Archive for the ‘Redneck Riviera’ Category

Redneck Riviera redux

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

In his book “The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera,” Harvey H. Jackson III writes with obvious feeling about how “people from the lower South created a coastal playground, a place where they and their families could get away from constraints and restraints of home and job and school and responsibility but without going too far — physically or culturally — from where they were.

“It is the story of how those who were already there, and those who came later, turned ‘fishing villages’ and ‘bathing beaches’ into tourist destinations for millions, places where parties were pitched, dreams were dreamed and fortunes were made and lost. And it is the story of how people keep coming, searching for something new, something old, something upscale and something sleazy.”

If you click on the Redneck Riviera category over on the right side of this blog, you’ll find several previous posts on the subject. More than two years ago, an excerpt from what was to become Jackson’s book ran in the quarterly “Southern Cultures,” and I wrote about it.

Later that year, I wrote a post about how I felt guilty for having been among the masses who canceled their reservations in the wake of the BP disaster. We had been scheduled to go to Orange Beach in Alabama that summer. Instead, we went to Eureka Springs.

Last summer, I wrote about our Redneck Riviera excursion to Seagrove Beach in Florida.

Seagrove Beach is where Jackson wrote the introduction to his book last summer. He has a 1950s-built family vacation cottage there named Poutin’ House South.

Jackson, a well-known historian, teaches at Jacksonville State University in the hills of north Alabama. Yes, that’s the school the Arkansas Razorbacks will play to start the football season in a couple of weeks, the place where Jack Crowe landed after being fired by Frank Broyles as the head Hog following that infamous loss to the Citadel on the Saturday before Labor Day in 1992.

Jacksonville is also in the part of Alabama that produced one of my favorite writers, Rick Bragg.

Bragg also has been known to write lovingly about the Redneck Riviera.

Bragg, who has a home at Fairhope, Ala., on the east side of Mobile Bay, wrote a piece about that area three years ago for Smithsonian magazine.

“I grew up in the Alabama foothills, landlocked by red dirt,” he wrote. “My ancestors cussed their lives away in that soil, following a one-crop mule. My mother dragged a cotton sack across it, and my kin slaved in mills made of bricks dug and fired from the same clay. My people fought across it with roofing knives and tire irons, and cut roads through it, chain gang shackles around their feet. My grandfather made liquor 30 years in its caves and hollows to feed his babies, and lawmen swore he could fly, since he never left a clear trail in that dirt. It has always reminded me of struggle, somehow, and I will sleep in it, with the rest of my kind. But between now and then, I would like to walk in some sand.

“I went to the Alabama coast, to the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, to find a more forgiving soil, a shiftless kind that tides and waves just push around.”

Like Bragg, I grew up far from the coast, in the pine woods of southwest Arkansas. My sister and I would beg our father to take us to the Gulf Coast, and he would oblige by heading south, but only as far as Biloxi.

We never knew the whiter sand and bluer water was a bit to the east in Alabama and Mississippi. For a second consecutive summer, we shared a house with my sister and her husband at Seagrove Beach, reliving those warm Biloxi memories.

To this day, I like to spend a night or two in Biloxi on the way to Florida. We’ve been stopping with our boys — now 19 and 15 — since they were babies. Again this year, we made sure our first meal on the coast was at Mary Mahoney’s Old French House and made it a point to speak to Bobby Mahoney on the way out the door. It’s a family tradition.

We were thrilled to learn that just weeks before another family favorite, McElroy’s, had finally reopened at the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, almost seven years after having been wiped out by Hurricane Katrina (known in those parts simply as The Storm). We ate there the second night in Biloxi.

In between, we had lunch at the White Cap, another old favorite that came back bigger and better after Katrina.

We stayed on the Gulf Coast side of U.S. Highway 90 at South Beach, which was built as a condominium project but is now a suites hotel. Our accommodations couldn’t have been better — a corner suite on the top floor with floor-to-ceiling windows that allowed us to look out on the Gulf and down the beach.

