Tuesday, April 24, 2012

With a Banjo on my Knee

So where's the only place in the U.S. where you can toss a mullet from one state, and have it land in another? While I guess you could technically do it at any two bordering states where you happen to have a mullet handy, I am referring to the 27th Annual Interstate Mullet Toss. Every year on the last weekend in April, you can pay $10 to stand in a 10' circle on the eastern edge of Alabama and fling that thing are far as you can into Florida. If you don't happen to have a calendar handy that would be this weekend, and I am so getting a timeshare rental in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Now to clarify, when I talk about a mullet I am not referring to that awful hairstyle made famous by Billy Ray Cyrus in the 1980s (a.k.a. hockey hair, the achy breaky mistakey, a Kentucky mudflap, and many more I can't print here). Although you will most definitely see more than your fair share of those at this annual event, I am referring to a species of fish with the same name. Members of the mugilidae order of fishes, mullet are noted for being among the only fish species to have a gizzard. Gizzards are usually found in birds and reptiles, are used like a second stomach to grind up bits of food. Since the mullet is a filter feeder, this comes in very handy. In many areas they are regarded as a bait fish and not eaten by humans. Yet in parts of Florida, Alabama, and other Gulf Coast states, you are likely to see them on restaurant menus and in seafood stores. Try it for yourself and make up your own mind.

But why toss a mullet? That's an excellent question, and one to which I am afraid I have been unable to find an answer. But the fish is abundant and indigenous to this area, and wherever there is a surplus of a particular item, these things happen. I am sure two Alabama fisherman were looking at a pile of unsold mullet, wondering what to do with them, when one of them said "bet I can toss one farther into Florida than you can". It could have been a lot worse and turned into a interstate mullet fight, like they do with tomatoes at the annual Tomatina in Spain. That would be disgusting, and unlikely to have caught on. And to answer the question I am sure you are thinking about, no the fish are not alive. They are placed dead in vats of water. You may not wear gloves or get sand on the mullet to improve your grip. Provided you stay within the 10' circle on the Alabama side, you can toss it overhand, underhand, through your legs, or whatever floats your boat. Money from event goes to help local youth charities, and the fish themselves are fed to flocks of waiting gulls that also seem to have the last weekend in April marked on their calendars. Go figure.

Of course the mullet toss is not for everyone, and fortunately, there is a lot more to see and do in this area. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores feature white sandy beaches, championship golf, deep sea fishing, numerous historic sites, and world class birding on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. If the weather is not cooperating, which is unlikely, be sure to head across the bay to Mobile to check out the USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, and Mobile Carnival Museum. The latter highlights history and artifacts of Mardi Gras, a celebration whose U.S. tradition traces its origins to Mobile, and not New Orleans. And keep in mind that Florida is just a mullet toss away, where you can visit The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola. It features more than 150 beautifully restored aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, including the world famous Blue Angels.

I am staying at Escapes! to the Gulf at Orange Beach, which is more like a sentence than a resort name, but it gets 4.5 stars from RedWeek members and is nearby everything the Gulf Coast has to offer. My rental is a 2 bedroom/2.5 bath unit with an ocean view, and a jacuzzi they say can fit 6 adults. I know that sounds extravagant, but I didn't know where else to stash 100 pounds of dead practice mullet.

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