Southern Fried Road Trips Days 4 and 5

We’ll get to the weather forecast in a bit, but first let’s talk about days 4 and 5.

I started Tuesday morning the way all good mornings should start, with donuts. The place is called Sublime Donuts, located near the Georgia Tech campus. It has quite a reputation for being among the best in town and this is one of those times when the reality didn’t live up to the hype. I had a double chocolate, which was just not good at all – very doughy – and a raspberry filled chocolate heart that, while perfectly fine, was not fantastic. I was annoyed and disappointed.

Wouldn’t be the last time that day. (insert ominous foreshadowing music here)

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From there I headed north toward toward North Carolina. Now, I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would I want to go there, pretty much ever, but especially when We (the collective, politically aware group of us) are supposed to be having nothing to do with North Carolina because of the whole “There’s a man in the ladies room!” controversy. I mean if Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato aren’t going to NC, I shouldn’t either, right?

Bonus points if you got the “Designing Women” reference.

Here’s the deal: I like to gamble. And the nearest place to Atlanta to do that is in Cherokee, North Carolina. I decided it was helping the tribe and the people who work there more than the state and if that’s a delusion then it’s a happy one that I am choosing to embrace, much like the one that says Prince is still alive and living on an island, where two backup dancers just follow him around striking curious poses.

Bonus points if you got the “When Doves Cry” reference.

The drive up there is quite lovely. It’s about 150 very scenic miles as you drive up into the Smoky Mountains, and there are some breathtaking vistas along the way. I didn’t stop to take pictures of any of them but you’ll just have to trust me. It’s purty.

Two random roadside sightings, also without photographic evidence, sorry. The first was a sign on the side of the road, roughly the size of a city bus, that read simply “GOATS”. Giant letters. Yellow on a red background. No other context. Just GOATS.

The other was the Donald Trump for President billboard. It was almost as much of a curiosity as the GOATS one.

Before I get to lunch, I have to flash back a few nights earlier to give you context. I was playing blackjack with a 70-year-old transgender woman at a gay bar in Georgia… no, really… and when I mentioned that I was heading up to Cherokee in a couple of days she said, “Well, you have to stop at Dillard House – it’s this great restaurant where they just start loading you up with really good southern food and they just keep bringing it.” Challenge accepted!

Dillard House is, appropriately enough, in Dillard, Georgia, high in the Smokey Mountain foothills surrounded by scenery like this:

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The restaurant, lodge, riding stables, and petting zoo facility is lovely and the big dining room has huge windows that look out onto scenes like the above. And sure enough, they just start bringing you food. Now, since I was eating by myself and I have a hard time eating a lot of anything, I refused more than a dozen dishes – everything from coleslaw to pickled beets and a bunch of other things that I have forgotten. What I accepted is what you see on the table:

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That would be fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes, chicken pot pie, flank steak, and a basket of fresh baked rolls and biscuits (not pictured). I was very excited about it all but found most of it to be merely okay-ish. The chicken pot pie was probably the best thing on the table, with thick chunks of potatoes and other veggies but the fried chicken was dry, the flank steak was too chewy, and the fried green tomatoes were an affront to the concept as far as I’m concerned. So yeah, disappointment number two.

“That’s okay,” I thought. “As I drive back down to the highway, I’ll put down the windows and enjoy some fresh mountain air.”

It is worth noting that this was not the first time I put down the windows on the Ford Fusion Smugmobile. It was, however, the first time the windows wouldn’t go back up. Actually, they would go up, but they wouldn’t stay up (that’s what she said). As soon as they got to the top of the track, they started going down again. I pull over and start in with a spirited game of “What the fuck?” I shut the car off and turn it back on. I shut the car off, get out of the car, lock it, unlock it, get back in, and start the car. I screamed loudly in frustration. Nothing worked.

I looked it up on the web and got nowhere so I called Enterprise and their suggestion was to bring it back to the location where I rented it… you know, in Atlanta… 150 miles away.

Suddenly I remember a trick we had employed on Plucky Survivors trip when our Plucky Mobile, a Buick, started to lose piece a big chunk of its front end – we went to a Buick dealer and they fixed it, free of charge.

