I woke up the morning we had to leave New Orleans with a sense of impending doom. We were leaving the seediness and debauchery that we enjoyed so much in NOLA, and heading towards the wholesome goodness that is visiting my father. I had a heavy heart that morning, because I hadn’t spoken to him once since I had quit my job and started aimlessly driving around the country. I knew that my visit to the gulf coast and Pensacola wouldn’t be filled with the partying and drinking or solitude of nature I preferred on vacation, but rather serious talks and reflection.
We made our way out of New Orleans, the sky heavy with storm clouds and my speakers blaring KMFDM. Everything around me that morning was seemingly matching my mood. Lauren immediately picked up on my state of mind and decided that we’d do a couple things to improve my disposition. First we’d stop for coffee and king cakes on the way out of town as a pick-me-up. Secondly, we’d take Highway 90 through the bayou and drive along the gulf coast in order to clear my head. I agreed to her plan without hesitation and we set out to find ourselves some sweets!
We decided to head over to Haydel’s bakery to try to score some King Cake. We had seen some billboards advertising them, in addition these cute little Mardi Gras dogs all over town that they ad sponsored. Considering we’re both suckers for cute, our curiosity was piqued, so we decided to give them a shot. Boy I’m glad we did! The bakery was nothing short of amazing. Sadly, king cakes are only made in large portions, so we made up for it by ordering an assortment of delicious petite fours. My favorite was the local specialty, praline. It was just the right combination of moist and sweet with a bit of praline crunch! Whenever I’m back in NOLA I’ll be sure to find myself at Haydel’s.
Once we ordered the sweets and had them boxed up for the car ride we set out for coffee. Lauren had heard of a place called CC’s Community Coffee and wanted to give it a shot. We drove over and checked it out. We had such a lovely experience Lauren wrote a review about them! As soon as we ordered our coffee and got back to the car we broke open our treats and had a snack. We were in coffee and sugar heaven! It was looking like my day might improve after all.
As soon as we made our way out of New Orleans and into the Bayou, the sky opened up in a torrential downpour. It was some of the worst rain I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been through at least 10 hurricanes! We slowly trudged our way through the storm, amazed at how beautiful it made the swamplands look. Then as suddenly as the rains began, they stopped. The sun came out and pounded us with scorching heat. Driving through such harsh elements made it easy to see how Louisiana culture is so steeped in voodoo and mysticism. It’s hard not to think you’ve angered the gods when being pelted with rain and lightning at one moment, then burnt to a crisp the next. It was such a stark contrast to the stoic Rockies or the majestic Pacific, but so accurately reflected my inner turmoil.
Once we exited the swamplands and hit the Gulfport and Biloxi area, the calm waters of the gulf soothed my mind, and brought me back to center. I decided I would just keep moving forward and see what the visit in Pensacola brought. We arrived in Pensacola without much fanfare and checked in to the La Quinta. We weren’t going to see my family until the next day so we had the evening to ourselves. We decided it would be a great night for a bed picnic and some much needed snuggling.
The next day we set out to visit my father and step mom and their son Corey. I was excited to see them, and also looking forward to seeing Blythe and Leon again. You see, coincidentally, Blythe had planned on brining Leon to see grandma and grandpa the same time we were going to see them. Sadly, Mike couldn’t get the time off to join us as well. We arrived at the house, and I was prepared for the apocalypse (yes I do have a penchant for the melodramatic at times). After all the pleasantries, we’re dispensed with I sat down with my dad to talk. You see, my father and I have opposing views on most things in life, so I didn’t think our mission to wander the country and find a better way of life would suit him. What I was expecting was a heated argument over life’s ideals, what I found was a loving dad that was just really worried about his son. I wouldn’t say that we ended the conversation with an ideological agreement, but I walked away knowing that my dad loved me and was worried.
Once we moved on beyond that we had ourselves a great visit for the next 2 days. We had lots of fun talking and playing with Leon, while, seemingly competing to determine who could spoil him more. If there’s one thing you have to do while visiting the gulf coast, it’s go to the beach! The first day we went to the beach in Navarre FL and swam in the waters of the gulf. We laughed and played and Blythe taught Lauren how to boogie board.
The next day we went to a different beach on the sound side. The difference was like night and day. Swimming in the sound was almost as calm as swimming in a lake. We spent a few hours there just floating around catching up. It was peaceful and relaxing and just what we needed. Afterwords we all piled ourselves into the car and went to the movies for a matinée. There’s nothing that says “family bonding” like watching a bunch of things explode on the big screen. We ended our visit with a lovely homemade dinner. Dad made one of his Cuban specialties, Creole Shrimp. After dinner we sat around enjoying huge bowls of ice cream (Dad got everyone’s favorite flavor) and just enjoyed each other’s company. Once we could pry ourselves off the couch we said our good bye’s and went on our way.
That night while driving back to our hotel and our little doggy family I had an epiphany. Throughout our entire trip, I was worried that my friends and family would all think I was crazy. Why wouldn’t they? I had completely flaked out, right? I had walked away from a very well-paying career at the drop of a hat, with no plan in place whatsoever. Then instead of doing something “normal” I just got in the car with my family and drove. I was worried that there would be some sort of “day of reckoning” on each visit to family and friends where I would have to explain myself and my actions, yet it never came. Instead at each turn I received an outpouring of love, support, and encouragement. What I finally realized that night was that I was battling my own notions of myself. Over the years I had let the corporate workaholic life define who I was, instead of me defining my life based on my ideals. Visiting everyone I knew and explaining to them that I had let this happen, while spewing ideology to the contrary, was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It was also one of the most important. It freed me and allowed me to dream again. Now it was up to me and my family to re-define ourselves in the image we desired. I had begun this weekend filled with trepidation and worry, now all that remained was contentment and hope. I went to bed that evening looking forward to our next adventure, knowing that I was once again truly free to dream.