Last week, at least, Perdido Bay, Alabama was in better shape than expected, some oil sightings, some reports of swimmers emerging with a brown film on their skin, some strange white foam that may or may not have been a result of dispersant use, but water clean enough for kayaking—inside the boom, that is. My mother saw osprey, an endangered type of sea hawk, fishing inside the boom, but not outside it (smart, huh?). My father saw a cownose ray, a first in his many decades on the bay. We had to wonder if the oil was chasing gulf creatures further in than they usually venture. We saw dolphins inside the boom, which means in very shallow water. The boom seems to be helping, along with the skimmers that come in regularly and do their work along it, and all hopes are pointed on the relief well that's expected to be completed in August.
The open gulf hasn't been as fortunate; in Gulf Shores, Alabama, I saw tarballs dotting the white sand, and the usually blue-green waters were murky and brown. Alongside the state and national flags, two red flags were flying, meaning no swimming. No kidding! That's the least of the problems.
Every business owner I talked to was suffering, from the tiny Elberta Gallery in Elberta, Alabama, which specializes in seconds-quality Fiestaware, to the rough-and-tumble Pirates Cove, a rustic marina (read: bar where you can dock) that draws locals in as well as a far-flung crowd of boat people from all over the world. One reason I feel at home there is that Pirates Cove is what you'd call dog-friendly. Or maybe dog-obsessed. There are rules, of course:
But you have to read carefully to see that there's an addendum at the bottom: "P.S. Dogs can't read." Are there dogs on the deck? Of course there are. Some of the dogs come in with their people on boats from near and far. Others live at Pirates Cove. As familiar as the grizzly man behind the bar is, so is Tiki, a resident dog, who was last week decked out in a green strand of Mardi Gras beads.
In fact, the resident dogs' rights are well protected.
The food at Pirates Cove isn't much for vegetarians, but it's okay for a snack, as long as you like fried potato wedges and beer.
While I'm grateful that the bay isn't as bad as I'd feared, much of the Gulf Coast hasn't been so lucky. It's worse than it looks in the media when you get there and realize the endless impact of the oil disaster on the local economy, which is dependent upon tourism, and, ironically, oil. Driving in, the sight of this stripped-down and recast BP station sort of summed it up, along with a big customer-appreciation sign in front.