disclaimer: I have decided that, because I spend so much time processing photos that it comprises my ability to do daily blog posts (and it always has), from now on I will only include cellphone pics in these posts. I will then publish a separate “photos” post after the trip is over and it will include the more deliberate, processed photos.
Day One. Actually, it was just several hours past the time I checked in to the hotel. Let’s say it was eight hours later when I dragged (or is it drug?) my stuff down to the office, interrupted the ladies having a conversation behind the counter and hurried outside just in time to get on the airport shuttle, which had already departed but stopped long enough for me to catch up.
Minutes later, I was in my Ford Focus. It has the whole Microsoft Lynk/Linc/Lync…however it’s spelled. Oddly, though, I couldn’t get my phone to sync with the bluetooth. A quick web search brought complaints that other’s Galaxy S5s couldn’t be recognized by the Microsoft system. Oh well, I knew I’d enjoy scanning the radio (and reprogramming my favorites every time I arrive in a new metro area.)
I had the car for exactly 48 hours and the obvious plan was to go east, not just in my quest to check states off my list – I think I am at 33 or 36 currently. I don’t remember. I also went east in order to see the Gulf of Mexico and hopefully to explore some history. Not Katrina history, but perhaps civil rights history. So, I was in my car. I’ll zoom past the part about stopping by a grocery store and seeing the numerous beds of fresh shrimp at something like $16/pound. I just needed bottled water.
Destination: Abita Brewing. Just north of Lake Ponchartrain which is immediately north of New Orleans. Lake Ponchartrain Causeway is a 23 mile long bridge traversing the water north-south. It is the longest over-water bridge in the world. Shortly after exiting the causeway, I was no longer in the city! It instantly looked like the setting for The Waterboy – the movie starring Adam Sandler. This area was very rural, with large plots of land, swampy areas, and forests of trees I couldn’t identify. I reached the city of Abita Springs, which looked very typically Louisiana-ish, very swamp-ish. The brewpub was at a bend in the road at a junction of roads going multiple directions. I parked and enjoyed my time inside, with several tasters (I loved the “Andygator”) , a fresh catfish po-boy, and several TV feeds of the U. of Alabama softball game above the bar. After my meal, I perused a farm stand across the street and strolled down a historic trace now turned into a bike and jogging path that seemingly goes for miles through the woods and from small town to small town.
Destination: Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. I think these were less than an hour away. Gulfport was first and I had no reason to visit it, other than that it is the first major city in Mississippi on the water. I arrived and quickly decided to keep on going. I noticed a huge casino but other than that, it was fairly disappointing. A few miles down the road was Beauvoir, the estate of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis. Then the timeshares, oceanfront resorts, and casinos appeared. I pondered how much of it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina almost ten years ago. It doesn’t seem that long ago; it feels more like five to me. Minutes later, I arrived in Biloxi. That’s “buh-luck-see,” as they are quick to point out. I stopped at the visitor center which was housed in a historic building and featured a great museum within its walls. Across the street, a lighthouse which was heavily damaged by the hurricane. It took five years to renovate it. Just beyond that the beach. I thought there might still be oil visible from the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe, but the sand was very clean. I rolled up my jeans and walked around in the water. Others were swimming nearby. It was easily 70 degrees though the couple I started a conversation with said it is well into the high 80s in the summer. That’s probably 25-30 degrees water than the Pacific Ocean is right now off the Oregon coast. The couple told me the beach was quickly repaired, mostly because of the massive casino a half mile away (see the photo), but that closer to Louisiana, one can still see the oil and birds with oil on them.
