Friday, February 12, 2010

Tuscaloosa to Chattanooga

Our clean chemical dreams were shattered in the morning when we awoke to find bedbug bites on our bodies. Fortunately we each only had a few--we must not have tasted very good. Unfortunately there was not much we could do to avoid bringing them with us in our luggage if they decided to hitch a ride. (Thankfully there were no repeat incidents or home infestations.)

Breakfast was Waffle House on the way out of Tuscaloosa to Moundville Archaeological Park. We spent the morning wandering around the curious manmade hills and coming up with explanations for their existence. I favored the theory that they were built by the CCC in the 30s to bring some tourism dollars to a place that didn't have much going for it. We didn't find any artifacts, but we did see what appeared to be a boletus mushroom growing in the sandy bank of the Black Warrior River, and also some lifelike displays of the peoples who were supposed to have inhabited the area before the Europeans came and mucked everything up. It was hot, and I took every opportunity to drink from water fountains sprinkled about the property.

This was the day we were changing our car. I had grown quite attached to our spacious sedan and its Louisiana plates, but Birmingham awaited us with a vehicle that had a working outlet for the GPS. As we made our way into town, I couldn't stop saying "ain't no ham like Birmingham!" in a high, wheedling tone, in imitation of one of those oldey timey singers on the "Orange Blossom Special". We decided to take a look at the giant Vulcan statue situated there. He was sculpted to symbolize the growing industrial might of the city back around the turn of the previous century. He commanded a good view of the city on his overlook, but we declined to pay the admission fee to go up.

We rode on from there to the car rental place, where, after a really long time and many consultations, they gave us a massive red Chevy HHR, which I imagined would bring on speeding tickets like flies to cane syrup, especially once we got out of state (actually, we had yet to see a cop on the roads). I signed the paperwork even though it specified that drivers were not allowed in the state of NY.

We had a late lunch in a cozy cafe in Trussville, then headed on up the road. Our next destination was the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, where luggage from the airline industry made its way after being irreparably separated from its owner. I imagined that it would be a treasure trove of exotic items, but it was mostly like a thrift store that had slightly less worn stuff. All the really interesting stuff was in their museum, but that too was sparse. Jack managed to find a few reasonably-priced shirts, and I overpaid for a pair of shorts. Since I desperately needed shorts, though, I suppose I didn't overpay by too much.

We meandered our way back towards 11 and then spent a couple minutes in Georgia, a place where Jack had never been (aside from the ATL airport). He didn't feel like he spent a sufficient amount of time there after this excursion to add it to his list. Somewhere on this stretch he got it in his head that the only thing to do was to stop in Chatanooga and spend the night in a train car.
I called up the hotel and asked if they had any last minute discounts, and they did for regular rooms but none for the cars. We decided to spring for it, thinking it would make a nice contrast to the previous night. We rolled into town right around sunset, and entered the beautiful old train station to check in. Once they told us how to find our berth on the sprawling campus, we parked and entered the world of train geeks.

The train geeks were almost exclusively male and of any age, from about 3 to 85. They were giddy with the fact of being there, even if they weren't sleeping in a car (not a lot of people were).
Once we got in our own and got ourselves situated, we checked out the eating options. This was almost a mini-amusement park unto itself, with different eating experiences at different price levels. We opted to go off-site, to the old train hotel that had been converted to a microbrewery/restaurant, the Terminal Brewhouse, next door. We sat on their outdoor patio having some very nice beers and pizzas as the last of the sunlight left the sky. We had a great view of Lookout Mountain in one direction and the awesome "CHOO-CHOO" sign for the hotel in the other. And for once, we were not suffocatingly hot.

After we walked around the neighborhood a bit and saw a small slice of town that appeared to be simultaneously giving in to decay and resurrecting itself, we retreated to our private car for a very peaceful night.

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