Saturday, August 7, 2010

Beach bums

into the sea

We are still parked at the Elks lodge in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Tomorrow will mark two full weeks that we've been right in this same spot, which is actually pretty unusual for us. We'll have to move the bus tomorrow, though, even if we end up right back here, because after 16 days, our waste tanks are full and we will need to empty them.

The lodge here has been very accommodating. Even though their web site indicates a 7-day stay limit, when we inquired they told us as long as we paid up and did not look like we were "moving in" (whatever that means) we were OK to stay. It's not as if we are keeping anyone else away, either, as there have been only four nights when we've had a lone neighbor since we arrived, and there are four spaces.

The donation here is $10 per night, and by my calculations we are using $6.00-$6.50 of electricity each day. We've also used a little water, maybe a total of $0.50 worth. That's an unbeatable deal; the state park ten miles east in Destin (where we may go to dump) wants $30 per night, considered a bargain in Destin, and commercial parks west of here are at least that much and mostly more. We're also closer to both the gulf beach and the bay here than at any of those other spots.

We finally did make it to the beach, during a brief overcast that provided some respite from the non-stop brutal heat wave that has been gripping the south since we arrived. The Gulf of Mexico was 90° when we waded in, and even at that temperature felt refreshing. The air temperature has been in the mid to high 90s, with daily heat indices ranging from 110° to 121°. We've more or less confined ourselves to the bus with the exception of dinner each evening.

By dinner time, of course, we are stir-crazy -- there are only so many indoor projects we can do. So having such a wide selection of restaurants in the area has been a welcome relief. In 12 nights we have not been to the same place twice. Last night we finally caved in and went to Olive Garden, but that's the first chain joint since our arrival. Even then, there are still quite a few places we have not yet sampled, but we're picky, and with such a large number of establishments within a five-minute scooter ride, we've stayed away from any that don't have at least three stars in the on-line reviews.

We did connect with fellow bus owners Brian and Cathy, who live right here in town. They took us out for a nice dinner in Destin, and a couple days later I ended up going over to have a look at his generator which has been having problems. Unfortunately, it is some sort of engine problem, I think in the fuel injection system, and was beyond my meager abilities to repair.

We also got new tires for Louise's scooter. We discovered the rear was leaking quite badly shortly after we arrived here, and the Yamaha dealer in town just happened to be having a tire sale. They don't stock that size, so we had to wait a week for the tires to come from Texas, but we got a great deal and she likely won't have to worry about tires on this bike ever again. I was concerned the whole time we waited that we'd be called away before the tires arrived, so I'm glad that's behind us. Also, I was tired of having to put air in the tire every evening before dinner.

All of this indoor down-time has given us the opportunity to finish up our Red Cross curriculum development work, at least until the next round of changes gets handed down to us, catch up on email, and get a few other computer projects out of the way. One of those turned out to be extricating a virus from Louise's computer, which took me the better part of two days. She likes to say that when she gets the "please contact your system or network administrator" message she can just reach over and poke me.

I'm not sure how she ended up with this, as it turned out to be a particularly nasty root kit. In addition to consuming system resources and network bandwidth, which threatened to get us FAPped, and generating unwanted pop-ups at random times, the infection blocked all access to Microsoft Update as well as any and all antivirus, anti-malware, and root-kit removal tools. I had to install the cleaners from a stick. It's possible she got this during the brief time our network was open and had some uninvited visitors; I've since set her up with the same firewall software I use on my machine. A little disturbing, though, that the antivirus we run did not trap it.

I've also been working on moving our static web site and possibly our photo hosting site from the paid services we've been using to free services such as Blogger. That's a tedious and sometimes frustrating process, all to save $50 a year, so it remains to be seen whether I will actually stick with it to the end. We now have several hundred more photos than we did before, owing to scanning all our old prints and slides going back four decades or more, and I'd like to get those backed up into the cloud, too, so maybe $30 a year for unlimited photo storage is not such a bad deal.

Other than rolling out to the dump station sometime in the next day, it's hard to say where we will go from here or when. Regular readers may remember we were in a similar circumstance about this time last year, dinking around in Arkansas waiting to be deployed either to western wildfires or the southeast for hurricanes. After nearly a month of watching the Atlantic forecast maps with generally unfavorable conditions for cyclone development, we gave up and headed instead to New England for the fall foliage tour that we'd consistently been denied by our relief work.

Things are different this year, and while we have been mostly spared thus far, all the models and forecasters are in agreement that this will be a bad hurricane season. Having just been out swimming in the gulf waters I can say unequivocally that anything that makes it into the gulf itself will have plenty of warm water to fuel it into a monster. So far, we've been lucky, with Alex and Bonnie just skirting the southern edge of the Gulf of Mexico and making landfall before they had a chance to fully develop. Colin fizzled and then was deflected harmlessly back out to sea, and I expect the same from Investigation Area 93L following behind it. But we are just now coming in to the heaviest part of the season, and it will only take one storm in just the right place to make it into the warm gulf waters.

In the meantime, we'll continue to hang out here in the middle of the gulf coast, whittling away at the project backlog. If we get a break in the heat I may get up to the roof to replace the LNB on the satellite dish, the next step in the process of troubleshooting our persnickety DataStorm problem that has now plagued us for three months. It's a bit cooler today than it has been thus far, and I am hoping this will continue into Monday, when we can get out and do a few things without the weekend crowds.

I say that, but of course the concept of a crowd is a relative one. In fact, the entire area is virtually deserted, even though there has been no oil here for some time. These two articles from CNN Money give some perspective. If we're still here in a week, we'll take advantage of the free Lynyrd Skynyrd concert on the beach, an event sponsored by the Emerald Coast visitor's bureau and intended to bootstrap the recovery here. Although, personally, I would have preferred Jimmy Buffett, parrot-head that I am, who did much the same thing in Gulf Shores, Alabama a month ago.

Photo by marlonius, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Since you are so close to ground zero, I was curious about the fact that suddenly they are saying that 75% of the oil is gone. What do those folks close to this disaster say about that?

  2. @Judy (from Royal Ranch): I have to confess, we've heard few locals talking about oil. We've been here over two weeks and have not seen a drop, although there are a handful of anti-BP signs sprinkled through town, and one bar is giving a discount if you produce a BP claim number. Gulf seafood has been plentiful and tasty.

    There are tons of emergency management personnel and BP-paid cleanup workers here, along with booms, containment, and removal equipment, "just in case."

    I do think the worst is over. There is still a lot of oil unaccounted for, and some of it will continue to wash ashore for a long time to come. But as it gets more and more dilute, nature has a knack for taking care of things; as much as we tend to think otherwise, petroleum is a naturally occurring substance and periodically finds its way into the environment with no help from man.

    It remains to be seen whether tropical cyclone activity, such as from TD-5 now in the gulf, will churn up additional oil and necessitate another massive clean-up push, and I think that's one of the reasons all the booms and equipment are being kept on standby.

    Moving forward, expect to see attention and funding shifting to fisheries management. Testing and continued monitoring of contaminant levels in the catch will be one of the principal tools for tracking the long-term effects of the spill. It will probably be at least two seasons and maybe longer before fisheries here return to pre-spill conditions.


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