Destin In the Fall

The other day I heard from some folks back at the Chattanooga Bakery that they were making the largest MoonPie ever for the Battle of the Bluegrass Pulling Series in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Proceeds were going to fight breast cancer. While I’m pretty excited about this big pie, I just wish I could have been there to see it. But I was here in Destin, Florida, sitting on the beach, pretending to work.

Before my boss reads that admission of my laziness brought on by proximity to a beach, I have to add that I was doing a little work: research. Here is what I found out.The beach clears out considerably in October. That is probably not news to most people, but it has always been a phenomenon that interested me. My hotel was cheaper too. Okay, it was more of a motel than a hotel, the kind of accommodation where you park right up next to the door in case you have to leave in a hurry. The beach was not exactly close either. It was nowhere near the beach, actually. It was on a stretch of road known as the bypass. Every good Southern town has a bypass, you know, just like they have a First Baptist Church and a barbecue joint. A Southern town lacking a bypass, a First Baptist Church and barbecue joint needs to reconsider incorporation and just go ahead and take down the city limits signs.

Now and then it all comes together, however, in total perfection. Back in the 70’s, I recall a place in Texas, a little town somewhere near Waco, I think it was, perhaps Marshall. I cannot remember. Texas is a big place. As I was saying, this little town had both a church and a barbecue joint, in the same building, and that building was on the bypass. Let me tell you I did some worshiping that day, and it was just Tuesday.

Anyway, I got my beach-sitting research finished and wrote the conclusions in the soft part of my brain tissue formerly known as memory and drove to the motel, got my key and parked in front of room 32. Pulling my old suitcase out of my truck, I caught site of a big old boy sitting on the curb drinking lemonade and eating a banana MoonPie.

“You like MoonPies?” I said in my friendly salesman voice, which I practice when I’m driving.

“I do,” he said chewing and squinting into the late afternoon sun as it headed over towards Pensacola and Mobile and on west in the direction of Mississippi. “I like pretty much anything edible.”

“I have some in the truck if you want some more,’ I said. ‘All flavors.”

“This flavor is just fine,” he said. “You got any more of these?”

“I have banana, yessir,” I said and walked to the truck, unlocking the door and reaching into the back of the extended cab, extracting a box.

“Did you see where they made the biggest Moonpie in history a few days back,” I said.
No acknowledgement. He was busy smacking a mosquito that had tried to suck on the tattoo of a bird dog pointing at a bear on his massive shoulder.

“Yes they did,” I said. “For a good cause.” No response from big dude.
It struck me how often I run across somebody eating a MoonPie. My first wife used to call that irony. Of course she called me a few other things as well.

“You in room 32?” he said nodding back over his shoulder.

I hesitated, a little unsure if I should be telling a stranger – especially a stranger almost as big as the Toyota parked next to him – where I was staying. But he seemed harmless in a brutal sort of way.

“I’m in 32,” I said.

“Thirty-two,” he grunted. “Franco Harris. Pittsburgh. Best running back ever. Made that Incarcerated Reception against John Wooden and the Raiders.”

“You mean John Madden,’ I said. “And it was the Immaculate Reception, I believe.”

Cranking his cow-sized head around to give me the full benefit of his stink-eye and burping so loud it drowned out an 18-wheeler pulling out of the lot, he studied my face as if reading the stubble on my chin.

“You got some Moonpies for me, right?” he said holding out his hand, a hand just a little smaller than a shovel. After giving him the box of banana-flavored pies, I smiled and walked toward Franco Harris’s number.

“I was just checking to see if you were listening,” he said. “Thanks dude.”
I am pretty sure he thought what he told me was right, but I let it go since he could have eaten me for dinner and nobody would miss me until I was fertilizer.

I got inside, locked the door and turned on the TV. Pittsburgh was playing. More irony. I’m watching Pittsburgh in room 32 on Sunday night. Perfect. And outside is a man bigger than both John Madden and John Wooden together. And I am pretty sure he had recently been incarcerated at some point. He just had that jailhouse nonchalance. So it all made sense in a Destin, Florida kind of way. And if you have ever been to Destin on Spring Break, that will make total sense to you too. Sometimes you bring your own irony.

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