Following our lovely evening in Atlanta and comfortable stay with the Klines (thanks again, guys!), we ventured westward toward the great state of Alabama. I've always thought of this state as the real deep south, the only place where someone like Hank Williams or Forrest Gump could come from.
Our first stop - at a gas station - reinforced that sentiment for me. A brief venture by Joey into the convenience store therein offered us a look into true Southern wisdom with the "road beer." Now I've employed a few road beers of my own during my younger days back in Pa., but never like this. These beers were, first, sold in a gas station, which is generally only being used by people in cars. Second, they were sold on an individual basis - single beers for 89 cents apiece. And last but not least, they were displayed gracefully in a bin in of a pile of ice. It was, by far, the most encouragement to drink and drive that I've ever seen, even after having been through four years of college. Joey bought one for the look on my face when I saw it, but we stashed it into a cooler for later, stationary use.
We had two stops to conquer for the day - Birmingham and Montgomery. Coming from Atlanta, we arrived first in B-ham under rainy skies and went immediately to Vulcan Park & Museum
, which features the world's largest cast iron sculpture at 56 feet tall. I was very curious about this strange edifice - a Roman god seems somewhat uncharacteristic as a symbol of a city like Birmingham.
Nevertheless, we dropped in for photos and took another "walk to the top," as was the case back in Boston with near-nauseating results. I was cautious at best.
Thanksfully, the upward hike was considerably shorter than it looked from the bottom, and offered us some good views of the Birmingham skyline. Granted, they were obscured somewhat by the less-than-beautiful weather, but in cup-half-full-speak, they captured the gray, dreary conditions of the day in spectacular fashion.
Next up was Kelly Ingram Park
, which featured a circular walk that served as a short walkthrough of some of the more sordid events of the civil rights movement. This was the site of SCLC protests back in 1963, which resulted in Birmingham police and firefighters turning dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protestors, rolling them through the streets and inadvertently appalling the rest of the nation when the footage hit television screens. Today, the park is lined with statues to remind visitors of that terrible time in our history - a time that, according to a fellow sitting nearby who offered his opinion to Joey, should not be dwelled upon so much. I beg to differ.
With hopes for a clearing in the rain, we hopped back into the car for Montgomery, the state capital and home of the Rosa Parks Museum
, named for the woman whose refusal to yield her bus seat to a white rider, and subsequent arrest, led to the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
, and eventually to the end of public segregation. We'd managed to arrive on a construction day, meaning that the bulk of the center was closed - but the staff was more than happy to accommodate. One fellow brought us into the art gallery and sat waiting while we walked through, admiring the artwork and snapping photos.
Even better, the children's wing of the museum was still open for a minimal fee, and completely empty of children (bonus points). It featured a timeline, somewhat reminiscent of the National Constitution Center
in Philly, of the civil rights movement beginning with the Plessy v. Ferguson
case and continuing through the end of segregation in Alabama. It was accompanied by the same timeline and a plethora of interviews and other interesting materials on a slew of computers. I was very impressed, if not surprised, by the level of intelligence that even the children's section of the museum exhibited. It featured, among many other items, a blown-up newspaper from the day after the bus company caved and the boycott succeeded, in which interviews with white locals all but threatened violence against blacks for the recent social changes.
We also stopped off at the state capitol, where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederate States of America
, way back in 1861. More than a century later, George Wallace stood on the same spot declaring, "... Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
Today, however, it's 2009, and our president is a black man named Obama who lived in Indonesia during his childhood. Makes you feel goooooooood.
Before we took off, we poked our noses into our travel books and located a winner for dinner - specifically, Dreamland BBQ
. This was a local favorite that evolved into a chain, which might usually bother me if it weren't a regional thing. But with a delicious barbecue platter and a sloppy order of nachos between the three of us, we had full stomachs and no complaints after our gutbusting meal.
We slid back into the car and headed south for Pensacola, failing to bid high enough for Priceline
to accept and settling for an uber-lame motel that our GPS left up to us to locate. More on that crappy place from Joey very soon.