Edit Blog Post
Published: June 12th 2018
That’s all it took, 48 hrs, before I had been asked “do you know my relatives in Wales?” informed “your credit card doesn't work”, Reply “No because I need to put the PIN in not you!” and told off for walking on the verge alongside the queue of cars at the State Park entrance.
The last one is great having just returned from Mexico where all the world and his wife, as well as children / dogs/ acrobats/ jugglers/ sellers/ legless men collecting money etc roam about in between the traffic without any apparent trauma occurring. OK maybe the legless man might have had some at the beginning of the day, who knows.
On the other hand, we had driven along smooth roads, stopped in a camp site that had an easy access entrance & large parking sites with full service hook up, meaning we could use all our electrical appliances at once, and spent a night in a Walmart car park. We had forgotten how easy it all could be. Welcome back to the US of A.
At this point though, you wouldn’t really know you were back
in the States. Most signs are written in English & Spanish, most people are speaking Spanish and most people are of Hispanic descent. Perhaps, instead of building a wall they should just move the border north a bit. Problem solved, money saved, simple.
So, after a few continuous long days driving which took us from the beautiful Pacific coast, up through the Madre occidental mountains to Durango and across the vast plains and valleys of Chihuahua 5.647 Mexican (they seem much longer) miles later we were back in the States. We were heading east to check out the coastline of Texas, and then onwards towards Louisiana.
You may remember last year Hurricane Harvey travelled a similar route leaving a trail of destruction behind. We were not sure how much had been repaired since then, we checked with the tourist centre, they told us there was still damage but places were open and keen for business. So we drove through Corpus Christi, along the barrier reef of Padre Island, the longest in the world and on towards Rockport where the eye of the storm had hit land. Along the way we got a better understanding
of why the Hurricane could create such flood damage. It is so flat here, for miles and miles and miles.
We remembered that Joel and Sandie, whom we met in Texas last year lived somewhere in this area. Not too sure of how far away they might be, and aware that an Americans idea of distance is different to ours, a hundred miles being just up the road. We sent an email to see if they were about. Joel responded, they were, and actually about a mile from where we had booked to stay. We arranged to meet up.
Last year news programmes showed the hurricane in real time and we watch horrified by the destruction, feeling sad for those affected, then, naturally, life moves on and you forget. Seeing the situation almost a year later, people still homeless or displaced, buildings and businesses destroyed, infrastructure ruined, you realise that, just because we hear no more about it, it does not just magically get better.
We cycled around to view the area, noting the destruction, amazed by its randomness. Untouched buildings standing next to totally flattened houses. Rockport was/ is such a pretty
arty town and is slowly getting things back in order. In a just recently reopened Mexican restaurant we met Joel and Sandie, who although they were in the UK at the time of the storm, were able to tell us how the town and area had been affected. Luckily they escaped any damage.
Normally we avoid big cities but we were passing by Houston and fancied visiting the Space centre. We found a park which looked really nice so decided to stop. We were a bit suspicious, city parks are never usually quite what they promise to be and this one looked far too good to be true.
We called to see if there was space. That’s one big difference to Mexico, well two really. There, it’s usually not worth calling because a) they don’t answer the phone and 2) if they do they tell you “yes” whatever the question, but it always works out.
Although a “City park”, as usual it was situated some way outside the city. When we enquired about public transport availability we were informed the park supplied a regular shuttle service to the Medical centre and from there it was easy access
to Downtown. I visualised an English type medical centre, and curious as to why it went there we checked the map and decided it was probably just a convenient area for the shuttle to stop.
We arrived, booked in and wandered around. We were pleasantly surprised the park WAS lovely. The sites were situated around a large lake, there were wide roads, big pads to park on, a large heated pool and Jacuzzi. There were grassy social areas with gas fire pits & BBQs, fridges, cooking areas & swing chairs. The recreation area had a gym, games area, and endless coffee and popcorn supplies. All very nice.
Now here’s a bit for my medical friends. The next day we caught the shuttle bus to the “medical centre”. Along the way, as people got on board, we observed some had hospital arm bands on, had PICC lines in situ and were obviously receiving treatment. We on the other hand, were going sightseeing.
