Archive for October, 2009

Alabama the Battleship and Friends (Day 104)

October 30th, 2009 Comments off

Last military museum for a while. Well — till Texas. That seems like a while, but it’ll probably be like a week and a half.

The USS Alabama is a WW2 battleship that was used for five years, then sat mothballed for another 15 before getting towed to Mobile, Ala., where it became a “museum”. Sort of the martial-maritime version of the Biltmore Estate, except for the entry fee was 82% less and it wasn’t the home/play-thing of a useless trust-fund nerd. If you want to know what a WW2-era battleship was like, this is a fantastic ship-museum. They let you touch a lot of stuff and climb on things.

They also have a WW2-era submarine there, the USS Drum.

uss-alabama_uss-drumAs an added bonus, this photo also shows Mobile’s skyline. Seriously, it’s there.

uss-alabama_periscopeThe periscope actually works. You can see the Alabama through it. You can order someone to fire torpedoes at the Alabama, but nothing happens, at which point the fantasy breaks down.

They let you climb up into the conning tower, which is pretty cool. There are also a lot of levers and knobs you can manipulate to your heart’s content (depending on your heart). This would’ve been the greatest field trip ever if I were still in grade school.

Also there’s sort of a flight museum. Or at least, there are some planes parked in a hangar there.

uss-alabama_f15-f16Any color you want, so long as it’s gray.

uss-alabama_yf-17“See that white plane over there? The one that’s the only legitimately unique thing we have in this place? Yeah, that one. How ’bout you go ahead and throw all those folding chairs next to it. There you go.”

The plane’s a YF-17, one of two prototypes that were originally developed for the Air Force, which rejected them in favor of the F-16. Then the Navy needed something small, so had Northrop re-develop it into the F/A-18 that has since grown up considerably to where it’s now not small at all. Anyway — nice folding chairs. Hope that airplane’s not getting in the way of your spare television set.

Then battleship.

uss-alabama_stackRoll, Tide!

uss-alabama_16-inch-shells16-inch shells are pretty big actually.

uss-alabama_stack-and-semiforeSome day I hope to learn semaphore so I can quit wondering whether a ship is talking about me.

uss-alabama_bob-fellerWell he did. And he’s basically the Ted Williams of right-handed pitchers.

uss-alabama_turret-meManning my self-selected battle station.

Other things I feel like typing right now:

  • The Alabama is a fantastic artifact, especially so given that it was never updated after WW2 and therefore has its 1942 almost completely intact.
  • Being allowed to crawl all over it is awesome. For instance, you can crawl into all three of the sixteen-inch turrets. Never done that before.
  • Some time I’d like someone to explain exactly what it is that makes up the smell inside a big, retired navy vessel. I’m guessing it’s oil, grease, and seawater, but — it’s just a guess.
  • A WW2-era battleship would make for an unbelievable haunted house, I think.
  • They claimed that the ship went through 1,000 gallons of ice cream a day, despite having a crew of only (“only”) 2,000. Raises at least a couple of concerns for me.

The Pacific War Museum is the one in Texas. It’s the only one I got left this trip. Sadly. I skipped the WW2 one in N.O. If you’ve been there and it’s great, please don’t tell me now.



Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful (Signed) [Self-Important Politician] (State #36)

October 30th, 2009 3 comments

Maybe it’s like you’re supposed to feel like the governor is the person responsible for the state you’re entering, so you know who to go talk to if you find yourself dissatisfied with, say, Alabama. Maybe the governor is the state’s CSR-in-Chief.


welcome-alabamaBased on what criteria “beautiful”?

Went to Mobile. Stayed in a hotel. Watched baseball on TV.


Categories: south Tags: ,

My Day at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola (Day 103)

October 28th, 2009 9 comments

Here’s how my Day 103 started:

pensacola_rainAnd thus the Blue Angels canceled their practice session.

It supposedly rained like three inches in Pensacola that morning, which seems like a lot. We were the top news on the Weather Channel that day. That’s right, The Weather Channel. Which, btw, has some good-looking on-screen personalities.

pensacola_museum-entry-rainOne day I’m going to find a flag that’s not flying at half-mast. Maybe.

pensacola_museum-glingFiercest of the Navy’s 1920s night-fighters: the Gling.



pensacola_p-40-tomahawkCome to think of it, we may have already been fighting Japan when they attacked Pearl Harbor.

pensacola_many-tailsIt’s like a tails and folded wings convention in there.

pensacola_artworkNavy art. I like the composition.

pensacola_blimp-videoI am deeply concerned about naval blimpery.

pensacola_wide-viewAny color you want, so long as it’s navy blue.


pensacola_blue-angelsForever stuck in formation.

pensacola_museum-entranceIt eventually stopped raining.

pensacola_chopper-rowChopper row.

pensacola_fat-albertFat Albert: always a crowd-pleaser.

pensacola_door-21You asked me once, what was in Room 21. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 21 is the worst thing in the world.

pensacola_blue-angel (1)Yes, it *does* seem to be listing to port.

