Category Archives: Tourism

Down At Beach Breeze

Probably the most prized possession belonging to my wife and myself is our house that we call Beach Breeze in the Fort Morgan community on the Alabama Gulf Coast. We rent the house to vacationers during the peak season of May through August and occasionally during the other months as well. We try to get there as often as we can but we often go for several months without visiting our home away from home. Two weeks of the year that we always try to make it down are the weeks of my wife Kathy’s birthday in April and my birthday in late August. We’ve just arrived back in Birmingham from spending Kathy’s birthday week at Beach Breeze.

The weather was a roller coaster. We had rainy days and sunny days, strong thunderstorms, cold north winds, cloudy days and finally a couple of warm beautiful days. But as we always say, any day at the beach is a good day. All in all it was a great week. Our Scooby Doo looking dog Rosie made the trip with us and it was a joy to see her enjoying herself running and playing on the beach. One of the highlights of the week was meeting a friend in person who we had previously only known on facebook and in the blogosphere.  We met fellow blogger, writer, photographer, environmentalist, diver and underwater cave explorer Simone Lipscomb for a delicious dinner at Jesse’s Restaurant in her hometown of Magnolia Springs, Alabama. Simone is a very kind and interesting person and we hope to visit with her again in the future.

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To cross the mouth of Mobile Bay to the Mobile County side of the Alabama coast requires a ride on the Mobile Bay ferry, unless of course you prefer to drive the 150 miles around the bay. The western side of the bay features Dauphin Island, a fragile barrier island with a rich history of it’s own. The eastern end of the island is about a mile wide and wooded with pine forests. The town of Dauphin Island is concentrated on the east end. The west end is a fragile strip of land with water visible on both sides. The road is lined with beach houses, some with the pylons actually in the Gulf of Mexico with waves breaking under the houses. The uninhabited far western end was cut off from the rest of the island by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There has since been a rock jetty constructed across the “Katrina cut.”

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Across the big bridge over to the mainland we soon find ourselves headed toward the fishing, shrimping, and ship building villages of Coden and Bayou la Batre . The latter being made famous in the movie Forrest Gump. These towns are not big tourist destinations. There are no white sand beaches and no towering hotels or condos. They are however, very quaint and picturesque.

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We always love to take that day trip no matter how many times we’ve taken it already. After a great day of touring the coast we were happy to join friends for happy hour and karaoke (Kathy sings, I don’t) at Tacky Jacks , our neighborhood seafood restaurant/bar which is almost within sight of Beach Breeze. We met some new friends on this occasion who invited us to a Gulf Coast style crawfish boil on Easter. It was a fine time with fantastic food and good friends old and new. Now it’s back to the office for Kathy and back to the streets for me with a dream of our next trip to Beach Breeze.

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All text and photographs copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

 

 

 

The Long Way Home

Hello, how are you guys tonight? “We’re doing well, how about you?” I’m great, I said. Where do you guys need to go? They gave me an address in a neighborhood just over the mountain in Homewood. I headed toward the Red Mountain Expressway, the easiest way to take them home. “So what brings you to America?” the woman asked. I was flabbergasted by the question. I thought damn, didn’t she just hear me greet them? I know I said at least a couple of sentences in my slightly southern but unmistakably American English. I could tell that the couple may have had a few drinks but they were a long way from what I would consider hammered. Yet, this woman obviously thought I was a foreigner. After a few seconds went by, I said well, I guess it was the delivery doctor. I was born about fifty miles southwest of here in Tuscaloosa.

She was embarrassed. I think this taught both she and I a valuable lesson. The power of stereotypes. The idea that all cab drivers are recent immigrants was so firmly ingrained in her psyche that even clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, which was right in her face, didn’t purge it from her mind.

That’s one stereotype many people have of us drivers but it’s not the only one. Another one which is more common and more hurtful, at least to me, is the idea that all cab drivers are out to cheat the customer. Customers usually think drivers cheat by driving a longer route than is necessary in order to run up the meter. I’m not saying  this hasn’t happened to some customers and I know that there’s some scumbag drivers that would do it, I’ve met them. What I am saying is that it’s not most drivers. It’s certainly not me, in fact I’ll usually go out of my way to keep from overcharging someone. I definitely do have a strategy to maximize my income but it doesn’t involve cheating anyone. My strategy is to purposely target  neighborhoods that are a good distance, but not too far from the entertainment districts. This will make each trip a lucrative one without taking too much time. I don’t want to go so far that I have to spend a lot of time riding empty. I want to go back and get another one shortly after I drop off the last one. I want to keep it going, non-stop. That’s how you make money, not by cheating people.