Unknown to us Houston has one of, if not the best medical services in the country. People travel from all over the USA and world to have treatment here. A quick bit of research
and the flat roads of Texas
Including the Ferry bit of route
told me the Texas Medical Centre (TMC) is a non profit umbrella organization and is the largest medical complex in the world. It covers a 2.1-sq mile (5.4 km2) area. It is home to over 54 medicine-related institutions, consisting of 21 hospitals, including the largest children's hospital and the largest cancer hospital in the world, eight academic and research institutions, four medical schools, seven nursing schools, three public health organizations, two pharmacy schools, and a dental school.
In total the TMC employs over 106,000 people, has 10 million patient episodes annually, and has a GDP of US$25 billion. The surrounding 5-square-mile area is home to over 20,000 people and highly populated with medical workers.
Sooo ... not quite like a UK medical centre then.
I was fascinated. Modern sky scrapers situated in beautifully landscaped areas containing sculptures and fountains, one building linked to another by glass bridges. It was like a medical Disney world, I was possibly the only person of the day taking pictures of the hospitals.
A slightly odd thing though, is that for America and a medical area there appeared to be a distinct lack of coffee shops on the streets.
We asked someone if they could tell us where one might be and were directed to a hospital building. It was the first time I have had lunch in hospital cafe for a long time.
A few days later I was talking to Bill and he gave me another side of the story. 65% of the people who stay on the RV Park attend one of the Hospitals for treatment. The shuttle service was supplied by the park to take them to appointments. Another large % were people still displaced by the hurricane, and the remaining fortunate few travellers like us.
All I can say if you have to have treatment and if you have to be away for home for long periods of time the Park couldn’t do more to offer a tranquil environment in which to stay. It was another unexpected interesting episode.
I did have a quick look on the internet for jobs. It seems a similar post as mine can earn about $110.000 (approx. £80.000) and, as a bonus I bet they throw in the equipment, beds and rooms with which to do your job. On the other hand what if you don’t
have health insurance.........…
As well as Hospital tourism we visited the Natural History museum, Aquarium and, the reason for the stop, the Space centre. Rather amusingly this high tech facility was rather low tech at managing their tram tour, seemingly unable to run it on time or organising the queuing. They had better sort it out soon. I can just imagine in the future, Oh, apologies, for being 40 years late to Mars there was trouble at the loading station.
The wait was worth it. You visit the actual room the Apollo missions were directed from, walk across an elevated gallery to observe the space vehicle mock up facility. It is here the Astronauts train for current missions and where scientists and engineers are developing the next generation of space exploration vehicles.
The building is also home to robotics projects such as Valkyrie, NASA’s next generation of humanoid robots. Initially they are going to be used to build the accommodation on Mars. Now, there’s an idea, just imagine robot builders at home, no endless cups of tea to be made, no more sad unbelievable excuses and in our case, as currently robots can’t take drugs,
a whole lot of trouble avoided !
Builders on earth had better look out, they could have serious competition in the future...........
The tour concludes at Rocket Park where the Saturn V rocket is on display. The Saturn V was developed to support the Apollo program of space exploration and the moon landings between 1967 -73. Later it was used to launch Skylab the first American space station.
With the Apollo spacecraft on top, it stood 363 feet (111 m) tall, and without fins, it was 33 feet (10 m) in diameter. When fuelled and ready for launch, the rocket could weigh 6.2 million pounds which, we learned, is almost the same weight as 39 space shuttle orbiters. All this to transport the small 35ft Apollo capsule with an interior the size of a small car sat atop of it into space.
It was fascinating to see all of this, designed achieved and operated with the top technology of the day, which now looks like a Blue Peter project. Now there is probably more computer capability in your phone. It was a very enjoyable stop but personally if I had to choose I preferred the Kennedy
Saturn V Rocket
That's the Apollo capsule on the top
Space centre. Enough of city life, it was time for us to move on, we headed off towards Louisiana.
