Returning to The Beau
I'll never forget that July, when I was at least fourteen or fifteen years old, my sister, father and I put on our bathing suits and took the elevator down to the Beau Rivage pool. The towel girl sighed, "it'll be open in three hours. Someone pooped in the pool and we're loading it with chlorine to clean it." My father looked at the tableau: grecian style pillars surrounded the pool chairs with bright blue awnings and everyone was tanning and reading magazines.
"We'll wait," my dad said. We took three pool chairs in the sun. The Gulf Coast humidity was stifling and the sun started to fry us slowly. We lifted the flag on the back of our chair to summon three Shirley Temple's with little red umbrellas. I flipped through an issue of J-14 magazine or Seventeen.
From far away I noticed a man -- tall, over-tanned, perhaps in his early 40s -- approaching the pool area. He bypassed the towel stand. The attendant was mid-sentence and tried to stop him but he kept going. He took off his white t-shirt and tossed it on a chair and dove gracefully in the pool. Everyone gasped collectively. An elderly woman in a polka-dotted one piece got up from her chair, a magazine dangling in her other hand, high-heeled flip flop shoes. When the man finished his lap she ran to the edge of the pool and began whispering in his ear. He looked around, his face turning red.
"Oh that's why the pool is empty!" he said. "I thought you were all waiting on me." The silence that had already existed poolside now felt more pronounced.
"Yuck," said dad. "Let's hope he's having a shower."
I went to Alabama in 2017 for the Christmas Holiday. The plan for the day: dinner at home and then a trip to the casino. This was tradition on my trips back home visit my parents. The only question was which casino?
"Let's go to The Beau," father said, referencing the Beau Rivage by its casual nickname. I spent many weekends there in my preteen years, 19 years ago. It had such a high honor in my memories and I could count off my stories in a list: the one long lunch when mother sent back a dish and the chef came out to see who insulted his "seafood sampler"; the evening we walked from the casino along the beach for dinner and my sister had her first soft shell crab. The pool in all its Grecian-style glory! It was four feet deep all the way around, perfect for kids like us. The rooms were to die for -- floral bedspreads in a provincial style and the bathroom had a yellow and cream stripped wall paper that I adored and a separate room for a shower (which I thought was rather fancy at the time).
Then, like much of the Mississippi coast, Katrina destroyed it. It was rebuilt, but by that time we'd moved on from Biloxi vacations to visiting New York City instead.
"No one wins at the Beau," my mother said last winter. ROI was a major factor in picking a casino. For Biloxi casino's, ROI was basically determined through anecdotal word-of-mouth.
"You won $500 once, I think," I said.
"When? I don't remember it."
"The night you left us in the room and went to the casino. We danced around the room and played the radio. You called us from the lobby to check on us. You said you'd won some money."
"I left you alone?"
"We loved it. We were so happy we didn't know what to do first."
That night was the first time we got a taste of an adult-free world. My sister and I were the children of close range helicopter parents who only loosened their leash in hotels. We relished small things like walking to the ice machine alone. So being in a hotel room alone was a big moment.
"I must have gone crazy," mom said as she remembered it.
Dad stood up and stretched. It had been decided. "Lets go to the Beau."
At sundown we drove west. I was nervous. I didn't want to see the Beau Rivage through my jaded, adult eyes. I wanted to always remember it the way that I remembered it as a preteen: a beautiful, lush place that transported me from the Redneck Riviera to the south of France. I never thought I'd go anywhere equally as majestic.
But now, you see, I've travelled. I know that on the matrix of beautiful world locations, The Beau is in the cross section of "beautiful in comparison to its surroundings" but also adjacent to “corporate” and “gauche”.
After forty-five minutes of driving a curving off-ramp dropped us right at the entrance. By god -- I craned my head out the window of the car to look up -- it hadn't changed.
We rode the elevator to the lobby and I couldn't stop pointing to make note of a memory in a specific spot then suddenly doubting myself, Finger to my chin: “was this the spot where? Well, no, maybe it was over there instead?” The ice cream shop still sits in it's corner (we had a magical night once having ice cream on the front porch in the evening). They used to pump the same Jessica Simpson song through the loud speakers and pause it to play the theme song to their resident entertainers: Cirque du Soleil. Now? Top 40 and smooth jazz. I admired the flower boxes on the floor, a design maneuver meant to bottleneck crowds from one spot and squeeze them out into the casino. They always irked my father. Once he pulled over a bell hop and said: “can’t you do anything about the flower boxes?” And the man shrugged. “I’m giving you an idea so you can get a promotion!” he joked.
I beelined past the poker tables to the ATM. There was a delicate little Japanese restaurant with tatami floors and bamboo walls that we adored was replaced by a sports bar. "Shame, ain't it," dad remarked. Must everything change?
I put $100 in our favorite machine. I sucked in the familiar smell of cigarette smoke and the beep-beep-cha-ching of the neighboring players. Every time I made a play on a slot machine a jolt of excitement and suspense filled my body and disappears instantly when I lose. My mother and I kept losing so we moved to a cheap machine then back to the $1 machines and lost my father somewhere. Hours went by.
Defeated we dragged our feet to the gift shops. I think at some point in my adolescence I had a Beau Rivage mug. Where did it go?
We decided to go home, but we were all stalling by the entrance, trying to think of something else to do. It was like the last night in a new city, no one wants to go to bed because then the trip is officially over. We hit the road again and crossed all the bridges I knew well. No, things are never as magical as they are when we are children. The more we leave home, the more adulthood makes snobs of us.