Sunday, October 18, 2009

Music at the Soul Kitchen

Music is one of my passions in life, especially live music. I truly enjoy watching talented musicians and singers practice the craft they love. So last week when I learned that The Rebirth Brass Band was appearing at the Soul Kitchen I decided it was time to finally check out this popular music venue.

Located in downtown Mobile at 219 Dauphin Street, the Soul Kitchen has a reputation for booking great bands and I must say that Rebirth Brass Band was awesome! This group's music has the feel of a New Orleans second line band with a dash of jazz, funk, and hip hop added for fun. The music was great and the crowd had a great time. There was a genuine Mardi Gras feel to the night.

That being said, Soul Kitchen is in a building that once housed Woolworth's and I'm willing to bet that the place hasn't been cleaned since Woolworth's occupied the building. This place is a filthy dump. I've seen some nasty bathrooms at convenience stores and gas stations but the Soul Kitchen takes top honors for disgusting bathrooms. My daughter asked for an ashtray and was told to throw her cigarette butts on the floor. The employee actually said "that's why we pay a guy to sweep up." Looking around I would guess that the "sweep up guy" doesn't come very often.

The beer is cold and the bartenders are talented and friendly. All of the staff was very affable. There are two stage areas in the club, a large stage and bar in the back part of the building for big crowds and a smaller more intimate bar and stage at the front. Neither area provides tables or chairs so wear comfortable shoes because you'll be standing all night. Rebirth Brass Band played on the front stage, I assume because the audience was only about 100 people. I didn't mind standing since my daughter forewarned me to wear flat shoes, but really, if I shell out $15 for a ticket and another $2 for a membership card I think I should have the option of sitting if I want to.

The bands don't start at Soul Kitchen until very late. The doors opened at 9:00 but the band didn't begin until 11:30. We made the mistake of showing up at 9:00 and had to sit through an hour long sound check with the first band. This is a major annoyance of mine. I think sound checks should be done before opening, not in front of the audience. The opening band was the Revitalists from New Orleans and their music sounded good but I couldn't understand any of the lyrics because the sound was turned up too loud. Everything was distorted beyond recognition. In fact, when we left at the end of the night my hearing was severely impaired. It didn't return to normal until noon the next day. Apparently this is the normal volume level because the bar staff all wear ear plugs. The management needs to learn that louder does not equal better, it just equals louder.

Lest anyone think my poor review of the Soul Kitchen is a by product of my advanced age let me point out that I spoke to many, many people that night who were my daughter's age (early 20's) and they had the same complaints I am voicing now. The fact that this age group continues to return to the club, in spite of their complaints, shows they're more forgiving than I am. I have no problem with dive bars and this place has all the makings of a great dive bar. Just clean it up!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Catt's Brown Bag Concert Series

The 92 ZEW radio station offers a series of concerts in the park every fall. The series, dubbed "The Brown Bag Concerts", occurs on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of each week from 11:30 to 1:30. A different local artist(s) performs live in the park. There are a variety of music genres offered which reflects the eclectic format of the radio station. Wednesdays concerts are held in Bienville square in downtown Mobile, Thursdays are performed in May Day Park in historic Daphne, and Fridays are located in front of Faulkner State in Fairhope (at the corner of Bancroft and Fairhope Ave).

With the weather cooling off it was a real treat for me to take my lunch down to May Day Park and listen to Jimmy Robinson play his acoustic 12 string guitar. Mr. Robinson played a variety of instrumental pieces and sang a few songs as well. My co-worker and I enjoyed his talent. There are picnic benches and grills near the playground area if you want indulge in a cookout or picnic. The amphitheater area where the performance is located is down the hill from the playground which helps prevent the sounds of small children squealing on the swings from drowning out the music. Many attendees brought their own folding chairs. The afternoon was sunny but the concert area is shaded by enormous oak trees so no need for sun screen. There was a lovely tiny breeze blowing and a gorgeous view of Mobile Bay in the background. In short, it was a great way to have lunch and take a break from the work day.