In his book, Jackson (a south Alabama native) concentrates on the Alabama coast and the Florida Panhandle, though there’s no doubt that the Mississippi coast is part of the Redneck Riviera (how can it not be if none other than Jimmy Buffett just opened a casino there?).

Jackson writes that the desire “to make money off tourists forced Gulf Coast folks to reconsider their attitude toward local government and the authority, bureaucracy and taxes that came with it. Ultimately they would give up their freedom from civic oversight in exchange for better roads, better tasting water, a dependable sewage system, fire protection and law enforcement.

“Many would not like what they got in return, but the deal was made nonetheless. Woven into this are accounts of the pioneers who found ways to cater to the desires and urges of visitors and investors and in the process reshaped the land and the landscape. They turned tourist courts into condominiums and bulldozed palmetto and scrub to make way for houses and communities that some would herald as the future of urban design and others would criticize for their clawing conformity.”

Indeed, there are few places in the South more upscale than the beaches of south Walton County in Florida. We always make it a point to escape what we call “the beautiful people” for what we refer to as our “redneck day” in Panama City Beach — ice cream and miniature golf, capped off by an early dinner (it has to be early to beat the crowds) at Capt. Anderson’s, a place that claims to sell more seafood than any other restaurant in Florida. I order the grilled pompano, and it has never been better than it was this year.

The massive advertising campaigns paid for by BP the past two years seem to be working. I knew that instinctively as I waited more than an hour in traffic just to get through the tunnel at Mobile.

This was a banner summer.

“Area business leaders see strengthening economy” read the headline on the front page of the Sun Herald at Biloxi.

A headline eight days later in the Press-Register at Mobile read: “Beach rentals may set records.”

“The beach is back,” the story said. “July rental bookings are hotter than the record-setting July 2007 numbers, according to leasing agents.”

Here’s a sample of what folks on the Alabama coast told the newspaper:

Emily Gonzalez of Kaiser Realty in Gulf Shores: “We haven’t seen these numbers in five years. Our biggest issue now is availability. We have a lot of weekly rentals, but people want weekend rentals and we are basically sold out.”

Bill Bender of Bender Realty in Gulf Shores: “It’s the best summer we’ve ever had. We’re booked solid for the rest of July. We’ve already doubled our projected growth revenue for August.”

Former Gulf Shores Mayor David Bodenhamer: “Traffic is a good problem to have. I’d rather worry about the traffic than the oil spill.”

The newspaper reported that “the traffic congestion on the beach roads to and from the Gulf, the two-hour waits at local restaurants and the occasional rain have not dampened spirits of the crowds.”

Even the spring was good. Over to the east in Walton County, tax revenues this March were up 33 percent from March 2011, up 58 percent from March 2010 and were 31 percent higher than the previous record set in 2008. The economic impact of tourism in Walton County was an estimated $1 billion in fiscal 2011. Bed-tax revenues have experienced double-digit increases every month for more than a year.

School started this week here in Arkansas, and the annual migration south to the Redneck Riviera has ended for all but those couples without school-age children or grandchildren.

We already dream of next summer’s visit.

In the meantime, Jackson’s book, which was published earlier this year by the University of Georgia Press, is well worth the time you’ll spend reading it if you’re fascinated by the region.

“At the end of this story, mice and men, turtles and tourists, rednecks and real estate tycoons have found themselves facing the same situation,” he writes. “When the BP/Deepwater Horizon well blew and oil spewed into the Gulf, everything that walked, crawled, swam or soared became threatened. Optimism, already dampened by recession, disappeared.

“As the extent of the disaster became known, a few people along the Redneck Riviera began to wonder if the compromises made to find the petroleum that fueled the cars and planes that brought people to the motels and condos were worth the danger offshore drilling posed to their way of life. However, most, in true coastal fashion, avoided alternatives that might involve sacrifice and restraint. Instead they began to press the governments they so often held in contempt — local, state and federal — to make a company once praised as a fine example of free-market capitalism clean up the mess and reimburse coastal interests for what they lost.

