Friday, November 19, 2010

Greyhound Bussing America [Pt.3]

Atlanta, Georgia to Mobile, Alabama. Distance: 329 Miles (529 kms)

In which I continue to push my luck…

The older I get, the more I want to travel, and the more I travel, the more I want to undertake one Great American Road Trip. Or even two.

This journey from New York City to New Orleans isn’t it, but it’s close.

For me, a great road trip should involve lots of stops and diversions. It should allow time to follow interesting back roads, and minor highways. It should get me off the beaten track, exploring quiet corners and grand vistas. It should be challenging and relaxing by turn. It should give me the opportunity to stay in cheap hotels, eat large, greasy hamburgers – and yes, I do want fries with that – and give me a reason to get up in the morning complaining about the lumpy bed and roach infested bathroom.

Damn it – I’m getting old and soft, and I don’t like it! I need to push myself more, and test myself more, and I need to do it now, not in ten years or even five. The road may go forever, but I won’t. The clock is ticking, and time is not on my side.

But I digress. Where was I?

Ah, yes, I was travelling down the I-85 towards the state line that marks the boundary between Georgia and Alabama. It’s 7.25AM, and a golden sunrise has just broken above the horizon heralding a beautiful day ahead.

Now read on…

Image: A page from my pocket notebook which records the following…

8.40AM: Crossed into Alabama. Now off freeways down rural two lanes. Unleaded Petrol $2.40 a gallon. Alabama is a land of a million churches; abandoned weatherboard, shingled shacks and homes; donkeys; West 80 (two lane road); cows; horses; rural farms; crops; trailer homes; roadside memorials marking fatal auto accidents; lumber trucks; plantation timber; into Macon County; fibro and cement; countless billboards.


At last. This is it! This is what I have come to see. For hundreds of miles we’ve been speeding along multi-laned Freeways, down Thruways, over Turnpikes, traversing Parkways and I don’t know what else, but now – for a brief moment in time – we are finally off the fast lanes heading towards Tuskegee, Alabama, on West 80, a two lane road that winds roughly parallel to the I-85. But more importantly, it winds past a landscape that is almost a perfect copy of the images of the American South I have in my head.

Pleasant Valley Church. Photo courtesy of Mary Alice...


Every few hundreds yards or so there seems to be an old one-roomed weatherboard church. Some appear to be still in use, others are well passed their use-by date. Some properties remind me of old cotton plantations, and for all I know they are old cotton plantations. Trailer homes can be seen nestled under trees, and the usual collection of farm yard debris seen on farms all over the world (old cars, rusting farm machinery, wood piles, oil drums, worn tyres, broken play equipment, etc), is scattered about in back lots or no longer used parts of the property.

Small roadside stores appear and disappear quickly as we speed towards our next stop. Ancient clapboard shacks, paint peeling, walls askew, windows broken and doors ajar, are dotted across the landscape. The only thing missing is the aged black bluesman sitting on the porch singing Cross Road Blues. We pass small farm machinery franchises selling John Deere tractors, little used car yards filled with cheap battered trucks and SUVs, and always, always, the ever-present tiny, local Southern Baptist Churches. A phrase keeps popping into my head: weatherboard and shingle, weatherboard and shingle, and I write:

Weatherboard and shingle,

Fibro and cement.

A thousand tiny churches,

Alabama came and went.

© 2010. Jim Lesses. All Rights Reserved.

Tuskegee, Alabama

At 9.25AM, we reach the roadside service station on the Martin Luther King Jr. Highway that doubles as Greyhound's Tuskegee Bus Station for a five minute pick up and drop off stop, but who cares? It gives me an excuse to write about Tuskegee, Alabama, population (in 2005) 11, 950.

A sign nearby points to Rosa Parks Plaza. Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist was born in Tuskegee on February 4, 1913. It was Rosa Parks whose refusal to give up her bus seat to white passengers became the catalyst for the year-long Montgomery bus boycott that began Monday, December 5, 1955 and lasted 381 days. Although Rosa was not the first person to refuse to give up her seat, her decision and the arrest which followed was the 'straw that broke the camels back', and gave hope and focus to the growing civil rights movement across the United States.

Another famous resident, Lionel Richie, was also born and raised in Tuskegee. He graduated from Tuskegee University, and of course has gone on to be a highly successful R&B singer, songwriter, composer, producer and occasional actor.

Tuskegee Airmen - Circa May 1942 to Aug 1943 Location likely Southern Italy or North Africa [Source: Wikipedia...]

This small, rural Alabaman town was also the training ground for the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a popular name bestowed on a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. Formally, they were the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and its members were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces.

So much history – so little time. And I would dearly love to have time to visit every place of interest I have passed over the last eight hundred miles. But it is not to be.

If this entry is in danger of turning into a black American history lesson, I apologise… Actually, no I don’t. I’m on a Greyhound Bus travelling through the heart of the American south, for goodness’ sake, and this part of the country is steeped in the history of black American relationships with all the baggage that entails. After all, the fledgling American nation went to war with itself over the way blacks were being treated in the south (and in the north). And some would say that ‘war’ has been going on ever since.