May Day Park also features a fishing pier, boat ramp, rest rooms and a board walk. There's a small sandy beach that is very popular with kids. I have taken my grandson down there and he has a wonderful time wading in the water. A quick note about playing in the water here. First, it gets deep quickly so make sure you stay close to small children. I wouldn't let mine get more than six feet from the shore line. I also discovered, while doing research for this post, that there have been warnings issued stating that the bacteria levels in the area were too high to go swimming. The warnings were for brief periods of time but I will admit that we may not use this as a swimming hole in the future.

The concert series runs from Sept. 2 through Oct. 30 so there are only a few weeks left to enjoy it. Winter will be here before we know it and our warm weather will be gone. If you work close to any of the three parks or you are lucky enough to be off during the week, gather up some co-workers and plan a quick lunch in the park. It's a great solution to the work week blues.

Magnolia Blossom Cafe

I don't intend to use this blog to do lengthy reviews of every restaurant my family dines in, but recently my husband and I found an establishment that so impressed us we wanted to share it with everyone in Mobile. The Magnolia Blossom Cafe is located on Hwy 59 in Robertsdale and it is worth every mile of the drive to experience a meal there. You've probably seen it on your way to Gulf Shores. It's the place with the red tractor parked out front.

Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, owner Darlene Roper has created a wonderful causal dining restaurant that houses a cafe, deli, bakery, and catering company and offers a private dining room for business and social functions. There's a breakfast buffet six days a week and a lunch buffet every day. Friday night features a seafood buffet with crab, shrimp, jambalaya and gumbo to name just a few of the many, many items and Sunday morning you can stop in for the breakfast buffet with three carved meats and mimosas. There is no bar but they do serve alcohol. So far you're thinking this sounds like a lot of little places you've already ate in. Ah, but you're wrong!

In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that my husband and I dined for free. We had a gift certificate that was given to us by my fabulous friend, Lisa, and she won it as a door prize at a business event. Thank you Lisa for not wanting to drive to Robertsdale for dinner because you have given Dave and I our new favorite restaurant. The Magnolia Blossom Cafe's slogan is "Like Eatin' at Grandma's". I wish eating at my grandmother's had been this good! (Sorry Grandma.) While the menu contains many comfort foods it also listed options I didn't expect to see in a Robertsdale cafe. (My apologies to the people of Robertsdale. I know that makes me sound like a snob, but rest assured my eyes have been opened.) The chef, and he is a chef, prepares homemade french onion soup and gumbo that is the best we've had so far on the Gulf Coast. We started with a basket of fried crab claws that were good but much like the crab claws you get at any Causeway restaurant. The crab claws are of course market priced.

I ordered the All You Can Eat Fried Shrimp. It came with a salad bar, stuffed baked potato, and basket after basket of homemade yeast rolls. The price for this belly swelling meal was $8.99. Are you kidding? That's a serious deal. The shrimp were fresh not frozen and they were delicious, lightly battered and fried to perfection. The salad bar is limited in the number of items available but it is adequate. You really don't want to fill up on lettuce when you can dine on all you can eat shrimp. Beware of the rolls because they can be addicting. They are soft and warm and delicious and the wonderful waitresses will bring you all that you want. By the time I'd finished dinner I thought my husband was going to have to roll me to the car.

Dave had an evening special which was Surf and Turf. For $13.99 he had a rib eye steak, wrapped in bacon and topped with a crab cake. The steak was perfectly cooked, fork tender and flavorful. The crab cake was again the best we've tasted on the Gulf Coast. Instead of serving a pile of dressing with a little crab meat mixed in (unfortunately this is what we've been served in too many places) this was almost completely lump crap meat and the flavor was wonderful. The meal was also served with a salad, two sides and those homemade rolls. Did I mention it was $13.99? The food and service we're so good we felt guilty using the gift certificate. Not paying for a meal so delicious felt like stealing.