Destination: Mobile, Alabama. Right about at the Mississippi-Alabama border the highway turned into a scenic wonderland. There is beauty on both sides of the road – swamps, forests, tranquil waterways. I didn’t see any gators but I was driving by at 70 mph. I wanted to stop several times but there were no areas to pull over, no scenic viewpoints that are so frequently on the west coast. It was really gorgeous. It was about an hour up to Mobile and my other biggest observation besides the scenery is that the speed limit is not applicable. There are dual signs posted everywhere: “maximum speed 70 / minimum speed 40” but those must just be up there because it’s an interstate. The flow of traffic was easily 85 for most of the way. While I saw about 20 police cars in the couple hours I was in LA, I didn’t see a single police car in hundreds of miles through Alabama. Mobile is on the water – the USS Alabama rests there. I planned to stop in the historic area and just walk around a bit. I actually ignored my GPS and then got lost and had to turn around because, as you approach Mobile, you can veer left for “Mobile” or veer right for “Florida.” I chose left, but no, you get to downtown Mobile by taking the interstate to Florida. Strange. Anyhow, I walked around for maybe 30 minutes and grabbed a drink at a very Portlandish coffeeshop.
Destination: Montgomery. Purpose: Get gas at the one Costco within several hundred miles. Fill up my tank for $21. Yes, that’s right. This city was actually my planned stop for the night and it was just past sunset. I could drive west through Selma tomorrow. However, about 100 miles north of here is Birmingham, a bigger city with possibly as much or more history. Tomorrow is very flexible, so I just said “Why Not?” and planned to keep driving late into the night. In the last few years, I have said “yes” and “why not?” much more than ever before, and I seem to keep getting rewarded for doing so. We’ll see how Birmingham is. I know I’ll make the absolute best of it anyway. By the way, the final point that convinced me to keep going is that the website Thrillist just published a list of the 33 best beer bars in America and one from Birmingham is on the list. I checked on Yelp and saw it closed at midnight. I was projected to get into Birmingham around 10:30. The J. Clyde Pub shall be my dinner, methinks. And several beers, I’m sure. Next step. Use my priceline app to get a room. La Quinta. $51. Done.
Destination: Birmingham. My hotel was in a wealthier suburb just about three miles south of the city. I checked in, took a quick shower, and headed out. Exiting the freeway, I immediately drove through the campus of UAB. It looks like a cool neighborhood. It took a little bit of exploring to find where to park because the pub is on a pedestrian street which I think is a remnant of mid 1800s street planning. The place was almost empty but I sat at the bar and began chatting with two other guys and Amanda, working the bar. The two guys seemed to be really knowledgable around beer and Amanda definitely knew her stuff. This place is already a highlight of the trip. They had several beers which are readily available here but are basically on the bucket list of every beer lover on the west coast. I enjoyed a Cigar City (FL) Jai Alai, and Evil Twin (Europe) Molotov Cocktail, and a Founders (MI) Breakfast Stout, among several others. I also got a local burger with a runny egg on top. Yum. My conversation with Amanda took a different turn from beer and Birmingham when she found out I am from Portland. A couple of the staff at the pub are going to the Craft Beer Festival in Portland next month and she happens to be one of the ones who volunteered not to go, for the sake of keeping the bar up and running. She was very jealous of her two colleagues and I eventually talked to one colleague plus the owner and founder of the bar. A great conversation and I left him with a handwritten list of several breweries in the area, websites to inform him of local beer, and things like that. I also gave them logistics of the MAX, where to stay, etc. She told me the places in town with good beer selections; I plan to bring some bottles that can’t be found in OR back when I fly home. This is really a cool place to eat and drink. Amanda was great, so I decided to give a generous tip. Not one of those ones you read about on the news… but it was about 70%. She earned it. I wrote on the receipt that she should buy herself a pair of PDX airport socks; we talked about that, too.
Lots of driving today but I enjoyed all of it. Lots of channel-surfing. It included 8 “Thinking Out Loud”s by Ed Sheeran, 11 “Love Me Like You Do”s by Ellie Goulding, 8 “Style”s by Taylor Swift, and 6 of a song I can’t identify, except I remember it from 50 Shades of Grey. Maybe tomorrow a DJ will say the title before playing it. Tomorrow will be time to explore Birmingham until it gets so late that I probably should start driving west and south. I was encouraged to show up at J. Clyde when they open at 2pm tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s time for that, unfortunately.