Louisiana is not so big, it is 31st in the size list and the 25th most populated of all the States but the diversity in it is amazing. Geographically it can be divided into two parts, the uplands of the north, and the alluvial plains along the coast. Much of these lands were formed during the last 12,000 years from sediment washed down the Mississippi RIver, leaving enormous fertile deltas and vast areas of coastal marsh, waterways and swamp.
The Mississippi dominates the waterways, but there are many other rivers, including the wonderfully named “the Lost and the Old”. The coast is threaded by slow-moving bayous, there are lagoons such as Lake Ponchartrain, and oxbow lakes formed by the Mississippi River. It is a watery world here and the migratory birds love it.
So do we. It has a completely different feel. Of Louisiana’s 64 parishes only 22 are Cajun country, a melting pot of French, Spanish, African, American and French-Canadian which is reflected in its Creole and Cajun cultures. The scenery, food, history,
music, joie de vivre, made us feels a bit like we were back in Mexico.
Although keen to make New Orleans for the Jazz festival we didn’t want to hurry and miss anything. As we bounced along the roads (also a bit like Mexico) and stopped along the way to enjoy the unique countryside, take a swamp tour and view the bayous. We took a boat ride on the Atchafalaya Basin. Atchafalaya......... what a great word, it is pronounced like a sneeze “uh.CHA.fuh.lie.uh”......Ah ha, I bet you just tried it, I did when I read that instruction.
The scenery here is beyond description, my humble photos cannot capture the “feel” of the place. It’s the heat, humidity, croaking, rustling, chirping, calling, snapping, splashing soundtrack that accompanies you as you glide along, in an otherwise silent world, all the time being watched by unblinking sneaky yellow eyes, hovering just above the surface.
If you want to see more about this unique area look it up on www.atchafalaya.org
, The nice lady in the tourist centre asked me to pass on the word, and after them encouraging us to stay the night in, possibly the nicest tourist stop yet, and
offering us coffee in the morning, how could I refuse.
Next our route took us along Plantation Alley, a now quiet road that follows the banks of the Mississippi and is home to many Plantation houses. I really wanted to visit some of these, I checked out the literature
There are many to choose from, all offering a slightly different angle on the subject. Some tours are narrated by a “costumed” guide offering a glimpse into life on a sugar cane plantation, some are famous for their gardens, one tells of life from the Creole perspective and one offers a look into plantation life from the Slaves perspective. Graeme, not quite so enthusiastic about all this, gave me a maximum of three to visit. Uhmm ...how to choose?
I opted for “Oak Alley” French style house, costumed tour & famous garden, and as a comparison “Laura” A Creole plantation. Then, If not plantationed out maybe we could stop at Whitney, Slave perspective, although we could probably guess just what a bundle of fun life there was.
Oak Alley was nice enough but rather disappointingly the costumed tour wasn’t on offer that day. However, the mint julep
cocktail was very nice. The formal garden and famous oaks were beautiful, the slave area history heart breaking but very interesting, and the plantation house itself was very French. It was like a mini version of a stately home. Plenty of those to see at home, onto Laura to compare.
Creole is not defined by a colour, a race, or a language. Originally “Creole” was the term used by the French settlers to distinguish people born in Louisiana from those born in the mother country. eventually it was applied to anyone of any descent who was born in Louisiana, including the Native Americans, Acadians and slaves. All brought their own traditions, skills, food, language and music into the mix. Hence the wonderful eclectic, multi cultural society there is here today.
The commonly accepted definition of Louisiana Creole now, is a person descended from ancestors in Louisiana before the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803.
“Laura” was owned by a French Creole family, and the only plantation run by four generations of women. Would it be any different?
We turned into the drive and were instantly struck by one difference. No formal hedges
and flower beds here. Instead palms and banana plants swayed in the breeze. Brightly painted in ochre, red, green, mauve and grey, the plantation house, with rocking chairs on the wraparound balcony, sat nestled amongst a lush tropical garden and would have looked at home on any Caribbean island.
We learned the house was different in another way; essentially this was a prefabricated building.
