27 September 2005

Alabama Getaway

Some thoughts and insights gathered whilst in the Yellowhammer state ... a long weekend spent in my native stomping grounds around Birmingham, Ala.:

I arrived in Birmingham only to be greeted with the news: the city's second newspaper, the Birmingham Post-Herald announced the day before that the Friday (Sept. 23) edition was to be her last. I'm saddened, although not surprised. Even Atlanta hasn't had two papers in quite some time; Birmingham was a lone holdout in the South. But I knew the PH's days were numbered 10 years ago when the city's more prominent paper, The Birmingham News, moved from afternoons -- it and the PH flip-flopped and the News was now the morning newspaper. My heart always favored the Post-Herald, if you wanna know the truth. I'm gonna miss her; I'm glad I was in town to see the last issue (and, yes, pick up half a dozen for keepsakes)

As always, I rested my weary bones and their cellulite-laden surroundings at the Warrior River Motel, a 1954-vintage property still hanging in on US-78 at the Black Warrior River Mulberry Fork. All the trips made from Birmingham to Jasper, Tupelo, or Arkansas passed by this place. I took a chance last Fall and booked a room here, just for the nostalgic value alone. I was not disappointed, not one bit.

50 years later, it's still well-kept (owned by a family which runs a well-known breakfast restaurant about a mile up the highway, Uncle Mort's - in other words, no curry here!), and I can't balk at the price: $28.99 a night! The TV doesn't get many channels, the shower is incredibly tiny (but the water pressure more than made up for it - I like it when water stings my back!), and you don't get a coffee maker with three different coffees ... or a washcloth filled with bottles of conditioning shampoo, cocoa butter soap, and gawd knows what else. The Warrior River Motel provides two water cups, an ice bucket and two bars of basic soap. And something which, alone, makes the whole stay worth it: a paper strip around the commode seat, reading SANITIZED FOR YOUR PROTECTION. Yeeeah!

I'm incredibly cheap when it comes to motel rooms -- all I need is a clean (i.e. bug-free) room, working A/C, a comfortable bed, a couple of clean towels, and a functioning shower. Period. I get all those things at the Warrior River. And the lady who manages the property is nice as can be -- she even remembered me from my last stay. She helps clean the rooms, too. I like this place. A lot.

But I shed tears for the River's future. There are dark clouds looming, and even Uncle Mort knows it; a FOR SALE banner has been on the office building for over a year now. They see the writing on the wall, a large X about to be stamped on what is a wonderful slice of overnight hospitality:

The highway carries a nickname, Corridor X. It's part of the so-called Appalachian Regional Development network of four-lane highways, all designated with letters. Corridor X is the name given the new interstate-grade alignment of US 78 between Birmingham and Memphis. Today, it's finished from the Tenn./Miss. line south of Memphis all the way to east of Winfield, Ala. Alabama, God bless her tortured soul, has been embarrassingly slow in building its portion of X. Originally, it was to have been completed by 2005. Don't see that happening. Try 2010. If not later.

When it's all finished, it will carry a new name: Interstate 22. And the traffic along the present US-78 in front of the Warrior River Motel will no longer include the out-of-town traffic between Memphis and Birmingham. Yet another instance of a fine motel losing its mojo to the interstate. Unfortunate collateral damage in the effort to connect two cities via freeway which should've been done 40 years ago!

Made a small research-related trip over to Mississippi. Had lunch at one of the few remaining locations of The Little Roast Beef Chain That Couldn't, a/k/a Danver's. Tupelo still has one going strong. As always, the roast beef sandwiches were beyond heavenly. 10 times better than Arby's.

The city I called home through much of the '70s has undergone radical changes. Most of the growth has centered on the area north of the current US-78 (the aforementioned Corridor X, soon-to-be I-22). US-45 is also an interstate-grade highway, both bypassing the city's center. I'm astonished at how S. Gloster Street looks today. 30 years ago, Gloster was highway 45 and it was congested and built-up. Today there are vacant lots and empty buildings all up and down Gloster. That street is damn near becoming a ghost town.

"Will you still hear me/Will you still fear me/When I'm 964 (millibars)"
Spent much of my time at the Tupelo library with an eye to the skies. Most of the tornadic outer rain bands of Rita were inching their way up through Mississippi. After most of my to-do list was done, I went downstairs to one of the computers to check the weather radar. Ugly rain band about an hour south of Tupelo, complete with tornado warnings for a couple of counties. Moving north. It was time for Mr. Gleck to pack it in and head back for Alabama post haste.

Oh, and the next night the big rain bands were moving through Alabama. Sunday night It was raining like a maternal fornicator at the motel ... and two tornadoes touched down in Tuscaloosa, ohhhhhh about 35 miles from where I was staying. Did I mention the Warrior River Motel rooms have small closets? I almost ended up in mine!

While in Tupelo, my radio was set mostly to AM 580, the venerable WELO. They're running the satellite "Music of Your Life" format. Mostly hits of the '40s-'70s, a lot of the 'singers and standards' type of music. Last year while here I was shocked to realize my radio had been on that station for well over an hour without having changed it due to a bad song. Saturday, the radio didn't leave 580. I'm getting old, friends.

Nearby the motel, in the small city of Jasper, is what you might call a "Thrift Store Supercenter." Humongous place. Lots of vinyl records for sale, although the person who prices 'em is very much aware of values. Found some cool records, and some more weird titles. I'll blog about those at a later time.

My visit concluded with a detour to Montgomery, where I visited my son Tiger's school and picked up a copy of his 'progress report'. I'm proud to say his grades are looking much better than last year's. He still has that lethargic streak in him, and not putting much effort into his daily work - this time his test grades saved his arse. I fixed something in his computer and took him to get Chick-Fil-A for an early supper before I headed back toward Savannah.

A fun time was had, as always. Wish I could do it more often.

Ciao for niao!

--Talmadge "Bankhead Highway" Gleck

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