We skipped dessert on this particular evening, only because there was no possible way to get another bite of food down my gullet, but the dessert items did sound heavenly. I have since stopped in and sampled the bakery and I have to say the pastries are every bit as wonderful as I expected. They are moist, flaky perfection. I will never again be able to pass through Robertsdale without at least stopping for a bakery item. Ms. Roper was at a pastry show the weekend we stopped in. The hostess told me she was looking for new treats to whip up in her kitchen. I can't wait! I'm already lobbying to have our company Christmas luncheon here. Next time you're traveling down Hwy 59 give this place a try.

Magnolia Blossom Cafe
22667 State Hwy 59 S.
Robertsdale, AL 36567
(251) 945-2202

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mobile Public Library System

September 26 through October 3 is Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. This seems like a great time to write about one of my favorite places, the library. I know what you're thinking and you can stop rolling your eyes. If the last time you visited a Mobile County Library was to research a term paper then you need to take another look at your local branch. Our libraries really do qualify as someplace to go - something to do and the best part is they're free.

There are nine branches so the entire county is covered and for those people who can't get to a local branch there's the Bookmobile. The branch locations and bookmobile stops are listed on the Library website as are the hours of operation for each branch. Of course you can check out books on a variety of topics at the library but there is so much more than that going on. Music CD's from all genres and a huge selection of Books on Tape can be checked out at no cost and the DVD section contains movies and TV shows that rent for only $1 a week. Computers are available for use and Internet service is provided at no cost, however you will need to pay for anything you want printed.

Much of this may not be news to you but did you know that the library also offers a variety of free classes and events? You can learn basic computer skills, Excel and Power Point, take genealogical courses or learn the basics of grant proposal writing. A class entitled Job Hunting in the 21st Century will teach attendees how to write a resume and use the Internet to find employment opportunities. Classes in art and crocheting, a chess club and weekly Storytelling sessions are some of the available options for children and the Library website offers homework help online from live tutors.

Book lovers can join any of the seven book clubs that meet at the various branches. They include Not Your Average Book Club, Ebony Moments, Classics Revisited, Life Begins at 50, Poetry Enthusiasts, Murder by Numbers and a new club called The Eclectic Book Club. There are also a variety of free movies shown at the various branches each month. Many are family oriented but there are also documentaries, foreign films, science fiction and film classics for adults. Check the event schedule on the website for the upcoming list and locations.

The libraries offers a variety of exhibits on art, science, gardening and crafts just to cover a few topics. All events can be found on the website but you can pick up brochures at any branch or sign up for a variety of email alerts that will keep you up to date.

The days are already getting shorter, the weather will be turning colder and the holidays will be on us before we know it. We'll all be spending more time indoors and we'll be wondering how we're going to pay for Christmas. So this is the perfect time to stop by your local library and check out some books on weatherproofing your home, mixing that perfect cup of hot cocoa, or how to make a Halloween Costume. Better still, just grab a classic Holiday DVD or pick up an intriguing little murder mystery to read in bed under the covers. Happy reading!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wind Creek Casino

My husband and I headed over to Atmore, Alabama last weekend to buy a lottery ticket and decided, on the way back, to stop in at the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel. The casino is located on Highway 21 and is owned and operated by the Poarch Creek Indians. It opened in January of this year and features a 236 room hotel, three restaurants, 50,000 square feet of gaming tables, a spa and some major entertainment (Hank Williams Jr., Reba, and Brett Michaels, just to name a few).

The casino has no gaming tables, only slot machines. I was told by a staff member that gaming tables are illegal in Alabama, even on Indian land. The majority of the machines are penny and nickle machines, although I saw a few that were higher denominations. There is a separate room for high stakes players but I didn't investigate what constituted "high stakes". Whatever it was I knew I couldn't afford it. The nickle slots are a little misleading in that you have to bet at least five credits per spin (one credit being the equivalent of five cents) so essentially you're betting a quarter each time. I put $5 in the machine and won $46 in 30 minutes so I cashed out. As long as I'm ahead I'm happy.