It was decided how many beams wide” the house was to be and it was then designed as multiples of this unit. All the posts, beams and joints of the cypress frame were pre-cut, pre-measured, notched and pegged off site and then all put together in one big house-raising." The first kit house perhaps? The work was executed by highly-skilled slaves, probably of Senegalese descent, not one nail or screw was used. On the tour we were shown the markings builders used to match corresponding beams and joints.
Laura is also known for two other things that spread into the outside world, both originating from the slaves skills and traditions. One was the development of the easy to crack pecan nut and the other the Br’er Rabbit tales.
For the slaves, the
telling of folktales not only enabled the preservation and dissemination of their culture but gave a brief respite from the unbearable hardships of slavery. It also encouraged a sense of community as it was one of few activities not controlled by their white owners. Sometimes they used folktales to pass coded information about meeting places or escape plans.
Whilst a guest at “Laura” Joel Chandler Harris, an American journalist and writer heard some of these tales. They were the stories of Compair Lapin, which he took and with a direct translation published for the American market as Br’er Rabbit. Turning the African hare into Br'er Rabbit, the jackal became a fox, the tortoise a turtle. The tales are narrated by Uncle Remus who is telling the stories to the plantation owner’s young son.
Harris used the African dialect which had never been recorded in print before. Until the publishing of Uncle Remus few people outside of the South had ever heard accents like those spoken in the tales. Those tales were so successful they were translated into 40 languages and, a little known fact, Beatrice Potter did the drawings for some of the later stories.
Plantation Slaves names
220 people were enslaved at Oak Alley. The only record of their life was in sale ledgers.
not just a reporter, and writer but an activist. Throughout his career he promoted African-American education and equality, regularly denounced racism among southern whites, condemned lynching and highlighted the importance of higher education for the free African Americans. Now, him I like.
However the owners of Oak Alley and Laura not so much, they were mostly all as horrible and cruel as each other and in some cases quite mad. Interestingly the women owners were no better than the men.
The dichotomy when visiting these places is the beautiful surroundings you find yourself in whilst reading about the most unspeakable horrors.
Onto New Orleans, where we were going to meet up with Loretta and Doug , whom we had last seen in Mexico, and Jim and Donna, who had decided to drive from Florida to meet up with us all for a couple of days. That American distance thing again.
You may recall we were here two years ago when we did lots of the museums and tourist things, we really enjoyed it. Often, when you return to somewhere you really liked, it can be a disappointment but this time I liked it even more. The
N'awlins morning institution
Beignets and coffee. The icing sugar looks like a snow storm has passed through.
crazy chaotic streets, beautiful architecture, the arty squares and street performers, the people, music, culture and food are unique, all of which we were here to enjoy.
Should you ever visit here, for the food I can highly recommend you start the day with coffee & beignets, which are deep fried yeast fritters served warm and covered with so much powdered sugar that shortly after their arrival to your table it looks like a snow storm has passed through. You won’t ever be able to deny you have just eaten one of these as the powered sugar lingers on your clothes far longer than the beignet did on your lips. A word of warning should you ever try them..... Don’t wear black.
Then, after visiting a few bars and listening to a few bands move on to a lunch of muffuletta, ettouffee, Po boy or maybe oysters if they are your thing, they are served in many forms.
Later try a Jambalaya, crawfish pie or fillet gumbo (is there a song in that?). Choose between street vendors, a hole in the wall type place, or linger in a beautiful old restaurant to experience fine dining. Or ...
don’t choose at all just try them all, we did.
The music of New Orleans is fantastic. As you wander down the street you pop your head in to see who is playing what type of music. For just the price of a beer and tip you can listen to some of the most accomplished but almost unknown musicians. We saw Steve Mignano, look him up, an outstanding guitarist.
We managed to make the last day of the Jazz festival. Choosing between the acts was tricky. We dipped in & out of bands, but we enjoyed Steve Miller so much we watched the full set.
Again our “city” RV Park was in fact some miles away. We travelled into town on the bus and then took the famous St Charles Street streetcar it is the oldest longest tram line. We could (and did) use cabs sometimes but why miss this tram trip when it is on the essential “top ten things to do” list of New Orleans, and I can see why. The tram runs down the meridian of the road allowing you plenty of opportunity to view both sides of the street. We enjoyed it so
much we took it several times.
