BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Last Friday night, I made the mistake of taking Highway 90 home to Ocean Springs. It took me 45 minutes to travel from the station on Debuys Road to the Treasure Bay Casino, a distance of just a few miles. The reason? The beach highway was packed wall to wall with cruisers. My patience wore thin, and without sounding crass, let's just say a few colorful words escaped my lips, mostly directed at our slow moving visitors.
But then, a thought hit me, and I felt a bit ashamed of myself. Here were these cruisers, some 4,000 strong, who had come to the coast to take a chance on us.
You see, Cruisin' the Coast was a huge event prior to Katrina. Then the killer storm struck in August of 2005, canceling that years' festivities. That's because there was no Highway 90 to cruise. Even the parts that were left, were in disrepair.
The following year, the cruisers came back. The coast was still in recovery mode, but they came anyway. Hotels were hard to find, and there were few amenities. But still they came. Not as many as before Katrina, but they showed up with their classic cars revving up, and their wallets opening up.
The next year they came again, giving us hope that the coast just might recover from Katrina.
And then this year, the beach highway was finished and it was a beautiful ride from one end of the coast to the other. The cruisers showed up in droves this year, displaying their proud antiques for all to see, and again opening up their wallets. This year, the economic impact of Cruisin' the Coast is estimated in the millions of dollars. And those dollars are going a long way in helping our tourism industry recover.
Yes, we still have a long way to go, but with the cruisers' help, we are going to make it back, bigger and better than ever.
So the next time I find myself using colorful language directed at our friends from across the country, I will bite my tongue and salute them instead. Because without their help and their belief in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, our long road back from Katrina would come to a dead end.