Tag Archives: day trips

Rusty Nail – New Orleans

Saturday is coming up. And then, after that, another Saturday. And then another, on and on, beating against us like the ceaseless tide.

Speaking of the Tide, that is the football team we pull for in the great Sunni-Shiite football wars of this state. [Sidebar: I have used that analogy multiple times to characterize the depths of the religious passion felt by college football fans in this state. It is useful to convey strong passion and the sense of the either/or binary. However, it has also resulted in several people asking me whether Bama represents the Sunni or the Shiite in the analogy, leading to some pained expressions of ignorance regarding Islamic theology, not to mention the political situations in any number of foreign countries.]

So, we pull for Bama and we happened to be in New Orleans. Perhaps you will find yourself in a similar boat, hoping to spend some part of some Big Easy Saturday in some sort of place with a television, in whose hypnotic light you hope to bask while pulling for your beloved Crimson-clad unpaid workers.

May we suggest that you find your way to 1100 Constance Street, to a bar called The Rusty Nail?

I only learned of the place when wearing my Bama shirt around town on Saturday morning. I was responding to various “Roll Tides” and such in my usual genial way, hoping not to be too much the tourist as I took the St. Charles trolley line for the first time. A woman on a bicycle not only gave me a RTR, but stopped to ask if I was going to watch the game at the Rusty Nail.

“The what?”

“Oh, dear,” she said with all of the empathy of a concerned mother, “you simply must go.”

It was as if she were ashamed of my ignorance. So I went. It was within walking distance of the place that I was standing when I received her suggestion.

Dude.

A bar with bleachers. Yes!

They have bleachers in the bar. They have an amazing patio. They were grilling food on said patios, including veggie burgers. The bartenders were wearing Bama shirts. They had a half dozen TVs, all showing college football until the 2 p.m. game (versus Arkansas), at which time all TVs were flipped to the Bama game. The bar owner (named David, I think), is a Bama grad who not only stands there watching the game with the massive crowd of fans that assemble, he (and this is important) actually mutes the commercials during the breaks in the action.

It’s all well and good that this bar is where the New Orleans chapter of Bama alums likes to gather. That’s nice and it’s wonderful to watch the game with like-minded fans, wearing crimson and shaking shakers. It’s as close to a game day environment in a non-Tuscaloosa bar that I have ever experienced. But the fact that the owner mutes the commercials and plays the Alabama fight song, along with topical music, well, that’s just over the top. James Brown was in heavy rotation, and the commercial break after a Razorback TD brought us Cee Lo’s “Fuck You.”

The bar was nearly full, but not so crowded as to be uncomfortable. In case you’re wondering, yes, people really do pack out the bleachers. I didn’t take any photos (other than the one above of the empty bleachers) because I was busy getting drunk and watching the game. Folks were lively, but not out-of-hand, fueled by a steamroller of a Bama win and healthy pours from the bartenders. Did I mention that they have an immense collection of rare scotches?

Truly, this is the best bar for watching Alabama football in the nation. This owner, these bartenders, they know what’s up. I cannot highly enough recommend

Cooter’s Pond Dog Park

It probably goes without saying that one of the themes of this blog is alienation. Hell, the title of the thing is Lost in Montgomery, so it makes sense that it would constantly touch upon the idea of being adrift in a bewildering world not of our making.

Yet, despite being optimists committed to relentless world improvement, we sometimes slip into the trap of low expectations. Worse, those low expectations are sometimes still not met by a universe staffed by the chronically inept and lazy.

Such was the case when we got a radical idea in our heads: We wanted to take the dog to a dog park other than the one single tiny dog park in our city (which, actually, isn’t technically a dog park).

A little Internet poking around convinced us that there was a good dog park in our neighboring city just to the north, Prattville. Since the dog loves road trips, this seemed ideal. Off we went to Cooter’s Pond.

And while expectations were low, what we discovered was just pathetic. First of all, the place isn’t exactly easy to find. Sure, there’s a sign at the turn off that directs you to Cooter’s Pond, but there are no follow up signs that tell you to keep right and go past the water treatment plant. Consider yourself thus warned.

