It's a good thing I'm not in a rush. I left Fort Payne, after taking pictures of the Alabama museum (the band, not the state) at 7:30 this morning. At 5:30 this afternoon, I pulled into the town of Atmore, a stones throw from the Florida border. This is my trip's penultimate day.
The timber industry is alive and well in Alabama. I traveled through pine country for the most part and logging trucks were the most common vehicles on the road. I passed one stack of tree trunks shorn of their branches that were piled into a spiral bigger than Boston City Hall. The landscape is filled with evidence of forest management, both wild and tame. I passed acres that had obviously been harvested and stands of trees that had obviously been planted in rows though they were a decade or so old.
Alabama is very pretty, like everywhere I've been, each place in its own way. There were fewer houses than anywhere else along my route. I passed through Montgomery, the capital, but otherwise I was in out of the way places and I was surprised not only by all the wood harvesting but by the factories I passed. Some were textile mills and some were lumber yards, others I have no idea what they were; vast, corrugated metal buildings with cryptic names, some of them Chinese-seeming, are plopped in the middle of nowhere.
Barbecue restaurants are popular and convenience stores stock bags of locally boiled green peanuts next to the cash register. The farther I go, the more people want to know where I'm from. They say I have an accent. I tell them I'm from Boston and the farther I go, the more flabbergasted the reactions. "That's a long trip." Yes. "Welcome to the South." Thank you.
Here are the counties I passed through: I started in DeKalb and after that I passed through Etowah, Calhoun, Talladega, Coosa, Elmore, Montgomery, Butler, Conecuh, and I'm now in Escambia. Here are some towns I saw: Rainbow City, Talladega, Sylacauga, Weoka, Wetumpka, Sandy Ridge Georgiana. Evergreen, Castleberry, Brewton, Flowmaton, and Atmore. Evocative names. Beautiful places. I wish I had time to explore them more and know them better.
Here's how I did for gasoline: From Fort Payne, I traveled another 39 miles to Leesburg (84 miles total since the last fill up); I bought 1.45 gallons for $3.96 ($2.92/gal. I pressed the premium button by mistake). I traveled 104 miles to Rockford and purchased 1.26 gallons for $3.50 ($2.74/gal. I had to pre-pay and three-fifty seemed a reasonable estimate). 99 miles later in Greenville I bought 2.19 gallons for $6.34 ($2.89/gal). In Flowmaton, the odometer read 99 miles and I filled up with 1.34 gallons for $3.90 ($2.89/gal again). I am now in Atmore and the odometer reads 34 additional miles.
Atmore is a nice little town. Like many hereabouts, the train runs right along Main Street. This is the first town where the commercial architecture reminds me of New Orleans. The two story buildings like the bank and the hair salon have roofed balconies on the second floor and it is all supported by wrought iron gimcrackery. Atmore is the county seat and I've learned that when a town has a county courthouse you can expect some life in it. Towns left to their own devices tend to be shells of their former selves, a collection of empty storefronts built in the 1920s. Atmore has a few restaurants, a coffee shop, a vintage movie theater (The Strand; Iron Man 2 opens tomorrow) and a few businesses beyond Dollar General and a gas station.
I'm about 200 miles from New Orleans, a straight shot along the Gulf Coast. I may linger in Biloxi but if the past is any guide, moving from Point A to journey's end should take most of the day even without much dilly-dallying.