People used to call it \”the Redneck Riviera.\” Its wide beaches and fine white sand, however, were nothing like the pebbly coves and varied vistas of the Mediterranean. And when I first went there, Gulf Shores, Alabama–unlike the Mediterranean–had not yet been spoiled by money and people.
I associate Gulf Shores with the early chapters of my love life. I went there on a couple of college \”house parties,\” feeling every bit as thrilled by the absence of my parents (I lived at home during my college years) as by the presence of my date. I remember being dismayed at the effects of the wind and salt air on my carefully arranged hair. But the beach was not without its beauty benefits. We girls would baste ourselves with a mixture of olive oil and vinegar–I never understood the reason for the vinegar–and bake to the very edge of sunstroke. After showering at the motel we would emerge for the evening festivities practically phosphorescent from the sun, and feeling gorgeous.
When my husband and I got married, his Alabama grandparents gave us a week in Gulf Shores for our honeymoon. We drove straight down there in our VW bug, with rice grains still in our hair.
We stayed in a small, musty-smelling cabin right on the beach. Every day we went swimming in the matching white bathing suits that his grandmother had bought us because, she said, they would make us look \”all bridesy and groomsy.\” At night we would walk out onto the long pier and gaze down at the manta rays, the sharks, the jellyfish. We ate enormous quantities of fried shrimp. And we told each other every single thing that had ever happened to us.
In subsequent years, Gulf Shores changed. Hurricanes came and went, destroying the cabins where we had stayed. In their place were erected strings of cheek-by-jowl high-rise condos, right on the beach. The long pier that we used to walk out on washed away and was never replaced. On the highway behind the condos the traffic roared day and night.
The water was still clear, though, and the pelican squadrons still flew past the high-rise balconies, and if you went out on a boat the dolphins would follow and play in the wake.
Now it\’s all gone. The beach, the water, the pelicans, the fish are all dying their long brown-coated deaths. The windows of the empty high-rises look down on the devastation. Only the sun shines on.