My wife and I recently spent a week at a condo in Daytona Beach, FL. We both grew up on the Atlantic coast of Florida, me in Jacksonville and she in Hialeah, and it was nice to get back close to our roots. The first afternoon of walking the beach, bouncing in the surf, and avoiding being dragged to death by a rip current, brought back many fond memories of life on the coast. Speaking of life on the coast, it should be noted that on the home front, we were just brushed by Hurricane Gustav the week before vacation. We boarded up the windows and lost power for 34 hours which, compared to Katrina was very minor. We then watched the TV closely to see if Hurricane Hanna would clear the Florida coast in time for us to visit Daytona Beach, and if they still had a beach worth visiting. No matter, we were locked into our reservation and, short of a forced evacuation, were committed to keeping. On top of all that, Hurricane Ike was barreling through the Florida Straits toward our home, so we left the boards up while we were gone lest we come home to a hurricane ravaged home with broken windows, full of raccoons using our abode as a shelter of last resort.
But as it turned out, it was beautiful in Daytona Beach. We were at a time share which, being the second week of September, was largely inhabited by retirees. There were not many people there as it was the off season so we had no problem identifying each of them. By day two we had assigned names to each of them. There was Sunscreen, the old guy with skin the color and texture of beef jerky. He would be at the pool or in the ocean by 7 am and spend most of the day in the sun. He would put a layer of sunscreen on his head so thick I thought, looking from our balcony, it was white hair. But no, it was several ounces of SPF-45. Then he would oil the rest of his body so it would simmer without actually turning to leather. One afternoon he swam past my wife with what looked like a cigarette in his mouth. But when he submerged he removed it and held it aloft like a periscope. That’s when she noticed it was a Tootsie Pop. So we had to change his name to Kojak.
Then there was Bar-B-Q, who was at the grill for lunch and dinner every day we were there. And Mullet, the middle-aged guy with the long braid hanging halfway down his back. And Cutie Pie, the very pretty young lady who was with Bald Spot. And here would come Ms. Cellulite, flapping in through the gate to the beach. The coolest person there was the one we could barely see, Wind Surfer. All we saw of him was his kite careening through the air and his dim silhouette flying over the waves.
Being on the coast one would naturally think, seafood. Yes, there were plenty of seafood restaurants throughout the area and we did eat at a couple. But I have to tell you, NO one anywhere cooks seafood as good as anyone in Louisiana. Not even a 4-star Florida restaurant can serve anything close to what any and every Louisiana cook puts on the table day to day. It’s all in the spice. Louisiana uses it, others don’t. And Louisiana has a take on presentation. Sure, Floridians can serve a fillet of fish with a side of garlic potatoes and a sprig of parsley, but it can’t hold a candle to dumping a load of hot crawfish, potatoes, corn and sausage on a table covered with newspaper. And never wear a white shirt to a crawfish boil, it won’t be white when you’re done.
Seafood aside, it was a delightful week. I was able to cook some excellent steaks, made easier because Bar-B-Q already had the grill hot. And the rip tide lessened as Hanna made her way up the coast so we were able to spend some quality time in the surf. We even were able to relax as Ike bypassed our home town, choosing Houston as his primary target. As Ike turned north, my brother in Cincinatti got more damage from it than we did. He lost a tree and was without power for 15 hours. Welcome to our world. I need to e-mail him to say that I know a great place to evacuate if he needs to get away. And no need to bring sunscreen, Kojak has plenty.