I’m sitting in a truck stop McDonald’s in Port Allen, Louisiana. The cuisine of the last few days has pretty much guaranteed that this won’t be the only McDonald’s I visit in the next few hours as I matriculate my way north to Ruston for the evening. It’s my hope that the next few restrooms don’t reek quite as mightily as this one did.
So yes, I have been to and through the Big Easy, and what a spectacular city it is. It deserves and will receive it’s own entry at a later time. For now, remain content knowing that, if you’ve never been to NOLA before, it is one of the most intriguing and charming cities in our country. If you have been there before, I’m sure you don’t find that last sentence to be shocking in the least.
This entry, however, will be focused on my day trip from Pensacola, Florida to New Orleans, via Gulfport, Mississippi. As I had mentioned, I wasn’t too fond of Pensacola, and wanted to get on the road earlier rather than later. I woke up and made my way down to the feastatorium, and quickly munched down some sausage gravy over biscuits. A long time favorite feast of fat guys everywhere, I fell in love with gravy and biscuits while driving train at Hersheypark.
The mere minions of the park didn’t quite have the time of day to laze around and get breakfast, but we engineers sure did. After years of toiling away in the heat, I was given the opportunity to “drive train” the last 2 summers of my employment at HP. Driving train meant being an engineer on the mighty and proud Dry Gulch Railroad. Whereas the other rides employees worked several rides during their summer, we engineers only drove train. I’m going to have to be careful, as when I start talking train, it is hard to get me off the tracks. Just know that the engines were named Skooter and Janelle, and that they were authentic, water-boiling, steam-making, huffing, puffing steam locomotives. We loved them, prepared them for their day, and kissed them goodnight after their hard work.
The engine house was the center of what I am now calling Delta Gamma Rho Rho. It was the fraternity house of the DGRR engineers, and is proudly the only fraternity I count myself a member of. After preparing the engines for the day and taking care of the other tasks surrounding the railroad, we would go get breakfast at the cafeteria, about a quarter mile’s walk away. We would, of course, bring it back to the E-house to munch down while listening to the radio and playing cards with the other engineers.
The normal offerings were of course eggs, bacon, ham, toast and your normal breakfast buffet items. Biscuits and sausage gravy were not offered every day, but on those special days when they were, my buddy Justin and I were sure to load up. The deal was simple: $1.06 after tax for 2 biscuits covered in gravy. An unbelievable price for sure, I’m fairly certain that this slim price was the direct cause of my current fatness.
At the time, I was a beanpole, not even 170 lbs on my 6 foot frame. That didn’t mean I didn’t have the spirit of a fatty though, and I would routinely cram 6 biscuits into the Styrofoam carrier and would ladle what seemed like a half gallon of gravy over top. Of course, I closed the carrier as I made my way to check out. Justin always did the exact same thing. Unfortunately, he had the body to match the spirit though, and he was a big dude. The little old lady at the checkout counter would always make Justin open his carrier, revealing the massive quantity of food he intended to scarf down, and charged him the $3.18 for a triple order. My skinniness earned me the trust of the lady though, as she always only ever charged me the $1.06 for a single order. She saw I was getting biscuits and gravy (the buffet was in the line of sight of the register), saw I was skinny, and assumed I got 1 serving. Justin never threw me under the bus. What a guy.
So yes, I had encountered gravy and biscuits for the first time on the trip, and scarfed some down. There wasn’t much gravy left in the crock pot when I took my fill, so I only took enough for a first round, and left some in there for someone else. I was hungry afterwards though, and was in eager anticipation of round 2. Others were also wanting some gruel, and upon the waitress bringing some out, she also announced that it would be about 10 minutes until it was hot. I watched in amazement as hungry travelers formed a line at the crock pot, waiting for it to heat up. Hot, cold, who gives a fuck?! I went up there, slopped some cold gravy on my biscuits and munched! I started a trend, and soon others were either dealing with it cold, or using the microwave to scorch their gravy. What kind of poor souls would have waited 10 minutes for some lukewarm gravy to heat up, though? I guess those traveling through Pensacola would.
I made my way through the remainder of the panhandle, through the panhandle of Alabama, and eventually landed in Gulfport, Mississippi around 5 on Saturday evening. I got to Great Southern Golf Club shortly thereafter, and was ready to get 18 in on the Gulf of Mexico. The skies looked ominous as I checked in, and the young kid checking me in asked if I planned on fighting the rain. I told him that I checked the radar and wouldn’t have much problem, and also that I had to get the round in, given my trip. Both he and a middle aged guy sitting there were intrigued with the trip, and told me I’d enjoy the course and play well, as it wasn’t too difficult. A few minutes later, I was off.
