Sweet Home Alabama … Mardi Gras in Mobile.

Mobile, Alabama -- the first Mardi Gras celebration.

Mobile, Alabama -- the first Mardi Gras celebration.

Today was a day on my trip that did not go as planned … for better and for worse. I tend to be extremely OCD about my road trip preparations, and for practical reasons. I’m always very ambitious about where to go and what to do, and I’m on a tight budget. Today was one of those days where no planning can be a problem, or a solution. I left Panama City Beach around 10:00 a.m., and had to drive rather quickly to Mobile, Alabama because: (a) I hadn’t made firm hotel reservations, and (b) I figured this would be a good time to do laundry. The former was a bad situation that resolved itself, and the latter never happened.

From my hotel room in Panama City Beach

From my 5th floor hotel room in Panama City Beach

Before leaving Panama City Beach, I visited the beach in front of my hotel room … since I arrived too late the prior night to enjoy it. It’s still February so the water’s too cold, but you can see from this picture how pleasant it must be during its peak season. Spring Break college students will start coming next week, which in my mind would be the worst of both worlds. The place must be a zoo, and I don’t see how much warmer the water would be one week later. It must be nice to visit in the summer, however.

I had to make good time to Mobile, but also wanted to enjoy the “Emerald Coast” — the white sandy beaches of the Florida panhandle that are truly gorgeous and spectacular. Part of this stretch was filmed in the mid-90′s for the Truman Show, and I thought it would be cool to spend time there. So I popped in a Bob Dylan CD (“Bringing it All Back Home”), and took off on Route 98. The road doesn’t always follow the Gulf, as you often have to take a side beachfront road to experience how beautiful it is. Cognizant of what happened the other day, I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic. One of the guidebooks I have says the Truman Show was filmed in Destin … so I figured that would be a good spot to watch the beach.

Turned out Destin was not too exciting. It’s an inland port town, and the central area was a disgusting tourist trap which catered to wealthy travelers. The whole area around Destin had mega mansions. I spoke to a guy selling t-shirts, who told me the Truman Show was actually filmed in Seaside … a few miles to the east. If I had wanted to see that, I should have exited Route 98 earlier, and taken the scenic Route 30-A. With the time crunch I had put myself in, I decided that I couldn’t turn back to Seaside. I’d have to keep going …

Navarre Beach, on the Emerald Coast

Navarre Beach, on the Emerald Coast

Pretty soon, Route 98 became less idyllic … and more a series of stripmalls and gun show billboards. The weather even began to change, with clouds coming in, and I wondered if I would not have the chance to stop at the Emerald Coast. Sensing my surroundings, I popped in my Creedence Clearwater Revival CD — as the Sixties band always had that hick quality to them that appeared to be appropriate for the Florida Panhandle.

But as the skies cleared, I noticed a sign off Route 98 — “Welcome to Navarre Beach: Florida’s Best Kept Secret.” I turned left onto County Road 399, crossing a bridge and approaching the white sandy beaches, coupled with the clear blue color of the Gulf. I stopped to take a few photos, knowing that I had finally paused to experience the sheer beauty of the Emerald Coast.

While in Navarre, I stopped to grab lunch at a beachfront restaurant … and spoke with a few visitors from Alabama. They told me something I was not aware of: while everyone knows about New Orleans for Mardi Gras, the first and original Mardi Gras was in Mobile … and street festivals were starting tonight at 6:30 p.m. It was profound luck to be planning to stay in the area, except I still didn’t have a hotel reservation. Which put more stress on me to leave quickly.

As I drove west on Route 98, the Redneck Riviera became progressively more redneck … as Creedence Clearwater continued to belt out their tunes in my car. As I got to Pensacola, I made a wrong turn and almost entered an air force base. The whole town had a conservative feel, coupled with more suburban hell I had experienced all over Florida. As the road crossed Pensacola Bay, I popped in the Forrest Gump Soundtrack for the occasion of entering a new state: Alabama.

Immediately, Alabama had a different feel from Florida. No more awful stripmalls … just idyllic countryside that (albeit poor and “rednecky”) had a whole different character. But I couldn’t stay on Route 98 to experience the state. I had to catch a hotel reservation in Mobile, so I quickly joined the Interstate. I had been told that there are a lot of cheap motels directly south of Mobile on Government Boulevard, and the guidebook had recommended a few. I also found on a website some great discounts … but the catch is you can’t make a reservation. The idea is that the hotel will rent you a room on a walk-in basis if they have rooms … but not if they are already booked.

The place I had in mind (at $35 with the online discount) was a complete dump when I got there. I got a really bad vibe about the place as I drove in, and the desk clerk reminded me of the Tenderloin hotel landlords. The room itself was awful, and I got asked by a fellow guest during my five-minute stay if I had 75 cents he could borrow. Granted, I know a lot of people in the Tenderloin who put up with such living conditions each and every day (and often in worse situations.) But none of them, I suppose, would agree this is the way to spend a vacation. I drove up Government Boulevard, and found a nice clean available motel room for $60 a night. It was worth it.

Dauphin Street in Mobile ... kind of like the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Dauphin Street in Mobile ... kind of like the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Having secured a place, I planned on doing laundry … which was harder to find than I thought. I found one close to Downtown Mobile in a sketchy neighborhood, and as I drove towards Dauphin Street I saw the police barricades preparing for the Mardi Gras celebration. It occurred to me that maybe doing laundry at 6:00 p.m. — when the parade starts at 6:30 p.m. — probably wasn’t worth it. I figured I’ll do laundry some other night, and headed towards the Parade.

Downtown Mobile is a lot like what I’ve imagined New Orleans to be. An old city (it was the original capital of the Louisiana Territory!), you even have on Dauphin Street the same kinds of balconies that you have in the French Quarter. Mobile was the first Mardi Gras, and they don’t just have one parade each year … they have parades going on practically every night for a two-week period. Like in New Orleans, floats full of mysterious figures in costume throw beads at the passersby. And like New Orleans, the locals let the good times roll afterwards … with music, drinking and festivities all through the night.

I didn’t get back to my motel until around 1:00 a.m. …

12 Responses to “Sweet Home Alabama … Mardi Gras in Mobile.”

  1. Rasberry Says:

    Glad you enjoyed our Southern Hospitality.

  2. nafiss griffis Says:

    the view from Panama Beach Hotel is grave, peaceful, and continuous. The emerald colored balconies seem to be droplets from the vast mother emerald. I like the row of palm trees casting their shadows with that of the hotel on the white beach. The sky definitely is the artist.

  3. nafiss griffis Says:

    Navarre beach with the traces of footsteps vanishing under the wind reminds the traveller of the fleeting moments of human experience. What a nice trip to have to the sea and its elements as a companion.

  4. Janiece Opyd Says:

    http://hepatitis.treatment-info.com/mardi-gras-1956-through-my-fathers-lens-boing-boing-video/

  5. PIC Programmer : Says:

    i always get my hotel reservations in advance specially during peak seasons:~*

  6. Sublingual Vitamins Says:

    i always make sure that i got a hotel reservation at least 1 week in advance to ensure that i got a reservation *;”

  7. Alabama vacations Says:

    Great pics you have taken. Any chance these can be used on our site in return for a backlink to your site ? The pictures speak more about Alabama than any words…

  8. Ansel Says:

    I wanted details in regards to this on Bing and stumbled on your post. I found it to be nice clear. Many thanks

  9. Beatrice Says:

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
    Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz respond as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. kudos

    • paulhogarth Says:

      No, I did not hire anyone to design it … but I do have a professional background in website design.

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