Monday, January 9, 2012

Alabama Observations

With airline tickets being high priced in my neck of the woods mainly because they involve zigzagging through at least three airports to get to my destination and knowing that I would be treated like one cow in a herd by the airlines after paying such a high price, I opted to drive down to Florida again this year. This was a tough decision knowing that it was just myself and my daughter since my wife had to work but it was made slightly easier by the decision to carpool with my parents. It was a double edge sword. One edge is having two people to help entertain my daughter for the 15+ hour drive. The other edge is having to be in a small enclosed space with your parents for 15+ hours. The latter ended up not being bad at all even if we had to stop three times as often as I normally do for various bathroom breaks, purchase of stimulants, gas, etc. I tried to keep a vision of the picture above in my head for extra motivation.

We spent the first night at my brother's place in NE Alabama just down the road aways from some great BBQ. It was raining when we arrived and rained all night long so it was kind of dreary but it was also dark out so I didn't have to see the dreariness. The next morning we headed south to our destination of a beach in Panama City Beach, Florida when I finally decided that I'm not a big fan of Alabama roads anyway. I know and like some of its citizens. My dislike of the roads is especially true near the Gadsden area, it seems like there are tens of miles of nothing but strips of retail areas full of stoplights. In Iowa, you reach the retail area and everything is condensed into perhaps a half mile before you are back out in the residential parts of town if you compared similar sized towns. In Alabama, they just string it out for miles and miles and miles. I bet in that ten mile stretch of retail area, driving the same highway the entire time, I saw at least a dozen waffle houses, twice that many pawnshops and pay by the week loan places, etc. I never thought it would end. Just when it did, we reached Montgomery and it started all over again.

Another observation of Alabama is that it seems like every square inch of two-laned roadside is residential housing. Up north, there are lots of farm fields right to the edge of the road and you can sometimes go a mile without seeing a house but in northern Alabama especially, it was just a continual stream of houses unless you were driving through a retail area. It made me wonder how it developed that way so differently than what I am used too. I had a long time to think about it since all interstates lead to Birmingham and there really isn't much but two lane roads between where I spent the night and the beach where I was heading. About a third of my time driving from Iowa to Florida was spent driving the back roads and vast stretches of retail jungles of Alabama.

One interesting note was that I got to see the utter devastation left behind by the F-4 tornado that missed my brothers house by literally a stone's throw. Trees and vegetation are still pushed into massive piles and there is trash remnants everywhere but many of the houses have been rebuilt. It will still be a decade or two before all signs of that tornado vanish.

So after driving through Alabama and the desolate country of rural Florida, I was more than ready for some beach time when we pulled up to our rented bungalow for the week right on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. We carried our bags up the steps, threw them down in the hall and quickly opened up the drapes. What I saw sent my stomach hurtling south.


warren said...

I don't know why but we always try to hurry through Alabama and maybe we recognized what you saw. I haven't been through in awhile but FL ends up being a nice destination after it all

Ed said...

Warren - Unless you stay on the interstates, I would wager that there is no hurrying across the state!

Although I must admit that on the back roads, I was a slow moving vehicle to most native traffic and I was generally going 6 to 8 over the speed limit.

Vince said...

I've driven from London to the south of France. That's a doable drive. But nowadays we've very good cheap flights with Ryanair, itself a knock off of Herb Kellihers airline in Texas. And there are a good few other to keep manners on them. But you do lose a day either end no matter how you slice it. But cost-wise no one on these islands could justify driving a car that distance. I'd have to say, I would be tempted if I lived in Belgium to drive south.

R. Sherman said...

Nice "cliffhanger" at the end. I look forward to more.

I took my elder son to Florida after Thanksgiving when he was 3. It was a fun time, just hanging out with him on the beach, flying kites and playing mini-golf.

Every dad should do that, I think.


Ed said...

Vince - Unfortunately for me, I live about a full day's drive from several main hubs. That means any flight for me first goes to one of the main hubs. On the other end, I was in the same situation which meant that I either had to fly to another hub such as Atlanta and spend a half day driving to my destination or get a connector flight to a local airport which added on the dollars. Besides all that, I just like the driving experience a lot more, especially when I have the extra time to smell the roses along the way, something you can't do at 30,000 feet!

R. Sherman - As vacations go, they certainly are relaxing and I enjoy them but I still like my secluded mountain trips where I can get away from humanity in general for awhile.

edifice rex said...

Well thanks a bunch for that black eye guys; we really needed that with all the other we have to overcome here. Mostly outsider prejudice at times I think. Despite being THE most naturally diverse state east of the Mississippi I guess if people are just going to "hurry through" and refuse to look around then it doesn't matter what we actually have here in Alabama. Of course, we could have built all our highways, many of which are 4,6 and 8 lanes btw, right through all our 24 state parks and 4 national parks to make the drive more scenic but then that kinda defeats the point of having them. All states have their less than attractive areas and if that's what you're expecting then that's what you're going to see. It is true that Alabama struggles with some issues but please don't run us down in front of the whole world even more.

Ed said...

Edifice Rex - I think you took that post a whole lot harder than I intended. I was mostly trying to come to terms at how Alabama roadsides developed so much differently than the roadsides I am used to. I was hoping you or Bone might be able to shed light on that as I am stumped.

I'm also not complaining that there aren't any four lane roads between where I was located and where I was heading. Iowa has four lane roads everywhere and for the most part I hate them. I just stated that to make the case that I had plenty of time to ponder Alabama roadsides.

Sorry if I offended any Alabaman's because that wasn't my intention. Also, to perhaps make up a bit, congrats on your win yesterday. I know firsthand, that the entire state was watching it and if I had to pick a couple hour stretch to make time on the roads, it would have been during the game.

Bone said...

Was there coleslaw on your BBQ? I'm assuming there wasn't since you said it was great.

Not sure what the deal is with the roads. I know I-20 between Bham and Atlanta has been beyond horrible the past few times I've been over there.

There's some pretty places here, in my opinion. It does seem like there used to be many, many more cotton fields when I was younger. You should check out DeSoto Falls and Little River Canyon next time you're in the area. They're in the northeast.

I think Illinois is the most boring state I've driven through. But even there, I do enjoy the wind farms.