Beyond that:

  • The museum is actually on-base, which I thought was very cool.
  • I think the one thing this museum has going for it that no other flight museum has is the Blue Angels practices. Which get canceled when it rains three inches.
  • The museum has some usability issues, for instance: some of the displays are hard to read (see: “gling”); it was difficult to tell what the organization at the museum was meant to be — there are grouped displays, but their locations seem randomly selected; and some of the aircraft did not seem to have signs describing them.
  • Dave, our flight line tour guide, was exactly what you want a retired-Marine tour guide to be. Well done, very entertaining.
  • For some reason the four Blue Angels displayed in the museum (the old A-4s) are angled in a downward attitude. Seems sort of wrong.
  • The other thing this museum has that I thought was unusual and pretty cool was the artwork. They got a ton of artwork and a lot of it rulz — especially the WW2 stuff, which covered subjects I always thought should’ve been covered on canvas, but which I hadn’t seen before. Wish the National Museum of the Marine Corps had had that (seems like it’d be the rightful place for some of these, for instance — or maybe I just failed to notice them there).
  • I don’t think this museum quite nailed The Navy’s Big Moment (IMHO, that’d be Midway). I mean, they talk about it, but it doesn’t come alive or command attention the way you’d think it should. IMHO. Always IMHO.

But it was fun. Again, I thought it was particularly great that the museum was on-base.

It was also interesting to me that the base has its own lighthouse (what base doesn’t?):

pensacola_lighthouseIt keeps PBYs from hitting the control tower, I assume.

Once I got over the lighthouse, I left the base and headed to Warrington, which is where my parents lived when my dad was stationed in Pensacola. This is what the house looks like now:

pensacola_505-e-sunsetI like the gully.

Anyway — big day of naval aviation. And it’s still sort of disappointing to go to these places where my parents (and siblings) lived before I was born and then to find them to not be stuck in the era in which my family lived there. I mean, how hard would it be for Pensacola to pull off 1961? Oh well: maybe next year.


Forest, Beach, and a Hundred Miles of Strip Malls (Day 102)

October 28th, 2009 2 comments

Panama City is the worst place this side of Gatlinburg.

Here are pictures of trees, though:

apalachicola_t-intersectionI took the road more-traveled. It went back to the highway.

apalachicola_treesThis is what trees look like in Florida (some of them).

So I hadn’t seen the area around my campground prior to waking up, given that I’d pulled in way after dark. And that was what it looked like. There was a lake by my campground too, as it turned out, with fish in it. I saw one fish jump out of the water about four feet, fly sideways for a bit, then go back in — and then it kept doing it until it had made a complete circle in the lake. Fish don’t do that where I’m from.

And if they try? We stop them.

Went to some fort near the campground also (Fort Gadsden — named after the Purchase guy, not the Flag guy). There wasn’t much of a fort there, but the site caretaker’s dog ended up being a stalwart tour guide. Hopefully she found her way home once I lost her in the cemetery. And hopefully she’s not a digger.

Then I went to the beach. Pretty much all southern beaches look something like this one on St. George Island:

st-george-island_duneThey always have dunes like this.

st-george-island_grassAnd grass like this to keep the dunes in place (picking a blade of grass results in a $500 fine!).

st-george-island_stairsAnd boardwalks and stairs to get you over the dunes and grass.

Went swimming this time. It’s colder than it looks, but warmer than the Pacific on OC beaches in August (not that that’s saying much).

After the beach, I turned the truck toward Pensacola — 120 miles from the beach, IIRC, which was about as far as it was from Tallahassee, even though I’d driven 150 miles somewhat west-ish since  Tallahassee. I checked Google Maps when I was still 100 miles away from Pensacola and it told me it would take over 2.5 hours to travel those 100 miles. Because the rest of the highway was littered with strip malls and suburbs-without-cities. Que triste! I’m so pitiable. Anyway: they should probably build a new highway from Panama City to Pensacola, an interstate maybe even. And develop a logo so that we know how brilliant the current government is for paying for it.

