SATURDAY: A COMPLETE DISASTER AND PARTY ALL AT THE SAME TIME
I'm walking along the road, and forget that people who are very drunk enjoy yelling things out of cars. You can't win when someone's yelling at you out of a car, particularly at something as clearly abortive and disastrous as Saturday at the Flora-Bama Interstate Mullet Toss. This is even more true when you consider rain on Saturday cancelled most of the throwing and left ten thousand people two options: a. drink standing up in the sardine can of the bar, or b.) go to the hotel, drink, and take your bets on the property damage inflicted running less than the hypothetical bar tab.
He's not giving up, though.
I look up.
"LOUISIANA WOMEN....WILL SIT ON YOUR FACE."
And with that, welcome to the interstate Mullet Toss.
The sign outside says "MUST HAVE SHOES." This should be an indicator of where things are headed here. The Flora-Bama cozies right up to the Florida/ Alabama state line, a collection of wooden hurricane-susceptible buildings that have, in fact, undergone several involuntary remodelings at the hands of hurricanes. On a normal day it is a perfectly pleasant beach bar serving beer, rudimentary mixed drinks, and oysters. Today it is cheek-to-jowl with people who like to parrrrrrrrty with eleven thousand "r"s.
That's parrrrrrrty with like eleven thousand r's, and it is chosen deliberately. At a certain age, you stop parrrrrtying, or you don't. A diverse array of people are here to parrrrrrty, but they break down into two basic categories. The first are Third Coast college students, young, trim, stink-drunk young men and ladies, and grizzled locals and semi-locals who never stopped parrrrrrrrtying, and woke up one day with beards, dyed blonde hair, and tanned skin the consistency and shade of old automotive pleather left to dry in the sun. They might be 30. They might be 60. There's really no telling, but all of them are stuck beneath the long line of bras hung beneath the roof of the Flora-Bama continuing a decades-long stress test on the liver.
They are all in the process of transition from one to the other, and all crammed into the Flora-Bama because day one is rained out, and there's nothing to do but attempt to drain the place dry and get drunk enough to dance to any of the three bands playing in the place at once. Lightning snaps into the water outside intermittently. The port-a-potties reek along the street entrance to the bar.
Saturday, in short, is a complete bust. I regroup and retry for Sunday, because fish must be tossed at the state of Alabama for its crimes. (What these are I don't know, but after a few drinks it's as convincing an argument as any.)
In what could have only been an inspiration powered by the magic of alcohol, the Flora-Bama held their first Interstate Mullet Toss 26 years ago. The technique is simple, but variable. Generally speaking, you pick the smallest fish, a point overlooked by nearly everyone who threw on Sunday, when a brilliant sun baked off the mist of 24 hours of straight rain and allowed for quality fish-tossin'. Some hold the fish by the tail, but the prevailing wisdom involved "folding" the fish (i.e. breaking its back) in half, holding the whole thing like a football, and giving it your best play-action post pattern heave. Take your best single toss, throw with your legs, and watch the enchanted sight of a humble and rarely eaten Gulf staple fly across the Florida/ Alabama state line.
Some of the parrrrrrrtiers clearly didn't make it up this morning, either trapped by their hangovers or by the stubborn affections of the aforementioned Louisiana women. Some did, though, including this woman who was my second favorite conversation I had all day.
Me: "I'm a journalist, ma'am. Is that a 'Free Bird' tramp stamp you have?"
Her: "Why yes it is."
Me: "Can I take a picture of that?"
Her "Of course."
When the Pulitzer eventually lands in my giddy hands, I want this to appear on the screen behind me.
Skynyrd tats aside, it is a subdued crowd after last night's rain-induced debauchery. I get in line behind a big dude from Slidell, LA. This is bad, because Big Dude From Slidell takes his fish, snaps its back with a shocking ease, and then launches a throw a hundred feet into a stiff headwind. I'm going to look horrible already, but as usual it's too late to turn back now.
The technique doesn't help much, either. Years of watching Florida football has clearly corrupted my technique: long delivery (Tebow), shotputter's motion on the release (Danny Wuerffel), and to be honest, at least two drinks in my system during the throw itself (Rex Grossman). Todd McShay would doubt I have the tangibles to compete at an elite level in mullet toss, and for the first time in his professional career he would be right.
Still: even with the horrible form, even with the wind, even with the Bloody Marys, and even with the judge heckling my handwriting and refusal to take my shirt off (the internet's not ready), my mullet flew for 74 feet and 5 inches, a respectable toss for an eighth grade gym dropout and confessed non-athlete.
Video follows, including an interview with some of the few parrrrrrtiers who made it back out for day two's tossing and recuperation drinking. They're American heroes. Pay them the appropriate respect and salute them as you watch.