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Detour @ Pensacola!!

Abhishek Kar

After the excitement of the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the return journey from Orlando to Baton Rouge had to be a boring one. But was it? What could lie ahead, but a long, uneventful drive which would lull me to sleep inside the cozy interior of the four- wheeler. But did it? Not at all, thanks to my uncle, who was driving and wished to take a small break. Thus we took a turn on to the I-110 from the I-10 and headed towards Pensacola!

Pensacola is just a small city on the edge of Florida. I had come across this name before. A serial used to be on air on AXN called “Pensacola: Wings of Gold”, of which I was a big fan. And now I was to see that Pensacola. It is the westernmost city of Florida as well as a very big US Naval Air Station.

Pensacola is known by several names, the reasons for which I was about to understand. The city had been under the rule of five different powers − Britain, France, Spain, the Confederation and finally the US government. As a result, it has acquired the name, ‘The City of Five Flags’. As this happens to be one of the earliest settlements in this area, the name ‘America’s First Settlement’ has also been attributed to it. It’s also a short and sweet “P-Cola”.

As one walks around the 18th-century-era-restored neighborhood, one really gets the feel of History. Naturally, one does not witness a very prominent and high-rise infested city skyline. Instead, several monuments and museums greet a tourist, engulfing him in the memories of yesteryears. The Vietnam Veterans’ Wall South, the William Dudley Chipley Obelisk and the National Naval Aviation Museum are the chief attractions. Buildings like the Seville Tower as well as the First National Bank Building are of some importance, and they can take someone’s breath away!

One of the most important features of this city is undoubtedly its beach. Pensacola has another sobriquet, ‘World’s Whitest Beaches’. One has to cross the Pensacola Bay Bridge and then cruise along the Pensacola Beach Road in order to reach them. A tall, white lollipop styled water tower with “Pensacola Beach” written boldly, loomed up in front of us as our car took a turn towards the Casino Beach parking lot. We had arrived at one of Pensacola’s famous beaches. I have seen a number of beaches in India and abroad, yet was quite amazed to see the vast stretch of white sand lying in front – clean, sparkling and spotless. To add to the beauty of the place is the mingling of the white sand with the bluish green water of the Gulf of Mexico. I just couldn’t help remembering Baywatch, the moment I took in the sand, the water, the shower cubicles and the watchful lifeguards sitting at their respective stations − ever vigilant and ever cautious! It’s a pity that there was neither David Hasselhoff nor Pamela Anderson Lee!

As I was in a pair of shorts, I ran into the water merrily after kicking off my shoes. I can still relive those moments when I played like a child. I was in a bit of luck that day for, while roaming around the city, we took a wrong road and reached a rather desolate spot with just a few houses and shops. Realizing our mistake, we were about to turn the car around, when all of a sudden, my grandmother asked us to stop. She immediately got down, and moved forward as if mesmerized. What a pretty sight! Right before us was a bunch of unknown plants, with whorled leaf formation and scores of bright pink flowers. My grandmother has always been a nature-admirer. But the beauty of the plants left a materialistic human specimen like me spell-bound. All of us felt that it was a mistake worth making and hoped for more wrong turns and great discoveries.

From geography to flora to cuisine! Pensacola is famous for its crayfish or crawfish preparations. I personally am not at all a fan of seafood and just cannot stand the smell. Yet, most reluctantly I had to follow the rest of the group to a nearby restaurant for trying out the local delicacies. I was keeping my fingers crossed, not knowing what “horrors” would be placed in front of me. It was then that something caught my eye. It was a Burger King sign! I just could not wait any longer. Requesting my group to carry on its gastronomic extravaganza at the restaurant, I quietly strolled down the street to the joint and had my fill of a real big juicy burger, complete with two varieties of fries, sauce and a soft drink. After I returned like a cat that had had its cream, my uncle, throwing up his hands in the air, exclaimed, “Son, you certainly did miss something!” I replied, “Yeah, You too!!”

After bidding adieu to Pensacola we turned homewards. I was feeling a bit sad since I did not get a chance to see any of the F-16 or F-18 fighter jets zoom past. May be they would have destroyed the serenity of the atmosphere. The rest of the drive back to Baton Rouge was a quiet one. I was in no mood to chat and was quite happy thinking about those few hours that I had spent in the “Western Gate to the Sunshine State”.