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The Mississippi River town of Natchez has been a waypoint for centuries. Like so many voyagers before me, I didn't have much time to spend there. There were 16 hours to spare, enough for a whirlwind tour of a slow-moving town on a rainy Saturday night in late July. I started at the Natchez Visitor Center, overlooking the river and a kudzu-covered hillside. Things got much more interesting from there.
Driving to the best breakfast spot in New Orleans, a somewhat dingy beignet shop in suburban Metairie called Morning Call, where cops and bounty hunters converse at the corner table, I turned on the local radio. The set picked up AM 690, and a program called Inside New Orleans. The host, Eric Asher, started talking about Tales of the Cocktail, an annual drinking convention for bartenders and liquor brands that's quickly becoming one of the city's banner festivals.
He loves the event, he tells his guest "Mr. Cocktail," because it brings people to the city to see it's not still underwater. Turns out, there are still people, six years after Katrina and the levee failure, who think New Orleans is flooded. On the contrary! The city is building, with an ever-expanding museum, local entrepreneurs starting businesses and, yes, an absolutely unparalleled drinking scene.
Captain Geoff gives airboat tours of Mobile Bay, leaving from the Original Oyster House on the causeway that goes east out of town, past the retired USS Alabama. On the tours, airboaters often see alligators, birds, leaping fish and the natural beauty of the marshy flats. That is, if you can track down the mysterious captain.
As much as it pains me to write, my road trip across the country will soon come to a close. But it's not too late for you to get in on one of the many prizes I've been giving out along the way. To go out with a bang, I'm giving away a free trip for two to Texas, in partnership with Texas Tourism.
I am not, as far as I can tell, in Walt Disney World's target demographic. I'm not four. I'm not a family man. I'm not Brazilian. I'm not even a fan of animated movies. But to drive through Central Florida after seeing a shuttle launch and pass up the parks? To miss out on a quintessentially American summertime diversion? To skip a chance to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse? I'm not nuts.
In Montgomery, during the Freedom Rides, I heard Martin Luther King say that while Brown v. Board of Education had been the legal turning point in the movement, the Montgomery bus boycott and the sit-ins were the psychological turning point.
So writes Calvin Trillin in a recent New Yorker, reflecting on the civil rights struggle in the deep south, which he covered for Time magazine "from the fall of 1960 to the fall of 1961." He's writing, then, on a sort of fiftieth anniversary for the movement, which of course spanned nearly two decades, making any hard and fast anniversary difficult to declare.
Another anniversary looms large in Montgomery this year, that of the outbreak of the Civil War, 150 years ago this past April. The stage was set for a Confederate victory at Fort Sumter, South Carolina when the Montgomery Convention met, in February, in what was the Alabama capitol building's senate chamber, to organize the new secessionist government.
For both anniversaries, this summer was a fascinating time to drive through Montgomery.
Fifteen years have passed since Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch, Kerri Strug landed her heroic single-footed vault and Eric Robert Rudolph detonated a pipe bomb in downtown Atlanta, during the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games. Well-considered development for the event has since transformed the city, which continues to draw new residents, start-up businesses and flights to Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport since 1998. In the last fifteen years, Atlanta has become the south's booming, sprawling capital and an example of what urban development can achieve--and not achieve--over the long term.
I'm very interested in loud cars that go really fast, even if I still don't understand NASCAR. Earlier this summer, I drove my road trip ride around the speedway in Watkins Glen. As much fun as it was--lots!--I was itching to get a vehicle up to triple-digit speeds. Near the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, I had that chance at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.
"How long have you guys been sitting down here," the drunken heckler asked me and my buddy Stephen, around the seventh inning of a Mobile BayBears game at Hank Aaron Stadium. "All game," I replied.
"So have I said any curse words?" he asked, knowing that he hadn't, his point being that if some fans didn't like his good-natured heckling, they could sit somewhere else--and lighten up. This was minor league baseball, he insisted, and it's all about having a good time. On that point, I agreed.
About 12 hours before STS-135 was set to blast off for low Earth orbit, my friend Rob and I were driving toward Titusville, Florida with a car full of camping supplies and our fingers crossed. The weather was foul, and the chances of a launch were just 30 percent. But we were in Central Florida to see a blast off, and so to the Space Coast we were headed.
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