The street is lined with huge old live oak trees (different to our oaks and covered with moss) which shield and shade the most beautiful old houses. The architecture is a curious mix of the typical American wooden buildings, some painted cheerful Caribbean colours. Sporting wrap around porches, French turrets, and Spanish wrought iron balconies, an architectural Creole mix of everything.
Riding back in the evening gave us an opportunity to peep inside. We could see huge twinkling chandeliers taking centre space in every room, illuminating furnishings, all very formal. Porches, with empty rocking chairs enticingly waiting to embrace an occupant on a warm Louisiana evening, were lit by flickering carriage lamps and, like a modern day Spanish moss, hanging from the tree branches and twinkling in the dusk were hundreds and hundreds of Mardi gras beads.
I have just read a novel by James Lee Burke. It’s a detective story, not so different from many others but it is set in New Orleans and he captures the environment perfectly.
We were also lucky enough to meet again with Mark who we met last time we were here. He has
lived here for 18 years, & I can see why. Over the previous couple of weeks he had seen over 40 gigs. One of the joys of New Orleans is that you can wander out & listen to live music almost any time of the day or night. We spent some time together eating & drinking, & as before he provided us with insider information of places to visit and things to do. He & Graeme also went to see Dweezil Zappa play a superb show in a great little gig called Tiptinas. Thanks again Mark.
After a very social few days we all parted ways. Loretta and Doug, north west to Idaho, Donna and Jim back east to Florida. Being on the road is a small world sometimes because I know we will meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but ................oops, sorry getting into song lyrics again.
After much fun and frivolity it was time for some education, as we headed off through Alabama, following the Civil rights route.
African Americans had been fighting for basic civil and human rights from the moment slavery ended in 1865, and they continue to fight for these
In the 60s Alabama was the site of some of the most defining events of the modern civil rights era and produced some of the most iconic people and moments of the time.
Our first stop was to visit the museum in Montgomery, birthplace of the civil rights movement. In 1955 a single, defiant gesture from a brave woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, resulted in the Montgomery bus boycott. To this day this is the longest maintained act of civil disobedience.
Rosa Parks was that woman, she was a seamstress, but she was also an active member of the Montgomery branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP)
The response from the police to Rosa Parks action was to arrest her and charge her with violating the city's segregation laws. Her bail was paid by the NAACP who then immediately set about organising a one-day bus boycott in protest.
This was a clever move, as it was predominantly the African Americans who rode the buses, & therefore would have an immediate financial impact on the company.
In a world before
Rosa Parks, burned out Freedom ride bus, Montgomery bus boycott walkers,
instant communication they only had four days to organise the protest. Using word of mouth and hand printed notes they informed their community, and on Monday, December 5, 1955, 30,000 African Americans participated in the boycott.
That afternoon, the leaders of the African American community, including Ralph Abernathy, the pastor of First Baptist Church, formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to coordinate future protests. They also appointed Abernathy's close friend, a 26 year old pastor, who until then was unknown outside his community, as president of the organization.
His name was Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
It is at this point the stars aligned and the people, whose names we all know today were cast into their roles and destinies.
At great cost and hardship to themselves, & in spite of legal and physical attacks upon them, and the leaders houses being fire bombed, they maintained the initially one day boycott for 381 days. Eventually forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that segregation on Montgomery buses was unconstitutional.
In the Rosa Parks museum, as well as the Bus boycott, we learned about the “shop sit ins” and the “Freedom rides”, which along with others
Lynching Memorial Jars
Picture taken from museum website.
protests were all undertaken in a peaceful manner and responded to with excessive force & violence. It is incredible to read about the brave actions taken by these ordinary people to gain the right to simply be treated equally. Horrifying and humbling
Having spent an interesting but disturbing few hours here we decided to lighten up a bit, what should we do next? I know, let’s go to the Legacy Museum and gardens, It has opened just this month and is the first museum of its kind, dedicated to the victims of lynching.