“Though it was a time for serious soul-searching, the fact that so little of that was done may be one of the clearest indications of how attitudes that shaped the coast at the beginning of this story still shape it.”

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Back from the Redneck Riviera

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Schools have opened across Arkansas, and the flood of Arkansans who make the annual summer trek to the Redneck Riviera has slowed to a trickle.

Oh sure, there are those couples without children (or with grown children) who will go now that things are a bit quieter down on the coast.

But summer is when the big migration occurs. After several years away, our family of four made the trip a few weeks ago. By the size of the crowds, it appeared that Gulf Coast tourism is back following the disaster to bottom lines caused last year by the BP oil spill.

Not wanting to take chances on soiled beaches or unpleasant smells, we were among those last summer who canceled reservations. We had been set to go to Orange Beach in Alabama. We went to Eureka Springs instead.

Two years ago, I was starting a new job. We had no family vacation.

So this was our first family trip to the coast since 2008, the year we had our longest coastal visit. We had begun that vacation by staying a couple of nights at the Treasure Bay in Biloxi. We then spent a week in a house at Gulf Shores, drove east to Destin for three nights and then finished the trip with a Delta Regional Authority planning retreat at the venerable Grand Hotel on the shore of Mobile Bay.

It was a memorable trip that allowed us to visit a number of our favorite places along the coast.

This summer, I was determined not to let anything get in the way of a return trip. We would share a house with my sister, her husband and their daughter at Seagrove Beach in Walton County, Fla.

Our Friday departure was delayed by a morning meeting I had to attend in Conway. Our usual “to the coast” plan is to leave around 10 a.m. and have lunch at the Pickens Store in the old commissary building at the R.A. Pickens & Son plantation just south of Dumas. There’s not a better plate lunch in southeast Arkansas.

Since we didn’t depart Little Rock until almost 1 p.m., I feared it would be too late for lunch once we reached Pickens. So we had lunch at another favorite spot, Bobby Garner’s Sno-White Grill in Pine Bluff.

Due to the late start, we made it only as far as Hattiesburg, staying at a relatively new Holiday Inn at the point where U.S. Highway 49 intersects Interstate 59. There were Arkansas license plates spotted in the parking lot, a sure sign that the Redneck Riviera migration was taking place in full force.

Rather than taking the direct route to Florida along U.S. Highway 98, we headed south on 49 for lunch at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi. I’ve written before on this blog that my summer trips to the beach as a child were always to Gulfport or Biloxi.

You see, my father traveled the state for a living. He didn’t want to travel more than he had to. When I would beg to go to the beach, we would go to the closest beach in Mississippi. I didn’t even realize that the emerald water and sugar-white beaches existed a couple of hours to the east.

That said, I’ve always loved the Mississippi coast — its old homes, its live oak trees, its charming towns such as Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis.

I still mourn the fact that Hurricane Katrina six years ago blew so many of those homes away. During the first few years Melissa and I were married, we would head to the Misssissippi coast to stay in one of the cottages at the Broadwater Beach Hotel (still an empty property since being destroyed by Katrina, though it had long since seen its better days by the time the storm hit) and eat seafood at McElroy’s (which also never returned to its Biloxi location after the storm).

On my childhood trips to the Mississippi coast, Mary Mahoney’s was the “special night out” place for dinner.

We’ve continued that tradition with our own children. Since a summer schedule that was far too busy didn’t allow for any nights in Biloxi before or after our week in Florida, a Saturday lunch at Mary Mahoney’s would have to suffice.

Rest assured that the food at lunch is just as good as dinner always is. In fact, our boys thought it was the best meal of the trip. As always, Bobby Mahoney was there to make sure everything was running properly And I had my fill of the stuffed flounder.

