Hello everyone, another week has past and it’s time for another edition of This Week on the Road. It’s been a pretty great week out here in Southern Alabama, beginning with a much needed and well enjoyed visit to the Gulf Coast and a few minutes on the beach. I also spent some wonderful time in beautiful Mobile, a city which I really enjoyed. The week ended with a long drive across the south of the state heading east, through rural farmland and quaint little towns. It’s been a great first week here in The Heart of Dixie, and I’m looking forward to everything the state has to offer in the coming few weeks. HERE is this week’s map if you want to follow along as we go!
When I finished posting my This Week article last week, I did, in fact, get out of town. I love New Orleans, and it’s always hard to go, and it was particularly hard with French Quarter Fest starting the following day, but it was way past time for me to get out of Louisiana. I scooted down to the interstate, and took Route 10 all the way to Alabama. I hate the interstate and its never-ending monotony, but it’s great when you have places you have to be and a limited time to get there.
When I got to Alabama, I headed southwest on 188 to beautiful Bayou La Batre. You may remember the name from Forrest Gump, as it is where Bubba was from and where Forrest went to start his shrimping company. It really is a shrimping town, and if you’ve been following along with me on this journey, you know I’m a sucker for old shrimping boats. The fleet there was really beautiful, and I stopped off to have a look and take some photos. While I was stopped, a young man of maybe 9 or 10 named Matthew pulled up on his bike. He was about zero percent shy and started talking to me about shrimping immediately. He told me he had been on just about every one of those boats out there. Then he started telling me about the price of shrimp and the price of fuel and how it wasn’t worth going out for a lot of the shrimp boats right now. I asked him if he got to keep the shrimp when he went out on a boat, and he told me one trip would bring back enough to feed him and his friend for the rest of their lives. He asked how I got power in my van and I told him about my battery set-up and how it wasn’t that unlike a boat in many ways. He asked if we went shrimping in Washington D.C. and I told him we were more of a blue crab town. We talked on like that for about 20 minutes and then he hopped on his bike and pedaled off. I thought he was great! With his buzzed haircut and Alabama accent, he kind of reminded me of a young Forrest Gump. He was my welcome to Alabama, and it couldn’t have been better.
From there, I headed down to Dauphin Island on the Gulf of Mexico and got in right as dusk was quietly settling over the island. It was a beautiful ride in over the bridges to this quaint and quiet little stretch of land out in the Gulf. I drove out along the main island road as the last hints of light disappeared from the day, and it was so quiet and beautiful. I had had a long and busy day, so called it an early night and was snoring away by 9:30.
Because I had gone to bed so early, I was up early the next morning and feeling good. I went down to the public beach on the east end of the island to sit and watch the sun come up with my coffee. It was awesome. I don’t see enough sunrises out here - if only they didn’t happen so early in the morning! I sat down there for an hour or so, mostly reading the Alabama Travel Guide, but stopping to take photos here and there. I was hoping to get on the 8:30 a.m. ferry across the bay, but when I arrived they told me my bottom clearance wasn’t going to cut it. They said it would rip off my brand new sewage pipe which I wasn’t going to let happen. That meant a long drive around and not the relaxing-on-a-boat morning I had envisioned. But I got on the road and made the best of it.
Along the way I had to take care of some errands like getting propane and water and those sorts of things, which aren’t so bad when you have the time to do them. I finally got down to Gulf Shores in the early afternoon and had a lot of work I needed to get done. I went to the wonderful library there which was super quiet and had really good internet. I got a lot done in a relatively short period of time, which is always good.
When I was “finished enough” with my work, I headed down to the beach for the rest of the afternoon. I pulled in at the pier at Gulf State Park and set up my chair on the beach and read for the rest of the daylight hours. To just sit with my feet in the sand and read something non trip-related was a real pleasure. I enjoyed the sunset on the beach and then headed to the gym and called it a night.
The next day I decided to play tourist for a change. It’s not often that I’m in a super touristed area that I’ve never been to before in this country, so I wanted to go and enjoy it. I started out with a fantastic lunch at Lambert’s Cafe, because it is a must-see place if you’re ever in Foley, Alabama. I had seen Lambert’s on TV more than once - it’s a restaurant where they throw hot rolls to you across the dining room. I’m normally pretty wary of a spot like that, especially in a place with high tourist turnover, as they are almost inevitably disappointing. But I just had to see the “throwed rolls” for myself. What I found was an incredibly well-run family business with excellent food and a great staff. One of the hostesses even offered to take my photo when she saw my camera and knew I was there by myself. I had been hankering for some frog legs, so that’s what I ordered. I got a massive pile of fresh frog legs, which were probably the best I’ve ever had. Then the staff comes around with big pots of side dished like stewed cabbage and fried potatoes and you can have as much of these sides as you want. And yes, they really do throw hot rolls all the way across the dining room. I caught mine right out of the air and it was hot and delicious. I can’t say enough good things about my lunch, I really liked it and left satisfied and with a huge smile on my face. I hope they keep doing what they’re doing there and never sell out to a big corporation. I’m sure Dick’s Last Resort and Joe’s Crab Shack were once great places too.
