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Friends worth hassle of flying

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Travel seems to have become more hassle than some think it is worth, to say nothing of the rising costs involved.

Like most everybody, my impatience accelerates with the extended lines which move at a snail's pace through security, causing me to yearn for the days when travel was exciting and alluring. Men wore ties even for vacation trips. Ladies dressed in their finest, and your bag was waiting for you when you arrived.

Travel today has many frustrations. If your flight is at noon, you can't feel comfortable or confident unless you're at the airport by breakfast. If you are smart, you never check a bag. If you think you might get hungry, you better bring a snack. Flight delays, overzealous security personnel, inconsiderate people who chit-chat on cell phones -- even in the bathroom stall --are enough to make you want to hitchhike.

There are several redeeming features to travel, however. Go a day early and see something you haven't seen before. Attend an event or take in a local attraction. Visit an old friend.

I had a business reason to come to this entrepreneurial port city of Mobile, Ala., that is experiencing rapid growth. (It has already passed Montgomery as Alabama's second-largest city and has Birmingham in its sights.) A stop here allowed for dinner with an old friend.

Al Chamlee and his wife, Linda, suggested Felix's Fish Camp Grill, a seafood place on Mobile Bay. Katrina wreaked havoc on businesses along the bay, but Felix's was built high enough to avoid flood damage, for the most part. Wind damage, however, along with the aging process, caused need for considerable fixing and "re-do."

Felix's is weathered, accented with prominent planking in its construction, and rustic, making you wish you could cast for your supper. Fishing artifacts and pictures from yesteryear, featuring attractive girls posing with bountiful catches, pleasantly take up your time when there is a wait for your table. Felix's is so good and popular there is almost always a wait.

You walk inside and you know you are going to enjoy a good meal, especially if you are seated in Lauren Pulliam's section. Somewhere along the way she adopted the incredible notion that service should come with a generous smile.

Felix's appeal is enhanced by its proximity to the water. At night there are splendorous views to savor. Healthy sea oats stand tall and wave gently as if they are the welcoming committee, bent on ensuring that you enjoy a fulfilling evening. Lights from the growing Mobile skyline reflect off the water. The battleship Alabama, retired for visitors to explore, can be seen in the distance. The stars overhead make you conclude that they might just fall on Alabama the night you are in town.

Anybody want to dance?

It was an evening to remember. Beforehand, there was a tour of Mobile, straining to retain its laidback past as it becomes a high-rise city to get you in a mood for an exciting meal and reminiscing, which was a staple of our evening's conversation. Al, a quick and deft halfback who was invited to play football at LSU, grew up in Wrightsville and was the best player before Herschel Walker to come out of the town. We recalled games, off-the-field episodes, and colorful characters, including our coach, a fellow named Red Bullock. Al drove all the way from Mobile to Red's funeral in Thomson. "I'd have driven to Alaska if that was where his service had been held," Al said.

When we said goodbye at the airport with promises to renew our evenings more often, I headed to a growing security line without the least apprehension or frustration. Any trip with time to spend with treasured friends, accented by a meal at a fetching seafood place, makes the hassle of air travel well worth it.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.