A quick word about the drink service on the gaming floor. Everyone keeps asking me how long it took to get a drink. We arrived at 7:15 and I didn't see a waitress until 7:45. Once we ordered, it took 10 minutes to get our drinks. As the night wore on there were a lot more waitresses on the floor. Maybe they all start their shifts at 8:00. If you don't want to wait for a server (or if you're too stingy to tip) there is a free serve-yourself soda fountain and coffee area centrally located on the gaming floor.

I decided after cashing out my "huge" winnings to check out Wind Creek's other offerings. Dave and I thought we'd go dancing in the lounge called Sound, but it was hosting a football game. Every Saturday night they show football on a giant projection screen. Since Mississippi State was playing (GO DAWGS!) we stayed to watch the second half of the game. The booths were comfortable, the drinks were reasonably priced and there was a free buffet laid out (meatballs, hot wings and nachos). A casino host was drawing names after every touch down and at the end of each quarter to give away free play. I won the last drawing of the night and got $50 in free play, so it was back out to the casino floor for us.

Although we did not have dinner in any of the casino restaurants (a steakhouse called Fire, a buffet named Taste and a restaurant called Grill) I did stop by the coffee shop (called Brew) for a quick latte and a brownie. Both were good and again reasonably priced. We also passed through the gift shop which had some lovely items that I couldn't afford and a great clearance sale. It took some self control not to spend my meager, I mean "huge", winnings in there.

By the time we left at 1:00 a.m. I had won enough money to pay all of our expenses for the evening, as well as our gas, and still had $35; so I was a happy camper. Whether you want to gamble, watch sports, have dinner, or go dancing Wind Creek is a good value for your entertainment dollar and it's close enough to drive home at the end of the night (provided you have a designated driver). If you're looking for a change of pace in your night life, give this place a shot. Good Luck!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Village Point Preserve & Daphne Bayfront Park

My sons and I came upon the Daphne Bayfront Park almost by accident. We stopped to get gas at a convenience store and when one of the guys looked down the side street and noticed he could see Mobile Bay and suggested we drive down to it. The park itself is made up of a fishing pier, gazebo and the Richard Scardamalia Pavilion which the city of Daphne rents out. There are no grills in the park and the only restroom was a port-a-john. Adjacent to the park is the Village Point Preserve and it's nature trails.

Village Point Preserve was created along Mobile Bay by the city of Daphne. The park is approximately 2 miles of nature trails and boardwalks. It was once part of the D'Olive plantation created by Louis D'Olive in 1803 and in fact, the plantation's cemetery still exists along these trails. The cemetery site is the only location along the walking trails with picnic tables and port-a-johns. There is a kiosk with an audio recording to educate visitors about the D'Olive plantation history. Louis D'Olive and his wife are buried in the cemetery along with other family members. Many, but not all of the graves have been identified and there is an effort being made to preserve the graves. By the way, according to the kiosk recording D'Olive is pronounced doe-leave.

Not far from the cemetery site is the Jackson Oak; an enormous oak draped with Spanish moss. This tree is so huge I couldn't begin to capture the size of it on my camera so check out the link above. Legend has it that General Andrew Jackson rallied his 3000 troops from the branches of this ancient oak in 1814 while they were making their way to Pensacola to fight with the Spanish as part of the Battle of New Orleans. There is another kiosk at this location but the recording was not working they day we visited so I'm not sure what the city's official story is. Whatever it's history; the tree is majestic. The park has built a boardwalk around it to protect it generations to come.

The nature trails themselves allow for an easy hike. For the most part they're flat and there is shade at various points. There is no drinking water so be sure to bring your own, especially during the summer months. The trails are well maintained and some of them have signage posted to identify the plants for you. Benches have been provided all along the way. There is a second fishing pier at the end of one of the trails that also has a little beach. I was a little wary of using the beach area because there are signs everywhere warning the public to beware of alligators and snakes.