Here’s wishing the Mississippi coast continued success in its recovery from Katrina.

What about the food over on in Florida’s Walton County?

The first night found us on the side porch of George’s in Alys Beach, a pleasant way to start our Florida visit.

After buying groceries at WaterColor’s large Publix store, there was a lot of cooking at the house.

There were also some trips out, though.

I love going to get coffee and newspapers each morning — one morning it was the Modica Market at Seaside (with a New York Times purchased next door at Sundog Books). There was a morning trip to the Fonville Press at Alys Beach (which has decent coffee drinks but unfortunately appears to have done away with the books and newspapers).

On other mornings we visited Amavida Coffee in Rosemary Beach and Flip Flops in Seagrove Beach for beignets.

We bought seafood for the house from the Goatfeathers market in Seagrove Beach and liked it so much that we drove over to Santa Rosa Beach one day for a seafood lunch at Goatfeathers Restaurant.

It was decided that we would spend at least one day viewing the crowds and the traffic jams at Panama City Beach (we called it our “tacky day,” and it included 36 holes of miniature golf).

A trip to Panama City Beach calls for dinner at the famed Capt. Anderson’s (which says it serves more seafood than any restaurant in Florida), but I suggest you get there by 4:30 p.m. if you’re impatient like me and don’t like to wait.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that my favorite freshwater fish to eat is crappie (smallmouth bass, on the other hand, is the species I most like to catch). My favorite saltwater fish is pompano, and the grilled pompano at Capt. Anderson’s was superb.

The “special night out” we always try to have was spent this year eating dinner at the Caliza Pool at Alys Beach. It was an early birthday gift for Melissa. The prices were high, but the atmosphere was incredible and the food was worth the cost.

When designing Alys Beach, architects Erik Vogt and Marieanne Khoury-Vogt wanted to make the pool the development’s centerpiece.

Here’s how the Alys Beach website describes it: “Caliza Pool was conceived as a communal space in the timeless tradition of the Greek agora or the Roman piazza and is actually a complex comprising a 50-by-100-foot main pool, a separate family pool, a 75-foot lap pool and a spa whirlpool. Throughout, exquisite architecture is punctuated with arched colonnades, private cabanas, fountains, lush landscaping and views of the Gulf of Mexico from an elevated terrace.

“Caliza means ‘limestone’ in Spanish, and the main pool terrace is completely paved in Dominican limestone. This main pool is a 100-foot-long ellipse and is one of the largest saltwater pools in the world. … The dining loggia is centered on an open-air bar decorated with mosaic and Cuban tiles. On each side of the bar are dining areas with tables shaded by a gallery roof and seating niches built within a thickened wall that is punctuated by wood-screened openings.”

Dinner overlooking the pool is served each Monday through Saturday beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Needing one last seafood fix on the way home, we had lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp, which overlooks Mobile Bay just off Interstate 10.

An Arkansas tradition for those on their pilgrimage to the Redneck Riviera is to honk in the Mobile tunnel on the way to the coast.

We did.

Sad that the vacation has ended so quickly, it’s traditional not to honk on the way home.

We also followed that tradition, silently driving through the tunnel — another vacation done, new memories made.

Please share your favorite spots along the Redneck Riviera with us.

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Missing oysters and the Redneck Riviera

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Like millions of other Americans, I’ve watched the television stories and read the published accounts as the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico continues to unfold.

BP’s chief executive officer was on Capitol Hill yesterday, saying how sorry he was that this has happened.

The apology didn’t make me feel any better.

I suspect it will be many years before we have a handle on the ramifications of the oil spill.

As is the case with so many other people in the South, annual visits to the Redneck Riviera are a cherished family tradition. We skipped last summer because I had just begun a new job June 1, money was tight and the timing wasn’t right for a vacation.

But in January, looking to warm up from what was a brutally cold winter by Arkansas standards, we went on the Internet and found a house we liked at Orange Beach in Alabama. We then found a week in late July that worked for everyone and made our reservations.

