Friday, November 27, 2009

Mobile, AL and Dauphin Island

I had the day off today, and I used it to check out Mobile, AL.
I was impressed with the number of trees in the city and how dense the tree canopy was. In the picture below, you can see how the trees have overtaken the street signs and lights.
My first stop in Mobile was to the Oakleigh House, a Greek Revival mansion built in 1833.
I learned a few interesting things about 19th century home design in the deep south. In the picture above you'll notice a staircase that goes up to the second floor deck. That deck was the main entrance to the house. The lower level was used for storage. The main part of the house was built up high to keep bugs out (there were no window screens at the time) and to improve airflow. Mansions of the era were also built in a t-shape to help improve airflow.

After taking a tour of the house and walking around the surrounding area, I headed down to Dauphin Street in the Dauphin Street Historic District.
It's kinda like South Street: lots of bars, cheep restaurants, and second hand shops. It's all very clean and it looks like many of the buildings had their facades torn down, and then rebuilt. Off the street there are many cool historic homes.
Also on Dauphin Street was the very impressive Cathedral of the Immaculate.
After doing a lot of walking, I checked out the docks.
Nothing to report there except memories from Season 2 of "The Wire."

After I had my fill of Mobile I drove down to Dauphin Island, approximately 37 miles south of the city.

The island is a barrier island, sitting more or less between the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay.

Getting to it you go over a bridge with a massive incline:
On the island I visited the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, which has a estuarium dedicated to the ecology of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and the Gulf of Mexico.

As neat as that was, there was something much more impressive and interesting about seeing all of the oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico.
It was difficult to capture with a camera the sheer number of rigs that were out there, so I took this picture once it got pretty dark so that the rigs in the distance could be seen with their lights:
The island is also home to Fort Gaines.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Southern Food

I finally had my first encounter with real southern cuisine.

My company had a catered southern Thanksgiving Day lunch. All week leading up to it I keep hearing people talk about how amazing the caterer's "dressing" is. I had no clue what dressing was, and I had to ask someone. It's stuffing, but instead of being made with white bread, it's made with cornbread (and includes lots of other things, like: celery, butter, slightly beaten eggs, butter, bell peppers, butter, etc.).

As you can imagine, it has a pretty thick and gewy consistency. After all the build up to the dressing, I thought it tasted pretty bland -- there's nothing in it to give it any flavor. But everyone else raved about it, and it was the first thing that the caterer ran out of. Other items on the menu included cooked string beans that were covered in a sweet but bland sauce. And there was mac and cheese, which I detest. So I pretty much only ate the turkey, which was quite good.

Now you're all going to find this much more interesting:

Apparently down here in Alabama, most people deep fry their turkey instead of roast it.

At lunch today two of my co-workers walked me through how to deep fry a turkey; this website has good in-depth directions, but in short, this is how it's done:

1. Buy an outdoor turkey fryer, protective gloves, and a long sleeve shirt.

I stress "outdoor" because deep frying a turkey is quite messy. Many people do it on their driveway so that they can hose everything down afterwards.

2. Inject the marinade into the turkey.

3. Drop the turkey into the deep fryer for 30 minutes to an hour.

One of the main reasons this is so popular is that the cook time is typically under an hour, where as roasting a turkey is an all day affair.

I'm of course going to have to try deep fried turkey, and I'll spend the next few days hunting for a restaurant that makes it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Street Lighting

A major difference between a city like Philadelphia and Montgomery is street lighting.

The lighting level of most streets at night is low enough that I should really use my high beams, but there is too much traffic on the road to use them. Markings on the pavement are particularly difficult to see at night.

Tonight I had to go to the FedEx distribution center on the edge of town to pickup my new computer (sidebar: I hate FedEx. They deliver packages to my neighborhood at 2:00pm -- nothing really new or surprising there. Realizing that this was going to happen, I called FedEx in advance and asked that they hold my package at the distribution center and never put it on the truck. No dice. FedEx tells me they have to make at least one delivery attempt. Apparently they have a contract with the shipper... yaddi yaddi yadda... it doesn't matter that I am the customer and that I just want to pick it up. So they make the delivery attempt, I'm not home, and at that point FedEx will hold the package. On the phone they tell me I can pick it up anytime after 5:00. I show up at 6:30 and they tell me I have to wait 45 minutes because the package is still on the truck. 45 minutes comes and goes, and they give me the wrong package -- it turns out there is another Levi in Montgomery. So around 7:30 I finally get the computer).

As I drive to the distribution center, the amount of lighting quickly decreases until there is none. There are people on the road and buildings nearby, so it's not like I'm in the middle of no where, but there is zero lighting. And even with my high beams on, the road markings are so faded that I cannot see them. So part of my platform for Mayor in 2011 will be more street lighting and repainting all of the roads.

The computer:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Confederate Memorial Park

I went to the Confederate Memorial Park today (33 miles north of Montgomery).

This was the first place I've been to so far that was really in the middle of no where. Neither GPS nor Google Maps could get me all the way there, and I got lost on a dirt road trying to find it (for the record, this was the first time I've gotten lost on a dirt road since I moved down to Alabama).
In Apocalypse Now they say, "never get out of the boat." Here, it's "never get off the interstate."

After a quick u-turn I was able to find my way to the Confederate Memorial Park.
It was pretty disappointing. It was just two very small cemeteries for Confederate war veterans, a small museum that I wouldn't pay the $5 admission fee for, camp grounds, and a nice half mile nature walk.
I decided to check out some of the dirt roads, and walked a 2.5 mile loop. The weather was fantastic; mid 70s and sunny. I love wearing shorts in November.

