We had flown awhile above rain clouds and the air was choppy. But, as the little 50-seat airliner closed in on our destination of Montgomery, the clouds parted just enough to catch my first-ever glimpse at Alabama, land of my fathers. Or at least some of them.
The view was night and day from where I currently live in the desert of Arizona. Trees, actual forests, ran in all directions. And there were streams running through them. Lush. I had been in the South before. Louisiana, Mississippi and more recently South Carolina and Georgia. I wasn’t surprised.
Montgomery’s airport too was night and day from DFW, where we had a two-hour layover. It was small with one terminal. Everything including baggage claim and rental car agencies were smacked together with the ticket counters of the few airlines that flew in there, all of that in one intimate building.
At Dollar, we picked up our sub-compact, a cream-colored Toyota Yaris, and headed for Montgomery, only 10 miles or so to the northeast.
Driving along with Nebra at the wheel, I was reminded of something one of her friends had said about Rosa Parks, the inspiration behind the Montgomery bus boycott and the civil rights movement. To paraphrase, she said, I don’t know why Rosa Parks needed a bus, the place is so small.
Small or not, as chief navigator of our car, I needed to orient myself quickly.
You don’t need a GPS to find your way around Montgomery. All you need to know is this. Which direcction is north and the two coordinates that divide the city. Interstates 65 and 85.
The 85 runs east and west just south of downtown, and 65, north and south, more or less marks the city’s west boundary. That was enough for me.
It is the 85, to Atlanta, that really defines Montgomery, touching as it does more of the city. Along that wide ribbon, you first run into Exit 1 to downtown and the magnificent capitol building. Not that you can see downtown for all the trees. Anyway it was easy to learn the town by Exit numbers. Eastdale Mall is off this exit, Alabama State University is off that one and so on.
We turned off at Exit 6, or East Boulevard. It is an area loaded with motels, particularly along the first street south, Carmichael. Along that strip you find lodging from Courtyard Marriott to La Quinta to Country Suites. We pulled in at the Holiday Inn Express, our home for the first two nights, checked in and began looking for a restaurant along East Boulevard to the north of 85.
It was dark and already about 8 o’clock, too late for breakfast at the nearby Waffle House, one of my favorite breakfast joints. Jason’s Deli and a Korean restaraunt didn’t sound enticing either.
Heading north along East are signs of what I assumed was Montgomery’s first big suburban movement. It is now, or so it seemed, in decay. The moneyed suburbs apparently now rest east of East. The large Eastdale Mall with its Sears anchor seemed all but dead. We settled on chicken fingers and grilled grouper at a local establishment, Jan’s Beach House Grill. Good food but nothing special.
Back in our motel room, I pondered over what lay ahead in our seven-day visit. Surely historic Montgomery would be more interesting than this first glimpse.
Tomorrow, as Scarlett says, is another day.