Posted by: athike2011 | August 2, 2011

Day 21, Birmingham–Montgomery

Our day started off with ants. I have forgotten to mention this before, how, I’m not sure, as they drive me CRAZY. I have noticed there are way more ants in the south than anywhere else I have been. Most bugs don’t bother me all that much, but everywhere I set my chair I find ants. They are especially fond of Sierra’s food bowl and tail. Today was no different, even the Walmart parking lot had ants. Maybe I’m just grumpy this morning as it dropped to a staggering 82 degrees with 82% humidity last night.

After breakfast a walking tour of downtown Birmingham was on the agenda. On the way to the downtown area we had to drive through a few neighborhoods I hadn’t seen on the way in. This is one of the best parts of having the GPS set to the “less fuel” route, I really never know what crazy way it will give me to get where I’m going, so I often see things most people visiting wouldn’t. It’s not always uplifting or positive experiences, today for example I drove through some amazingly impoverished places. Entire apartment complexes boarded up, and those windows that weren’t were busted out, houses falling apart with boards over every possible entrance. Then, through the yard of one abandoned house to the back porch of another mostly boarded up house, I noticed an older black man naked on the porch bathing himself out of a bucket. This took me back a bit, but it was just a bit of a preview for the rest of my day.

Downtown was a bit better, there were some business men around and some open shops and restaurants, but it was far from any sort of bustling downtown community. It’s an interesting place, short of a few newer places, most of it has not been updated since it was built, and in a number of cases there hasn’t been much maintenance in the mean time. There were a couple of large old churches which were well taken care of, but that was the best of it. On the way back to the car we passed a local peanut roasting company. I picked up a pound of Cajun nuts for todays car ride.

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One thing I noticed again on this drive, but had seen more in Mississippi and forgot to mention is the ivy. It grows like crazy out here. Light posts, street signs, trees, it climbs and covers everything. It looks really cool going up the trees, seemingly straight up from the ground into the branches. Not like anything I’d ever seen before so I thought it worth mentioning.

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On the drive I noticed a house off to the side, which I have deemed to be my dream summer home. There were people there so I didn’t think taking a picture was the best idea, so I will do my best to describe it. The house was a medium size two story all wood home with a gorgeous wrap around porch right on a small private lake. There was a good size two car garage off the side and a large barn/workshop type place on the other side of the driveway. About 100ft into the lake was a small island with a dogwood over a really nicely build gazebo. To get there was a what looked liked handmade, hardwood bridge. Needless to say, I want it. I stopped a local park n the way in to fill up my water jug. I had been in the car with the A/C on for the last few hours, with the humidity the heat index was a life sucking 110 degrees.

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I did a little research on a good cheap place to get lunch in town. Filet & Vine kept coming up, so I went for it. I went with the BBQ sandwich, as it seems to be the tradition for my travels in the south. It felt a little out of place. They had a fantastic wine and beer selection and a good amount of ready to eat, semi-gourmet foods, but the prices were dirt cheap. The sandwich and fries were pretty good, and I sure am glad I don’t live in the south or I swear sweet tea would be the death of me.

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I decided to take Sierra for a walk in the park and spend the afternoon reading. On my way to the park I had a bit of an eye opening experience. I was driving through an beautiful old neighborhood, which houses old enough you could tell some of the garages with converted slave quarters. However as soon as I crossed South Court st, it changed completely. It was worse than Birmingham, the houses were all boarded up and falling apart, but most appeared to still have people living in them. I’m not a talented enough writer to do it justice, so I figured a few paralleling pictures might do the trick. All of these houses are within two to three blocks from each other.

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I’ve noticed a level or arrogance from people who live in big cities regarding the economy. Not to say things were are are easy in the city, but it has gotten much better in most of those place, and as such the people who live there have decided the recession is over. These people have clearly never been to small town, anywhere, USA. 90% of businesses are closed and downtowns in shambles, closed schools and starving out of work people around every corner. For the most part these aren’t people who are “too lazy to work” or “didn’t have jobs anyways”. They are people whose work has been outsourced over the years or just lost because of the lack of money in the community. It’s tough to see, but good to know, too many people are unhappy with their very desirable conditions. Seeing this is a good way to make you feel lucky for having what you do.

