Bill and Cathy McArthur on the Road 2007: 5

  On Saturday, January 27, we drove on a mostly sunny day to Port Aransas, near Corpus Christi. We stopped at the On the Beach RV Park, which is on a very long, very flat strand. It was warm and clear, so we took a 5 mile walk along the beach. Bill walked in bare feet, shorts, and a T-shirt. We felt that it was long overdue that we got some decent weather. We signed on for a couple of nights. We ate dinner in the RV. Overnight it got pretty windy, from the west. Sunday morning was sparklingly clear, chilly, and windy. After breakfast, Bill took a bike ride up the beach, against the wind, into a couple of neighborhoods of the town of Port Aransas, and then back along the beach, cruising with the wind. After lunch we walked into town and explored it a bit. We walked back along the beach, where the wind had dropped a little and it felt warmer. We ate dinner in the RV again and watched "Get Shorty" on DVD, enjoying the complicated plot. Monday was a two ferry day. We awoke to mostly cloudy skies and got on the road right after breakfast. We stopped at an RV parts place in Rockport after taking our first ferry, the Aransas Pass Free Ferry. We took the coastal route and enjoyed the scenery better with no rain or fog. We ate lunch at a Pizza Hut after making and correcting two wrong turns. We drove on through Galveston and took the Port Bolivar Free Ferry. We eventually drove on I10 to Beaumont and stayed the night at the East Lucas RV Park. We did the Monday NY Times crossword puzzle and had tortellini for dinner. It rained overnight and throughout our drive on Tuesday. We stopped for lunch at a Subway. We arrived at KOA West outside of New Orleans after a shopping stop at a nearby Winn Dixie. The owner told us that the campground was closed for over a year due to Hurricane Katrina and that there were still FEMA trailers on site, some housing local police. It was colder than one expects for New Orleans. We saw some evidence of hurricane damage on some buildings. We did the Tuesday NY Times crossword puzzle. We ate dinner in the RV and viewed "Open Range" on DVD. On Wednesday, after breakfast, we took the campground shuttle into New Orleans. It was cold and windy, but not raining. We walked around the French Quarter and found things "normal", if that adjective can ever be applied to such a place. We had an excellent lunch at the Chartres House: a bowl of Crab and Corn Chowder, an appetizer of 3 mini Crawfish Cakes, and a Veggie Muffaleta with an interesting olive layer. We sat by the fireplace, which helped. We continued to walk around the French Quarter until it was time to begin our 1 PM "Katrina" Gray Line Tour. Our guide was a local lady who had very common experiences during the hurricane. She gave us a good idea of what it was like to be a New Orleans resident during and after the disaster. During the 3 hour tour, we were driven all around the city and saw the extent of the devastation 17 months after the event. Most of New Orleans is still uninhabitable. It was very depressing to see mile after mile of wrecked houses and very little in the way of rebuilding. Our guide explained in detail why FEMA and the Corps of Engineers are persona non grata in New Orleans. It appeared to us that it will be several years before this city has any semblance of recovery. Along with wrecked houses, there are wrecked schools, wrecked headquarters for police and firefighters, wrecked hospitals, and wrecked roads. We heard about the lack of contractors and the mischief being done by many of the contractors who are working. It was a very informative tour, but very heartrending. We continued to walk around the French Quarter and had Cafes au Lait and Beignets at the Cafe du Monde. We caught the 5:45 PM shuttle back to the campground. We ate dinner in the RV. It rained very hard overnight. On Thursday morning, February 1, we noted how the local newspaper, the Times Picayune, was filled with articles about the recovery effort and other aspects of the aftermath of Katrina. Cathy asked, "How can we help?" One way is to keep the problems of New Orleans in the public eye. The news media outside of New Orleans has forgotten about the continuing plight. The people that we have met and talked to in and around New Orleans are always close to tears about their situation; they need a massive amount of help. Because of the rain and storms along the Gulf Coast, we decided to stay another night in the campground. Cathy did the laundry while Bill worked on the 104 photos from Wednesday. After lunch we drove out and shopped at the Winn-Dixie and CVS. We finished the Wednesday crossword puzzle with a great deal of difficulty