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Knowing that this stereotype is strongly in the minds of many cab customers, I usually try to head off any accusations by letting the customer choose the route. This will usually take the issue off the table. There are often several good ways to get where you’re going. The customer will sometimes choose the longest route simply because they don’t know the short way. I’ve learned however, that if I choose the route and it’s a route that they’re unfamiliar with, they will almost always believe that I’ve cheated them, even if it’s the shortest route possible. Therefore my policy is to let the customer be the boss when it comes to which way we go, which most customers appreciate. There are however, a very few that are so stubborn in believing this stereotype that they will find a way to accuse you of cheating them no matter what. I once had a woman that didn’t like the total even after she had chosen the route. She accused me of tampering with the meter.

We have a minimum charge to go out and pick a up a customer. In Birmingham (the city sets the cab rates) it’s three dollars. Once we get rolling, the rate is two dollars per mile. So if you go one mile you will be charged five dollars, but if you go two miles you will only be charged seven dollars. There is another way customers are charged. It’s for time when the cab is sitting still. The rate is twenty four dollars per hour. So, if you have a driver to stop and wait on you at a store, someone’s house, a fast food drive through or somewhere else, you will pay three dollars for seven and a half minutes, six dollars for fifteen minutes, twelve dollars for thirty minutes and so on. Many customers don’t like paying wait time but it’s absolutely necessary to keep customers from taking advantage of us. Some customers would have us waiting for hours and pay us very little if not for wait time. It’s designed to hurry them along. All the rates are posted on the window of the cab but some customers will pretend that they didn’t know about wait time and start a confrontation with the driver. It’s always a good idea to warn them about it whenever they make a stop. I will usually turn the wait time off in a situation beyond the customer’s control, such as having to wait on a train or a funeral procession. If it’s a regular customer and I like them, I will usually give them a few minutes of free time if they’re in a store.

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I’ve had many customers complain to me about other drivers cheating them. Sometimes it sounds like they were legitimately cheated and other times it sounds like it’s in their minds. One guy told me that a driver stopped at a store and kept moving the car around in the parking lot to run up the meter. I reminded him that a driver would have to drive a mile to run the meter up two dollars. If you’re familiar with Birmingham, that’s the distance from the fountain at five points south to the middle of the Lakeview district. The customer still insisted that the driver had cheated him. I simply said, I’m sorry that happened to you. I was convinced that the customer spent more time than he thought he had in that store.

So if you order a cab and you’re concerned about being cheated, and I do know that sometimes it’s a legitimate concern, try telling the driver the route that you would like to take. If he or she refuses, you may want to complain to the company or request that the dispatchers not send that particular cab the next time you call.  Always be aware of wait time if you decide to stop. I’m always truly disturbed when I hear of a customer being cheated because it makes me as well as all the other honest drivers look bad. Please know that while there may be a few bad apples, most of us want to make your cab experience as pleasant as possible.

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.

Birming-Images

For those of you who aren’t very familiar with our city, I thought that you may enjoy a bit of a photographic tour. These images are the landmarks that make us who we are; they’re the things that make us unique.

The Vulcan Statue is generally considered to be the symbol of Birmingham. It was sculpted, begining in 1903 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. He was Birmingham’s entry for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Vulcan was the god of the fire and the forge in Roman mythology. Since 1936 Vulcan has stood watch over the city from his perch atop Red Mountain. Symbolizing the city’s founding on the iron and steel industry, he is made from iron ore mined from the very mountain on which he stands. At 56 feet, he is the tallest cast iron statue on Earth and is the 7th tallest free standing statue in the United States.

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But Vulcan isn’t the only cool statue in Birmingham. “Miss Electra” has adorned the top of the Birming-images 005Alabama Power building since 1926. Unlike Vulcan who is partially clothed, Miss Electra is totally nude and has lighting bolts for hair and bolts in her hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man greets visitors to the Medical Forum in downtown Birmingham.

