I spent the first night of my time in Montgomery in the first and only hotel of my travels. $42 dollars got me a warm shower, a bed to myself and a micro-fridge, but no company (double-edged sword). I searched the internet for Montgomery to-do’s and found that a production of A Delicate Balance was being performed at Auburn University’s Montgomery campus. After reheating some eggplant parmesan, I got in my car and drove to campus.
The nice man at the ticket counter assumed I was a student and handed me a free ticket. With half an hour to kill before the play, I made my way in and out of buildings, photographed sorority and fraternity signs for novelty and documented plaques that named George Wallace governor of Alabama. The play was a great little production with a fresh soundtrack compliments, I learned, of the waiter I had the following night at the worst overpriced Mexican restaurant I will ever (god willing) eat at.
The next morning I ventured over to a quirky indoor “farmer’s” market, which was an assortment of homemade canned goods, southern pies and fire wood. A nice lady gave me a complimentary slice of caramelized sugar cake and we made conversation across accents by discussing only baked goods. I bought a chocolate pie for my couch surfing host and a jar of peach pepper jam for friends.
After my time at the market I drove to one of Montgomery’s cutesy “historic” neighborhoods called Old Cloverdale. The curse of writing my graduate school essays on the road is that on occasion I would convince myself to spend an entire day inside. From 12:30 until 5PM I enjoyed Old Cloverdale from the the innards of Cafe Louisa. In Montgomery, a city lacking much intrigue beyond the history it is still grappling with, I was thankful for a reason to stay busy. Unfortunately, busyness made me oblivious to the Southern truth that most things, including the Civil Rights Memorial Center, would be closed on Sundays. Total bummer.
While the Center is inside, the memorial is outside available for viewing at all hours, protected by a guard in uniform. The memorial is an extremely simplified timeline of the events of the Civil Rights era. I expected more from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The memorial reminded me of the deep and still imperfect work of the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa and made me wish that there was a national commitment to addressing the past in the United States. As far as I am concerned, a literal interpretation of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote does not come close to acknowledging the bloody past and imperfect present of race relations in this country.
I spent a night couchsurfing outside of Montgomery and was taken on two adventures by my host Katrina. The first adventure involved drinking Bud Light at a self-proclaimed hick bar called One More Lounge. The scenery included karaoke-singing hunters in full camo and a hip-swinging, Marlboro smoking-man in his early 70’s affectionately called “Cowboy.”
The second adventure took me down the road to Katrina’s hometown of Prattville , Alabama where she wanted to show me this:
On both sides of the road, scrawled messages appeared on rusted appliances, rotting furniture and wooden crosses. The messages, sometimes scripture, sometimes fiery threats from the writer himself, scream to the viewer, violently jumping off whatever they are scrawled on. The Cross Garden was such an oddity, clearly the work of a person possessed by an idea, taken over by it, that I uttered “oh my” numerous times as I switched my camera from color to black and white.
Maybe this gentleman, W.C. Rice, was an Angel from Montgomery.