It's not like my new Nashville or anything, but until today I had sort of written this place off.
Sure the dragonflies are plentiful and the size of small birds, the millipedes are still Jurassic size, and it feels like living inside of the sun, but there is a lot here to love.
Let's start with the Waffle Houses. You can't drive five miles without stumbling across one, and if I could live on Texas Toast egg melt sandwiches for the rest of my life, I'd swear off Chipotle in an Alabama second.
Then there is this chick:
Sometimes our road trips make me feel like a time traveler. History gets to me - it happens every time - on the Gettysburg battlefield, the bathroom in Graceland, dinosaur trackway, the Ford Theater, everything shuts down and it's like I'm there, caught in that moment on the very spot where it happened. This was exactly the same. Standing at Rosa Parks bus stop in Montgomery, Alabama, with tears rolling down my face, I felt her exhaustion, her resolve, the unfairness of it all.
Rico said, "Why the tears? Is it just knowing that people could be so brave?"
"No. It's knowing that people could be so terrible to each other."
I'm sort of a pacifist. I've always admired people who stood up for what is right, not by shouting or fighting, or peppering Facebook with hashtags, but by standing, or in this case - sitting, with grace and dignity in a way that implores people to listen, to see the real humanity in everyone. It's still what I hope will save us all.
But Alabama has some recently cool stuff as well.
The Roadtrippers ap has been a huge help to us this time around, and today it led us to an unexpected treasure. The movie/broadway musical, Big Fish has always reminded me of my dad, and the film set is still standing on Jackson Lake Island on the Alabama River. Since Tim Burton is Punk's favorite movie director, we couldn't pass up the chance to explore a real Burton set, even if it is a ghost town inhabited by wild goats.
The fictional town of Spectre has seen better days - the film is 20 years old and the set, which looks authentic, was actually contructed of plywood and foam. But several of the buildings are still standing.
Our favorites were the church, some of the enchanted forest, and the line of shoes hanging above the trees.
The island is private property, so you have to call to have the gate opened, and pay a small touring fee. Apparently Tim Burton didn't want to dismantle the town of Spectre, so he paid the owners to allow him to leave it up. Yoda loved sharing her puff corn with the outgoing leader of the wild goat gang. I was cool with that, because I'm pretty sure goats aren't the only thing living on this island, and I was counting on his stamping hooves to keep the cottonmouths away.
Our lunch stop was Sneaky Pete's in Birmingham for hot dogs and Grapico drink (a southern classic, which Punk recommends and I do not). I can, however vouch for the chili cheese dogs and seasoned fries - excellent.
We took a walk through Kelly Ingram Park, which was the site of the children's protests in 1963. When Birmingham Public Safety Comissioner Bull Connor ordered 200 black children to be jailed for skipping school, 1000 more children showed up in protest at Kelly Ingram Park. Since the jail was already full, Connor ordered firefighters to unleash attack dogs and full pressure fire hoses on the children! Who continued to stand their ground. Statues throughout the park commemorate these moments in civil rights history. The cell phone guided your points out specific areas of the park, as well as the 16th street Baptist Church where the KKK killed four young girls when bombing the church.
Would I recommend Kelly Ingram Park? No, not unless you want to think about the worst things that humanity can do to each other. Should everybody go?
Everyone should see, so they will never be blind to it.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is across the street from the park, and was our final stop in Alabama. Our tour group included a black woman who'd grown up in the Deep South. She lived it. "Lord, I remember that too well," she said as we passed by the separate but "equal" drinking fountains.
She turned her head away at the KKK robes and said, "It's too real."
"Did you live this?" Rico asked her.
"More times than you can imagine."
They held hands for a moment before we moved on.
Yoda asked why this place is sad. I showed her the white kids school room versus the black kids school rooms.
"Wow, those rooms are small," she said, "and neither of them have markers, iPads, or toys. They're both bad."
Rather than try to explain her daddy's inferior third grade education, I put it ths way, "OK, remember when we went to Disneyworld?"
"Remember how much you wanted to meet Elsa and Anna?"
"What if, when we got there, the workers said, 'Sorry, but little girls with brown hair and brown eyes can't meet the princesses, only girls with blonde hair and blue eyes like Kooka."
"It wouldn't be fair. It would be mean. I would feel really sad." She paused and looked at the drinking fountains with new eyes. "I'll bet those people felt really sad."