Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Fish Adventures

There's a fish quote that says "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll sit in a boat and drink beer all day." You probably heard the quote a little differently but this version provides a visual of the stereotypical fisherman.

Growing up in Baldwin County with hundreds of miles of coastline along rivers, bays, streams, lakes, intracoastal waterway and of course the gulf waters has spoiled me. I'm spoiled to the ease and abundance of water adventures, some of which are fishing.

As a young child some of my happiest memories involve early morning fishing trips with my father. Family members swear I ate the raw shrimp we were using for bait, so I guess that was my own form of sushi. I remember the thrill of catching the first fish of the day almost every time. But most of all I remember the time with my family on the water. I also loved the end result of eating fresh fish the same day I caught it.

Later in life I was given an opportunity to experience deep-sea fishing in Orange Beach on board, Summer Breeze, one of the 100+ charter fishing boats famous in our area. That was an exhilarating experience and quite different from my youthful fishing trips. One of my favorite parts of the deep-sea fishing experience was the boat ride through the Perdido Pass under the bridge and out to deeper waters. The view of the waterfront properties from the water view side of the beach is unique. I'm so accustomed to seeing these structures from the road side that it's fun to try to identify the buildings from the gulf side.

Last year a fishing tournament was organized in Orange Beach with fabulous grand prizes. The month-long event, Orange Beach Red Snapper World Championship, will begin April 21 and end May 22 this year. The event is easy to enter with only a $5 per day entry fee plus the cost of the charter boat. A boat can be entered in the tournament for the month for $500. Although I don't plan to fish in the tournament, I look forward to attending the weigh-in sessions as the boats return to shore with their treasures. There is something fascinating about seeing the catch hauled onto shore in anticipation of a new world record Red Snapper. Eating Red Snapper is also a favorite activity of mine at one of the many local seafood restaurants that feature this treat.

I also admit to loving pan-grilled mullet at Mikee's Seafood which is one of my favorite local restaurants. They also prepare mullet the traditional way, fried plus broiled and even blackened if you like spice. It was only in recent years that I learned from some of our northern vacationers that mullet is considered bait in their area. Many a brave northerner has tried and learned to appreciate mullet as a great meal if served very fresh.

The mullet fish is also celebrated at an annual charitable event at Flora Bama called the Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast's Greatest Beach Party. This event is a huge celebration as celebrities, locals and visitors toss mullets from Alabama across the Florida line for a chance to set a new record. Proceeds from the event, April 22-24, are donated to The Alabama Sheriffs Boys & Girls Ranch & The Boys & Girls Club of Escambia Florida. Tons of people have inquired about the state of Flora Bama because of the severe damage from Hurricane Ivan. The famous roadhouse will officially open in late spring or early summer but they have creatively found ways to host the Mullet Toss by using tents and the venue, Silver Moon Cafe, across the street.

I also love to cook fresh fish which can be purchased at many, many seafood retail stores. Some of these stores sell other gourmet foods and drink such as Blaylock Seafood in Orange Beach and others are located right on the water such as Billy's Seafood in Bon Secour (near my home).

So whether it's eating, catching, cooking, tossing or watching fish get weighed, I'm living in a special part of the world that allows me to experience a variety of fish adventures.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Weekend Perfection

Sometimes all the elements align for the right temperature, wind, sun and humidity. How wonderful when two days of these extremely favorable conditions occur during a weekend. And that's precisely what happened this past weekend. The temperature was hovering in the upper seventies with a gentle breeze, bright sunlight and low humidity. It was perfection.

I always imagine when the weather is this outstanding on our coast (Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Fort Morgan, Alabama & Perdido Key, Florida) that our vacation rental winter guests enjoy themselves tremendously but find it difficult to return to their cold climate in the north. It does, however, make our phones ring with anxious callers ready to make last minute reservations at the beach. Since we are open at our corporate office in Gulf Shores 24 hours per day we welcome these calls no matter the hour. In fact, it is amazing to review the volume of calls in the wee hours of the morning. Given the schedules most people maintain it's not surprising that it is late, late at night or early in the morning before they get around to taking care of planning a getaway.

Today I took advantage of the great weather by dining outdoors at a local's favorite restaurant, Bayside Grill, overlooking a picturesque marina. The food was great as usual and there is just something so inspiring and relaxing about dining alfresco. Just gazing at the water and boats sitting so still in the water awaiting their owners to take them for a cruise, reminded me of the pleasure to be enjoyed on our numerous back waters.

On days like today I reflect on how blessed I am to live so close to the water.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Spring Break Prep

Our vacation rental team members at Meyer Real Estate are focused on preparing for the Spring Break customers who begin arriving on Saturday, March 19th. This means we say goodbye to our winter guests, who we affectionately call Snowbirds. A large portion of the winter customers we accommodated this year returned to their northern homes the first day of March. The remaining group have been enjoying 18 more days of fun in the sun, great food, shopping, golf, fishing and visiting unique area sites.