I almost felt guilty when we made the decision a few weeks ago to cancel those reservations. The folks on the coast are begging us to come down, eat in the restaurants, play golf, etc. Frankly, though, it’s too much money to spend for a possible view of work crews in orange vests scouring the beach, complete with loud trucks, early in the morning. That’s not a relaxing thought.

Hopefully, by next summer, things will be better and we can head to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to celebrate our oldest son’s graduation from high school.

For now, I’ll miss the long walks, I’ll miss cooking on the grill as the sun sets, I’ll miss sitting on the deck and finally taking the time to read a book.

And I’ll miss the fresh seafood, especially the oysters.

I love oysters — raw, fried, steamed, baked, you name it.

Years ago, I convinced my mother-in-law to always make oyster dressing rather than just regular dressing for the holidays.

Things really hit home last week when the news came that P&J Oyster Co., which has been operating in New Orleans for 134 years, has stopped shucking oysters.

“My son — who is delivering oysters right now — he asked me yesterday, ‘Should I go apply for food stamps?”’ said Al Sunseri, the company’s president. “I started here when I was 21, and I remember how I wanted to carry on the tradition of our business, and I remember the feeling of not only the pressures of trying to carry on this long-standing business but also the opportunity that I had to do it.”

Two-thirds of the nation’s oysters come from the Gulf of Mexico. There were almost 13 million pounds of oysters worth about $40 million in sales at the dock harvested in Louisiana alone in 2008.

Sunseri said his oyster shuckers could make from $16 to $24 an hour, depending on their skill levels. Sunseri believes many of the oyster beds will never reopen.

Here’s how the situation was described in a story at www.money.cnn.com: “Restaurants that depend on P&J Oysters have had to scramble. Dickie Brennan is the owner of Bourbon House, a restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter. His family owns a handful of restaurants that depend on P&J Oyster Co.

“Many of the restaurants that P&J Oyster works with have been customers for generations and want to continue to support the family-owned distributor. ‘I own and operate three restaurants. We are pretty good volume for these guys,’ Brennan said.

“The Bourbon House buys both shucked oysters — for sauteing, frying and poaching — and whole oysters — for the traditional oyster on the half shell. Brennan said he has been able to get oysters from distributors that draw from outside of the areas shut down by the spill. He hopes P&J Oyster will get back on its feet eventually.

“‘We are like family — New Orleans is a small city,’ Brennan said. “I talk to Sal or Al five times a day, and we are trying to come up wth different strategies. But the goal is that P&J can get back to normal.’”

P&J’s roots go back to Croatia, where fishing in the Adriatic Sea has been a way of life for centuries. During the 1800s, many Croatian fishermen began to migrate to south Louisiana. One of them was John Popich, who wound up near New Orleans. He became an oysterman. The French Quarter company he began in 1876 is the oldest continually operating dealer of oysters in the country.

Some of the most famous dishes in New Orleans – including the oysters Rockefeller invented at Antoine’s by the Alciatore family — traditionally have used oysters from P&J Oyster Co.

The Sunseri brothers plan to bring in oysters from the Atlantic Coast and the Pacific Coast for customers. But they won’t be Gulf oysters shucked in the French Quarter.

“It is like trying to sell oranges instead of apples in an apple market,” Al Sunseri said. “Those oranges that people aren’t accustomed to eating instead of those apples, they are having to pay three times the price.”

It takes oysters between 18 months and 24 months to grow to full size.

How long will it take the oyster industry in the Gulf to recover once the oil is stopped?

“There is a lot of unknown, and it has everything to do with so much that we have never seen happen before,” Al Sunseri said.

Kevin McGill of The Associated Press began his story this way in a dispatch last week: “An early morning workday ritual — the shucking of small mountains of oysters for New Orleans restaurants — fell victim to the BP offshore oil spill at a 134-year-old French Quarter oyster house where neighbors treated the news like a death in the family. Amid the din of nearly a dozen men and women hammering and prying at the last piles of craggy oyster shells at P&J Oyster Co., Jerry Amato wandered in bearing comfort food: aluminum trays full of scrambled eggs, fried ham, grits and biscuits.