So I looked up Ford dealerships and there was one about 10 miles away. I was prepared to drive there but I called first and spoke to a service adviser who told me that the windows needed to be “reset.” He said, put the window all the way down and hold the button for 5 seconds. Then release it for 5 seconds. Then put the window up and when it gets to the top, hold the button up for a few seconds.

Really?

But after several failed attempts and a great deal of additional swear words, it finally took and I was able to continue on my merry way.

The Harrah’s in Cherokee is quite nice, larger – bigger than most Vegas casinos – with all the usual gambling suspects and so yeah, I played. And I won. And I lost. And I won. And I lost. And I lost. And then I won. And then I lost. Enough said.

Dinner was in the Diamond Lounge at the casino involved beef brisket out of warming tray and a slightly soggy dinner roll. Also, enough said.

I drove back to Atlanta after dark and those mountain roads are not fun. Especially when you stop for a moment and put the window down and then IT REFUSES TO FUCKING STAY UP AGAIN!!! Several more attempts at a reboot and it finally worked again. I’ve decided I have no reason to put down the windows so I just won’t from here on out.

Total mileage was about 325 for the day.

Wednesday was a lot less disappointing. I got up early to do a Civil Rights Road Trip, starting in Selma, Alabama.

How you can tell you’re in Alabama… the high-riding pickup track with the confederate flag in the back window and a bumper sticker that read, “Do you believe in life after death? If the answer is no, you better be bullet proof” alongside pictures of AR-15 style rifles. If I had nothing left to live for, I would go up to that person and say, “No… I don’t believe in life after death. Are you really going to shoot me now, shoot me now?”

Bonus points if you got the Bugs Bunny reference.

The first stop was the Baptist AME Church in Selma where both of the marches started – the ill-fated one that was stopped by the Alabama Highway Patrol in an incident that would be known as Bloody Sunday, and the successful one a few weeks later. It’s still a working church so you can’t go inside but they have some monuments and historic markers outside.

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From there I drove over to the Selma Interpretive Center. Opened about five years ago, this small museum has one room with a handful of exhibits dedicated to the march and what started it. There isn’t much to see here but it is all very powerful and includes a bank of video monitors where you can watch testimonials from people who were there. Interestingly, and affectingly, they had a few from people on the “opposition” sewn into the story. One woman talked about how the march was just an excuse for orgies and drugs and that Viola Liuzzo, the Detroit housewife who was murdered during the march by Klansmen, was nothing but a common prostitute. Mind you, this is not some 50 year old video – this is new material, recorded within the last few years. Terrifying.

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There was a lot of construction going on – they are planning on expanding into the second and third floors of the building and adding more exhibits, which should be open in time for the anniversary of the protests in March, 2017.

Then it was over the Edmund Pettus bridge, which still feels foreboding in some way all these years later.

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On the other side of the bridge, this is where the Alabama State Patrol beat and tear-gassed the first attempt at the march.

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A few steps from there are memorials to important people in the movement and a sculpture honoring the marches.

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Down the road about 20 miles is the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, a sister facility to the one in Selma, that I have actually been to before.

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Ten years ago, Mary and I were on the last couple of days of our inaugural Plucky Survivors trip and we, along with Plucky Passenger Jessica, stopped here just a couple of weeks after it opened. It was a highlight of our trip and I remember it being incredibly powerful. It still is.

You start by watching a video that is, ostensibly, about the march, but is also about the importance of voting. Back in 2006 we wrote “this powerful short movie should be required viewing in all high schools. Heck, it should be required viewing for every citizen of this country.” I believe that now, more than ever, and I bought a DVD that includes the video on it. At some point before the election I am going to figure out a way for everyone to be able to see it.

The rest of the center is very much the way it was 10 years ago, which is to say fantastic. I love the area where they have statues of people marching toward a window. The picture doesn’t do it justice… it’s moving…

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This part of the day was very emotional for me, partly because of the topic and how horrifying it all was and, in many ways, remains today, but also partly because of Mary. Sometimes I really miss that chick.