There is a variety of wildlife to see while hiking. One of the boardwalks crosses over an alligator lagoon where we spotted some very young gators sunning themselves on the beach. Birds are plentiful of course, so we saw blue herons, egrets, pelicans, and many, many others. My son's favorite siting was a blue tailed skink, a reptile we had never seen before. These tiny lizards are abundant in the park and the colors are beautiful.

We ended the day sitting in the air conditioning of Marble Slab Creamery on Hwy 90. Their ice cream is a little pricey but its great as an occasional treat. The park is located just off of Hwy. 98 at 6200 Bay Front Drive. It closes each day at sunset. So next time you feel like you need to go burn off a little energy and the weather outside is beckoning you, go walk the nature trails at Village Point Preserve.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Museum of Mobile

Do you know who Ben May, Augusta Evans Wilson, John Leflore and Jeremiah Denton are? If you don't then you need to head down to the Museum of Mobile next door to the Exploreum on Royal Street. This museum is a must see for anyone who lives in Mobile and Baldwin counties. It's a first rate, beautiful museum that is on a par with the museums I've toured in much bigger cities. It's also your best source for learning the history of the Mobile area.

The museum is located in what was once the Southern Market/Old City Hall which was built in 1857 and is now a National Historic Landmark. The lobby is gorgeous and has some wonderful murals painted on the walls. The museum covers two floors of exhibits, but also has some courtyards, classrooms, and an auditorium that can be rented for use after hours. We had just missed the Pirates exhibit and we were too early for the next featured exhibit which is to be called Pillars of the Community: Mobile's Greek Revival Movement. I understand from the website that the exhibit after that will be on George Washington Carver.

The main exhibit covers 300 years of Mobile history which includes settlement by the Mauvilla Indians, slavery and the Civil War, both World Wars, the Depression, the struggle for Civil Rights, and ship building. There is even an area that addresses some of the problems that Mobile is facing today. The nature of the exhibits vary. Many are just display cases with placards explaining the objects. While I found them fascinating, many very young children would probably lose interest quickly. I don't recommend this outing for children under 7. There are, however, several interactive displays sprinkled in throughout both floors. We even got to watch a great old news reel made about Mobile during World War II by the War Department of Information. Did you know that during WWII 150,000 people were brought into Mobile to help with the war effort? When you visit the museum, do not miss out on this film!

There are also some beautiful side exhibits featuring such subjects as the history of wrought iron work in Mobile. It is tragic that so much of Mobile's beautiful cast iron work was lost when old buildings were razed in the name of progress or the iron work was melted down to support the war effort. Besides the cast iron there are also some lovely displays of silver work and antique home furnishing as well as paintings scattered throughout the two floors.

The Rutherford Carriage Collection houses seven carriages that date from the 1850's to the 1900's and have all been beautifully restored. If you've ever read an historic novel and wondered what an omnibus or a brougham carriage looked like, here's your chance to find out. The carriages were collected and restored by Dr. Charles Rutherford in the 1950's and 1960's and later donated to the museum.

There was a fun display of very detailed model homes in another area. My sons referred to them as dollhouses but I can't imagine anyone allowing a child to go near them with dolls or anything else. The intricacy of the work on the outside of the homes was something to marvel at. There are plants on balconies, mailboxes, birdbaths, patio furniture. But it's the inside of these miniature homes that will really leave you dumbfounded. No detail has been overlooked and that includes things like dishes in tiny dishwashers, fully stocked bars, towels hanging neatly on towel racks and photos on the walls. We read that many of they tiny photos in the homes were actual pictures of the creators family members. The exteriors of the homes covered many styles of architecture such as Spanish style, Victorian and Antebellum, while the interiors covered different eras in history.

The museum is open Monday - Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm. Admission is $5 for Adults, $4 for Seniors, $3 for students and free for children under 6. However, you can do what we did and attend on the first Sunday of each month when admission is free. This seems to be a very popular day for families who are trying to stretch their entertainment budgets. Photography is a bit of a challenge because flash photography is not allowed and the lighting for most of the exhibits is low. Camera flashes damage artifacts so set your camera on museum setting if you have one.

