, I’ve most definitely corrected that, having crossed off a bunch of the Southern states. I wasn’t exactly expecting to have done some of this on my honeymoon, but hey, that’s the way it goes! In just a few more days, it looks like I’ll be taking on the remaining states I have left in the region.

So many parts of the South have an underspoken natural beauty, with a different tone of green echoing throughout the trees from what I’m used to seeing. Really looking forward to traveling again, especially being back on the road again. A classic road trip is overdue.

When you think of Southern Mississippi, I’ll bet the first thing that comes to mind is Asian food galore, right? No? Yeah, us neither, but that’s what we found in Biloxi. Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean restaurants everywhere.

We ended up eating at a family owned Vietnamese-Cajun-French restaurant, which doesn’t sound like a thing, but the banh mi sandwiches were made with French pates and southern spices. Turned out excellent!

Gulfport, Mississippi

“You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.”

—Scott Adams

This is one of my favorite reminders that I need constantly. It’s easy to assume our impact comes from our big accomplishments, moments “on the job” or “in the spotlight.” The people who have influenced me the most did so in the gaps of what they get paid to do.

And then the eclectic honeymoon parade rolled right into Biloxi, Mississippi. My first time in the state. Prior to coming, I’ve heard somebody call Biloxi the worst place he ever went on vacation. I was told not to expect much. But, as is pretty much my policy, I put those thoughts to the side to let the place speak for itself.

Much like Alabama, Biloxi did not match the mental image I had of Mississippi. Again, I understand I was in a small piece of the state that didn’t echo swamplands for miles, but the true things I saw were white sands, blue skies, and warmth that glowed from boats and buildings.

I feel like experiences like that helped shape me such a great deal. That’s why for the next few years, while new places will always be fun, I can’t wait to take Deanna to the sites of some of my life changing experiences she wasn’t around for. Can’t wait to see how that’ll connect us even more deeply.

It goes by quickly, doesn’t it? The wedding then the honeymoon then the life after that. I’m thankful for everything the beginning of our marriage has been so far.

From families to passions for certain places to careers and goals, it’s been such a blast to see our worlds come together and I’m looking forward to even more.

For just a few hours, we spent some time in Gulfport, Mississippi, finding unexpectedly great Vietnamese food, seeing the shore up close, and letting the locals warn us about what to expect in New Orleans.

There are places like Mississippi that people don’t talk highly of as a place to visit. For whatever reason, a part of me has always been drawn to places that people don’t expect much from, not sure why that is. Whether it’s within the US or outside, I feel like everywhere that someone calls home has at least something to offer, and even when the people who live there don’t speak too highly of their home, I like discovering what that thing is.

For the most part, I avoid any social media posts about anything controversial. I get that it’s hardly ever a good venue to discuss some things. But here’s what I don’t get. Why does this have to be a controversial issue? People should be able to go to school or work or to movies without the possibility of being shot. We should be able to go into next year with the reasonable expectation that there will be no other mass public shootings. Instead, if the stats hold up, there will probably be a dozen or two.

When a shooting like the one at Umpqua breaks out, man, I can’t deny I want things to change. This just needs to stop. I care less and less about what mechanism brings these things to an end, but they need to end, and that needs to happen now.

The truth is, if and when something is finally done to prevent this from happening again, I will be very, very happy and relieved. There’s no argument that will prevent that emotional response.

New Orleans, Louisiana

A month back marked the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It’s crazy to see how much of a terrible imprint that left on New Orleans and the area around it. You don’t really need to look too hard to see which ruined homes and buildings haven’t been touched in a decade now.

There’s also a clear before-and-after mentality in the city.

I don’t have any special insight about how, but it’s pretty clear that things should’ve gone quite differently in 2005. It’s also clear that this is one resilient city, though.