and then started the Thursday puzzle. We ate dinner in the RV. On Friday morning we broke camp after dinner and headed toward the "Redneck Riviera." We drove down the coastal highway from Long Beach, Mississippi, through Gulfport, and through Biloxi. We were shocked by the extent of the damage from Katrina. In most of those coastal areas, the first four blocks from the water were scoured; nothing left but concrete slabs where houses once were and some hulks of commercial buildings. When we were last in Biloxi in 2003, we wondered about the lack of dunes or seawalls to protect from the Gulf. We ate lunch in a "scoured" development along the water between Biloxi and Ocean Springs, where the bridge was washed out. We saw a house nearby that showed a water mark 20 feet high. Amid all of the destruction, the rebuilt casinos are going strong, their flashy signs adding an apocalyptic element to the scene. We got back on I10 east and went through Mobile. We exited and took the "expressway", which had a few traffic lights on it, to the barrier island holding Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. This put us in the capital region of the "Redneck Riviera." We drove around the island for a while and then took a campsite in the eponymous Beech Campground near the beach in Orange Beach. Bill remembered visiting has paternal grandfather on a family trip when he was 16 and a fairly new driver in March 1957. The family car was a very hot 1955 Buick Super which Bill drove at over 100 mph on some back roads in this area. On that prior trip, Bill swam in the Gulf; on this trip, we shivered as we walked to dinner wearing coats, gloves, and hats. At Doc's Seafood Shack we ate a passel of fried oysters, flounder, shrimp, and crawfish. We decided not to ask our waitress about the presence of any trans fats in our meals. We felt virtuous in not eating the accompanying french fries, but we did eat a few hush puppies. Our heater and furnace worked hard overnight to deal with temperatures in the low 30s. On Saturday morning, February 3, we headed east along the Florida Panhandle after breakfast. We stopped for haircuts in Gulf Breeze. Cathy got the interesting life story of our hairdresser. She is a graduate of the University of Mississippi, majoring in Graphic Arts, but she prefers to cut hair. Bill thought that she was "articulate and clean", paraphrasing Senator Joe Biden. We picked up a NY Times in a machine outside of the salon. We ate lunch parked along the road in Destin. We had a great view and we were impressed with the looks of Destin (we just might be rednecks after all). We continued to drive through Panama City Beach and Panama City which both are renovating and building new structures. Both towns seemed much too urban for our tastes. After a long drive through Tyndall Air Force Base, we came to the very nice little town of Mexico Beach, where we took a campsite in El Governor Campground. It was ironic to be in Mexico Beach with an air temperature of 41. We were right across the street from a beautiful, white beach. Since we had cable TV and wi-fi and a beach, we decided to stay for 2 nights. We walked to a good seafood restaurant, Toucans, and had a great dinner on the beach (heated closed-in porch). On Super Sunday, the sun came out only briefly. Bill walked down to a convenience store for a NY Times. We completed the Sunday puzzle completely on the Pocket PC just before noon. We walked back to Toucans for a great lunch. We followed the food with a wonderful 6 mile walk on the sparkling white beach. We returned to the RV to get ready for the Super Bowl. We enjoyed the Super Bowl and its commercials. Cathy cooked a hearty pasta meal which sort of resembled our normal Cincinnati Chili Super Sunday Supper. The sun was up as we left the campground on Monday morning. We drove along the rest of the "Forgotten Coast" and finally entered the pine woods of the more inland area of coastal North Florida. We stopped for lunch at a Subway where the banjos were strumming lightly in the breeze. We stopped at mid-afternoon in a lovely (Bill) or boring (Cathy) campground along the Suwannee River (like the song). Bill walked to the river on a boardwalk over a Cypress swamp while Cathy huddle next to our electric heater and listened to CSpan Radio. Since we were some miles away from Cathy's idea of civilization, we ate dinner in the RV. We were lucky that our full 6 channel TV cable included Fox so we could watch "24." The temperature dropped to 33 overnight. After breakfast, we headed south down route 19, seeking the sun. We stopped for lunch at Tarpon Springs and ate lunch at Rusty Bellies as we did last year.

        Bill and Cathy