ROBERT ST JOHN: Spring break means beach scene for some folks, but not us

By Robert St. John

Spring break is here. In a brief, 21-day stretch thousands of high schools and universities across the South will release their students from the weighty chains of homework and term papers and set them loose on any number of chilly beaches throughout Alabama and Florida. Let the madness begin.
I’ve never been a big fan of spring break. Actually, I don’t ever remember having a spring break. So maybe I’m just bitter. It’s true, I don’t think the small private school I attended gave us a week off in March. Maybe they did, and my family just didn’t have enough money to go out of town.
Once I reached high school, I was working full time and could never arrange for any time off. The same goes for my college years. Once my stint in higher education was finished, I started opening restaurants and still never really had a spring break.
When my first child reached the first grade I had been in business for 15 years and was able to take off and travel as much as I wanted. In a way, my kids’ spring break vacations are possible because I never had a break. No sweat, there. That’s a swap I’m willing to make.
The dilemma is what to do. I love snow skiing. That is my preference. Though that is a huge financial commitment, and not one I’m willing to make this year.
The St. Johns are not beach dwellers. We like being in the vicinity of the beach. We love the restaurants, attitudes and pace of life in a beach community. The simple fact is: The St. John family is not genetically engineered to endure more than 25 seconds of direct sunlight.
My wife, whose skin tone is two shades lighter than typing paper, passed along that gene to our children. Her family tree originates somewhere in the northern tip of one of those Scandinavian countries. Her ancestors obviously spent 90 percent of their year under major, snow-filled cloud cover in temperatures that never rose above freezing. In short, her people hail from an ancient land called Caucasia.
Whenever we take a beach vacation, we are the family that is just getting to the beach as the lifeguard is taking down the umbrellas. We pass the red-faced sunworshipers on their way back to their condo and politely wave as we head to catch the last remaining rays before the sun sets over the horizon. They always have the same look on their face – oh look, Frank, a family of vampires heading to the beach.
My wife and kids are so fair that, in family photos, I – a fair-skinned man myself – look like an Apache extra in a spaghetti western.
And then there’s all of that sand. I would be a much happier beachgoer if they could make beaches with less sand. It’s everywhere. It gets in your clothes and hair and every crease and crevice. No matter how well one showers at the outdoor shower at the beach, or back in the house or condo, there is still sand in the bed the next morning.
It’s hot, too. Maybe not around this time of year, but in the summer it’s really hot. When they figure out how to make beaches less sandy, less sunny, and less hot then the St. Johns are in 100 percent.
So the mountains are out. The beach is out. New York is too expensive. Europe is too far and too expensive. What to do? I’m looking for something different this year.
Three years ago we headed into Cajun country without a plan. We just showed up in Lafayette and spent a few days in that area and then travelled over to New Orleans for a few days. We had a blast.
Atlanta? The wife wants to go to Charleston or Savannah, but the kids nixed those two. Disney World and Universal Studios? Been there, done that, and again, too far and too expensive.
How about Austin? It’s a little far, but there’s cheap airfare. I love Austin – no sand. There’s great food, excellent music and really cool people. Also, as an added bonus, all of the University of Texas students will be headed to the beach to get sunburns on their backs and sand in all of their crevices, while we’ll be enjoying Tex-Mex joints, great food-truck cuisine and killer music. Works for me. Austin it is.
Be on the lookout for a full report on the Austin food scene in the coming weeks. And if you’re going to the beach for spring break, wear sunscreen, do your best to keep sand out of your crevices, and be nice to any lily-white vampire families you might pass on their way to the beach at the end of the day.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.