Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach, Florida has some of the nicest beaches you’ll find anywhere and certainly as nice as any I’ve ever visited on the Cape and the South of France.  If you just want an affordable beach vacation, there is no better place.  I’ve been there three times in my life.  Once in 1969 just days after Hurricane Camille, again in 1976 when I missed a district little league tournament that I was supposed to play in, and for the third time in 2013.   The place really hasn’t changed much, except the motels on Santa Rosa Blvd. are now all high rise resort condominiums.  And like before, if you only had one night to eat out, you’d probably skip over Ft. Walton and drive a short distance across the bridge to Destin.  Fort Walton Beach may have more pawn shops and tatoo parlors than restaurants.

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

In 1976, my family and I dined at Fisherman’s Wharf in Destin.  As a 12 year old, I remember ordering a plate of Grouper Parmesan.  I was never a big seafood fan growing up, unless it was fried, so this was one of my first forays into the world of grilled fish.  And it was surprisingly delicious, then and equally delicious in 2013.  A creature of habit, I suggested to my wife that we try Fisherman’s Wharf.  It was to be a reunion of sorts for me. I wanted to know if it was as I remembered it.  While they didn’t have Grouper Parmesan, they did, however, have what was called the Grouper Destin, bronzed, topped with crab meat and served with hollandaise sauce.  My wife had the grilled Mahi-Mahi.  We ordered both with hushpuppies, a southern delicacy my wife had never had before.  Ok, maybe delicacy is a stretch.  My fish was perfectly cooked and the overall dish tasty.  Her Mahi-Mahi wasn’t exactly as she expected, perhaps over-seasoned for her tastes, but good nonetheless.  She devoured the hushpuppies and said they were the best thing she had tasted on the trip.  We shared a slice of key lime pie that was good but not as good as a North Carolina saltine crusted recipe I know.  Fisherman’s Wharf was very much like I remembered it – rustic, dimly lit, great service, terrific vistas, excellent food and quite busy even at 5:00.  We actually sat out on the patio, next to the actual wharf with a spectacular view of the harbor.   The only downside were the seabirds that perched on poles next to our table.  They squawked and flew around nervously the whole time.  Patrons at a neighboring table seemed worried the birds might release poop on their heads or plates.

Squawker

Squawker

We stayed at the Islander, where I had stayed on my previous visits when it was a two story motel.  Now it was a condo complex with 7 floors and hundreds of rooms.  Our room was nicely appointed with a sliding glass door that opened to a balcony overlooking the ocean.

From the Islander balcony

From the Islander balcony

The beach was as a I remembered it, only maybe even cleaner and less crowded.  In 1969, it was full of debris from the hurricane; in 1976, full of crabs and washed up starfish – In 2013, the sand was just as white and soft as ever like talcum powder.  But here’s the thing I noticed that I guess I had never noticed before on this beach or any other:  everybody was busy – runners, swimmers, walkers, sand castle builders, hole diggers, beachcombers, kite fliers, volleyball players, crab collectors, surfers and fishermen.  My wife and I may have been the only two on the beach who relaxed most of the time, chilling in our lounge chairs to the din of industrious beach goers and the constant, rhythmic roar of the ocean.  I asked one fishermen who had been reeling in fish, cast after cast, what kind of fish he was catching and he said in a deep southern drawl, “I haaive nooooew I dea”.  I asked what kind of bait he was using and he said “shriiiiiiiimp”.   The guy fished everyday all day in his Budweiser swimming trunks.  I kind of wanted to do some fishing myself, but I ended up snapping photos instead, as busy as everyone else in the end.  Even I couldn’t sit still and I’m the King of chill.

Even the birds were busy

Elite 8 and other Fun 2013 NCAA March Madness facts

March Madness 2

  • Syracuse has home court advantage in DC over Marquette in their Elite 8 match up on Saturday.  The driving distance between Syracuse and DC is only 375 miles;  from Milwaukee, the distance is 789 miles.  Plus, Syracuse has two players on its roster from nearby MD.
  • One of Syracuse’s 6 losses was to Marquette in February.
  • Versus the common opponent Louisville, Syracuse  is 1-2; Marquette 0-1.
  • As far as mascots go, Otto the Syracuse Orange may be the silliest least imposing mascot in the history of sports.  He’s a youthful orange who sports a Syracuse hat and looks more like a tangelo than an orange. Rumor has it, Otto is the great grandson of the Kool-Aid man.
  • There are five birds including two eagles left in the tournament – the Marquette Golden Eagles and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. If they win out, they could face off in the final four.
  • The nuts, fruits and grains all made it to the Elite 8.  Ohio State Buckeyes, Syracuse Orange and the Wichita State Shockers (stalk of wheat).
  • 9 teams have scored under 50 points in tournament games.  The lowest score was 34 by Montana in a second round loss to Syracuse.  Syracuse held a number 1 seed Indiana to 50 points. 5th seeded Wisconsin scored only 46 points in a loss to Ole Miss in the 2nd round.  And 6th seeded Memphis scored only 48 points in a third round loss to Michigan State.
  • Two birds will meet in a Sweet 16 match up:  a Cardinal from Louisville and a Duck from Oregon.
  • Two Florida teams will meet in the Sweet 16 – Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.
  • Three states still have two teams left in the tournament:  Michigan:  Michigan State and Michigan; Florida – Florida and Florida Gulf Coast; Kansas – Kansas and Wichita State.
  • It is possible that we could have a two state Final:  Michigan State and Michigan or Kansas and Wichita State.
  • The 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds made it to the Regional Semis in the East – the 3 and 4 seeds, Marquette and Syracuse made it to the Regional Finals.
  • We could have a final four with a 12 seed – Oregon, a 9 seed – Wichita State, a 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast and a 4 seed – Syracuse.  Two Eagles, an Orange and a Duck. That would be a shocker – not likely, but possible.

Round of 32 NCAA Team Mascot Facts & other Oddities

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For NCAA March Madness basketball enthusiasts, here are some odd facts about the 32 teams that remain in the tournament:

  • State with the Most Teams: Florida (3): Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Miami
  • Teams with Golden in the nicknames: (3) Cal Golden Bears, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Marquette Golden Eagles
  • Teams with a color as a mascot: (2) Syracuse Orange, Harvard Crimson
  • Teams from the same city: (2) Philadelphia – Temple, La Salle
  • Teams with the same mascot: (4) Bulldogs: Butler, Gonzaga; Rams: VCU, Colorado State
  • Teams with bird mascots: (7) Marquette Golden Eagles, Creighton Bluejays, Kansas Jayhawks, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Louisville Cardinals, Oregon Ducks, Temple Owls
  • Teams named after state residents: Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini
  • Teams that are natural disasters: (2) Miami Hurricanes, Iowa State Cyclones
  • Weirdest Mascots: Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels, Wichita State Shockers, Syracuse Orange, Harvard Crimson, Saint Louis Billikens
  • Strange Animal Mascots: (2) Minnesota Golden Gophers, Michigan Wolverines
  • Nuts, Grains and Fruits: Ohio State Buckeyes, Wichita State Shockers, Syracuse Orange