And there were an unreal number of Air Force bases along the way. I guess they need to give the hurricanes something to aim at.


Florida State Line (State #35)

October 28th, 2009 Comments off

That’s what the top sign says anyway. No idea on the bottom sign. But check out my windshield!

welcome_floridaY’know, one good rain would take care of this problem.

Also had my worst sleep-finding experience of the trip so far on Night 101 (how fitting!). Got to Tallahassee around 8 or so and then drove out to the NFS campground about 20 minutes west of town. Turns out they don’t allow camping there — just ATV’ing. No problem. There were a bunch of others in the Apalachicola National Forest southwest of Tallahassee. An hour later, I’m cruising down dark, dirt roads looking for any of three different campgrounds purported to exist there. Three strikes later and I was — oh man, baseball reference fine, but nothing *that* lame. Sorry.

So I headed back down to the coastal highway and it was maybe 10:30 or 11 by then. Figured I’d just stop at a motel somewhere. And then from behind, as is (apparently) southern custom, someone started tailgating me, so I pulled over first half-chance I got so they could pass. Instead of passing, they pulled up next to me and stopped. It was the local sheriff wondering what was wrong. “Just wanted to let you guys pass me,” I said. “You sure there’s nothing wrong?” I was *pretty* sure. Anyway — they thought there might be a campground open in the next town, 20 minutes down the road. But they were wrong.

There *was* a motel there, though — it was about 11:30. The motel had three cars parked in front of it, but when I got to the office door it said “no vacancy”. Sure. Back in the car. Per the map, I could take another little highway through Apalachicola National Forest again and if it didn’t work out *this time*, then I’d be back on the 10 in 60 miles. Went up the little highway and found a state park sign that said there was camping there. Unfortunately, past the sign was just a mess of roads and when I found a trailhead that didn’t include a campground, I turned back. But on the way back, I saw a sign that said that whatever sand-spur would lead me to a campground. I followed it in and found the campground. Except that it said I needed a permit that I was supposed to get in some town somewhere. Naturally, I couldn’t violate the law.

So I headed back out to the highway, but not before getting on my Blackberry to see if I could verify that one of the two NFS campgrounds that Rand McNally said existed actually existed. To my surprise, they both seemed to and I found Actual Directions on how to navigate FS roads to get to one of them. And then I did that and it was a real campground and it cost $3 and it was barely even 1 AM when I went to sleep.

I didn’t say it was an *interesting* story.


Categories: south Tags: , ,

Georgia Coasting (Day 101)

October 27th, 2009 3 comments

You asked me once, what was on Day 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is on Day 101 is the worst thing in the world.

In this case, coastlines and forts. It’s the combination of the two that’s so frightening.

(Alternately, I could have made a Fallout 3 reference — but I was guessing that would be even more obscure to the present audience.)

So I went to Georgia’s oldest fort. Imagine that, the oldest fort in *all* of Georgia! There was some intrigue about building it in Spanish territory and on and on. 1755. It’s so important it doesn’t have its own Wikipedia entry.

ft-st-george_tree-pondThe fort — yet another location that warned me about disturbing American alligators, but then failed to provide said alligators.

ft-st-george_swamp-viewThe swamp at the fort: also alligator-free.

ft-st-george_interiorThe (entirely re-constructed based on … ?!) fort. Nice Union Jack, though.

ft-st-george_moss-treeSpanish moss festoons the… yeah.

At which point I went back in time and had breakfast.

waffle-house-reflectionPoetry of the road.

I’m starting to share the Freitai fascination with Waffle House. Just have to remember the two key truths:

  1. Their eggs are terrible.
  2. Their bacon is terrible.

Once you focus on waffles and sausage patties, everything (and I mean *everything*) becomes a-okay (outside of the eggs and the bacon, which remain awful).

From there headed to Jekyll Island, which was originally some sort of haven for rich capitalists who wore stovepipe hats. Now it’s this place that charges $5 for entry/parking and has an island-encircling bike path that inspired me to extract my bike from the ol’ king cab (and bike shoes, helmet, gloves, water bottles, and pump).

Ride on:

jekyll-island_croquetThe most serious croquet match ever.

jekyll-island_me-ridingYou can tell I’m going fast by how blurry the grass is.

jekyll-island_bike-pathBike path.

jekyll-island_trees-beachBeach with trees.

jekyll-island_shell-pathThe bike path is made out of crushed shells.

