Some weekends ago I took a bus to Alabama to visit a friend. It was an eventful weekend of driving to the beach, hiking, and exploring what is left of downtown Mobile. I say what is left because the downtown area appeared mostly empty. People are not lying when they say there’s nothing to do out here. I don’t know much about Mobile’s history. I think of it as a mini New Orleans that the founders wanted to turn into a busting place, but left undone and adopted New Orleans instead. Mobile shares some of Nola’s streets, the oak trees and architecture. Walking around, I realized downtown could be a community for artists and families, but from the looks of it, a lot of shops have shut down—also it was Monday when I visited, but still, it appeared desolate.
We met a family who was equally puzzled trying to find something to do. The main museum was closed. The family of three: a mother, dad and their daughter were passing by for the day, and they used some of their afternoon hours to sit under the shade in Bienville Square Park and complain about the heat. “We’re from up North.” They were from Massachusetts and they were sweating. “I could use a drink right about now,” said the dad, chuckling. When I told them, I moved from NYC to live in New Orleans, he said, “Oh I know about those New York folks.” “Be careful, they can destroy you with their thumbs,” he said looking at my friend.
I laughed innocently, as if agreeing but not really. I hardly think of myself as a tough New Yorker. My friend and I sat down to rest then walked around quickly to get ice-cold water. We passed a bank that had a large thermometer on the outside; it measured 93 F. We passed an old bookstore that seemed to have only hardcover books about baseball and old white men. There wasn’t much shade and I was getting a headache from being in the heat, so we settled on eating pizza, which was surprisingly good. I took some quick photos, so as not to stay outside for too long. There was a mural painted over the bottom part of an abandoned building and a small peanut shop where I bought Spanish peanuts. The walls inside were decorated with memorabilia, plaques, and newspaper articles recounting their glory days.
The day before we drove to the Gulf Shores beaches where we hid from the sun under a small umbrella. When that didn’t work we ran to the beach and stayed there for a long time, floating with the waves. We dove down to the bottom to see the fish. My friend saw gray and blue fish. I couldn’t believe they were right below me and I refused to participate, but after many tries I finally saw one. I didn’t take many photos that day, but I do remember loosing an earing after taking off my goggles. It fell right by the shore, and it was tiny and black, resembling many of the broken shell pieces on the sand. It was gone forever.
The next day we headed to the Historic Blakeley State Park, which has nature trails, cabins, and historic sites. In the 1820s the Town of Blakeley had a population of 4,000, more than Mobile at the time. But with the yellow fever epidemic and land speculation, people starting flocking to Mobile. During the Civil War it became a fort housing soldiers and weapons. The last battle after the Confederate general surrendered took place here in 1865. Now it’s considered the “loveliest ghost town.” The town’s center was part of the trail with only one structure remaining (most likely reconstructed) but plenty of witchery trees, crooked and dark.
We could hear the birds, but we couldn’t see them. We hiked about 7 miles but it was only in the second half that we saw the beautiful bulbous trees and the Tensaw River where we stopped to rest on a bench. Yellow black butterflies passed our vision and flew behind the trees. We walked along a boardwalk and that headed back to hiking path. The walk wasn’t all that rigorous but the heat made it hard at times. For lunch we went to a Cajun restaurant that had an outdoor balcony facing a long expanse of swampy terrain and skinny trees (which was only temporarily ruined by the highway in the distance). Lunch included a mysterious waitress from Minnesota with black eyeliner and a singer with purple hair streaks, who had a nice voice but was singing kitsch songs. It was contrary to an otherwise swampy afternoon in the south. At least two twin boys with matching pink shirts had their eyes glued to the stage.
Upon returning to New Orleans, I asked my uber driver, how the weather had been for the past few days. “Mostly hot; we haven’t received much rain lately,” she said. I thought about my plants, and their probable deaths. I doubt anyone in my house had remembered to water the garden.