I find myself in Pensacola this week, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, with my brother.
My brother, who’s over a decade older than I am, spent his formative college years in the 1970s playing the hottest, trendiest game around at the time: backgammon. He was pretty good at it; good enough he would “earn” tuition and beer money playing lesser-skilled fish in the bars of the era.
When both he and I were slightly older, in the 1980s, my parents would pack me off to stay with him for a few weeks during the summer months. He was teaching college courses and had a lighter schedule that would accommodate our having all sorts of adventures, mainly of the sailing sort.
He taught me the basics of backgammon, but the lesson didn’t really stick. He was too good for me, and I’d rather be doing something else. Also, I didn’t own a board at home, so what was the point?
(Consequently, I don’t consider my having “started playing for real” until this past May when I re-learned the game ahead of my trip to Italy.)
We’re in Florida because his wife of 27 years passed away in July and he is holding a memorial service for her in her hometown for her family. I decided I would accompany him for the length of the trip to lend support.
So not your typical “Florida vacation.”
That’s not to say it’s been all sadness and gravesite arrangements; we had a “down day” yesterday and were able to get out and visit a few of the local spots (and play a little backgammon).
We made several stops, essentially drinking our way around The Redneck Riviera (though I believe the Chamber of Commerce prefers for it to be called “The Emerald Coast”). We played a couple of games at Flounder’s Chowder House, which was actually our second stop of the day, and a spot that’s been underwater a time or two when big hurricanes come ashore.
Our next stop was a personal favorite of mine, for years being my go-to escape destination during family vacations spent down the street: Juana’s Pagodas & Sailors’ Grill. Juana’s began life as an elevated Tiki-hut bar, with a sand pit for a floor, and then continued to expand as its popularity grew. It’s a sailors’ bar; Juana’s sponsors a local regatta, and both my brother and I have spent plenty of time on the water racing a Hobie 16. I’ve spent countless hours at Juana’s. It’s one of my Happy Places.
Our final stop of the day was a place we lucked upon. We were hungry, so I pulled out my phone and found a taqueria that was nearby. It was tucked in behind a gas station, and the tacos were amazing. It was only after arriving back at our hotel, later, that I looked it up and learned that Taqueria El Asador had been named #4 on a list of the Top 50 Taquerias in America. Believe me, it was well-deserved. Go, if you find yourself in the area. I can recommend the al pastor and the lengua, but I’m fairly certain all of the tacos on the menu are winners.
Today, we have a memorial chapel to set up and some planning to do ahead of tomorrow’s service. No time for drinking.
Even though we’ll probably both want to at some point. But that’s life, so to speak. It’s sunshine and tears here in Florida. And a little backgammon.