Monday, January 02, 2006

a self-rising south

Two things occurred to me just north of the Greenville exit heading south on I-65 the day after Christmas. Traffic was at a complete standstill behind a minor accident, and I was looking out the window at the churned roadside. It was a casserole of red dirt, shotgun shell cartridges, cigarette butts, and twisted beer cans, and I was thinking:

1. I am home.

2. The U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was undoubtedly devised for no other reason than to keep the south from rising again.

Look in heart and know it to be true.

There were none of these things along the shores of Orange Beach. Hurricane Ivan blew it clean well over a year and a half ago, but one can still see the occasional beach house twisted slightly on its foundation and missing a significant part of its roof. Most still sport their boarded windows spray-painted with messages unwelcoming Ivan. They are somewhere on the edge salvageable, but probably worth more to the condo developers.

Ivan even took a significant part of sand from the beaches, and more is being piped in from the ocean floor from about a half-mile out. There were rumors of kickass seashells to be found in the new stuff, but I had to take their word on it.

There is really far less damage than I expected to see. There are a few missing houses, hotels, and restaurants, but the landscape wasn’t as different as I expected. There has been constant widespread construction there over the last decade or so, thus making all the rebuilding seem natural and not so different from the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in my mind. I had almost forgotten about the hurricane damage until Mrs. Camino and I got around to taking the dog for a hike in the Bon Secour nature reserve.

The reserve sits on the Ft. Morgan peninsula and serves mainly as a habitat for migratory birds and sea turtles. The trails were still closed from the hurricane damage, but they were allowing people to walk along the beaches across the bay from the thin western peninsula of Gulf Shores. That part of the island is only wide enough for houses on one side of the road in some places, and there is very little to protect it from any acts of God that occasionally drift up from the south.

About a half-mile down the beach of Bon Secour we came across piles of debris from the houses across the bay. There were boards painted pink and seafoam green, refrigerators, toilets, dishwashers, doors, parts of boats, and even a propane tank. Some of these things were still scattered through the woods, but they had managed to sweep most of it to the shore over the past year and a half. The workers apparently had the day off, and scene was eerily quiet except for the faint echoes of hammers and saws from across the water.

The other place we noticed damage was in Fairhope. That little town sits across the bay from Mobile on the western side of Baldwin County and was at the eastern edge of Katrina.

If I ever run away from home, you will probably find me in Fairhope.

The houses along the bay were in a state of mid-repair, but the downtown area seemed back to normal. It is a collection of antique stores, clothing stores, bars, coffee shops, bookstores, and local art stores. The locals are a bit eccentric, but overwhelmingly friendly.

There is a great little vintage electronics and record shop just off the main street where a guy builds guitar amps from old suitcases. They get an amazingly warm jazz tone, and he’ll customize any suitcase you bring him for two or three hundred bucks.

I am now on the lookout for interesting vintage suitcases.

I suppose that 31 is a bit too old too run away from home, and that sort of things certainly looses its appeal when you are responsible for a mortgage, but Mrs. Camino and I fell into our usual contemplation of moving to the beach. The hurricanes have done very little to deter that sort of thing. Just a run down vacant lot the size of a kiddy pool would still cost about the same as all of Casa Camino, and the few people who want to part with their property generally have no problem getting what they want for it.

Still, we could probably swing a pastel painted trailer somewhere under a Spanish moss-draped live oak or a couple of palm or pecan trees a bit further inland. Mrs. Camino made the most of her college experience and has never had trouble finding employment. I could probably add gator wrangler or shrimpboat captain to my long list of sampled occupations.
Then again, I could open Rex’s House of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and make a killing. The “man” has probably made laws against such a profitable convergence of the holy trinity, but capitalism always finds a way.


Anonymous prplecat said...

Sounds like they've made progress along the coast since June...and yeah, Fairhope rocks. Thank you, Katrina, for sparing SOMETHING worthwhile.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Sarcastro said...

Bon Secour brings back memories of buying loads of shrimp and other requisites for Grandma's famous seafood gumbo fresh off the boat.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Vol Abroad said...

Even if you can't sell it in the same store, you can always do it strip mall style.

Alcohol. Tobacco. Firearms.

I think you'd make a killing. One way or another.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Scooby said...

You can thank my dad and my grandfather for much of the rebuilding you saw in Orange Beach. Dad worked 15 hours a day six days a weeks for six months solid after Ivan to put condos back in place.

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