Onward I marched (drove) taking a quick stop at the memorial for Viola Liuzzo. As mentioned above, she was a Detroit housewife and mother of five who saw the Bloody Sunday march on the news and decided to come down and help during the one led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a few weeks later. After the march, she was driving people back to Selma when her car was driven off the road by Klansmen and she was murdered.

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I made it to Montgomery and of course went to the capitol building just to complete the concept. It took me about an hour’s worth of driving. They took four days of walking.

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The next stop was the Freedom Riders Museum, located in the former Greyhound Bus Terminal where the activists were attacked. The woman running the facility took great pride in the museum and when into very fine detail about the people, the movement, and the building itself. She showed us the original blueprints marking what used to be separate White and Colored entrances, waiting rooms, lunch counters, bathrooms, and ticket windows. She said, “Segregation didn’t just happen, it was designed.”

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There isn’t much to the museum but it’s still a worthwhile visit, especially if you don’t know much about the Freedom Riders. For the record, they started as a group of young people – mostly college students – black and white, male and female – who decided to draw attention to the recent Supreme Court ruling banning segregation in interstate travel by taking a Greyhound Bus from Washington DC to New Orleans. Along the way they were beaten, hospitalized, attacked with Molotov cocktails that destroyed one of the buses, arrested, and imprisoned.

This was 1961.

I needed a little break so I went for lunch a locally recommended BBQ joint called Dreamland, located in Downtown Montgomery. I had Brunswick Stew, smoked BBQ sausage, and mac and cheese and if I hadn’t eaten at Daddy Z’s a couple of nights before I would have called it good, but by comparison it was only fine.

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I also took a swing over to the Alabama Cattleman’s Association offices. Why? Because they have place called the MOOseum. How can you not want to go to a place called the MOOseum? Especially when this is parked outside?

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Unfortunately it’s mostly an advertisement for eating more beef with very little humor beyond the truck and the name, but it was good to get a bit of a brain cleanse from the heavy topics of the day.

Which, I then returned to with a visit to the Civil Rights Memorial Center at the Southern Poverty Law Center offices in Montgomery. Out in front is a water sculpture done by Maya Lin:

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Both wall and disc are covered with flowing water – it’s quite lovely.

After passing through very heavy security (metal detectors, armed guards, etc.) I looked around the center, which is small but very well done, offering testimonials to people who have been sacrificed in the fight for civil rights. It mentions Dr. King and Medgar Evers naturally, but most of the stories are of people – and some incidents – that I had never heard of. I won’t recount them here – they are all too horrifying – but they encompass all points on the civil rights spectrum from race to religion to sexual orientation and beyond.

I loved this quote on the wall:

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At the end is a giant video wall with the names of people who have committed to the cause of furthering civil rights. Put your name in and you get to see yourself included…

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The last stop of the day was at the Tuskegee Airman National Historic Sight. Located at the former airbase where the African-American air corp trained, the National Parks Service has restored one of the hangers as a large interpretive center and rebuilt another hanger, the control tower, and more. The story of these brave men and women and what they faced just for trying to protect their country during WWII is both uplifting and profoundly sad.

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I drove back to Atlanta (total mileage about 440) and stopped to pick up a local favorite – Woody’s Cheese steak.

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It was good, not great, but I think expecting to find a great cheese steak in Atlanta is like expecting to find great BBQ in Philly. Probably not likely.

So now, finally, the weather and the next few days.

Tropical Depression Nine is out there spinning around near Cuba and is expected to become Tropical Storm Hermine sometime tonight or tomorrow. Then it is going to march across Florida and Savannah on Thursday and Friday if the forecasts are to be believed:

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It is expected to have sustained winds of up to 65 mph (just a few shy of hurricane status) and drop as much as 15 inches of rain in some areas.

So, tomorrow – Wednesday, instead of lollygagging around Georgia on a circuitous route to Savannah, I’m just going to drive straight there and hopefully get some some of the things done that I was going to do on Friday that might get rained out. My trip into Florida on Thursday where I was going to go to the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine and the Pulse Nightclub memorial at the site of the shooting has been cancelled, although if the storm moves out faster than expected, I could still do it on Friday and get back in time for Bacon Fest! We’ll see.

More to come…