The course is situated right on the Gulf of Mexico, and does offer a few nice views. As the course is separated from the Gulf by a 4 lane highway in a fairly densely populated area, the views weren’t quite as magnificent as you may have guessed, but the warm breezes blowing in off of the Gulf reminded you where you were at, and did a wonder as far as keeping the temperature moderate. Hole 1 heads due north, away from the Gulf, and gives you the advantage of having the wind at your back, while 18 goes right into the breeze, making a tough 18th hole even tougher.
The course was built in 1908, and, according to the scorecard, was at least influenced, partially designed or somehow had other involvement with Donald Ross. I’m not sure if Ross had a hand in designing the course or not, but whomever did lay the place out did a nice job. Set on a flat parcel of land laden with the sandy soil necessary for a links course and blasted frequently by the wind from the Gulf, Great Southern has great potential to be turned into as true a links course as you could find in the Americas. As it is now, the course is in a mild state of disrepair – greens did have some large brown spots and were also a little bumpy in areas. It had rained earlier in the day, and the fairways were soggy – I wasn’t going to be getting much, if any, roll.
As you may have noticed, the entries, even the ones centered around golf, are beginning to feature far less discussion of my round, and more about everything else. I trust that’s not a problem for you. My round at Great Southern flew by, as I only encountered one other player on the course, a walker playing 2 or 3 balls, who let me through on the 8th.
Measuring just over 6200 from the furthest back black tees, Great Southern was not overly difficult. Not quite a pasture, there were some trees on some of the holes, and there were also some nicely utilized streams and ponds on the course. Most notably, the 254 yard par 4 6th hole had a giant tree in the middle of the fairway. You could either be ballsy and go over it, or hook or slice one around it – but a standard straight shot wasn’t going to get it done. I opted for a fairway metal, and hit it 250 with a big old hook. Unfortunately, the hook was bigger and older than I had hoped, and I was pin high 20 yards to the left of the green. A pitch down the massively sloped green and 2 putts later, I had made my par.
En route to my 80, I played the twin par 5’s on the back -1. There is a stream between the holes, which runs to the left on 15, and to the right on 16. Each is about 500 yards in length, and they offer a great opportunity to make up a few strokes later in the round. A massacred drive and stroked 6 iron had me putting for eagle on 15 from about 35 feet. I left more than I wanted for the birdie putt, but drained it.
As I made my way back to the gulf, I again crossed the train tracks which intersect the golf course.
While the course is on the gulf, not all of it is in view of the water, and a great majority of the holes are played inland, with the only indication you’re by the gulf being the breeze. Still though, those few views you do get of the gulf are magnificent.
The view from the 4th tee at Great Southern Golf Club, with the Gulf of Mexico in the background.
I again returned to the clubhouse to find my Jetta alone amongst the parking spaces. I found it odd that my car was all by it’s lonesome, as it was only about 7:15, and there was plenty of daylight left. That not anyone had come out to play 9 or was only a few holes behind me finishing up 18 at that early hour was staggering. Unlike Dogwood Lakes in Bonifay, this course was on a 4 lane highway and was in a densely populated area. I’m finding out that golf is not as popular in the South as it is in some other regions. Of course the amount of play at any given course is largely a function of the price, location and other factors, but I have not run into any courses in the South that get nearly the play that the courses in WNY or CePA get. For the most part, I have walked right on to basically deserted courses. There aren’t as many courses in the South either. That is clearly a result of lower population, but I wonder if even still some courses have problems staying open; if they routinely get enough play to stay afloat.
My Jetta, all alone again, in the parking lot at Great Southern
My round had ended, and I planned on dropping my cart off quickly before heading to the big easy. As I was dropping my cart off, I noticed that the cart guy was still at the course, cleaning off some carts and getting ready to shut down for the night. I struck up a conversation, initially letting him know that I had seen him tee off on hole 2 as he was getting a few late holes in. A lefty, he had a silky smooth swing, and hit the ball a mile. It was just 1 shot, but it was enough to determine that the guy was a player. I asked him if he was good, and he “didn’t want to toot his own horn,” but did admit he was an alright player.
When I had checked in and he and the older guy asked where I was from, my response of Buffalo prompted the older guy to mention that the kid was from Canada. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, people move, you know? After the round, after I had seen that he was a player, and struck up a conversation, I asked him what brought him to Gulfport, MS. His answer did nothing to overturn stereotypes that Mississippians likely have about Canadians: he was a professional hockey player. Gulfport has a team in the Southern Professional Hockey League, and Mark Versteeg-Lytwyn, as I found out, had played for them for several seasons before hanging them up to pursue a career as a head pro of a golf course. He’s in the PGA program, and is working towards becoming that head pro.