”’That’s what we do in New Orleans. After the funeral, we bring food,’ said Amato, proprietor of Mother’s Restaurant.

“P&J isn’t quite dead yet but, barring an unforeseen reopening of the oyster beds that supply the business, Thursday was to be the final day of shucking at the family owned business.”

Al Sunseri, 52, nodded toward the shuckers on that last day and told McGill: “These ladies here, those guys — I grew up with them. We were in our 20s when we started.”

To the west in Franklin, La., Ameripure Oyster Co. (the oysters they serve at the Back Porch in Destin, a restaurant familiar to Arkansans, come from there), company owner John Tesvich said, “The same thing happening over at P&J is happening over here also. … They’re on the point of depletion now.”

Wilbert Collins, 73, is a third-generation oyster farmer. He told McGill that it could take three years to replenish the stock on some of his leases. Two of Collins’ three boats are idle, and the third is helping clean up the spill.

The oystermen of Louisiana truly seem to be in a no-win situation.

“Oyster growers and harvesters are facing a double threat,” McGill wrote. “On the one hand, oil gushing from the blown-out well off Louisiana could contaminate the beds, killing the oysters or rendering them unsafe to eat. On the other hand, a method of fighting the encroaching oil by opening inland water diversion gates in hopes of pushing the oil back also could kill oysters. The fresh inland water dilutes saltier waters oysters need to thrive. Complicating the problem: It’s spawning season for young oysters.”

Here’s how McGill ended his story: “At P&J, longtime employee Wayne Gordon, 42, said his emotions ran the gamut from pain at the prospect of losing a job he’s held since he was 18 to anger at what he sees as the incompetence that caused the unending underwater gusher. ‘Twenty-four years,’ Gordon said as he took a break in the room where freshly shucked oysters were being packed into plastic cartons. ‘I cannot imagine not being here.”’

Tom Fitzmorris, a veteran New Orleans food writer and radio host who sends out The New Orleans Menu Daily online (I’ve subscribed for years and love it) summed up my feelings when he wrote: “This is very bad news. Sal Sunseri has been one of the most positive and active people in the seafood business in New Orleans. His product has been good enough that many restaurants around town specify on their menus that they serve P&J oysters. For him to lay off his staff and shut his doors indefinitely does not bode well for our favorite local seafood. It is not an act designed to just get attention, that’s for sure.

“The oil spill . . .  is still putting fresh oil into the water. It’s meeting with what’s there already to create a really abysmal glop that is flowing into all the best areas for oystering. And there’s not going to be an easy fix for this. Some are saying (although I don’t believe this myself) that it will be many years before we have oysters again from the prime beds in Barataria Bay and on the East Bank of the river.

“Unlike many inside and outside of the media, I don’t pretend to know the solution. That’s really the worst part of this: Questions are everywhere, answers are nowhere. It’s scary when even the best people don’t know what to do. (There’s a difference between saying you know and actually knowing.) Nor do I think the orgy of blame assignment, lawsuits and shoulda woulda coulda scenarios is adding anything to this horrible turn of events.

“I just want to cry. And then I want to wait and see, with crossed fingers. They said it would be years before we’d have oysters again after Katrina. It proved to be only weeks. I know this is different, but. . . well, I’m waiting and watching. What else can one do other than help those affected directly?”

Like Tom, I don’t pretend to know the solution.

Like Tom, I just want to cry.

I’ve written before about how my parents sometimes would take my sister and me to Biloxi and Gulfport in the summer. As noted in earlier posts, we didn’t even know the prettier blue water and the whiter sand was just to the east of us in the Florida Panhandle. The Mississippi coast was the first one we hit heading south from Arkansas, and that was as far as my father cared to drive.

