Arm Chair Road Trip Day 17: So Hot, Make It Stop!

September 21, 2020 — Leave a comment

miss sign

After celebrating Mtuseni’s birthday the night before, we returned to downtown Montgomery on Day 17 to see some sites on the Civil Rights Trail. With the Memorial for Peace and Justice closed, there weren’t a lot of options; that had been the main reason to stop in Alabama. 

Even during late morning, with all the government offices, there were hundreds of empty parking spaces everywhere. And no people up and down the wide quiet streets. It felt like a Twilight Zone episode.

Maybe the streets were empty because the heat and humidity were mind-boggling. It felt like the sun was ten feet above us and white hot. (And it had been record-breaking heat above 90 every day since we began the trip!)

Having seen the experience of slaves at the Museum of African American History in DC, I told Mtuseni to imagine what it must have been like picking cotton in the fields all day in heat like this — and certainly no AC or refrigerator to come home to. Actually you can’t imagine it; we were melting just walking a block. I don’t know how they did it. 

The story of Rosa Parks has always fascinated me. The courage and impact of one woman’s simple act, to just say, “Enough.” I’ve always wanted to see where she waited on that day. I don’t know what I expected, to see a bus stop and streetscape from the 1950s I guess. To really get a feel for her life then. But the bus stop is nothing more than a sign, surrounded by modern buildings. All context was gone.

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bus stop sign

This was pretty much it for Rosa Parks’ bus stop. My face pretty much explains my impression.

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We passed on the Rosa Parks Museum. Montgomery had been so underwhelming and we knew it wouldn’t compare to the museum in DC. So we walked back up to the Civil Rights Memorial, designed by Maya Lin, who created the stunning and emotional Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC. As a big fan of architecture and the new more immersive style of memorials, I was excited to see it. 

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Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery Alabama

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But even this disappointed. I’d expected it to be massive but it’s quite small, tucked on a little plaza to a building. It’s lovely, meticulous, tranquil — but the size limits its impact. It feels like a fountain in a mall. Sorry, Maya!

We did stumble on a cool mural commemorating the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. I think that was the highlight of the city visit.

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"A Mighty Walk from Selma" mural in Montgomery, Alabama

“A Mighty Walk from Selma” … luckily we came across this mural while staggering in the heat.

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Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama

Yet another church that wasn’t open. When I was a kid churches were open all the time… if you needed to pop in for a quick prayer or respite from the world.

We made our way to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where MLK was pastor in the late 1950s, but like the church in Savannah it was closed for a private tour. And that closed our visit to Montgomery. We got in the car, cranked the AC, and made a beeline for our stopover in Gulfport, Mississippi.

The Gulf of Mexico was pretty much what I’d heard: flat and gray and hot. For someone whose soul is fed by the ocean, I didn’t even go on the beach. Mtuseni did, and created a surprise for me that will have to wait for an October post.

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gulf pool

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Our hotel was right across from the beach and had a small pool. I plopped into it, ready to be refreshed and awakened, but it was warmer than bath water. There was no escape from that sticky heat outdoors.  

The best part of Gulfport was finally solving the mystery of the Waffle House! There was one sitting by its lonesome in a field next to our hotel. We’d started seeing the yellow-tile signs as we entered the South. They were everywhere! I had no idea what the place was. Mtuseni wasn’t curious, but I had to know.

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waffle house sign

After seeing this sign along highways across the South, we finally discovered what delights awaited inside!

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So breakfast the next morning was at the Waffle House. I love diners. I almost did my practicum documentary on a diner in college. The movie Diner is one of my all-time favorites.

I was psyched to sit at the counter and order simple over-easy eggs, bacon, and toast. After weeks of the same free buffet in hotel after hotel (where I never used that awful waffle machine) a made-to-order breakfast was heaven. I explained to Mtuseni the whole diner culture, sitting at the counter, the short order cook right in front of you, the waitress calling out orders in shorthand and knowing the regulars by name. Pure Americana. I was immediately a Waffle House fan.

And of course I had a waffle, too! (It was tasty, but I didn’t finish  it.)

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waffle house ctr

I look fat in this picture. Partly it’s the shirt — and partly it’s the effects of sitting and driving for days. For the South, I probably look anorexic.

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(Just joining us? Since everyone’s in various states of corona lockdown,  we’re reliving the Long-Distance Dad road trip from last fall! Start the journey with us back on the August 30 post. Ride along with us — in your easy chair — across 10,000 miles into October.)

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