Naturally, I had a bunch of questions for the guy. First, I wanted to know if hockey was popular at all in the South, and his answer wasn’t surprising. The Surge played in a 9,000 seat arena, yet routinely drew less than 1,000 fans. Those who did show up, though, were serious about it. I happen to have worked with a girl who now lives in Gulfport, and upon his mentioning of this, memories of hoards of her facebook posts about “her Surge” came flooding back. She’s a “hockey lady,” which is the rough equivalent of a “cat lady.” Women, normally, but not always hags, who just fall head over heels in love with a particular hockey team. Typically more closely aligned with a local minor league team than an NHL one, you can find groups of hockey ladies huddled together at arenas through the States and Provinces, ringing their cowbells, sporting their multiply autographed jerseys and their cheeks emblazoned with the logo of their favorite club. A fascinating subset of American sports culture, it is my hope that a sociologist has done some research into these folks and what makes them tick.
Mark confirmed that there were hockey ladies, but was clearly more focused on golf. We spent a solid 15 minutes discussing some of the other courses I’d played and some of the other courses in the area, as well as some options for me when I’m up in Michigan (his wife is from Michigan). He was also very knowledgeable about the history of Great Southern, and was able to give me some insight into the changes that were made to particular holes over the years. The course was simply ravaged after Katrina, he explained, and it’s been a long road back to where the course currently sat. According to him, the course was in haggard condition just a few months ago, but has enjoyed significant strides this summer, and is becoming more playable by the day. Of course, the concerns he raised were common ones; the course doesn’t have quite enough money to do everything they’d like to do, but they all feel like they are moving in the right direction.
I agreed that the layout was a nice one, and that with a little maintenance, the track could be a nice one. He shared his stories of the days of yore, when the course was the premiere one in the area, noting the rectangular fronts of greens as a hallmark of Donald Ross design, and lamenting that the club, once private, had deteriorated mightily over the years. Not all was lost though, as I mentioned that the course could be turned into a nice links course with just a few pot bunkers, some larger greens and heather. Mark agreed, sharing his biggest desire for the course, which was to let the grass between the fairways grow and grow and grow. Given that he also shared the fact that the course is only slowly regaining regular customers as the condition has improved over the last few years, I doubt that his fescue and heather will be coming anytime soon. There are more pressing concerns for the course.
Before I took off, he inquired as to my plans, and upon hearing of my intentions to get to New Orleans by day’s end, wished me luck and advised that I stay safe in the Big Easy. He warned that I may find the place to be spooky, but also that I’d have a great time there, provided I stayed safe. A handshake and take care’s later, I was on my way.
Of all the people I’ve met on the trip, he was one of the more interesting. A Canadian by birth, he now lives in Gulfport, Mississippi, about as far south as you can get. His wife likes it there, and he finally got away from the cold. It’s far easier to land a job as a golf pro in Mississippi than it would be in his native Toronto, and I imagine that is also paying a role in his decision to stay near Gulfport. Whatever he does though, I hope his Ontario accent never gives way to a Southern one. Those of the great South deserve to hear aboot the true North, strong and free, from a native in his native vernacular.
It was off to New Orleans, and a fantastic few days awaited me…
A few quick stories from my travels. I wasn’t exactly sure where to work these in, but feel they are worth sharing.
1) While I was en route to Destin, Florida, a young couple with a few kids in the backseat asked that I roll down my window to ask directions from me. They were initially behind me, and should have taken notice to my New York plates. They also read the sign in my window, and should have learned that I had been all over the place in the last 2 weeks, and was almost certainly not from there. Nevertheless, they wanted to know how to get to Panama City. As the light had turned, I didn’t have time to get out my iPhone to confirm what I thought to be the route, and shouted out a simple “Head on down to 98, hang a left and drive. You’ll get there soon enough.” As it turns out, I really hope they trusted me. I got them exactly where they were going.
2) Somewhere in New England, exactly where I have no memory of, I clogged the toilet in my hotel room. I’m a bigger man, and I tend to make bigger poos. I also need to wipe, and the whole conglomeration of sewage in the toilet can sometimes be too much for a low flow toilet to handle. Normally the power of water takes care of everything, but at this hotel, it did not. If you’re a traveler yourself, you are well aware that hotel rooms do not have plungers. My plan was to simply leave the problem for the maid. I know, it’s a total asshole move, but what was I to do? Anyhow, I left it where it was overnight, and as the water was in no danger of overflowing, thought little of it. In the morning, however, I was faced with the dilemma of my lifetime. I had to shit immediately upon waking, and each step brought me dangerously close to disaster. I had no time to get to the lobby, and had to use the toilet in my bathroom. The water level was within a half inch of the top of the bowl, and flushing would not be possible. Not only was this eventuality clear in my mind, the possibility of mid-dump overflow was also possible. Something had to be done. I quickly searched again, in vain, for a plunger. One had not magically appeared over night, and I had only 1 choice left. Looking away and gritting my teeth, I unclogged the toilet by hand. Among the grossest things I’ve ever done, I was successful, and proceeded to take a very satisfying dump. I bathed immediately afterward, taking particular care to wash, repeatedly, my right arm. I’m not sure I got it all, so I washed it again. And again. And again.
Hope you didn’t vomit just there. But really, what travel tale is complete without at least one bathroom adventure?