But we loved it. To this day, I find myself enjoying each part of the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.

I tasted my first raw oyster at a place on the Mississippi coast called the Friendship House. Unlike most kids, I immediately fell in love with fresh, salty raw oysters.

Years later, my wife and I honeymooned in New Orleans just so we could eat in various restaurants there for a week. I told her I thought I could get my name on the wall at the Acme along with the other people who had eaten large numbers of raw oysters. She wouldn’t let me try.

I now feel that same sense of loss I felt from afar in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

We’ll go another summer without making it to the Gulf Coast. I’ll look out the window and daydream about walking around one of my favorite towns — Pass Christian in Mississippi, Fairhope in Alabama, Apalachicola in Florida.

They’ll have to wait another year.

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The Redneck Riviera

Monday, March 29th, 2010

With spring break having concluded in our state, I’m wondering how many Arkansans made an early run down to the Redneck Riviera last week.

Of course, summer will be the prime time for Arkansans to make that annual pilgrimage south to the Mississippi coast, the Alabama coast and the Florida Panhandle.

The spring issue of Southern Cultures, the excellent quarterly published by the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, contains an essay titled “The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera.” The author is Henry H. “Hardy” Jackson III.

The essay is an overview of a book by Jackson that will be published next year by the University of Georgia Press. The book will focus on the Gulf Coast from Gulf Shores, Ala., to Panama City, Fla., since World War II.

Jackson, a history professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama (the place where Jack Crowe now coaches football), notes: “The Mississippi Coast, though equal in redneckery to any place on the Gulf, contains economic, cultural and demographic elements that set it apart from its neighbors to the east, so it was decided to save that area for another day — and likely another historian. The same factors led to the decision to leave Alabama’s Dauphin Island out of the book.”

In 1954, Jackson’s grandmother bought property in Seagrove Beach, Fla. Two years later, she built a cottage there. Jackson says that cottage has been his home away from home for more than 50 years.

I’ve never had the privilege of having a cottage on the Gulf Coast, but I’ve made plenty of trips there — both as a child and with my own children. Like many children in this landlocked state, my sister and I always wanted to go to the beach for our summer vacation. My father, who traveled the state selling athletic supplies to high schools and colleges, had no desire to travel any farther than he had to in the summer. If one travels due south from Arkansas, the first beach you hit is the one on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

For us, Gulfport and Biloxi were what the beach was all about. The water in the Gulf of Mexico was supposed to be gray. We had no idea there was such gorgeous blue water just a few hours to the east in Florida. But the memories were great ones. The rich folks stayed at the Broadwater Beach (I always loved the house in the Heights in Little Rock with its shutters and trim painted in the pink-and-blue Broadwater Beach colors) and ate at Mary Mahoney’s. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and ate at the Friendship House, the White Cap and McElroy’s. I mourned when Hurricane Katrina destroyed so much of what I had cherished as a child.

My own children have experienced not only Biloxi and Gulfport but also Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, Pensacola Beach, Destin, Seaside, Panama City Beach, Mexico Beach and Apalachicola (which is now my favorite city on the Gulf Coast, though a bit too far east to meet Jackson’s definition of the Redneck Riviera).

And, yes, we’ll be back this summer. We have our house reserved at Orange Beach in Alabama for a week in late July.

If I could afford it, I might just spend a few weeks each year at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear. I realize that’s on Mobile Bay, but who needs waves at my age? Our boys want the ocean, though, and we’re happy to oblige.

Jackson thinks the term Redneck Riviera first appeared in print in 1978 when Alabama native Howell Raines published a piece in The New York Times about how former University of Alabama and then pro quarterbacks Richard Todd and Kenny Stabler spent the offseason on the Alabama coast.