The biking photos were taken with my cell phone and mostly while moving. And when I was done, I just threw the bike in the bed of the truck because I was too lazy to disassemble it and re-arrange the… uh. I’m too lazy to describe the problem as well.

Does anyone actually read all these words?

Anyway: Georgia Coast.


Categories: south Tags: , , , ,

How I Celebrated 100 Days on the Road

October 27th, 2009 Comments off

Fortunately, geography was on my side and enabled me to celebrate the exact way I’d always planned.

fireworks-exterior1. With Fireworks!

pigs-feet2. And a banquet of pigs’ feet!

I was happy to have found the pigs’ feet at a Piggly Wiggly somewhere on the outskirts of Savannah. The fireworks were just barely on the South Carolina side of the border. I would’ve actually *bought* fireworks, but the guy who ran the place kept trying to talk to me and then, after we eventually talked for fifteen minutes, he stood up, thanked me for coming in, and wished me a nice day. (I think he’d been trying to watch TV.)

fireworks-interiorI imagine it looks *just like* a Cajun pageant.

And then I kept going.


Another State, Another Lighthouse (Day 100, Part 2)

October 27th, 2009 4 comments

Another *two* lighthouses actually. Drove into Savannah, saw confusing-looking streets, decided it was probably the same idea as Charleston, and instead headed out to Tybee Island where there was at least a fort. And lighthouses of course. Of course.

The fort was Ft. Pulaski, mostly famous for being the Civil War fort that guarded the Savannah River. It was taken by the North early on and then used as a prison. Also known as being the site of the earliest known photograph of men playing baseball. They know it’s the earliest photograph because someone claimed it was and so far no one has refuted the claim.

pulaski_grave-moat-wallExecuted for overthrowing his cut-off.

pulaski_cannon-circleI always think fort photos are going to be interesting.

pulaski_interior-wallAnd then they turn out to be not all that exciting.

pulaski_exterior-moatAnd yet I persevere.

cockspur-island-lighthouseCockspur Island Lighthouse, right next to the fort.

pulaski_frogMy animal spirit guide assumes tangible form.

cockspur_lighthouse-pathPurportedly, over 5,000 shells passed over this lighthouse during the battle.

cockspur-lighthouse_meEvidence that I may have been there.

tybee-island-lighthouseThe Tybee Island Lighthouse — way too well-kept.

fort-pulaski_dumpsterCaution indeed.

Another big day of looking at old stuff! The fort also had a rifle demonstration. I always wonder why it’s more interest to watch someone else shoot a rifle than it is for me to shoot one myself. Wait — maybe it *isn’t*. Hafta think about that one.


Welcome We’re glad Georgia’s on your mind (State #34)

October 27th, 2009 Comments off

I suppose it’s sort of a full sentence, but it still seems strange to not have title caps on your welcome sign and then since they didn’t, they could’ve at least given me some punctuation to work with. Maybe next state.

welcome_georgiaAnd I don’t know that Georgia was consciously on my mind at that moment.

Only 14 left…!


Categories: south Tags: ,

South Carolina’s Last Stand (Day 100)

October 26th, 2009 1 comment

I liked South Carolina, I’m going to miss it. Folks were polite, the tourist attractions and beaches wholly uncrowded, the swamps were quiet, weather was perfect, great barbecue restaurants. Yeah. Anyway, there was this bombed out church just maybe a half-mile from where I camped. It was called the “Church of Ease”. Cool and sort of romantic-spooky looking, IIDSSM. Like it should be the setting for some Southern Gothic novel or movie (if it hasn’t been already).

OTOH, if you’d like to pass your own judgements…

chapel-of-ease_interiorThe church’s interior with spanish moss Beilage.

chapel-of-ease_spooky-treeA tree! Also a crypt at lower-left. And some tombstones if you zoomed in real close.

chapel-of-ease_drivewayThe church driveway.

Actually, I think it just burned down rather than having been bombed.

Also, at Steve’s suggestion (he was the guy who owned the campground), I checked out this beach that no one knows about but him. Well, and some other locals, I imagine. Pretty and uncrowded, though, although if you’d like to pass your own judgements, again:

beaufort_triangle-beachOr you could’ve just taken my word for it.

And with that, South Carolina was done. OTOH, if I were to move to any of the southern states I’ve seen in this trip so far… yeah, or Virginia. Although Virginia mostly just because I imagine they have more/better jobs there.



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