So, we're sitting in the open air of the passenger ferry Capt. Pete headed to Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi when a chipper middle-aged woman looks at my T-shirt and asks where Kids' Harbor is located.
First, a stranger striking up a conversation with me in the middle of Mississippi Sound rouses my "stranger danger" alert system. Who is this person, and what does she want?
My second thought was, huh?
Oh. My bright blue T-shirt; Kids' Harbor.
I explained to the puzzled woman that it wasn't a location; rather, it was an organization at the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri whose mission it is to shelter abused children and their parent or guardian.
There was an appropriate amount of small talk and we went our separate ways, us seeking out the warm early morning sun en route to a day on the beach. She made her way around the ferry, chatting with others who we later learned were among members of the Travel Writers Association.
In our short visit she explained she was a national sales representative for the Mississippi Coast Regional Convention and Visitor's Bureau in charge of herding the travel writers around the Gulf Coast.
Our friendly encounter with Linda Stewart wasn't a fluke. She was just one of many genuinely friendly, openly welcoming people we met in the Deep South. There's a myth that people from the South are among the most friendly in the United States – possibly the Free World. The myth is true.
At each place we stopped, whether at a motel, a welcome center, a restaurant or at a neighborhood art fair, folks were downright friendly. The cynics among you may claim their geniality is tourist-based, that they're superficially warm because they — like us — depend on tourism.
I doubt they have parties lamenting the start of the tourist season or celebrating the end of the season as too many bars and restaurants do at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Maybe it's the alluring southern accent. Regardless, as Northerners and newcomers to the Confederate SEC, we always felt welcome.
Biloxi is a haven for casinos. Many virtually touch the gently rolling waters of the Mississippi Sound, which acts as a pseudo-buttress for the Gulf of Mexico farther offshore.
My Bucket List trip wasn't to gamble, but it was to absorb as much seafood and culture as possible in three days. We studied the off-the-beaten-path websites, and found a couple of unique eateries that Guy Fieri from Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives recommended.
Blow Fly Inn in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Gulfport was one. It has the ambiance of a small town restaurant, and the view over a Gulf Coast inlet at sunset was outstanding. The restaurant was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina pushed 26 feet of water through the area.
Page 2 of 2 - Our newfound friend Linda recommendation The Filling Station, an authentic converted gas station. She didn't recommend the Fried Shrimp Po' Boy, and I should have listened. The shrimp were good, but not on a toasted bun. Susie had the Roast Beef Po' Boy, which she said was quite good.
We stayed in the Comfort Suites in Gulfport, but spent a fair amount of time traveling up and down Beach Blvd., which runs parallel to the coast. To the east is Casino Town Biloxi, and to the west is Bay St. Louis, also a habitat for casino types. It was clear that communities with casinos were far more prosperous with much better infrastructure than those without.
Since making the trip, I've learned that Ole' Miss University, which is a member of the SEC and on Missouri's football schedule this fall, is located in Biloxi. That explains all of the Ole Miss paraphernalia we saw. And, the Lake Race organizers have teamed up with the Smokin' the Sound (Mississippi Sound) race people in Biloxi to host a two-race series next spring.
We attempted to have lunch in The French Quarter of New Orleans on the first leg of the trip home, but that didn't happen. After searching for a parking place for more than an hour among thousands of people and an equal number of weirdos, we set that Bucket List trip for another day.
And so it is, my Bucket List is shorter by one. As mentioned last week, my eclectic list is shaped by time and money constraints.