Biloxi Bounty

“It will be forty minutes before I can seat you,” announced the hostess.

“So what was the point of making a 7 pm reservation?” I protested.

An entitled-looking woman strode up to the seating station, interrupting my conversation.

“Any idea how much longer?” she fumed. Residual cigarette smoke left a trail after her words.

The hostess was poised and ready with an answer. “I promise to text you as soon as your party’s table opens up.”

Emphatically, “Nevermind. We’re going to the Hard Rock location across the street,” she huffed, and strode away.

The hostess, not missing a beat, returned to me. “So your wait time has now been cut to thirty minutes. If I could just have your phone number?”

“Is it always this busy?” I asked, already anticipating the answer.

“Everyday and all the time,” she shrugged.

Leah and I are waiting to be seated at the Half Shell Oyster House in Biloxi, MS, the second of seven locations spread throughout the Gulf coast, and everyone says it’s well worth the wait. The shucker at the raw bar claims that on average, he will prepare eight sacks of a dozen dozen oysters for weekday diners.

When I briefly taught English at the New York Harbor School, I learned about the Billion Oyster Project launched on Governors Island, whose 20-year mission is to reclaim the New York Harbor habitat by seeding new oyster beds around the island in hopes of restoring a vibrant aquaculture to the area–a dream only made possible after passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972, which prohibited dumping raw sewage and toxic waste into the Harbor.

Since many Project volunteers are high school interns from the Harbor School on Governors Island, faculty staged an end-of-semester celebration where hundreds of oysters were opened for hundreds of curious inner city students, many who have never seen, touched, or smelled, let alone tasted an oyster. Watching the kids’ faces was priceless. For those who dared to try one, it was a warm and naked oyster. If they only knew there was a better way to enjoy a bivalve.

On the other hand, the Oyster House does it with culinary correctness. The half dozen half shells that arrived to the table were so plump, they were pushing each other off the icy plate. Each one was swimming in its briny soup, and glistening with freshness.


“C’mon, Leah,” I advertised, “you’ve got to try this. These are amazing,”

Neal and oyster.jpgLeah was horrified. “Eww, no! I don’t know how you can eat that,” she objected. “It looks like it’s still living.”

“And that’s why it tastes so good,” I slurped.

The entrees were equally as tasty. We both had royal red shrimp different ways; Leah enjoyed a 1/2 lb. of peel and eat shrimp…

peel shrimp.jpg

while my shrimp were prepared Orleans style–in a hot Cajun butter sauce–with jalapeno hush puppies on the side. The beverage du jour was iced cold vodka and ginger beer. Wow!!

Shrimp Orleans.jpg

Afterwards, we walked across the road to the Hard Rock Casino,

Hard Rock.jpgbut that’s another story.

For the whole enchilada on half shell info, check out:

and for more on the Billion Oyster Project, see:


Blogger’s Preamble

This trip has been in the planning stages for the better part of two years, but it’s been a vision of mine for over 30 years. Two things I realized early on: I’d have to wait until I retired, and I’d have to find someone compatible enough to join me on this wacky adventure. I’m happy to report that both conditions have been met.

Most importantly, Leah and I have been together for nearly 12 years because we forgive each other’s most embarrassing moments and tolerate each other’s most defining idiosyncrasies. We have become formidable collaborators regardless of our separate opinions and talents. Our curiosity knows no boundaries, and our appreciation of the “great outdoors” is a driving force to explore the outer limits.

We spent four weeks together last summer romping through Alaska and Yukon in preparation for this trip. Our objective was simple: to still be talking to each other by the time we returned home. While there were some tense moments along the way, it was always the laughter that eased every crisis. By passing this test, it allowed us to set our sights on bigger goals.

Of course, all of this became possible by my retiring from the NYC Department of Education after eleven years of teaching high school to students with special needs. Teaching Special Education was not a calling; it was an assignment. By enrolling and being selected into the 2006 cohort of the Teaching Fellowship, I was introduced to an urban population of teenagers that collectively knew the struggles of academic failure, the isolation of being different, the limits of parental/guardian support, and the epic challenge to be better than everyone’s expectations.

It wasn’t easy. There were a few victories along the way, but way too many disappointments made more disappointing by a system that lost its way. Too often, colleagues of mine were reminded by administrators that “It’s all about the kids,” yet the rhetoric always exceeded the reality. I’ve seen my share of budget misappropriations, bully pulpit principals, invisible discipline accountability, and city denial. I’m sure it wasn’t always this way, because I’ve met so many great teachers during my tenure who would do anything for their students, and leverage their students’ successes in order to continue teaching. Yet, it was enough to make me weary and yearn for more.

This trip is all about yearning for more. It’s about discovery, reflection and purpose.