OPINION --- For the past week these are the words I read when opening my email, "you have no events scheduled today."
This is not a comforting statement to an owner of a kayak rental business catering to tourists.
The phone has not rung in the past week (except for one caller who I referred to a river tubing business on account they had two small children I couldn't accommodate).
In fact, everything I said that might happen in my last blog post seems to be happening.
Can you guess why I posted the above photo? I posted it to show the lack of traffic traveling South on Hwy 59 toward Gulf Shores, AL. This photo represents the first time hubby and I were able to drive South toward Gulf Shores beaches during peak summer tourist season and have the highway virtually to ourselves.
This is not a good thing folks.
We, like most "locals" travel back roads to do our business so as not to get bottle necked in tourist traffic. We may have complained. Alright we did complain ... at times ... and for that ... I repent.
In fact, right about now hubby and I wish we could take back every inconvenience we endured during summer "tourist" season because we (I'm sure other local business owners would agree) would rather have "too much" business than have NONE.
We are ever so grateful to the loving and kind visitors who have kept their plans to vacation on Alabama's Gulf Shores despite the scary images shown nightly on TV.
For every home/condo/hotel rented, for every meal eaten, for every dollar spent in our gift stores and yes, for every fishing/kayaking/tubing/sailing adventure taken --- maybe one less teacher will lose a job, one less business will shut down, one less home will be put up for sale.
I've been closely reading and participating in the threads on the Alabama Gulf Coast Facebook Wall. For the most part guests are sympathetic. Many "friends" ask in what ways they can help and several offer condolences.
But there are a few who smell the blood in the streets.
These "friends" insist everything be discounted to free with the disclaimer "after all we are choosing to support you and your community by our presence." Some have gone so far as to suggest a for profit amusement park offer their facility to guests for free ("their losses will be re-reimbursed by BP --- all they have to do is file a claim," they argue).
While I'm the first person to admit I am a bargain hunter (and free is quite a driving bargain) my mind kicks into empathy whenever I hear of an area devastated by a disaster. My sympathetic heart (which has endured now three major floods, hurricanes, a devastating ice storm, a fire and business losses due to an ailing economy) engages in ways seeking to support communities I'm fond of by breaking my "vacation" bank.
Although Hurricane Katrina damaged some local areas, our beloved Gulf Shores was mostly spared a direct hit. We knew our neighbors in Biloxi, MS were devastated. We also observed their nominal National media coverage compared to that of New Orleans, LA.
Hubby and I made trips to eat at open (read: struggling) Biloxi restaurants and play in the casinos. The town was a mess. Roads were closed and there were several detours. Debris was still in yards. Buildings were barely standing. Century old live oaks were missing from the well known boulevard. The lighthouse leaned. In essence --- the landscape was not a pretty sight.
Discounts nor aesthetics factored into our decision to try to support their economy. We simply wanted to use our (hard earned) dollars to support an ailing neighbor.
Trust me, I understand those who say this oil spill mess is a different scenario. I agree the presence of oil on our beaches is disgusting, probably toxic and can have a negative effect on a person's health if inhaled/touched. To those who are concerned of long-term effects and have health issues I say: stay away from the beaches ... or at least stay indoors in an air-controlled environment overlooking the beaches.
However, there is so much more Coastal Alabama has to offer tourists in terms of sightseeing, history and culture that in my mind if the beaches were permanently closed I would still brag and encourage visitors to vacation here.
Can you say you've been to the oldest city in the United States? (No, it's not St. Augustine, Fl it is our neighbor to the East, Pensacola)
If you love to garden, landscaping and love flowers, are you aware Bellingrath Gardens is considered the "Castle of the South" and boasts spectacular landscaping with hundreds of variety of flowers?
Do you have loved ones in the Armed Forces? How proud would you feel to see the inside of a real "heroic" battleship?
There are so many reasons to explore the Alabama Gulf Coast --- all within an hour drive from Gulf Shores, AL. If you think of it, many of us choose our vacation spot based on only a couple of reasons.
For example, hubby and I once chose to explore a State Park because of the WPA architecture. We traveled all the way through Florida's "Forgotten Coast" to see why it was "forgotten."
Get this: we traveled to Bayou La Batre because we enjoy the movie Forest Gump and wondered what about the shrimping village inspired the author .
We then traveled to Fairhope to explore the streets the author may have walked.
Here's my point: unless your heart is dead set on going to a beach to lay out in the hot sun taking occasional dips in a) either a cold ocean and/or b) sharing your space with throngs of others who have the same plans, why not search your heart and think about what you most enjoy about your stay along Alabama's Gulf Coast?
My guess is it will have something to do with Gulf Shores fun restaurants, shopping excursions, natural scenery and "Southern" hospitality.
Ya'll come down! WE MISS YOU!
p.s. Can I pencil you in?