Bear to the right and you’ll see the entrance sign for the Cooter’s Pond park, but nothing distinguishes for you the difference between, say, the parking area amid the pickup trucks and professionally sponsored fishing boats seeking to use the boat ramp, and the, well, dog park. The boat ramp is easy to spot, but you don’t find the dog park until you loop around, turn right up a side road, pass some areas that appear to be impressive scientific exhibits on out-of-control kudzu overgrowth, and continue on past some pavilions where people are having birthday parties. Then, just past the playground equipment that evokes pity for the children touching the sun-scorched metal, beyond the tipped over trash cans, there lies a rectangle of fencing.

You park, glancing around in hopes that some other rubes have also decided to take their canine friend to this Godforsaken patch of barren land. There’s no shade. There’s no bench. It’s just a rectangle of fence, filled with dying grass that crunches underfoot like some kind of breakfast cereal that has been left out in the 95 degree Alabama June heat.

The dog looks up at us as if we are crazy.

“You took me out of the air conditioned car, with the window that I can stick my head out of … for this?”

We poured her a bowl of water and threw a few tennis balls, cringing at the sun that was pounding us relentlessly. Why did we come here in the daytime? Why can’t that kudzu creep a bit faster towards us and cover us with its leafy shade?

Evidently, this dog park is relatively new, some sort of city project. There’s a sign donated by Leadership Autauga, which almost certainly has no idea how desolate their dog park has become. Someone donated some trees, which are humorously anchored to the ground with enormous straps, ensuring that they will grow straight and true, providing shade to some humans and dogs in the year 2040. Sadly, we missed the hilariously named “See Pick Eat Nut Grove.”

It is possible that the dog park is more enjoyable in less apocalyptic heat. It is possible that other humans and canines go to the dog park at times, creating the desired effect of dogs playing with one another, exercising, as their owners make awkward small talk. It is possible that we simply went at the wrong time and it’s possible that what seems out of the way and bewildering to us is, in fact, quite convenient to the people that live in Cooter’s Pond, the rental pavilions, or the water treatment plant.

At some point Montgomery will have a dog park. Because that’s what real cities have. Not a quarter acre fenced off somewhere for weirdos to roam shiftily after their poor (and poorly shaved) dogs, but a real dog park. Because the city’s trying to get all New Urbanism on us, and those people have dogs, and dogs like to hang out (in general) with other dogs.

So the real question is: what should it look like? It should be big, first of all, with enough room to walk a little trail or otherwise have a fun experience for the human. What keeps people coming back to dog parks is their enjoyment, not just their dogs’ interest in chasing and sniffing a few butts. It’s not going to kill the city to make a nice big park and designate it off-leash. They can even pave the trails with shredded Christmas tree leavings like they do in Seattle. There should be shade and benches. There do not need to be a bunch of “dog fountains” and other tricked out dog niceties that dogs will ignore.

And it should be somewhere where people are actually likely to go. Often. Not some weird place up in the sun out in the middle of nowhere.

If You Go: Brierfield Ironworks Park

What: The central attraction of the park is the old Brierfield Ironworks, which was a major source of iron for the Confederate army, along with the nearby Tannehill Ironworks. The old ironworks isn’t so much there any more, having been destroyed by the Union army, rebuilt, and then decommissioned (or whatever happens to old ironworks) in 1894. But what remains is impressive enough – a giant hulk of bricks and mortar built into a hill that you can hike up to see the reservoir where water was drawn for the forging process.

Where: Just outside the scenic town of Six Mile, on the 52 outside of the noted speed trap that is Centerville, Alabama.

Who: Campers, musket enthusiasts, Civil War re-enactors, Baptists, Harley-Davidson riders, aging state park convenience store porch groupies, loquacious Park Service guys, bluegrass aficionados, members of the “North South Skirmish Association,” and attendees of the annual antique tractor show.

Why: According to the nice man dispensing tickets at the entrance, it’s the only state park with both a church and a firing range on the premises: “Every Sunday at 9:30 in the morning, church starts and the muzzleloaders start firing.”

When: In the late afternoon when the social element of the park is at its zenith, with ladies wandering to and from the bath and a healthy bevy of motorcyclists reclining in the tall grass while the aroma of grilled meat wafts from the many campsites, you can truly be transported back in time. Park staff advise checking the website before you go, as there are many events at the park that are not listed on the brochure. There is, evidently, an annual bluegrass festival at the park; alas, Lost in Montgomery was unable to learn the date of its next iteration.