By the way, Richard Todd and his family once lived behind me in the Ouachita Hills neighborhood in Arkadelphia. Richard’s father was on the faculty at Ouachita Baptist University. Unfortunately for the Arkadelphia Badgers, the Todds moved away before Richard reached high school

At any rate, Raines confined his definition of Redneck Riviera to a small section of beach beginning just west of Gulf Shores and continuing east to the Flora-Bama, the famed bar on the state line that sits mostly in Florida to take advantage of that state’s more liberal liquor laws.

Jackson reports that you can find “Gulf Coast Riviera” references as early as 1941 when the WPA guide to Alabama was published.

“Raines’ Redneck Riviera was a scattering of vacation cottages, honky-tonks, picturesque if seedy motels, shacks on pilings and cafes that served smoked mullet, presided over by sunburned, bearded, beer-soaked refugees from civilization, driving rusted-out pickup trucks,” Jackson writes.

Jackson says that prior to World War II, there were a number of villages between Pass Christian, Miss., and Panama City that “survived on fishing and a trickle of tourists from not too far away, vacationers who came down to spend a week or so in the few ‘mom and pop’ motor courts. They’d swim a little, fish a little, eat raw oysters, buy something tacky at a local shop, and some, freed from hometown social restraints, would visit local nightclubs, dance and drink and get rowdy.”

The number of visitors to the Gulf Coast increased after World War II. The tourist economy grew and, according to Jackson, the season from Memorial Day to Labor Day soon became a “cash cow for locals.” Before long, upscale communities were developing for those who wanted to retire along the coast.

“As the region grew up, so did the offspring of these early pioneers,” Jackson writes. “Baby Boomers, the children of postwar passion, were part of the youth rebellion, with a Southern twist. Along with the Beatles and the Stones, they grooved to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. In the clubs they danced to the music they danced to at fraternity parties back in Tuscaloosa and Atlanta. Sometimes the bands were black, but the dancers were always white. … These bourgeois Bubbas and Bubbettes created the Redneck Riviera that Howell Raines saw and described.”

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Redneck Riviera became more and more upscale. The success of Seaside inspired others to build similar developments and, according to Jackson, ”people who bought into that lifestyle were a far cry from those who bought into beach life three decades before. First with money from the hot stock market of the 1990s and then with low interest loans after the dot-com bubble burst, Babby Boomers began to buy into a coast that a Baby Boomer generation of  developers was developing to sell.”

Jackson continues: “So it was that the Redneck Riviera, which had been slowly dying as Baby Boomers aged, became an investment opportunity for some, and a place of calculated and carefully controlled leisure for others. Meanwhile, more and more of the sort of people who had come down to make the region what it once was found themselves priced into a shrinking selection of motels and condos, and the bars and seafood joints they once frequented became in-vogue eateries with designer decor and ferns.”

The destructive hurricanes of recent years, followed by the worst recession since the Great Depression, have changed things. Many of those gleaming condo towers now sit largely empty. The construction boom has ground to a halt. Jackson thinks this may actually help return the Redneck Riviera to its roots.

“As condo prices fell, cautious buyers began to emerge; people who were more interested in a vacation place that could generate a little money on the side than in a unit for quick sale and a quick profit,” he writes. ”These folks, mostly from the Lower South, were much like their parents and grandparents who came to the coast in the ’40s and ’60s: white, middle class, and comfortably so, but with just enough redneckery in them to help keep places like the Flora-Bama going strong.”

I’ve always said I’m an Arkansas redneck at heart with perhaps a thin veneer of sophistication to use when needed.

At any rate, summer will be here before we know it. Jackson says that “though much of the old Redneck Riviera has declined and fallen dormant, from these seeds a new one may one day sprout and grow. There are those who hope so.”

Where are your favorite spots along the Redneck Riviera — towns, hotels, restaurants, etc.? Which ones have disappeared that you miss? Where are your favorite places to stop on the way down? After all, it’s almost April and not too early to be thinking of summer and the pilgrimage of Arkansans headed south in their packed SUVs through Pine Bluff, Dumas, McGehee and Lake Village.

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