Alabama was one of the two largest slave-owning states in America, and Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade, trafficking tens of thousands of black people during the 19th century. The Museum: or to give its full title, The Legacy Museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” is situated on the site where the people were “warehoused” and a block from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America. This area has now been gentrified and is full of restaurants and bars, which I must say feels a little weird.
This is a two centre experience, the museum itself and the
National Memorial for Peace and Justice garden.
We commenced with the museum. First difference, to prevent crowding, admission tickets are “timed” and the number allotted for each day is limited. Phones must be turned off and no photos can be taken. This turns out to be a genius move because as you go around the museum you become more & more involved in peoples horrifying stories, and large groups of people taking pictures would feel disruptive and disrespectful. Some of these victims relatives have been actively involved in the gathering of information displayed here.
The museum's goal is to lead the visitor on a journey from slavery to racial oppression in other forms, including terror lynching and mass incarceration of minorities. We learned that even today in some American states, children are tried as adults, and receive life sentences without parole, for their often redeemable crimes, & 1 in 3 coloured males alive today will be arrested and (it is claimed) often be more harshly sentenced than their white counterparts.
By the 19th
century many of the “slaves” sold were actually “free men of colour” kidnapped from the north and shipped south. As you pass through the
museum, using interactive technology you can look into the slave holding pens and listen to each individuals story of capture, abduction and ensuing hardships. A personal story of this is depicted in the film “Twelve years a Slave” as told by Solomon Northup, which we watched following this, for light relief!
Seeing, listening & reading about man’s inhumanity to man, driven only by their need for profit makes for an uncomfortable museum experience.
But then it gets worse. As you emerge into the main area you come upon a set of shelves neatly lined with identically sized glass jars filled with different coloured earth, As you get nearer you realise they are labelled with names and dates.
Between 1877 and 1950 More than 4400 African American men, women and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned and beaten to death by white mobs. I always thought these terrible deeds were perpetrated by anonymous, lawless mobs, taking “justice” into their own hands in remote countryside areas or plantations.
But No. Many lynchings took place in front of the Court House, or in other public areas, or were premeditated and advertised in order to get a big crowd.
On some occasions the lynch mob would even take the victim from the jail.
Reasons stated for some of the lynchings: Looking incorrectly at a white woman; looking sullen or threatening; loitering; passing a bathroom window when the lady of the house was inside; for writing a note and complaining about the lynching of a husband,.....and so on. All reasonable reasons of course! Until now the names of these victims have never been known outside their families.
SO, those jars. Those 4400 jars....................... Contain the soil from the 4400 documented lynching sites of 12 southern states.
Some descendants have travelled great distances to make the sad journey to see the place where their ancestors were murdered, the oldest a 104 year old woman.
In recent weeks in the news have been several cases of “concerned citizens” calling the police because of people BBQing in the wrong place (not), stealing luggage from a house (his own house and own luggage), loitering in a university public space (student of the faculty), breaking and entering a property (Estate Agent), Interloper at a Lecture (student), two women reported for leaving an Air B&B, stealing goods from Macys (purchased) , and
the Starbucks duo for loitering.. (Awaiting a business colleague)
Guess the common denominator?
Deep breath, and onto the Memorial Garden for Peace & Justice.
Located in the middle of a six acre garden is a square-shaped, open-air pavilion.
Hanging from the ceiling are over 800 six foot tall “coffin shaped” columns made from Corten steel. Each of the columns represents a county where lynchings took place, and where known, are inscribed with the details of the victims. Some have more than 40 names on them. Starting at ground level you weave your way through the columns, reading the inscriptions. As you follow the route, the path under your feet slopes gently downwards and eventually, almost without noticing, you find yourself gazing upwards, as if looking at a hanging body. Outside the pavilion are replicas of each of these columns waiting for their respective counties to claim. Those left behind will be public reminders of the counties that have not engaged with the memorial.
“How is that going”, we asked the curator. Well, not always so well he replied. A condition of taking the column is that it must be displayed in a prominent public space,
such as, in front of the courthouse, but even some of those who are willing to take them, want to place them in more out of the way places.