From there I headed down all the way to the Florida border to visit the infamous Flora-Bama bar there. This place was massive, and while the staff was friendly enough it didn’t really do it for me. First of all, I got the worst bushwacker I’ve ever had. It just didn’t taste right, and for that part of Florida that’s a bad sign. I enjoyed being outside near the beach, but the inside bars (there are several) were really dark. The band playing was pretty filthy, which is maybe a part of the concept there seeing as there are hundreds of bras hanging from the ceiling, but for me I didn’t find it amusing, just lame. I thought it was even stranger because most of the people there in the afternoon were in their sixties and seventies. The second band I saw was pretty good, but it seemed like they probably play the same songs at the same time in the same bar every day. It wasn’t great. Maybe it was just an off day or maybe they’re just getting over a month of Spring Break, but I was pretty disappointed. I had really been looking forward to checking this place out too. I’d go back and give it another chance, but I wouldn’t go hundreds of miles out of my way for it.
My last stop of my Gulf Shores Tourist Day was The Hangout back in Gulf Shores. In contrast to Flora-Bama, I really loved this place. I loved the outdoor setup. I loved being able to sit on a comfortable beach chair with my feet in the sand. I loved the music and I loved the people that were there, both the staff and the clientele. The band was The Mo Jiles Band out of Houston, and they were young and hungry for it. They played a great show from start to finish. One of the bartenders was named Juggernaut (which I hope is not the name his mama gave him, but you never know)., and he was awesome and super friendly. There was a “wish wall” there where you could make a wish and roll it up and leave it to the spirits. A guy named DJ from St. Louis got me to write down a wish - I made mine for somebody else, not for myself. DJ and his friend Dillon were in town visiting, and had never been to the beach before. We talked about home, and my projects, and how much they liked that I was trying to find beauty in the overlooked places. Dillon told me about a friend of his who found old tractors in the fields of Missouri and fixed them up just because he could see in them what others couldn’t. I really liked these guys and enjoyed our conversation. They were really gentle souls who were there for a good time and a much needed vacation. When they went back to their friends, I went out on the dance floor and boogied until the band stopped at midnight. I had a great time just hanging out at The Hangout.
Saturday I hit the gym in the morning and then took a nice scenic drive up the Alt 98 through Fairhope and Daphne. These were quaint and pretty towns on the east side of Mobile Bay, and while I didn’t stay in either long, I did enjoy driving through. I cruised into Mobile in early afternoon, and had some work to catch up on and some phone calls to make. When I was done with all of that, I headed downtown to see if I could get some good photos while the light was good. It seemed that around every corner there was a better shot than the last. I wandered around for a few hours taking photos, enjoying the cool evening air and getting a feel for the city. I had been through Mobile a few times before, but never for longer than a night. It is a really beautiful place. As I wandered, I saw a little place called The Listening Room on St. Francis Street, and moved in for a better view. It turned out they were having a show that night at 8, so I went back to my van and cleaned up a little bit and then made my way back.
What a great little venue it turned out to be. Upon entering, I met Jim, the owner, who was about as nice a person as I’ve met in my travels. He welcomed me in and seemed really interested in what I was doing. We exchanged cards and then I went and had a seat and enjoyed a wonderful set by the lovely and talented young singer/songwriter Hannah McFarland. At just 21, she is really talented and has a beautiful voice. It was a great 90 minute show in a really intimate environment and I would definitely recommend you come by if you’re ever in town. When I was leaving, Jim told me to call him if I needed anything when I was in town, and he genuinely meant it. I certainly have enjoyed the people I’ve met in Alabama so far.
Glowing from the show and hospitality, I wandered out into the night. The wind was really strong, and I knew they were calling for some pretty bad storms, so I stopped in for a quick beer at The Alchemy Tavern and then headed on out to where I was staying. The storm woke me up around 3 a.m. and it was really raging. Heavy rain and tons of thunder and lightning were rocking my van. I was safe and warm and dry though, so I just lay back and enjoyed the show. It was pretty awesome.
All of that rain cleared up the sky really well, and Sunday was a beautiful day for taking photos. I spent the entire day out and about walking hither and yon, again with a wonderful view around every corner. I probably covered some pretty serious distance that day, but it was magical as well. I did stop in for a nice lunch at Wentzel’s Oyster House, one of my favorite memories from earlier visits to Mobile. I had some great chargrilled oysters and a delicious cold crab “West Indies Salad”. It was a nice light lunch, but very satisfying. The rest of the day I was immersed in my photography and having a great time. It was just beautiful out - clear and sunny, not too hot or too cold, just a perfect spring day in Mobile! I actually went back to the Listening Room that night for another great show, this time with another talented musician: Melissa Summersell. Jim introduced us after the show, and I enjoyed talking with her for a while before heading out. One quick beer at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, somewhere Jim insisted I check out before I leave, and then I called it a nice early night.