Also be sure to finish out your visit in the gift shop which has some truly wonderful items and offers something in every price range. Proceed go towards the operation of the museum. Keeping a place like this costs money, so consider purchasing a membership or making a donation to the museum. If that's not in your budget, there's information on the website about how you can volunteer for these good folks. Mobile needs to preserve its history and this is a great opportunity for you to help.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Fesitival

Did you know Mobile has a Jazz Festival every year? I didn't and no one I work with did either. But we do and it's in its 11th year. The Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival is a series of events that occur over four days every summer. It kicked off Thursday night with a celebration of the spoken word. An Evening of Poetry was hosted by Theola Bright at the Museum of Mobile. It included readings by local writers and a Poetry Slam. Admission was free.

Friday morning was the Jazz Music Workshop which was opened to musicians of all ages and levels of training. Quoting the festival's brochure:

"The workshop will introduce music lovers of any age to rudimentary jazz in a casual atmosphere and by using a variety of formats. Participants need not have any musical background nor does a participant need to be proficient on any musical instrument.. Participants do not need to be able to read music in order to participate in the workshop. Participation is the word. The workshop is not a spectator event."
I wish this information had been on the web site. Although I don't currently play any instruments, I do have a music background so I would have liked to attend. I of course assumed it was for more serious musicians. Next year I will be there. Clinics were taught by Art Sherrod, Jr., Shane Philen and Clifton Thomas, Jr. Again the cost of this event was free. If you're a musician that missed out on Friday morning you're probably kicking yourself. A free clinic taught by musicians with this level of experience just doesn't come along very often.

Last night was the main event - Jazz in Bienville Square. You've probably guessed by now that admission was free. The event was moved from the Square to Club 351 because of the rain and even though it took place in a club folks brought their kids. There was alcohol at the event but it was still very family friendly. I was looking forward to an evening of jazz under the stars but I have to admit there were a lot of advantages to moving indoors. Things like chairs, air conditioning, real bathrooms as well as the noticeable lack of mosquitoes. My only complaint would be that it was noisy. This year's theme was An Evening of Sax and was hosted by Kevin Lee, President of the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed also known as MOJO. If you weren't at Club 351 I am very, very sad for you because you missed an awesome music event.

The evening began at 4:30 with the Sharon Woodruff Ensemble. I am sorry to say we missed this act because we weren't aware that the concert had moved it's location. Consequently we arrived late. The festival's website description of Ms. Woodruff says that,

"Sharon has established herself as an outstanding vocalist, psalmist, musician, actress, recording artist and composer-arranger by performing at numerous events and concerts. Even at an early age, Sharon's phenomenal, mesmerizing, unique, soulful vocal skills have been compared to an angelic mixture of some of the greatest female artist of the world, such as, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, Mahalia Jackson, and the Divine Sarah Vaughn."

Next up was Rebecca Barry, a.k.a. D'eva D'luxe. Rebecca grew up in Fairhope and studied sax in New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis and sax guru Ed Petersen. Her sound is described as having a "jazzy, funky, rocking, r&b flavor" and I believe that description is spot on. Ms. Barry plays in venues all over the Gulf Coast so I look forward to hearing her again either in Mobile or New Orleans.

Rebecca Barry and her band "Bust" were followed by Shane Philen and his quartet. Mr. Philen is a professional saxophonist who works as a performer, instructor, band leader and arranger. According to his website he has recorded numerous projects for Integrity Media, Inc. and has performed and/or recorded with Louis Bellson, Big Daddy Weave, The Coasters, Travis Cottrell, Darrell Evans, Ken Folberg Big Band, 4Him, Group 1 Crew, King Pelican, Mandisa, the Moscow Sax Quintet, Aaja Nachle, New Song, Sharmane Adams, Bob Shultz Big Band, The Temptations, TRUTH, Veggie Tales, Ayiesha Woods and various local artists and ensembles.

