We needed to leave our house for Mother’s Day weekend.
We were supposed to be at Disneyland with our newly minted 10-year-old after the Mom 2.0 Summit in L.A., but those plans were made before the sickness started, of course. I burned a couple hundred thousand Amex points and a hundred thousand Delta miles to put the five of us on a small plane from Atlanta to a private island called Little Raccoon Key for some glamping, some fishing, and some isolated nature just a few hours after recording a podcast interview about, ironically, our inability to travel.
I learned about Little Raccoon Key from Phil Rosenthal, who described it when answering an interviewer’s question “What’s one of the greatest trips you’ve been on recently?” like this: “I’ve never experienced anything like it. There’s about 40 acres of nothing but untouched nature. Oh, there was one couple — because you can go glamping on the island — that were there on their honeymoon. So in this tiny grove of trees, Hernan and Alberto set up an asado with incredible fresh seafood and grilled vegetables. And you’re sitting at a picnic table in the middle of your own island watching the sunset. You’re drinking wine. You’re laughing with friends. You’re there a few hours and it feels like you’ve time traveled or something. It’s unforgettable.”
Since crossing state lines can be tricky now, and since I’m still under a DOD mandate that limits my travel radius, a remote island that’s still in Georgia seemed a perfectly appropriate weekend getaway. But what would flying be like in May 2020?
We dropped off Scout at her favorite boarding place and parked at the airport; the lot was virtually empty. We walked into the South Terminal, which was also virtually empty, went through Clear / TSA Pre-Check (also virtually empty), rode the plane train (completely empty) to Concourse D (nearly empty) and waited by our gate. We’d arrived at the airport about 45 minutes before our flight was to take off; now we had like 35 minutes to stand around and wait.
My bride sewed us all cloth masks for the occasion, so we pulled them out once on the plane. The flight only had about 10 passengers, but for some reason, we were all seated in rows 4-6, while the rest of the plane was empty. The single flight attendant was masked, and once we were airborne, she handed each of us a clear plastic bag containing Purell hand sanitizer, Cheez-its, biscoff cookies, and a small bottle of Dasani water. The 35-minute flight was uneventful, and we walked outside to sunshine and an extra 20 degrees of warmth.
Our driver was named Adam, and as we left the Brunswick/ Golden Isles airport, we saw lots of cars parked and people lined up on the sidewalk–almost all of them black–just before we crossed a long cabled bridge. “What’s going on there?” I asked. Adam paused.
“Well, this has been a hard few days for our community, and…”
“Oh yeah, Brunswick is where that jogger was shot–Ahmaud Arbery–by a father and son?”
“I served on the police force for a long time with the dad…”
“So, knowing him well, do you think there was any racial component to the shooting?”
“The dad…he was…I’ll say it like this–he was of the ‘Old South’ mindset and…well, I’m glad I can’t be on the jury, I’ll say that!”
We rode in silence across the Sidney Lanier bridge, 500 feet above the Brunswick River, before turning left to cross onto Jekyll Island, park at the marina, and await our transport to Little Raccoon Key. We had a couple jalapeno guava margaritas from Zachry’s as we waited, since they were on special happy hour and all.
The key has 36 acres. There’s a large tent with a little toilet behind it and an outdoor shower a few feet away. There’s a gas grill and a fire pit with a grate for cooking. A chef from Del Sur was waiting on us with a full spread — an asado. It was delicious. My oldest practiced her Spanish with the chef while we chowed down on pork, beef, chicken, and spicy veggies with bread.
And then there were the empanadas. Here’s how Phil described them in the interview referenced above: “…they make the world’s greatest empanadas. They’re light, almost like a fine French pastry, with the most delicious fillings — lamb or salmon or filet mignon. And the seasoning, the spice… I swear they could make a fortune just selling empanadas. They are phenomenal. (I’m so excited to get to have them again tonight.) They also cook great grilled meats like in Argentina — in Golden Isles of Georgia, of all places.“
We stayed up until dark, watching the sun set across the water; the children had their own smaller tent with cots, and we had the larger tent with a king-sized bed inside.
The next day was Mother’s Day. We cooked eggs on the gas grill griddle and paired it with asado leftovers before walking to the other side of the island, across layers and layers of oyster shells to a large reef visible as the tide pulled away. A man we’d met the day before came by on a boat to empty trash, check on us, and bring beer plus s’more materials for the children.
It was the first day in months and months that we had no plans or obligations; we just explored the island and its beaches, read books, and enjoyed one another’s company somewhere besides our house and yard in Atlanta. I had arranged for flowers to be delivered for Mother’s Day to my bride, and we called each of our mothers from the beach.
That night, we made s’mores and played games before once again watching the sun set.
Monday morning, we packed our things and met a fisherman named Brad for a few hours of saltwater fishing–the first time we’d ever done such as a family. I caught the first fish, a small bonnethead shark. During the rest of the time we were on the water, all 3 of the children caught fish–either whiting, sharks, or rays. My bride caught the most fish and the most variety of fish–including a 30-pound stingray and multiple sharks that made for exciting battles for her to fight and for me to photograph.
About 12:30, we headed back to the marina, grabbed our backpacks, met Adam the driver, and headed toward the Brunswick/Golden Isles airport, stopping for lunch at Marshside Grill — the first time we’ve had a meal inside a restaurant in 2 months. Other than our server’s face mask and every other table’s having painter’s tape across it to indicate its being “off limits,” it was like dining before the pandemic, and both the fish and the experience were great. The flight back was slightly more populated than the flight down; we got to Atlanta Monday evening in time to retrieve Scout and head home well before dark.
I loved this 3-day weekend getaway. It would have been a nice break from normalcy at any time, but it was especially welcomed during a time when “normalcy” has meant deprivation from the activities we typically enjoy as a family. Being on a boat or on an island all to ourselves for a couple days, we were able to forget about polarized political factions arguing over how to handle the reopening of our country and just enjoy its natural beauty instead.
I’ve already started looking for the next socially distant escape, to be planned for later this month!