2011 Road Trip Day 1 – Wylie To Birmingham
Roads: Texas highway 205-Interstate 20
Time: 10 hours
Stayed: The Redmont Hotel
I left Wylie at 7:30 on Sunday morning in a pouring rain for the first leg of this trip. Even though the fancy new GPS told me to take 75, I drove the back roads to 205, taking it into Terrell. At 7:30, the roads are pretty clear and even though the rain continued almost to the Mississippi border, it wasn’t a difficult drive. I stopped outside of Canton for breakfast at McDonald’s. The drive through Texas was pretty with plenty of color in the east Texas forest even with this summer’s drought. I hadn’t made this Dallas to Shreveport part of this drive in over 5 years but nothing much has changed. Shreveport has a few new casinos. Past Shreveport was all new to me as the only other time I went this direction was south to New Orleans back in 1999. I-20 in Louisiana is wrapped in tall pines broken up by cities with blue collar type businesses lining the highways and the occasional golf course which seems out of place along such an industrial corridor.
The rain was almost solid with pockets of heavy showers. I-20 is a good road with drainage but there was a jack-knifed trailer on the west bound side around Minden that was holding up traffic for about a mile. The cab was still up right but the trailer was actually 180 degrees upside down while still being nominally connected to the cab. There were no emergency vehicles on the scene, only clean up crews so I assume the accident happened earlier in the morning. I saw the CBS Sports.com bus carrying Gary Danielson from the SEC title game heading west from Atlanta to whatever their next game was. It’s always interesting to experience that clash of the world you see on TV (I had watched the SEC title game the night before) with your reality. Even though I didn’t actually meet or see Danielson, it’s still surreal to think “There went a famous person driving down the same road I’m on”.
The land outside Monroe and especially into Mississippi changed from forests to flat farmland. Several places were vivid green with winter wheat. It didn’t look like eastern Louisiana had suffered from the same summer we did in Texas. Crossing the Mississippi at Vicksburg reminded me of the floods of last spring. The river always looks the same, placid and slow moving. The outer appearance belies the size and the power of the river. The railroad bridge over the river at Vicksburg is impressive and if the day’s driving hadn’t demanded getting all the way to Birmingham, I might have stopped for some pictures. As it was, I took a few shots south down the river out of the car as I drove since I was fortunate to make the crossing with no other cars. There was one lonely barge in the middle of the river. I couldn’t tell if she was moving up or down stream.
I had planned to stop in Jackson for lunch but I-20 through Jackson seems to be more of a bypass. Looking at the map, the main part of the town is north of the highway. I ended up on the east side of town in the suburb of Brandon at an Applebee’s for lunch. It was late lunch on Sunday and there were several African American families dressed in their Sunday finest along with groups of tattooed young men at the bar watching football. Brandon felt like a college town. As I waited for my lunch, I watched an older black man help his wife into their car after their lunch. She was in a wheelchair and while it was clear he had a process, it was a reasonably slow one. I thought about getting older, the changes in how we interact with each other and the world every day. Houston was beating Atlanta on the TV.
After lunch, I drove hard to Tuscaloosa where I had to fill up with gas for the second time before proceeding into Birmingham. The road from Jackson to Tuscaloosa was largely farm and ranch land. The road was filled with cars with Roll Tide stickers and Alabama plates. Alabama didn’t play Saturday so I’m not sure where they were coming from. There were also plenty of hunting trucks, several from successful deer camps. Some of these trucks had dogs in their beds in the back. I wondered what the dogs were used for as they are not typically involved with deer hunting and the waterfowl seasons are closed, at least in Texas. Perhaps Mississippi has different season dates.
It gets dark much earlier the farther east you go apparently as 5 PM was pretty dark. I made the final 50 miles or so from Tuscaloosa into Birmingham in the dark and there was little to see. Western Birmingham seems to be largely industrial with factories with large flames burning off excess something or other making vivid pictures in the night sky. I checked into my hotel in downtown Birmingham. Unfortunately on Sunday night, downtown Birmingham isn’t the hotbed of any excitement at all. The Redmont Hotel was suggested in Garden & Gun and since it was reasonably priced, I had decided to give it a try but the hotel bar and restaurant are closed on Sunday. The rest of downtown was quiet. I ventured out to find food around 7:30. I drove by the 16th Street Baptist church where the KKK blew up a bomb 48 years ago on a Sunday. Knowing something of the history of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, there is a sense of violence and unease driving around, at least for this small town boy from Texas. Even though nothing happens like that anymore, the history of that movement here is constantly underscored. Eventually, I ended up in Homewood for Taco Bell. I brought it back to the hotel and ate it sitting on the floor. I watched the New Orleans-Detroit game for a little while before succumbing to exhaustion.