On Tuesday, I took a walk along the beach in Perdido Key, Florida, where my parents have a condo. It is my favorite place. The sand is white and cool even in summer; the water is clear and, since the Gulf is shallow, it gets warm enough to swim comfortably by late spring. The condo itself, six stories up, wrapped with balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, is consolation for my parents’ selling the much-beloved house I grew up in (for far more than they paid sixteen years earlier, to people who razed it except for the chimney and put a McMansion in its place).
This is the part of Florida known as the Redneck Riviera. A mile down the road from us is the Flora-Bama Lounge, where donated bras crowd clotheslines across the ceiling and where you can play the LobsterZone (like those games where you grab for a plush toy with a metal claw, except instead of toys there are live lobsters). On nights when we don’t feel like cooking, we choose between the Crab Trap and the Shrimp Bucket. I usually opt for some kind of fried seafood–gulf shrimp, gulf oysters–with an appetizer of fried (blue) crab claws, a dish that I’ve never seen outside of the Florida/Alabama gulf area. Much more so than in Atlanta, where I’m from, there is truly a local cuisine in those environs. Smoked tuna dip. And the famed Royal Red shrimp — a lobster-like variety that swim through our waters for only a very short period during the year. Add some slaw and hushpuppies, plenty of tartar and cocktail sauce, maybe some new potatoes or sweet corn, and you’ve got a proper panhandle supper.
So I was on this walk. Nothing was different yet. A hermit crab grumped along the edge of the water in his chickpea-sized trumpet shell of a home. Gulls did their dive-bombing and toddler-with-food stalking. A great blue heron strutted around looking typically elegant and above it all. A (human) couple waded to hip-depth and canoodled, aware that being in water is the international PDA carte blanche. READ MORE >