On the drive back to the interstate I passed by a sheriffs car that was parked by the side of the road. I of course made sure that I was going under the speed limit. As soon as I passed the car it pulled onto the road. I nearly shit myself. I still have my PA license plate, so I figured that was a giant bull's-eye on my car. I wasn't pulled over or anything -- it was purely coincidental. It will be a while, though, until I forget the feeling of dread when I saw that car pull into the road in my rear view mirror.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Selma, AL

I used my day off today to go to Selma, AL.

The city is most noteworthy for "Blood Sunday" and the successful voting rights march to Montgomery. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is one of the most recognizable sites from the Civil Rights Movement, so it was pretty neat to get to see it in person and walk across the bridge.
Downtown Selma has a strip of interesting (and decaying) historic buildings. To give you an idea of how small the city is, finding an ATM was fairly difficult. I went to two gas stations; neither of them had one. I then went to a Wachovia; still no dice despite it being a bank! I asked someone at a drug store if they knew where an ATM was; they had never heard of an ATM. After 15 minutes of wandering I finally found one in some obscure southern bank.

Near the downtown area there is a fairly large neighborhood composed of historic southern homes (many date back the middle of the 19th century). Many of the homes have been fully restored, so I had a good time walking around looking at them. I have to say, I think ceiling fans on porches are very cool. According to Wiki, "Selma boasts the state's largest historic district, over 1,250 structures."

I stopped in the Sturdivant Hall House Museum, which is supposed to be the most impressive of all the historic Selma homes -- I believe it. The interior was huge and ornate. You cannot see it from the picture below, but the backside of the house is a network of stairways. This was done so that the slaves (the tour guide couldn't bring herself to use that word and called them "servants") could access any room in the house without having to walk through the house. So the bedrooms all have decks with staircases for this purpose. And the kitchen is in a small building next to the house -- again, this was a way to keep the slaves out of the house. I thought that was interesting.

I also went the National Voting Rights Museum. All it is, is an in-depth look at the events leading up to Blood Sunday. With a name like that I was expecting more, but it was still worthy of my time.

Overall, good trip.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Long weekend

For fun I took an evasive driving class. The lessons/driving course included: emergency turning, emergency braking, driving in a figure 8, j-turning, and the slalom.

The class took place on an abandon airport runway with several hundred cones.

Most of the exercises boiled down to the importance of holding the wheel at 10 and 2, ocular driving, and that you should accelerate, not brake, when making a tight turn at a high speed. What's ocular driving? The idea of looking where you want to go instead of focusing on an object(s). Driving in the figure 8 was used to demonstrate this. The course they laid out was very tight -- the angle of the curve looked too tight to fit the car. If you focused on the avoiding the cones, you'd end up hitting every one of them. If you focused on the space in front of the car, you could make it through. The first time I did it I was watching the cones, and sure enough, I took about half of them down. The next time out I just focused on where I wanted the car to go, and it worked.

The j-turning was thrown in for fun. Step 1: gun the engine in reverse. Step 2: as soon as you hit 35 mph, take your foot of the accelerator, grab the bottom of the wheel and swing it around. Step 3: once the car has rotated 180 degrees quickly shift into drive and slam the accelerator. At no time do you use the brake. After each turn you could smell rubber in the air. It was obviously the highlight of the day.

The slalom was by far the hardest thing to do. To make the turns you have to accelerate, which is counter intuitive.

Yesterday I went to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art. I wasn't expecting the Louvre; my expectations were a notch above a collection of hotel art. The bulk of the collection was modern art. This must be where the MoMA left overs go to die. The Museum sits in a large park, which I found is a decent place to go running or biking -- I returned the next day with my bike. So it wasn't a total wasted opportunity.
I also took a tour of the Alabama State Capitol. The building itself is pretty unremarkable, but so are most state capitol buildings I suppose (apparently PA's building is one of the two or three nicest). The tour guide made this big deal about how tens of millions of dollars were recently spent to restore the building to how it looked in the 1850s; it must have looked really awful before the restoration. The building is just really bland -- it looks like the ran out of money when building it.

The building is much more noteworthy for all the important Civil War and Civil Rights events that took place in or around it, such as the founding of the Confederacy and the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Today, the General Assembly no longer uses the building, and the Governor only keeps his office there so that the building can legitimately be called the state capitol building.

Outside the building is a memorial to Civil War veterans with this offensive inscription:

Pictures of the State Capitol Building:

Friday, November 6, 2009

College Pride and Slave Market

The pride people display for ASU and Auburn football surpasses Philadelphia and the Eagles. Not only do half the cars here have a specialty college football license plates, but the cars also have window flags and giant magnet logos. I don't get how people can spend so much money decorating their car -- I'm sure it all comes to over $100.

I decided to do my part for displaying college pride:

Once or twice a week I use my lunch break to explore downtown Montgomery. The other day I went to the slave market. There's nothing really left, but apparently the dock a few blocks down the street where the slaves would arrive is more or less still original.

So I've now been to a slave market and a Nazi concentration camp. To complete the trifecta I need to go to a Russian gulag.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Move In: Part II

I've been slow to blog this week because all of my stuff from Philly was delivered. I've been unpacking it, organizing the apartment, etc.



Most important, is that the TV and audio system are setup, and the CD collection is here: