Monday, December 16, 2013

ROADTRIP (Sort of): Expediency necessitates I-80

The scenery is mostly lost on Wonder Dog.
Although I usually wouldn't count I-80 as a roadtrip, it does occasionally offer some beauty. Sadly I spent the better part of it in the dark this trip, but there was a full moon, which lends a wonderful romance, and Utah, mostly flat a boring, was shrouded in the most amazing fog. I was warned by a sign, but I was not expecting it to last through the majority of the state. I wish I could have stopped for a photo, but I was afraid of causing a traffic hazard.

Also, expedient didn't really mean what I thought it did. Interesting. And, because of the audiobook I'm listening to, found out there's really no such thing as a solar eclipse...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

ON THE WAY: Montgomery, Ala.

Apart from the usual beauty of a historic capitol city, Montgomery also holds some of the most important Civil Rights Movement landmarks in our country. The main north/south street running through downtown is Decatur, which is one block west of the Capitol and crosses Dexter Ave., home of the famous Dexter Avenue (now) King Memorial Baptist Church, where the great man was twentieth pastor. The site has been a church since 1879, and Dr. King directed the Montgomery Bus Boycott from his office there. I was overwhelmed to attend Rosa Park’s funeral here before she was honored at a ceremony in Washington DC. There is now a museum on the site as well.

One block south of Dexter is Washington Avenue, where you can see the Civil Rights Memorial and visit the attached center. The Memorial was designed by Maya Lin, and honors those who died during the Civil Rights Movement (the years between the Brown v. Board decision in 1954 and Dr. King's assassination in 1968). Visiting the memorial is free; admission to the center is $2 for adults. Just north of the Capitol a couple of blocks is Oakwood Cemetery, where Hank Williams Sr. and his wife Audrey are buried.

If you have time, and want some really good Caribbean food, continue south on Decatur and head west on Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway. Cross over I-65 and continue west on Day St. Turn left on Air Base Blvd and you'll see Island Delight.

If you have less time, continue south on Decatur, and the road becomes Norman Bridge (you'll pass by Alabama State University). On the left in the Old Cloverdale neighborhood you'll find Derk's Filet and Vine.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

ON THE RADIO: Grammar Girl (Quick and Dirty Tips)

Grammar Girl
Grammar Girl is another podcast I started listening to years ago whose offerings have grown into a whole website of useful tips on everything from managing your money to grooming your dog. Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty makes learning about grammar fun enough for my kids to enjoy it; I swear, it's not just for grammar dorks like me. You can also vote for Grammar Girl in the Education category for this year's Podcast Awards.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Southern misconceptions

Clairmont Springs Baptish Church
I didn’t get to spend much time in the South – my own fault, a job opportunity called me to the Midwest – but I loved my time there. People have a lot of ideas about the South. And many misconceptions.

I’ve lived in just about every region of our country: I’m from Alaska; about the only place I haven’t lived is the East Coast, but I’ve been lucky enough to stay and travel pretty extensively there too.

The most beautiful place I’ve lived is the South. And there is nothing more gorgeous than the northern end. Tennessee, Kentucky, and the northeast corner of Alabama, where Cheaha State Park is located, have a combination of mountains and trees unlike anywhere else.

Coming from the West, I never realized you could take a drive “of a Sunday” and see five or ten small towns, each with food to try, each with history not to be missed. I was used to markers of gold strikes and pioneers who made it to that particular place alive – that was the accomplishment. The South is full of markers of a much different sort: Battles waged over what kind of country we would become, and daring pioneers who struggled up a different kind of mountain. Often they did not live to see the top, but they are remembered no less fiercely for their fight.

When I moved, I prepared myself for racism and sexism. And it was there. But I also got to confront some of my own ideas about race for the first time. Just after moving to Montgomery and realizing I was the only white person in a packed restaurant, I was fascinated and excited to be living in such a place. I didn’t understand until much later that what I felt then was a luxury, a luxury not shared if I had been a black Southerner in that reversed situation.

A co-worker prepared me for the church question, for which I was eternally grateful. “The first thing everyone will ask you,” said Lenita before I left the newsroom in Nevada, “is ‘what church do you belong to?’” I have no religion, and have no interest in gaining any, so in that respect, escaping the South to the Midwest – where everyone is religious, but no one would have the bad taste to talk about it – was a relief. It’s always interesting to me that the people who have the most horrible things to say about other people, who harbor the most racism and hate, are also the ones who speak the loudest about what great Christians they are and seem the most concerned about other peoples’ souls.

But churches have another meaning in the South. They were a place where it was safe to meet, to organize, and to learn. There is a reason here the term is “church home”.  The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. King helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott and many other protests, is just feet from the Montgomery Capitol building. You can feel the strength of spirit and character coming off mere photos of protests that happened on this street; I can’t even imagine how overwhelming the actual feeling was on those days.

When I  was driving through downtown Montgomery on Sunday morning, seeing the men and women, dressed in their incredible Sunday best, hats every color of the rainbow, file into churches of amazing history and glory – I might have no religion, but I know what these churches mean. The hardest thing to understand about the South, is how Dexter Avenue itself didn’t change as much as it changed the rest of the world.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

ROADTRIP: Discovering Southern color

East Coast, schmeast coast. If you want great fall color, look to the South, specifically somewhere like Cheaha State Park in northeastern Alabama. Check out all the fun and beauty in the latest issue.

Cheaha is in the Talladega National Forest, and, as part of the Appalachian Mountain foothills, is the highest point in Alabama. Conveniently located, and incredibly gorgeous, Cheaha is a jewel Alabama parks has really taken advantage of fully.

There are numerous trails, and a handy Fall Color Report on the park website for tracking where to catch the best leaves. The photos in the main story here are from the Odum Scout Hiking Trail, but the whole area is beautiful. Other trails access a lake for swimming, waterfalls, mountain biking, and there’s an observation tower at the highest point in the park. All manner of camping accommodations, a restaurant and gift shop are also sprinkled throughout the park.

There is a $3 day-use fee ($1 for seniors) for some areas of the park. Cheaha is very dog friendly, and even has cabins dog owners can rent for an additional charge. I can't wait until the National Parks Service figures out it's better to be dog-friendly and charge/fine instead of trying to ban pets that are going to be brought along anyway.

While you are checking the Fall Color Report and activities on the Alabama Parks website, make sure you check the park history section of the site for some amazing archival film footage and photos from the 1930s.

Getting There
Cheaha State Park is located between Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, Ga., on Interstate 20 (I-20), and about 90 miles north of Montgomery, Ala., on Highway 231 (US-231). From either Birmingham or Atlanta, take exit 191 and turn south on Highway 431 (US-431). Take the Highway 281 (US-281) access road and watch for the Cheaha Resort State Park exits.

From Montgomery, there are two ways to go. The probably shorter way, and the way that takes you past the cemeteries, lake, goats and funny church signs in this issue (ok, the goats were hilarious too). I’m telling you my way: Take US-231 north to Sylacauga and turn right into Talladega National Forest (State 148). State 7 will take you north from there to Cheaha by way of Clairmont Springs Road and Talladega Scenic Highway. If you are interested in the shorter way see the Cheaha website.