When I awoke on our third day in Mobile, Alabama, the sun was shining, the birds were singing (with southern accents) and the wake-up telephone call had ruined another set of sheets. When we first got here, Jeff and I were running around like lost ants, but after a short while, Jeff was navigating the roads as if he lived there all his life. Compared to the fiasco that we caused ourselves on the first day, the next three and a half days of the trip were a breeze. We had shown up for Monday’s class two hours and twenty minutes late due to accidentally having infiltrated a U.S. Army Electrical Engineers class. The novelty of being in a different state had worn off by the time we started to understand the local accent, and as a result, we actually found places that we had received directions for. This is not a good thing, because being lost was the most entertainment we had during this trip so far.
After class on Tuesday, we visited the Battleship Park that contained a ship with the imaginative name of U.S.S. Alabama. It must have taken some major brainstorming to choose this name. This is the ship that was used in the Steven Segal movie entitled “Under Siege.” It was interesting to travel through the ship, but they had all the controls welded so you couldn’t start it up or fire torpedoes or anything that would be fun. We also had a claustrophobic tour of a submarine that I can’t remember the name of, and a few other attractions that resembled aircraft. Although I found the attractions interesting, one of the events that occurred still stands out in my mind. During the Battleship Park visit, I accidentally stepped on a woman’s hand while we were descending a ladder on the U.S.S. Alabama. She made a hilarious bleating noise that makes me laugh to this day when I think about it.
We decided to go exploring after our class on Wednesday. Pensacola, Florida is only an hour or so east of Mobile, and quite a few people in our class had gone there during the last couple of days. All we heard about was how white the sand was. It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to drive there. When we got there, the beach was just about deserted. We stayed for about 15 minutes, and then left. The sand was whiter than the beaches of New Hampshire, but there were no arcades, restaurants or anyplace to get a beer. The idea of having Jeff drive around in an unfamiliar state with car that our company was paying for after having a few beers was briefly entertaining, but the idea of having continuing employment with our company won out. We began our drive back to Mobile. Everyone that lived in Mobile had warned us about the rush hour, and now we got to experience it first hand. There were a total of twelve cars going the speed limit as opposed to eight cars going five miles per hour over the speed limit. I’ve had more traffic in my driveway.
That night we went to a popular Italian restaurant. For some reason I got a severe case of the giggles when I asked the waiter for an Italian beer and Jeff nonchalantly ordered a milk. I pretended to make it appear as if I was experiencing a coughing fit, but for all practical appearances, I looked like someone who was pretending to experience a coughing fit while laughing uncontrollably. It may have had something to do with the snorting noises I was making while slapping at the table — I’m not sure. Here we were, two adults from New England eating at an Italian restaurant in Mobile, Alabama and Jeff ordered a milk. I realize that he was responsible for the rental car and our company’s credit card, but I was determined to watch him consume an alcoholic beverage before the trip was over. Note to myself: Italians should really stick to making wine and leave the beer-making to the Germans, Canadians and the Americans.
At Thursday’s class, everybody was talking about how much money they had won by gambling in Biloxi, Mississippi. Jeff and I were driving around Southern United States looking at white sand like morons, while other people in our class were winning money. Now we knew where we were going to go after class. Biloxi, Mississippi is about an hour west of Mobile. I had only brought about eight dollars in change with me to waste. I am not a gambler by nature, but I really like money and was hoping to considerably alter my financial situation. As it turned out, I accomplished this feat in a record breaking thirty-six seconds. I lost all eight dollars in the slot machines. I felt I should have won a prize for that alone. Jeff, on the other hand had a bit more money to spend, but his slot machine was kinder to him. First, it would suck down seven tokens like a starving hog, then Jeff would win eight tokens. Then he would lose ten. This kept going on for about fourteen hours until Jeff finally ran out of money.
I was not particularly amused by the fact that right after I was completely out of tokens, the machine directly behind me began clanging away, indicating that the elderly woman playing the machine had won. She didn’t just win fifty or one hundred dollars — that would have been okay with me. She won twenty five thousand dollars. The machine didn’t contain that much money, so the casino officials actually chained this woman to a bar at the side of the machine. This is probably the only thing that kept her standing up. I was told that this was to prevent her from getting to the claim desk and actually collecting her money, although I suspect it was to prevent someone else from whacking her in the head with a bag of tokens, and taking her place at the machine.
I didn’t feel like hanging around watching her receive her winnings, so I began walking around watching other people play different games. I was the only person in the place that didn’t win anything. It became clear to me that people actually played the slot machines for a living. After they would win huge amounts of money, they would sit right back down and continue feeding the machine. I was really glad that I only brought eight dollars with me, because I could understand how people get caught up in gambling . People get feelings about when they’re going to get lucky with these machines and won’t leave their machine to go to the bathroom or eat. Just when you said to yourself “I’ve had enough, I’m leaving,” somebody wins and you get jealous. You want to win too. Forget it — it won’t happen. Statistics show that only one out of twenty-five people win anything at casinos. If you’re wondering where I got this statistic, I made it up. Statistics have to start somewhere.