I could of course, have chosen to spend a week at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa, located in Hoover, Alabama, where "The natural beauty of a Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail championship golf course surrounds this renaissance-style luxury hotel." Then I could have regaled you with descriptions of the resorts "refined comfort and sophistication," and described how I spent each morning play a round or two of golf, before resting by the pool in the afternoon sipping martini's while a resort beautician trimmed my ingrown toe nails! Somehow, I don’t think so. As I am sure you have worked out by now, that is not the type of experiential travelogue you are going to get from me.

But I digress again.

Back on the I-85 we speed our way towards Montgomery, and I bid farewell to West 80. High above dense woods in rural east Alabama, I spot a flight of four birds of prey circling, watching, waiting for their morning meal. Which reminds me: I haven’t eaten anything substantial since ‘breakfast’ at 4.30AM in Atlanta, Georgia. Thankfully, it’s less than an hour to Montgomery. I hope the coffee is hot.

Lot’s of interesting names flash by along either side of the highway: Waffle House; Piggly Wiggly; Grease Monkey, an auto mechanic where Our certified crew is here to help you; Hide Away Bar & Grill, I wonder if people have trouble finding it!; Chick Filla with its breakfast, playground and diner; Arby’s, where bus drivers eat free, but presumably only if they bring a bus load of passengers in with them; Whataburger; Shoney’s; Colonel Dixie and their World Famous Dixie Dog (‘World Famous’? Really? We seem to have missed that news in Australia.); and on and on. Damn – all these burger joints and roadside cafés are making me hungry!

A roadside billboard proclaims: Selma, Alabama: Historic Places and Social Graces.”

Image: Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 [Source: Wikipedia]

During the Civil Rights Movement in the early and mid-1960s, Selma was a focal point for desegregation and voting rights campaigns. After numerous attempts by blacks to register to vote resulted in over 3,000 arrests, police violence, and economic retaliation, the campaign culminated in the Selma to Montgomery marches – which represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement.

On March 7, 1965, approximately 600 civil rights marchers departed Selma on U.S. Highway 80, heading east. They reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only six blocks away, before being met by state troopers and local sheriff's deputies, who attacked them, using tear gas and billy clubs, and drove them back to Selma.

Following that attack, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders went to court to argue for the right to march from Selma to Montgomery, the site of the state capital. The Federal District Court Judge for the area, decided in favour of the demonstrators, and on March 21, 1965, approximately 3,200 marchers departed for Montgomery, walking 12 miles per day, and sleeping in nearby fields. By the time they reached the capitol, four days later on March 25, their strength had swelled to around 25,000 people. [Source: Wikipedia… ]

More billboards advertising hotel and motels; fast food outlets and real estate offices; and state attractions. They dominate open country, spoiling views and quite frankly are a blight on the landscape. They are urging, insisting, nagging at you always to stop and spend and eat. Which reminds me – again – that’s it’s time for some nourishment.

At 10.10AM we pull into the Greyhound Station in Montgomery, Alabama, a city steeped in America’s modern history. Central to the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of Martin Luther King Jr., and the transformation of race relations in late 20th century America.

Our stop in Montgomery is a brief 30 minutes, and I only have time for a coffee – yes, it is hot – and a couple of cookies. Anything more substantial and nourishing will have to wait until Mobile where we have a full hour between this leg of the journey and the final run into New Orleans.

A highway exit sign (Exit 114, or thereabouts) directs travellers to the Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum in Georgiana, Alabama. Hank wasn’t born in Georgiana, he was born up the road in the small town of Mount Olive, about 10 miles north of Birmingham, AL., but Georgiana became his boyhood home, and you can find it at 127 Rose Street. I wonder if Mount Olive has their own Hank Williams Childhood Home and Museum?

Image courtesy of Kayaking The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta...

Seemingly, out of the blue we are travelling over water. Signage indicates that we have reached the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Not to be confused with its giant neighbour, the Mississippi Delta, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a vast region of wetlands known by various names, including the Mobile delta, or simply the delta. The area is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in Alabama, and indeed in the entire United States. The delta is Alabama's principal remaining natural terrain, and because of this it has been designated a national landmark. [Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama...]

The I-65 rises and falls over wide swathes of water, allowing boats and other marine craft to pass under the highway. The bridge over the Mobile River is particularly high, allowing larger river craft (or small merchant ships) to pass beneath it.

Mobile-Tensaw Delta image courtesy of Forever Wild...

Green. Green. Everything is green. Scattered cumulus clouds, heavy with moisture pass high overhead. If they get together I expect they could unleash a pretty impressive downpour, but for now they seem to be content to float by reserving their contents for other parts of the country.

Mobile is the last major city in Alabama, and then we hit Louisiana. But first – a meal break in Mobile. Later, after a breakfast/lunch of hamburger and chips, soda, coffee and a muffin (I did say “nourishing” didn’t I?), I’m ready to roll again. Only another 4.5 hours before we reach New Orleans. Yeah!

To be continued…

Read The Full Greyhound Bussing America Trip Report:
[Part 1] New York City to Philadelphia, PA…
[Part 2] Philadelphia, PA to Raleigh, NC…
[Part 3] Raleigh, NC to Mobile, AL…
[Part 4] Mobile, AL to New Orleans…
[Part 5] Tips and Advice…
[Part 6] A Final Word…

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments, Thoughts and Feedback is encouraged.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...