I spent most of Monday in the library trying to edit some of the hundreds of photos from the previous two days before heading out to meet my friend Shelley for Happy Hour. Shelley had worked for my tour company for several years when I was just getting started, and I hadn’t seen her in a long time. There is definitely something special about catching up with my old tour guide colleagues, as I think they just have a special understanding of what I’m doing. For however many years they were running tours, it was just them and the open road, so they understand the beauty and the adventure but also the solitude and the challenges. We had a great time catching up over a few beers and talking about old times and new ones.
We were out a little late on Monday, so I got a bit of a late start on Tuesday and wanted to get a little work done before heading out of town. I finally made my way out around 2 p.m. I cruised out on Interstate 65 and then hopped on Route 59 north to Fort Mims State Historic Site. Fort Mims was the site of a pretty serious massacre during the Creek Indian War back in 1813, in which hundreds of people were killed. Today it’s pretty quiet with a few reconstructed structures and some nice interpretive plaques. I didn’t stay long, but found it really interesting.
From there I headed on to Monroeville, the literary capital of the state and one-time home of both Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Truman Capote. I enjoyed walking around the main courthouse square and had an ice cream under the afternoon sun before moving on down the road. This is a pretty rural state, and the road took me past lots of farms being plowed for their spring plantings. The highway was fringed with beautiful lavender and burgundy colored flowers and I even had a wild turkey sprint across the road in front of me. The fields held a scattering of old barns and rusted trucks. I know that these folks live challenging lives under difficult circumstances and I wasn’t blind to some of the clear signs of poverty in the region, but there is something truly beautiful about the deeply rural parts of this country for me. I stopped and took pictures where I could, trying to be mindful to not photograph dilapidated homes where people were actually living.
Further along, I passed through the beautiful and wonderfully named town of Burnt Corn. There’s debate as to how the town got its name, but it’s been around for over 200 years and was once a stop on the old Federal Road. I loved some of the beautiful historic buildings there. From Burnt Corn, I headed through Evergreen and River Falls and on into Andalusia. Andalusia is an interesting place with a spotless downtown area and a lot going for it. I found it so interesting that I tried looking it up today to try and figure out what it was all about. I didn’t find anything remarkable. Instead it seemed like a town with a diversified economy and a keen interest in self preservation and quality of life for its citizens. Imagine that. Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing something right, and I found it a pleasant place for a stroll in the cool dusk air.
Today I got up early and made my way east to Opps. Opps didn’t seem to have much going for it unless you were looking for a haircut. In a town with very few businesses and a lot of empty storefronts I counted no less than SIX hair salons and barber shops downtown. I don’t know what they do for work there, but they probably all have beautiful hair. From there I headed on to Elba, which had a pleasant little downtown area around the courthouse, and then on to Enterprise where I am writing to you from today.
Enterprise is another pretty little town with a nice Main Street area. They are also home to the state’s Boll Weevil Monument. The boll weevil is a tiny insect (one would fit on your pinky nail) which absolutely devastated the cotton industry in the area in the 1920’s. It did, however, require a rethinking of agriculture and ushered in the era of the peanut, an industry which has brought good fortune to southeast Alabama. Here in Enterprise they celebrate the boll weevil for this bad fortune turned good. There are murals to the weevil, and even a monument to it in the center of the main intersection in town. It’s kind of funny, but also pretty cool.
When I’m done with this post, I’m going to head on to Dothan for the afternoon and evening. Tomorrow I’m going to make my way up the Chattahoochee River to Eufaula where I’m going to hole up for the night. We’re expecting some pretty crazy storms in the area tomorrow starting in the late afternoon, so I’m going to get a room for the first time in many months and ride it out. I’m looking forward to it. I’m grateful to have heard from more than one person concerned with my safety in the storm - I’m glad people are looking out for me out here. From there I plan to head on to Auburn and Tuskegee and then make my way into Montgomery by the end of the weekend. I have a lot I want to see between Montgomery and nearby Selma, and am looking forward to it quite a bit. From there I will be making my way west to Demopolis and then north to Tucaloosa where I hope to be by this time next week. It should be a busy but fascinating week out here with lots of cool history and places to see. I hope you’ll come back and visit with me next week to see how it all turned out.
That’s it for this week. I hope you’re all enjoying your spring wherever you are. Do get out and smell the flowers a bit, you’ll be glad you did. As always, I appreciate you following along and I hope you all have a wonderful week out there in the world!