Whist a big percentage of the community here embrace the ethos of this beautiful sombre memorial garden and think it a way to acknowledge the past and commence healing, some are not so enthralled. The local Newspaper, on interviewing some of the town’s residents, found some were frustrated and angry at this insistence on confronting the past. Quotes such as “waste of money” “stirring up old memories, “will only cause trouble” “they need to forget about it” and “I am more concerned about saving the Confederate monuments” were recorded. ..... Re homing those monuments could take a while.
Another fact we learned which I really liked was the reason for the choosing of Corton steel, (used for shipping containers, and the Angel of the North) for the columns. As it is exposed to the elements and wears, & ages it develops a protective coating and, as it weathers & rusts it “bleeds” red but regenerates itself, making it stronger. Nice analogy.
It was a truly unique, and strangely
tranquil, reflective experience to visit here.
The next day we had much to think about as we made an early start to our destination, the Birmingham civil rights museum. Along the way we stopped to fuel up. This may seem to be a simple procedure but out here, for us it is not. In Mexico we enquire if they take tarjeta and if so we use the chip and PIN. No problem. Well. You do need to check they reset the pump etc but generally no problem.
At home we pay at the pump or fill up and then wander in to pay. But here for us it is a huge challenge. We can’t pay at the pump because the amount of fuel we need is too much for the automated system, and anyway you need to enter a ZIP code to activate it. So you can’t use the pump until you take the card in to the cashier and tell them how much you want. We don’t know exactly how much we want because we have a 130 gallon tank. That’s OK they say just name an amount and if you don’t use it all you get
a refund. Oh and by the way leave your card behind the till with me.
Now, American radio is full of adverts warning about identity theft / fraud. Apparently they can steal the deeds to your house, your financial and personal history, your money and probably somehow your kidneys, all on line.
This time it was a “leave your card with me, fill up and return to pay” garage. Due to the above mentioned fraud stuff, when it is this system I always stay with the card. As it takes a while to fill I usually potter around, read the local paper, listen to the local gossip, it’s amazing what you learn, look at the junk food and in this instant picked out two delightfully horrible donuts. (Excuse: no breakfast)
Time to pay. I indicated that we were ready, and asked them to run the card. All was going well until we were asked to enter our ZIP code, something we had never come across before at the till. We don’t have one we replied, we just need to enter the PIN. You can’t do that until you enter your ZIP, It’s a system we have set
Children off to jail
Picture taken from museum display.
up to prevent fraud said Dave the manager proudly. Why, we asked, don’t you just use the PIN that prevents fraud in every other country. Well, he said, on our system we need a ZIP. Well, we said we don’t have one. Uhmm, said Dave, I do have this problem with the Canadians but eventually have now managed to get the system to accept their code. Well, that may be but we don’t have a Canadian one either. What follows is a pointless and useless discussion about postal/ zip codes. So, what now? Try entering random numbers he said. How does that help prevent fraud we enquired? By now 40 minutes had passed and Dave was on several phones to several head office departments seeking help and by now we had eaten the donuts.
If it was a debit card it would be OK as they don’t ask for a code at all he said. Do not ask why or how that works but we decided to give it a go, off I went to get my debit card. Card inserted and with bated breath all round, we waited.......... enter ZIP it said. Back on the phone. Call your
bank in the UK they advised, they will give you a code to override the ZIP. No they won’t we said it’s your problem not theirs, but just to try and help we will call. We called, what code, they said, we don’t have a code, we have this problem with the USA, why don’t they just use the PIN...... Don’t ask we replied. Can we help you in any other way the nice Halifax lady asked? Yes, if there are no other transactions on my card in the near future we are probably in prison I said, could you let someone know.
Now what? We have been here 50 minutes, we have tried the “make up the ZIP” the “just use all zeros” the debit and credit card, the let me do a bank transfer, refused the option of the dodgy cash point and the rather odd suggestion of making a small purchase in the garage down the road and then requesting $230 cash back. Now I was really bored. As a last resort and rather half heartedly we decided to try our one remaining card, Graeme’s Bank of America card, although it is also registered to our
UK address. In it went........., Chip refused, the machine said, insert again, we were now really fed up, Dave however was really excited. That’s fine he said, take it out, insert it twice more and then once refused three times it will ask for your PIN number. It happens all the time........... We did...It did...We left.