That night we went to a nationally recognized seafood restaurant. The highlight of the night for me was our waiter. We had an excellent Chinese waiter with a southern accent. For some reason we couldn’t get past this and kept asking him questions just to hear him speak. He was extremely amusing and a genuinely nice person and I’m sure he wanted us to go away as soon as possible. When I thought about it, everybody in Mobile, Alabama was genuinely nice. We didn’t know anybody, and we kept pestering everybody with stupid questions or we would ask them for directions, and they were still nice to us. Southern Hospitality is not a myth — it exists.
Since this was going to be our last night in Mobile, I talked Jeff into going out for a drink. We returned to the first restaurant we had gone to. I had another beer called “The Pig Pounder,” and Jeff ordered a Purple Armadillo. The Purple Armadillo comes complete with a small rubber armadillo wedged onto the rim of the glass. I think I preferred when he ordered the milk, although I was entertained by the armadillo for a good portion of the evening. Each time there would be a lull in the conversation, I would glance at that armadillo and spew a mouthful of beer all over the table.
Our class on Friday ended at noon, so that everybody would have time to catch their planes. The instructor, remembering the difficulty Jeff and I had finding our first class, offered to let us skip class, so we could begin hunting for the airport and possibly even find it before our plane took off. As it turned out, we stayed for the entire class, and found the airport on the first try.
As I boarded the airplane, I realized I was going to miss Mobile, Alabama. I had started picking up some southern words such as “Y’all,” and the idea of returning to Boston’s Logan Airport was not enticing. The plane flight from Mobile, Alabama to Charlotte, North Carolina was uneventful with the exception of snack time. Due to the relatively short length of this first flight, the flight attendants only serve a snack. For this reason, it is called a “snack flight.” The longer flight, where you get a meal, is called a “meal flight.” Since we left for the airport at lunch time, my stomach was growling so loudly that airline personnel had to evacuate the plane during the boarding process, to look for a small, discreet animal with a deep, hearty growl. When the snack came, it was no longer a snack — it was a matter of survival.
For some reason, the airlines think that a bag of stale peanuts makes a great snack — and they allow you one entire bag each. Each bag contains about three small peanuts, and about five pounds of salt. As the flight attendant came down the aisle lobbing peanuts, I was getting anxious. When it was my turn, he threw the peanuts in my general direction, clipping the woman to my left in the eye, which deflected the peanuts downward between the meal trays. I panicked and shouted “My peanuts!” which the guy in front of me mistook for a dirty word and glared at me. I didn’t care, because the flight attendant returned and gave me another bag. I could not believe it. All I had to do was reach into a one-inch crack, and grab a bag of peanuts that had skittered under the seat in front of me, and I could have two bags of peanuts. I managed to lift my meal tray slightly and reach blindly about until I touched something. Unfortunately, it was the ankle of the glaring man in front of me. Some people have no sense of humor. But I got the second bag of peanuts, and that’s what was important in my life at that moment.
We experienced what people in the airline industry call “turbulence” during this flight. I did not find it comforting to have the plane suddenly drop out from under me while trying to eat my snack, and from the shrieks and groans of the other passengers, I was not alone. I am willing to bet that the Charlotte hospital gets a huge amount of emergency room patients who need to have snack peanuts removed from their nostrils after flights such as this. We should write letters to the F.A.A. or whoever is in charge of airline snacks, and plead with them to give us snacks such as corn on the cob, which would help prevent these tragic, but humorous accidents. Perhaps the real reason that peanuts were chosen as the official snack of the airline industry was due to their entertainment value, not their nutritional value.
When we landed at Charlotte, I was looking forward to getting on this last plane. Not that I really wanted to get on it, but because of where it was parked, I had to look forward to get on it. I still felt they should have parked it on the side. The Charlotte Airport, much like the Nashville Airport and the Mobile Airport was nice and calm, and everybody — including the hijacker –was extremely polite. (I was just kidding about the hijacker. I personally found him to be very rude.) We boarded this last flight without incident. I even got to take a short nap. When we landed in Boston (“The One-Way Street City”), we got slapped in the face by the Culture Shock. We had gone from “Can y’all remove your umbrella from my ribcage, please? It seems to have pierced my spleen.” to “Get that f@#$!!% umbrella away from me before I shove it up your a@#!”
People who live up north (“Northerners”) think that people that live in the south (“Southerners”) aren’t as smart as Northerners due to their accents. I do not feel that a different accent makes you any dumber (or smarter). I have to admit, the cultures are very different considering they are both in the same country. Does this change happen at the Mason-Dixon line or is it more gradual? I had a hard time dealing with the traffic in Mobile because there is hardly any aggression in the drivers. But after several days, I began to enjoy driving.
When we returned to Boston (“The Eternal Road Construction City”), It took approximately two seconds to revert back to the tense, foul-mouthed, white-knuckled, steering wheel gripping jerk that you have to be to navigate the streets. And I wasn’t even driving. If you attempt to be polite and let one person cut in front of you, you will realistically have about eight million other drivers cut in front of you so that you will have to sit there until two o’clock in the morning before you can ease your way back into the traffic flow.
We finally made it back to the Lawrence, Massachusetts area where Jeff went his way and I went my way. It was my first airplane flight, my first class since high school and my first experience with people thousands of miles away by myself. I met my wife and children back at my parents house, and we drove back to Londonderry, NH together. To our home. Home is where the heart is. Home is where the wife is. Home is where the beer is. Home is where the bed is. There’s no place like home… (click) there’s no place like home… (click) there’s no place like home (click).