These are some of the things that I noticed in contrast to California:
- There are lots of green trees. Everything feels like you're in the middle of the woods. The irony is that the South is in the middle of a serious drought.
- The streets do a lot of winding around like you're continually driving through residential areas.
- The streets mainly don't have sidewalks or curbs and the houses have open front yards without fences.
- The shopping areas are very inconspicuous. Suddenly they appear from out of nowhere and blend in nicely.
- Southern hospitality is hit and miss. Some folks have warm charm and others were downright unpleasant. That accent is certainly addictive.
My schedule of activities
Tuesday night: I managed to get through security without my ID. You see, I had taken out my driver's license a couple of days earlier and it was left in the pocket of the jacket I was wearing. My only inconvenience was being put through the cattle shute, being patted down and having my bags thoroughly searched. Other than that, I was surprisingly allowed to fly. Who knew? I arrived just in time for a few minutes of sitting before it was time to board the plane and depart LAX for Detroit on a red-eye flight.
Wednesday morning: spend 3 or so hours in Detroit airport before the 2-hour flight to Birmingham. Picked up by Nick (with very long hair by now) on my arrival. Relax with the family.
Wednesday evening: dinner at Chick-Fil-A (a real one!) with MeiMei, where she reportedly eats at least once a week. I got the 8-piece chicken nugget meal with coleslaw and a 1/2 & 1/2 of sweet tea and unsweet tea. Then it was off to the Church of the Highlands for the mid-week service. Wow! Very awesome pastor.
Thursday morning: I spent the morning in MeiMei's 4th grade class at Hall-Kent Elementary in the Homewood district. I talked for 1 hour about Cambodia showing them some pictures and answering lots of really insightful questions.
Thursday evening: Dinner was at Jim 'n Nicks BBQ. The waitress didn't know how to respond to my question, "How are the collard greens prepared?" Hear the rest of the story on my other blog, Kitchen Surprises, to see how she answers. After dinner, CanCan and I enjoyed an evening of spa treatments and chocolate courtesy of the women's group at Valleydale Baptist. We enjoyed hand treatments, manicures and making our own bath salts and sugar body scrub. The chocolate mocha "punch" was so yummy. Too bad I ate so much at dinner.
Friday morning: Today was our tourist attraction day. First was the Vulcan. And, no, it's not a park dedicated to Star Trek. Think Roman god, ore mines, and steel processing. JoJo, CanCan's boy did really well despite everything being over his head. Our lunch was at Surrin West, a Thai restaurant in downtown Birmingham. Very good Thai food for being outside of Thailand.
Friday afternoon: After lunch we headed over to the Black Business District to visit the Civil Rights Institute. This was an incredible museum dedicated to the Civil Rights movement. There were some very powerful displays. Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech always brings tears to my eyes. When JoJo was showing signs of exhaustion, it was time to go. However, I wandered into the park across the street to take some pictures of the sculptures. Upon viewing one in particular, one of the park dwellers walked past with his bike and casually threw over his shoulder, "You know why that one's upside down?" Of course, I bit, and I was immersed in a personal tour of the park and enlightened on other happenings of the Civil Rights movement from an insider's perspective. I should have known it would have ended with a request for a donation. I offered a hot meal or purchase of his prescription but was declined. Cash was preferred. Sorry, but I don't give cash. We parted with a blessing and a handshake. Thanks Juan for your life and stories!
Friday evening: Meeting back up with MeiMei, we all went out to dinner at Dale's, a supposed traditional Southern restaurant. It was hard wrangling JoJo and getting him to be quiet tonight. I ordered the fried catfish, fried okra and squash casserole. Later we wandered into a bread company called Panera's to look for some breakfast options for the next morning. This followed with checking out a local independent bookstore. Finally, we walked over to the Publix supermarket so's I could buy some Southern food items to take home as souvenirs. I came out with pickled okra and Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning (It goes on everything!) Then it was bye-bye to the Brooms and overnight at MeiMei's soon-to-be old apartment.
Saturday morning: I enjoyed my mochaccino bagel from Panera's and a cup of tea while hanging out until it was time to go to the airport. My flight left at 11:20. We left the house at 9:30. The first flight was to Memphis where I had a 2-hour layover before the 4-hour flight to LAX.
Saturday evening: A long 5-hour way lay ahead of me at LAX before the Coast Flyer bus would pick me up at 9:45pm. I read and read and read some more. Finally I broke down and got a soy Chai latte at the Starbucks in the international arrivals area where I was sitting. When the bus did come, I was the only passenger for the entire ride back to Pismo Beach. Lucky me. Unfortunately the only TV channel was a canned CNN-like news broadcast. Boring! I dosed off and on 'til my 1:00am arrival.
The Rav4 was waiting for me and I drove myself home. Upon arrival, mom was still up. She could have picked me up after all. I was bushed and after a short overview of the week's activities, went up to bed.