We returned to our usual Perdido Key condo for the second straight year after a two-year hiatus because of Hurricane Ivan, which decimated the Emerald Coast of eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle in the fall of 2004.

The threat of persistent hurricanes to this region did nothing to discourage the continued development of this haven to tourists from as far away as Tennessee, Kentucky and even Texas, to view the harmonic contrast of the blue-green ocean with the lily-white beaches that adorn this region of the Gulf.

Even from the Southeast Texas region, Perdido Key is only a six-hour trip on Interstate 10 East. At Baton Rouge, one has the option to take Interstate 12 to Slidell, where you get back on 10 all the way past Mobile or remain on 10 through New Orleans.

Despite the probability of rain forecast as high as 70 percent throughout last week, there was very little down time because of inclement weather. The few thunderstorms that did pop up usually occurred around sunset or later after most beachgoers were already comfortably resting in their elegant condominiums.
After exiting I-10 and heading southeast toward the beaches near Foley, Ala., son-in-law Brian Whitehead noticed a pair of single-engine airplanes approaching the ground like they were going to land or were about to dust a crop.

The only thing wrong was that there was neither a landing strip nor a crop anywhere around. The planes came within inches of the ground, then shot straight up in the air with signs attached to their tails “Eat Jumbo Shrimp at Joe’s” and a price and a phone number.
We had seen these sign-carrying planes fly over the beaches every year but never knew how they were able to take off with those advertising signs. They don’t take off; they hook on to them while going 75 mph. with the assistance of a small ground crew.

While in the Foley area, known for its many outlet malls, we ate at Lambert’s Café; famous worldwide for being able to feed hundreds at a time, despite the fact customers generally have to wait up to an hour just to get into the joint.

Once seated, customers have a chance to sample their home-made hot dinner rolls, provided you can catch them. The staff serves them by throwing them in your direction right after they come out of the oven and then coming by serving butter and sorghum for the rolls.
They also come by and serve helpings of such items as black-eyed peas, macaroni and tomatoes, fried potatoes and fried okra from huge pots. This is in addition to the entrée and three side orders that come with it. Anyone leaving that place hungry should see a shrink.
And while on the subject of great food, there was a place west of Perdido Key on the Alabama side of the beach highway named Lartigue’s where you bought the size of shrimp you wanted de-headed but in the hull. The store steams them behind closed doors for three minutes and they are ready to take back to the condo to eat piping hot.

We also decided to catch our dinner by going out in the Gulf deep-sea fishing. But with the limit on red snapper being at more than 16 inches and only two per person, most of the several we caught went back to the water. We kept one nice four-pounder and a couple of other types of snapper, but decided to auction them off on the boat and let them go for a cold six-pack of Miller Lite.
We also got in our annual round of golf at a nearby course called Lost Key. It should have been called “Lost Ball” because there certainly were plenty of places to lose one if it strayed far from the narrow fairways.

Despite being on vacation, we tried to keep up with the world of sports. Much of the sports news in the Pensacola daily newspaper focused on local athletes. We also kept up with the College World Series, the Astros and the PGA Golf Tour.

The minor league hockey franchise, the Pensacola Ice Pilots, suffered the same fate as the franchise in Beaumont recently as they elected not to put a team on the ice for the 2008-09 season in the ECHL, which immediately terminated the franchise after a 12-season run.

Pensacola sprinter Justin Gatlin, who won a gold medal in the 100 meter run in the 2004 Olympics, was ruled ineligible to participate in last weekend’s track and field trials at Eugene, Ore.

The 26-year old Gatlin had been taking the medication Adderall for a long-standing attention deficit disorder and failed the U.S. Olympic Committee’s anti-doping test. Obviously there’s no gray area with the USOC; an athlete is either squeaky clean or banned from competition.

And it seems that whenever we take our Emerald Coast vacation, our Houston Astros seem to rise from the dead and play decently in our absence. They won series from a good Tampa Bay team, a not-so-good Texas Ranger squad and a very talented Boston Red Sox team.

Despite the beauty of the beaches it the Florida Panhandle, returning to Orange was a welcomed sight. We’re glad to be back to our golf courses, swimming pools and Cajun food.

KWICKIES … It’s good to see a nice guy with great qualifications like Chad Landry land the Bridge City High school head baseball coaching job. We hope he likes a challenge, because the job appears to require much more than merely winning district championships and going to the state playoffs as Billy Bryant sadly found out this spring.

Going into Sunday’s exciting 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox, our Houston Astros were five games under .500 at 38-43. If one looks back at the 2005 season when they played in the World Series, the Astros sported the exact same record at the half-way point of the 162-game season, 38-43, and went on to win 89 games and make franchise history.

Floridians last week were all excited when University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was voted the Southeastern Conference Male Athlete of the Year by the SEC athletic directors. Tebow already won the Heisman Trophy, symbolic of college football’s top player, the Davey O’Brien Award, the Maxwell Trophy and the Sullivan Award for 2007.

JUST BETWEEN US … We were not really surprised to hear about the Shawn Chacon incident. A couple of longtime friends who originally hailed from the Pittsburgh area and still follow the Pirates warned us that the Houston Astros picked up a player with a lot of baggage when they signed Chacon last winter. We noticed that whenever a teammate, pitching coach or manager visited him on the mound he seemed bored and inattentive. Fortunately for Chacon, there is always some team willing to sign a criminal or malcontent so his unimpressive career will probably continue somewhere besides in Houston.