We were driving along in silence, thinking about the whole event when Graeme said “did you pay for the donuts”? No I replied did you? Nope, oh well............. as we had eaten the evidence we carried on.
Still somewhat overwhelmed from our previous days viewing and now rather delayed we wondered if The Birmingham civil rights museum would be more of the same, but as it had been highly recommended we decided to continue with our plan to visit.
The museum was well worth the stop. The Institute is located in an area known as the Civil Rights District which includes the 16th street Baptist Church where four young girls died in a race bombing, & the Kelly Ingram Park, where the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s took place.
The mission of the museum is to “display the lessons
Table in the back of the truck sir?
Jacques Imo's. Funky restaurant recommended by Mark.
of the past as a positive way to chart new directions for the future” The permanent exhibitions are a self-directed journey through Birmingham's contributions to the civil rights movement and human rights struggle. The galleries are organised into human, movement and confrontation exhibits.
Again there was so much of interest and we learned many things, far too many to mention, but I will share two of the events with you that I found particularly compelling.
First, the fact that amazed me was that it was children and students who turned the tide of the segregation demonstrations here in the 60s.
In the 50s Birmingham was a truly segregated city. Black and whites had segregated jobs & business, schools, taxis, water fountains, buses, shops, toilets & residential areas.
Modelling their actions on the successful Montgomery bus boycott Reverend James Bevel directed a peaceful protest organised by students.
In groups of 50 he arranged for the students to emerge from the church and enter the park opposite. As the children left the church they sang hymns and "freedom songs" and clapped and laughed whilst being arrested. Film footage shows them cheerfully hopping into an assortment of vehicles
Also recommended by Mark.
to be taken off to jail, the mood was compared to that of a school picnic. The police were dumbfounded by the numbers and behaviour of the students.
The first day 1,200 children and students were arrested, some as young as six. Those released returned to the Church, entered through the back door and exited from the front. They never ran out of protesting students.
After a couple of days, unable to process and hold any more in the jails, the Birmingham police and firemen were ordered to confront the young demonstrators with police dogs and fire hoses. It was when those, now iconic pictures, were published, causing such a public outcry that it eventually resulted in a change in the law, and the end of public segregation in Birmingham.
We then watched a video of some of those students being interviewed today telling their first hand recollections of the events, & realised they are around our age. Two comments from the conversations that stay in my mind were: “The white robes (of the KKK) have been replaced by the black robes (court justice)” , and of the student demonstrators, “they didn’t see it coming, they were
not looking for us”
It was captivating viewing. Today Kelly Ingram Park has sculptures depicting those now iconic events.
Note here to the Florida students................. Keep going, it can work.
The museum tour ends at a large screen showing a film of MLK’s famous & inspiring “I have a dream” speech, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, before 250,000 people. The culmination of the 1963 March on Washington.....goose bumps every time!
You may have noted from my blog ramblings that our life on the road goes in cycles. We have weeks of colonial towns, jungle ruins, remote scenery, ocean adventures and so on, all different but all enjoyable & informative experiences. The last few weeks of museums visiting have been different again and on reviewing my blog I realise this bit could make for some depressing reading?
But the people we met along the way, involved in this ongoing struggle have been inspiring. They recognise the situation, acknowledge it has, and is continuing to improve, & are determined to keep it moving forward maintaining the non violence ethos of their forerunners.
We travel to learn and understand about the places
we visit and this has been another experience. It has shown us how ordinary people can make extraordinary change happen.
We have just had our two years on the road anniversary, where did that go? This really will be the last leg of our trip. We looked at the map, there are many areas we still haven’t visited and not enough time to do so. We are off to make the most of our remaining weeks here on the road. After our fact finding few weeks it’s time for some more music, National & State parks and hopefully, critter sightings. First stop, Nashville. Yeehaa.
Enjoy summer everyone. xx
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