Sierra and I eventually got to the park and went for a walk. It was actually a really nice, good sized park. Lots of trees and flowers, two big ponds, one with ducks and turtles, the other with a big fountain. For the most part it was it good shape, though you could tell there was no maintenance crew for the park, that’s for sure.

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The bathroom made me laugh a bit, I wonder if they have ever been used in tandem? Game of scrabble anyone?

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I found a nice picnic area to sit and read for a while. A gentleman walked up and asked if he could buy a smoke from me. I apologized and told him I didn’t smoke. He walked on, but came back about ten minutes later and asked if he could sit with me. We started into conversation. Gerald was a 33 year old from Chicago who moved to Montgomery with his mom when he was ten, after his parents split up. He sat drinking a beer out of a paper bag, which he said he spent his last 75 cents on. Gerald was currently working for a temp agency and he spent all day today waiting without any work. I told him about my travels and how I was living out of the car exploring the US after our attempt at hiking the Appalachian Trail. He told me he had always wanted to go hiking, he had the opportunity once when he was in middle school, but he didn’t go and couldn’t remember why.

He got up suddenly and ran down to the road, flagging down a passing truck. After a brief interaction with the driver he came back up to the picnic table. He told me that was a guy he’s worked for every now and then who comes to this park everyday to drink a bottle of liquor before going home. He knew he had smokes so he went to bum one off him, he said as he lit up. He asked where I was from. I told him California and Washington. His eyes lit up. He told me, god willing, he would get some money some day and see California. He had always wanted to see San Francisco, because there is so much out there, so many people to talk to and be friends with, so much to see. Someday I’ll go there, he said again. Until then, he told me, he was staying in a halfway house, but he spent every evening sitting on that bench in that park until dark.

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I told him I was going to have to get going soon. He asked if I would take him to the store real and back to the park if I didn’t mind. After our conversation and with all the generosity I experienced on the trail I figured it was the least I could do. Sorry mom, I’m sure you don’t approve of me giving ride to strangers. I drove him to the corner store first, where he asked if I had any change I didn’t need. I gave him my 75 cents sitting on my dash and he went inside. He came out with a fresh beer and cracked it as he gave me directions to the store to get himself a snack. We got there and it turned out they didn’t take food stamps anymore so we headed back to the park. He thanked me over and over again for being so kind, and told me if I ever needed anything to just ask, he said I knew where to find him any evening of the week.

After Gerald and I parted ways I headed to Starbucks for my usual internet usage. This one had the worlds worst band playing, which I didn’t know Starbucks even allowed and was the last thing I expected in this town. Tonight will be another Walmart night. Tomorrow I am doing a self guided civil rights history tour. I found a map with significant historical places, along with it was a set of audio files for each locations that I put on my iPod, should be pretty cool.

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Responses

  1. I’m just very proud I raised such a kind and thoughtful son.

  2. I think this is one of my favourite posts you have ever written.

    Wonderful description of your dream house, I can picture it 🙂

    The side-by-side toilets made me laugh out loud!

    I hope Gerald makes it to San Francisco one day. It was nice of you to give him a ride.

  3. Amazing journey!!! Well written and descriptive….I look forward to more reading!! Your momma raised a wonderful son. Look forward to meeting you one day!

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad you are enjoying it and appreciate the kind words!

  4. That ivy is called kudzu–native to Japan a serious invasive here. It has a crazy growth rate–something like a foot a day. Back in my Tennessee days, one of my clients (City of Chattanooga) hired a man who created a kudzu removal business by loaning out his herd of goats. They could clear it out very quickly. Lots of people make kudzu soaps and lotions and you can eat it, too.

    I’ve seem some old abandoned lots with houses and vehicles entirely covered in kudzu so that you can only see a house or car shaped blob of green leaves. It’s crazy stuff!


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