|If only they had stopped there. Photo: © Stan Banos|
Determined to make the trip down South we couldn't make the year before, it started (for me) at home in NYC visiting my 92 year old mother. I've written enough about what I think of current NY, and my philosophy that I didn't leave NY, as much as NY left me. Sadly, two more of my personal remaining vestiges have now departed: Two Boots Pizza in The West Village (which I happily ran to for shelter and a slice in a sudden downpour, only to discover it shuttered) and The Great Jones Cafe, home to my Cajun Martinis and blackened catfish, sigh... Williamsburg is now completely gentrified, any mix and friction between old and new confined to memory only. I also ventured to my old teacher stomping grounds in Harlem; where Whites once feared to roam, they now walk about and live there quite comfortably. For new and "exciting," we are presently treated to... Vessel, a monumental monument of monumentous proportions that affords the monied elite who live around it the grand view of watching the minions below them walk endlessly about within its circle going nowhere. Perhaps a more appropriate name would have been... Metaphor.
|Photo: © Stan Banos|
Next stop, Washington DC- was about to take AMTRACK ($125) down when a good friend told me about Megabus ($25). Met The Wife there and looking back, wished we had stayed a day or two longer, but we were anxious to get the road trip underway.
|Side of MLK Monument. Photo: © Stan Banos|
I must admit we didn't plan quite as well as we should have when it came to what route we were taking and what exactly we planned to do and see. I had become somewhat spoiled and complacent to detailed advanced planning when it came to our previous road trips- in The Southwest even on major interstates, one can still be surrounded by the grandest of scenery and unexpected visual delights. I slowly discovered such would not be the case in The South, where Interstates are surrounded by generically interchangeable trees and scenery (as in most of the country)- the only break being the (very) occasional Stars and Bars Confederate Flag, flying proud, high atop some very visible and unapproachable vantage point like the giant FUCK YOU! it is obviously meant to be. Who is responsible for their presence I don't rightly know, but it is, without doubt, quite the surreal experience upon first seeing. I had fully expected to see many more "home grown" Confederate flags and Trump signs for decent photo ops but the few I saw were not very photo conducive. Also noticeably sparse in number- religiously oriented road signs; alas, another huge disappointment...
That said (and how much is genuine and how much simple artifice- I don't know) the people down South are, as a whole, incredibly polite and friendly. One of the main goals of this trip however was for Lisa ("The Wife") to meet some relatives she had only recently discovered. That occurred in the little (and I do mean little) town of Washington, Georgia which has a lovely town square (complete with requisite Confederate soldier monument), a newly restored hotel, and directly opposite that was... Cade's Home Cooking- Soul Food at it's ever lovin' best! I'm betting there's quite a few of these quaint, old towns throughout The South, but without the proper research, there's no way of telling if the small town you're exiting to explore from the interstate has one of these vintage "Historical Town Districts" at the end of the usual array of modern strip mall emporiums- or not!
|Titanic Museum, TN Photo: © Stan Banos|
|Atmore, AL Photo: © Stan Banos|
|Sevierville, TN Photo: © Stan Banos|
In Birmingham, AL we stopped to visit The 16th St Baptist Church where four young girls were killed by a KKK placed bomb, before making our way to Montgomery and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, or as some are prone to call it- The Lynching Museum. I remember a "discussion" concerning lynching on Petapixel (the penultimate site for intellectual discourse) where most Whites insisted that lynching was an equal opportunity employer back in the day. And while, yes, it did happen to people of all races, colors and creeds- they were in absolute ignorance and denial that it was disproportionately used upon Blacks, not only as a form of mob "justice," but as a form of abject terrorism (Black bodies were often additionally burned, dismembered, and cut into souvenirs). The Memorial pays homage to those facts in a very convincing manner- by documenting the names of the victims while gradually forcing you to raise your head to view them as you make your way through the memorial- just as you would have had to raise your head to view the hanging body...
|Footprints from monument to Montgomery bus boycott. Photo: © Stan Banos|
I wish that was the sole, enduring memory I have of Montgomery- but the following morning I awoke with over a a dozen Bedbug bites (tired and hard pressed to find accommodations that day, we didn't inspect the premises properly). Next morning, they weren't all that hard to find as we decontaminated our clothes and luggage with the all-natural bug spray The Wife cleverly brought, demanded our money back and emailed the Montgomery Dept of Health- who I have yet to hear back from...
I hadn't been to New Orleans since the late seventies when I'd board a Greyhound bus from NY for a day and a half, take pictures all throughout Fat Tuesday, and then reboard the bus the very same night for a day and a half trip back... cause that's the kinda thing you can get away with in your twenties. This time, after doing the usual tourist trap scenario through the French Quarter, we were much more interested in exploring what the hell happened during Katrina and its aftermath, how it happened, and where. So we went on a "Katrina Tour" which doesn't actually go through the Lower Ninth Ward (to avoid blatant exploitation) on a Grayline bus tour with the most knowledgeable Bruce Nolan who was a Times-Picayune journalist during the man made disaster.
|Close up of 9th Ward retaining wall. Photo: © Stan Banos|
The first thing I quickly realized is that the flood walls are not very imposing by any stretch of the imagination. I was expecting formidable Trumpian sized border wall massiveness, but they're actually surprisingly close to the ground- far from the reassurance one would want from the power of mother nature and the ensuing rise in sea level thanks to climate change! Some are built on levees for additional buttressing and height, but even they buckled, crumbled and collapsed due to the shit poor construction via The Army Corps of Engineers- as a result, 80% of the city flooded, 1,800 people died and it took a full week before the cavalry started to limp on in...
The following day we visited the headquarters of lowernine.org which gave us a brief but informative orientation to The Lower Ninth Ward, and off we went. Haven't been to Detroit, but this is somewhat what I imagine it to be (albeit on a much grander scale), this section of New Orleans is the least rebuilt, with vacant lots surrounding a minor sprinkling of the most modest of new homes. This poorest, mostly African-American neighborhood was the hardest hit by flooding in the entire city (surprise!).
|There's a wall atop that levee- somewhere... Photo: © Stan Banos|
New Orleans' architecture, music, food and culture are truly unique throughout the world- as are its people. It was heartening to hear from a young Black employee at our hotel that Whites and Blacks seem to have drawn closer since Katrina- at least they are conversing and socializing more than before. It is truly a a jewel amongst the homogeneity that can describe many an American city.
What kind of city is New Orleans? When we arrived at the airport for our departing flight back home, try as I might, I couldn't find any trace of Alaska Airlines. Finally, I noticed a distinguished looking airport employee, an African American gentleman a few years my senior. "Excuse me, could you tell me where Alaska Airlines is?" He looked me straight in the eye, furrowed his brow, and with the most bemused expression possible, replied, "Alaska Airlines!?" (Pause.) "In this airport???" Awww, shit- how in hell did I ever manage to fuck this up so completely!?! "It's right over there," pointing the way with the wryest of smiles. "You just keep being you," I managed to blurt out- how many others had he so bedeviled and thoroughly amused?
A truly unique city.
|A pair of very buxom fellows. Mobile, AL Photo: © Stan Banos|
|Mobile, AL Photo: © Stan Banos|