Most of these customers will depart our area of the coast, namely Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, & Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida by driving thru the state of Alabama on Interstate 65. Ironically our spring guests who arrive on the same day these winter customers leave will access our area mostly via Interstate 65. These customers pass one another on this major highway artery and never know how connected to our beach each of them are on their journey.

This will be my 29th year to observe and participate in the spring break vacation rental business. Over the years I've seen thousands of families migrate to our coast for that first beach experience of the year. Since most families come from the frozen northern states they are usually prematurely dressed for the warm weather. Or perhaps they do feel the warmth of our southern climate more accutely than we do as residents because they are accustomed to such cold weather.

Alabama residents comprise another substantial portion of the spring break group since the entire school system in Alabama has spring break the week of March 19th-27 with the exception of Mobile County. These customers too arrive mostly via Interstate 65.

Even though our coastal area is buzzing with reconstruction and beach renourishment the customers who love our area are returning this spring to familiar territory.

For example, when it comes to shopping the Tanger Outlet Center is open and ready to serve the shopping needs of the most die hard shopper with 120 popular stores. A new upscale, lifestyle shopping venue, Eastern Shore Centre, has opened since last year. It's located in Daphne at the Malbis exit off Interstate 10, which is only about 45 minutes from the beach.

Great seafood served in a comfortable, relaxed setting is the style of our eating establishments. Since the Hurricane came along and challenged our area businesses six months ago, we have seen the return of 64% of our local restaurants. So we fully expect our customers this spring to either find that their favorite spot for food has opened or if not we expect they will find a new favorite.

The Track Family Recreation Center reopened shortly after the hurricane and they have all the fun and games of previous years. There are 2 kiddie go-cart tracks and three more challenging ones for the big kids and adults, plus a great arcade, bumper boats, other kiddie rides, mini-golf and for the ultimate thrill the "Skycoaster." My son, who is a junior in high school, has spent his last three summers working at The Track. He's a huge fan of the Skycoaster but it isn't an experience I ever wish to try.

The amusement portion of Waterville has also reopened this month, giving our visitors another choice for daytime and evening entertainment.

So, next week at work will be one of prepping for spring break. Making sure all the properties are cleaned, inspected and ready to go. On the big arrival day of March 19th there will be a number of properties that will experience what we refer to in the hospitality industry as "turn-arounds", meaning the departing guest is scheduled to leave at 10:00 a.m. and the property must be rent-ready for the arriving guest at 3:00 p.m. Our teams are up to this challenge and actually the process is quite amazing.

The energy of preparing for our spring customers is stimulating. We have worked hard to prepare these guests for what they will experience during this interim time, as our coast undergoes a rebuilding phase that will result in a more impressive resort community. There will be inconveniences that we will all experience but we trust that our returning customers understand that 2005 is an unusual year. However, the many features our loyal visitors love about the coast are still evident and enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Glorious day on the coast

It was so very difficult to concentrate on the tasks at hand today because it was such a glorious day on the coast. The actual temperature was mid-60's but that wasn't much of a factor because the sun was shining on the blue-green water with such a brilliance that warmed everything near the water's edge.

I've just returned from a cruise to Cozamel out of the Port of Mobile, so I have a very recent memory of the beauty of a foreign beach. But returning to our sugar-white sands and beautiful bright skies reflected in the sparkling waters of the Gulf brought me back to the reality of my home.

I live inland about 7 miles and truly do not take advantage of the sights and sounds of the beach in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan Alabama or Perdido Key, Florida as often as I should. Most days I allow the desk work to consume me but not today.

In fact, after leaving the beach scene I drove to meet a friend for lunch at one of our wonderful Arnold Palmer designed golf courses, Cotton Creek at Craft Farms, and was completely swept away by how wonderful and pristene the course looked today. Needless to say it was even more difficult to leave the golf course and return to the office. But I did since I had commitments and projects. But as I exited the golf course restaurant I saw two other managers who chose not to even eat lunch but instead hit range balls until time to go back to the office. It was just one of those days - maybe it's spring fever.

As residents of this beautiful area we are so blessed. Even though the last few months have been stressful as we recover from Hurricane Ivan's unwelcome visit to our shores. As more and more properties, both condominiums and beach homes, are restored to premiere condition the excitement in the air grows. Soon our winter guests will return to their northern habitats and spring break families will arrive to enjoy the beach, the fresh seafood, the shopping, amusements, historic sites, festivals, golf, charter fishing, dolphin cruises and more.

It is so rewarding to work in an industry where our primary function makes people happy. Our property owners are happy when their property rents and thus produces income. Our vacationers are very happy because they receive such a great value for their vacation dollars. And let's face it - don't we all need a vacation at times. Our buyers and sellers are happy too because we accomplish their real estate goals. Property owners, whether they rent or not, can have true peace of mind because we are managing their investment with good stewardship.

But now it's time to travel north those few miles to my home and attend to the family needs feeling today was a good day on the coast and looking forward to many more.