August 18, 2012
Anniston, AL to Birmingham
Now that we have finished our complimentary big southern breakfast and paid our $59 bill at the Victoria, it’s official--this is the best lodging value we can remember any time in our travel history. We sort of hate to leave, but, really, there is not much to do in Anniston, so we hit the highway for a quick drive to Birmingham.
We begin at the city’s highest point, the summit of Red Mountain, where a 56-foot tall statue of Vulcan, Roman god of fire and forging, stands atop a twelve story tower pointing a spear to the heavens. Made from ore mined from Red Mountain and smelted in the local foundry, the statue was made for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, a symbol of Birmingham’s booming iron industry. He was then--and he still remains--the world’s largest cast iron statue, although the iron industry he symbolizes no longer thrives in Birmingham.
Back in the valley, we spend the rest of the morning at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where dramatic multi-media displays trace Birmingham’s reluctant progress from being the largest segregated city in the country to electing its first black mayor in 1979, and reelecting him for the next twenty years. The dogs, the fire hoses, the Klan members (some of them children) in their white robes and hoods, the police strangely absent when Freedom Riders were beaten, the justice system lenient or slow in prosecuting beaters and bombers--the city’s shameful history was laid bare, with the hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Across the street is the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls lost their lives in a racially motivated terrorist bombing in 1963 (when bombings were so common that the city earned its nickname of “Bombingham”). Justice was not swift for the bombers--one of them was just tried relatively recently, over forty years after the act.
It’s time for lunch--and everyone agrees if you have just one lunch in Birmingham, that lunch should be ribs at Dreamland BBQ. We could smell the hickory smoke from blocks away, and truth be told, it is nearly nine hours later and the smell of smoky ribs still clings to us as an olfactory souvenir of Dreamland. The ribs are served with very soft white bread and spunky hot BBQ sauce for dipping. They are tasty, although we aren’t entirely certain that they live up to Dreamland’s motto--“ain’t nothing like ‘em nowhere.”
Another unique Birmingham attraction is Jim Reed Books and Museum of Fond Memories, where Jim presides over what is purported to be a quarter million books and other collectible items overflowing off the bookshelves onto piles in the aisles of the store. Books that are well over a hundred years old share space with flea market paperbacks, and Jim knows where everything is, it seems. Although it sounds really eclectic and offbeat, I think I am the only one in our group who finds it enchanting. (I think this because when I found a really cool book I wanted to share, none of my travel companions were still in the store--they had all snuck out to the cars to wait for me to come to my senses.)
The day is wearing on and we have no hotel reservations, so we head for a big generic clump of chain hotels off the highway at the edge of Birmingham, and book rooms in a Hampton Inn which hasxfs a tenth of the atmosphere at almost twice the price of our now beloved Victoria Inn. But really, all we need is a place to shower away the aroma of Dreamland BBQ smoke, to drink a glass or two of wine, and to get a good night’s sleep, and for that the Hampton Inn suits us just fine.