The headliner of the evening was Art Sherrod Jr. Art is an incredible saxophonist. His music is the kind of sultry, sexy sound that makes us women swoon. He is a native of Texas and now lives in the Baltimore area. He has co-headlined shows with Natalie Cole, Angie Stone, Will Downing, Marion Meadows, Norman Connors, Najee and Roy Ayres. He's even played at the White House. His first CD "All 4 Love" was a huge success and his new CD "Seasons" is currently available for purchase or download at his web site.

The festival ends tonight at 6:30 with a Jazz Jam Session at the Gulf City Lodge at 601 State Street. Admission is $7.00 to the general public or free to any musicians who want to participate. This is your last chance to get in on this event until next year so plan to be there.

By the way, the "Fest" has a different poster every year and they're all fabulous. The artist behind this year's poster is Brian Brown a tattooist and artist. I believe they were selling copies at the performance last night but I forgot to check on the price. I've checked the website to see if there was a way to order one on-line but didn't see anything. You can probably contact the hosts through the site if your interested in making a purchase.

So, now that you know that Mobile has a Jazz Festival put the link for it in your favorites and mark your calender so that you don't miss a single moment next year.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Boating on Fowl River

I've lived in Mobile for seven years now but every now and then I feel like a tourist in my own town. This weekend was a case in point. My husband and I were invited by our good friend, Paul, to go out on Fowl River with him in his boat. Now I know that Mobile has several rivers that run through the area but I don't know one from the other. When Paul extended the invitation I was embarrassed to admit that I had no idea where Fowl River began or ended. My husband explained that we would launch the boat at the Fowl River Marina on the Dauphin Island Parkway in Belle Fontaine. That gave me some point of reference at least.

The marina features the Pelican Reef Restaurant, the Landing Lounge, a convenience store/bait shop and gas pumps. The cost to launch your boat is $5.00. The Landing has live music on Friday and Saturday nights. I'm not a power boat enthusiast (I prefer sailboats) so I wasn't sure what we would actually be doing once we got out on the water. I really thought we were going to troll up the river for 30 minutes or so and then turn around and come back. I thought it would be boring but I really enjoyed myself.

Hanging out on the river is a lot like hanging out at the beach. You find a variety of people at both locations and those people are involved in a variety of activities. On the Fowl River I saw folks swimming, fishing, jet skiing, water skiing, sun bathing and just hanging out with friends. Of course a lot of people seemed to be doing what we were doing, just riding up and down the river, taking in the sites. Everyone we passed took a friendly moment to smile and wave.

I was amazed to see how many homes had been built along the river. Homes of every size and description. I drooled over every one of them, the big and the small, because they all seemed to have the "cool factor" that comes from living on the water. They're like the homes you see in the French Quarter down in New Orleans. Some might be nicer than others, but you know you'd be happy to live in any of them.

Every house of course has a boat dock and the boat docks were, for me, the most fascinating sites on this trip. It was fun to compare the different choices used to decorate the boat houses and docks. There were slides that emptied into the river and diving boards to jump from. I saw man made beaches complete with beach chairs and umbrellas. Some of the residents had installed playground equipment near the river bank and others had tied rope swings in the overhanging trees.

My only real disappointment of the day was the lack of wildlife. I had hoped to capture shots of alligators floating in the water or herons wading along the shore. I didn't even see a water moccasin swimming down stream. There were a ton of pelicans hanging out at the mouth of the river but the water was too rough out in the bay for our little boat to venture near enough to get good photos. Maybe next time.

We cruised up and down the river all day between Pelican Reef and Memories Fish Camp. There are points along the river where you can cruise very fast, creating a wonderfully cool breeze while you jump wakes. Others areas are no wake zones. These are great places for taking pictures and watching fish jump. The winding of the river added a small element of surprise since I never knew what might be revealed around each bend.

It was a terrific way to spend the day and cost us next to nothing. Thanks to Captain Paul for inviting us to come out on the maiden voyage of his new boat. If you have access to a boat take it out on Fowl River. If you don't have access to a boat, find someone who does and make friends with them. Bribe them with gas and lunch. Offer to stock the boat's beer cooler. You won't regret it.