Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflections on the Florabama

After watching a YouTube video of the classic Southern male at the beach, my mind was brought back to Orange Beach, Alabama...the site of the Florabama Lounge. Bear in mind that I have not been to the Florabama since the series of hurricanes in 2004-05, and from what I understand...there have been some changes since then. is entirely possible that "my" Florabama might differ from "your" Florabama for that reason alone.

My first encounter with the Florabama was an officers' retreat for the bank I was employed with at the time. Several of us rode down together, and the senior officers pretty much camped out there and had a cocktail while everyone arrived. My first impression was a rundown fairly flat roofed building with a liquor store in the front. It was situated on the Alabama/Florida line where half of the "facility" was in Florida and half was in Alabama...thus the name.

Frankly, it didn't look like much...but the group I had come down with wanted to go in for we did. There was a long bar with a small intimate room with a number of tables and a place for a guitarist or perhaps a duo. Past that were pool tables, a place to purchase lottery tickets (on the Florida side, of course), another place for a band, a pavilion with a stage, a trailer selling crawfish (or is it crayfish...whatever), and a couple of portapotties. Beyond the back door was the beach. Frankly, I never quite made it that far.

Upon entering the building...which was fairly low lighted except for the requisite neon beer noticed a certain ambiance. Frankly, the charm of the place included such decorating gems as "Mullet Toss" posters and bras hanging from the rafters. All of the furniture was rustic and I sincerely doubt it matched or even came close. You had to pick up your machete at the door to cut through the smoke, and the word "loud" to describe the music, the clinking glass at the bar, and the crowd...was an understatement. Someone was always either playing guitar in that front room...or the jukebox was wide open.

The patrons to this establishment did not follow any particular guideline in terms of background, age, or quite frankly...anything else. There were bikers, barflies, college kids, professional adults, ladies sporting beehives, military people, and the locals. There was obviously no dress code, and you'd see a little sorority girl in a sundress and then someone in Daisy Dukes and a tube top. Running like ants through the crowd were a team of waitresses that were quick, efficient, and long past putting up with anyone's crap. You ordered...they problem.

As you walked through the main room, you would somehow find yourself either in the room with the pool tables (which was just never my thing) or by one of the bands that was always playing. How the place could manage three separate bands and the crowds that were often so thick you'd wonder how anyone could beyond me.

Although I enjoyed hearing "Lucille" and "Brown Eyed Girl" almost every time I was there (because of the unique audience participation)...I really found the outside pavilion area my favorite spot. Someone had built a makeshift table that was like a long series of picnic tables. There was no floor...just dirt or sand. The walls were heavy plastic designed to keep out the cooler night air or the rain since we were most often there in October. There was no dance floor...but there were plenty of places to sit. Granted, every so often someone would get up on one of the tables and start to dance. In fact, we learned that one of the girls in the group was apparently a pole dancer in a previous life. I won't elaborate.

The highlight of my evenings was a visit to the ladies' room...hands down. At any given trip I'd make...there would be a line. I would hear "hold my hair" or someone would be in there ranting about something. Usually, it was about something some guy was doing, or two girls would be in a fight over something random. My personal favorite "throw down" was the night that a mother and daughter got into a shoving match and were just short of a fistfight because "Mama" had been kissing daughter's boyfriend on the dance floor. Wish I were kidding.

Often, while in line, someone would just start talking to me about something. I found it all quite fascinating. It was just a slice of life that was interesting to visit...but you wouldn't want to live in it.

Like the girl who was on her honeymoon and was not sure that she had done the right thing. I'm thinking...a little late for THAT true confession.

Or the girl who said that her ex had just gotten custody of the three kids. She let me know that she was appealing it because the middle one wasn't his. Well, alrighty then.

Or the lady who would weave in and everyone would give her a clear berth because we thought it wasn't going to end well.

But that was all pretty typical. A bunch of drunk women waiting on the bathroom and just talking about their lives. Frankly, after I left there each time...I felt far better about my own.

Sometimes, you would hear of Kenny Stabler being there and everyone would look around. One night I ran into a customer from the bank...which was interesting. We also always had a designated driver because the police took their jobs quite seriously there as evidenced by the fact that there were always several police cars around. Which was good.

One night, however, we decided to take public transportation because someone erroneously thought that this would be a good idea. We ended up on the shuttle with a group of people who had been partying all day...and were redneck in the deepest sense of the word. The Dixie Chicks song "Earl" pretty much wrapped up the male member of the little party. His "harem" included three women who might have been his wife or girlfriend or well, frankly, I don't know what. Something. I honestly couldn't tell since they were all hanging on him on the bus...and I was just not seeing what the fuss was all about.

I haven't been back to the Florabama since probably 2001 or so. I hear that things have changed a bit...yeah, yeah, the bras are still on the exposed rafters and the place is still a dump. But, it is a melting pot in the truest sense. Anyone can go to the Florabama and have fun.

Anyone...meaning...Jill on Spring Break last year. Yeah. It was during the day...but she liked it just the same. She said that she just felt comfortable there and that the music was good.

There is a weekend in early March (or late February) called "Mullet Toss." The Florabama actually has a contest that involves tossing fish across the state line. I have not attended this particular event...but was down there one weekend while it was going on. Some of my comrades went to check it out. They came back after the "Jamaica Your Own Bikini Contest" where the winner made hers out of safety tape. Yeah. Sorry I missed that spectacle. (Not.)

So, if you are in the Orange Beach, AL area...stop on in. If you are feeling bad about the hand that life has dealt you...take it from could be worse. You'll just have to trust me on that one...later!

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