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Once known as the “Football Capital of the South” Birmingham’s Legion Field has been home to some legendary games involving the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. For many years it was the largest stadium in the state and the Tide and the Tigers usually chose to play their biggest, most important home games here. Up until the last few years of the 20th century, the Tide and Tigers always played each other here. That’s why the label “Iron Bowl” became associated with the huge rivalry. When the two teams began updating the stadiums on their own campuses, Legion Field became less important. Now those two stadiums, especially Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, dwarf the “Gray Lady” , a name often used to refer to Legion Field. The stadium is still in use but not for the big glory games of the state’s largest two universities. It’s now the home field of the UAB Blazers and is the home of the “Magic City Classic” another big rivalry game between Alabama’s two largest historically black universities, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The BBVA Compass Bowl is also played here every January.          Birming-images 023                                                                                 Birming-images 019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of a dark chapter in the history of Birmingham. A dark chapter in terms of the shameful way that city officials and many white citizens reacted to the struggles for civil rights by African Americans. On the other hand it could be viewed as a bright chapter in the city’s history because it was the catalyst of change. It was the begining of the dismantling of the segregation and discrimination that unfortunately; this city and state had become infamous for in the eyes of the world. The area along 16th street north between 4th and 6th avenue north is sacred ground. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute now stands across 16th street from Kelly Ingram Park, an area where Bull Connor once used water cannons and vicious police dogs to subdue civil rights demonstrators. It stands across 6th avenue north from 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a Ku Klux Klan bombing that took the lives of 4 little girls in 1963. Birming-images 048

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As I’ve mentioned before, healthcare is the economic crown jewel of modern Birmingham. Banking is a close second. Regions Bank and BBVA Compass Bank are both headquarted here. Wells Fargo has a large presence. Birming-images 008

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One of the most interesting buildings in Birmingham IMO is Southside’s Quinlan Castle. Built in 1927 to resemble a medieval English castle, the building has served mainly as residential apartments throughout it’s history. It’s now owned by the Southern Research Institute and is not being used for apartments. According to the Bhamwiki article on the castle, in 1940 Quinlan Castle was rumored to have been the Birmingham headquarters of the Communist Party. It was in fact the home of party secretary Robert Hall. Hall’s apartment was raided by the Birmingham police but they didn’t find much of interest. Just a letter from someone at the Tennessee Valley Authority suggesting communist activities in that agency. Birming-images 043

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiar to many visitors to the city is sculptor Frank Flemming’s “Storyteller” fountain at 5 points south. It sits in front of Highlands United Methodist Church and is at the center of the 5 points entertainment district. Birming-images 032

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Lovoy, a 5 Points South icon gladly poses in front of the fountain.

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The newest building on Birmingham’s skyline is the gleaming new Benjamin Russell wing of Children’s Hospital. marcsteel 008

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works is still operating just west of downtown. uss 007

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ensley Works of USS ceased operations in the early 1970’s CIMG6868

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the location of the famous Tuxedo Junction “The place where the people go to dance the night away”. The song was co-written by Birmingham composer Erskine Hawkins. It was originally written as an instrumental. The nightclub that was the subject of the song was located in this building on 20th street Ensley. The building briefly served as a punk rock venue in the 1980’s. 3312010 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sloss Furnaces operated from the late 19th century until 1971 near downtown Birmingham.  The old mill has been preserved and is now a National Historic Landmark. It serves as a museum as well as a music venue, a venue for weddings, beer festivals and even a haunted house in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s said that the ghosts of many men who died on the job here over the decades still haunt the old mill.

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Built in 1929 this building was the home of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. At that time it was one of the finest hotels in the south. In the 1970’s it became known as the Cabana Hotel and finally Leer Tower before it was closed in 1983. The object on the right side of the roof of the building is a zeppelin mooring mast, the last of it’s kind in the world. In 2012 a non-profit corporation was formed to raise money to buy the property and restore it back to it’s former glory. Jeff hotel 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mural with a message painted on the wall of an abandoned grocery store in west Birmingham.

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Sources: Wikipedia and Bhamwiki.

All photographs and text copyright 2013 R.W. Walker