For more information: http://www.brierfieldironworks.com/

Chimenea

“It’s the best 70 bucks I’ve ever spent.”

That’s what I kept saying, every time I built a fire in our new outdoor patio chimney (a.k.a. the chimenea).

You see, I like to burn stuff. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It is much better than following the new city law and putting stuff in black plastic bags and putting them by the curb.

So I was burning stuff (leaves, sticks, junk mail) in our back flowerbeds. It helped to clear out decades of overgrown debris too. Much better than hand pulling weeds and limbs and clearing brush. So I was making a big pile in our flower beds and burning it, worrying constantly about things spreading or the fire department arriving with some sort of punitive fine.

Enter: Chimnea.

They sell them on the side of 231 between Troy and Montgomery. I had used them before, always enjoying them but never knowing where to get one or how much they cost. Now? We have a patio. We have some outdoor cheap furniture. We have a place for cocktails at dusk. And we have big trees that drop limbs and leaves. Perfect fuel for enhancing evenings.

They are sold at a place we are pretty sure is called The Rug Connection. We believe the town it is in may be Ramer, but think this based only on wild Google-type speculation. Also at the store are, well, a variety of rugs. They keep these inside. And, weirdly, turquoise jewelry. Also there is a greenhouse, but we’ve never been in there.

This isn’t really about Montgomery, per se, but this simple ancient technology has enhanced our outdoor experiences of our own house so much, that it seems to fit with this blog’s theme(s) about our lives in Montgomery.

So get yourself one of these things if you’ve got the backyard to support such an effort. Fix yourself a drink of your choice (mojito this time of year, maybe some hot cocoa when football season rolls around), and enjoy. Maybe even fire up some s’mores, as we have been doing. Unfathomable levels of delight as marshmallow melts over chocolate.

But just sitting around one of these and talking (or not) is worth the purchase price. The biological part of your brain that appreciates sitting around a fire (even if largely repressed by generations of acclimation to television and air conditioning) will thank you.

Confederate Memorial Park

About 30 minutes from Montgomery, up 65 and then east into Chilton park-entranceCounty, is Confederate Memorial Park. The 102 acre park was previously the site of Alabama’s only home for Confederate war veterans, and now offers a trail, two cemeteries, some woods, a museum, and a research facility (closed when we were there). It’s all free except for the museum, which costs $5 ($4 if you’re a student).

On Sunday, instead of eating pretzels and enduring hour after hour of Super Bowl pre-game (yes, we know that this basically makes us Communists), we took off with the dog. It’s a fairly quick drive, part of which is on the W.S. Newell Highway. Later we found out that W.S. Newell is the owner of the property where the famous I-65 “Go to Church or the Devil will get you!” sign is located (here’s a great interview with him about his decision to endorse Lucy Baxley for governor in 2005). After you exit from 65, you go west and pass such local landmarks as the extremely sketchy-looking 31-65 Club and D.O.A. Deer Processing. The park entrance is about thirteen miles from the freeway.

You can park at the museum and walk across the street to the nature trail entrance. The trail is about half a mile long (what’s up with these really short trails at all these parks?), and has three kinds of signs along the way. Sign #1 is the usual nature trail plaque nailed on a tree explaining what kind of tree it is. These seemed suspiciously generic (“Grows many leaves,” “Likes moist soil.”). Sign type #2 is the site-specific historical marker, often corresponding to the numbers on the free map/guide we picked up in the museum. Most of these signs had to do with the remnants of the utilities used to heat and irrigate the “old veterans” home (gas works, natural springs, reservoir, etc.). This seemed odd until we realized that none of the original buildings from the home were still standing. Signs in the third category were of the hilarious “Gee, isn’t science interesting!” type, filled with bogus “activities” for children involving observation of habitats and calculation of water flow. You could really imagine that the park got some money for being a Potential Destination for Science Field Trips. The “learning content” is thin enough that it’s hard to imagine any repeat field trips.

If you go, keep an eye out for the second-largest yellow poplar in the state of Alabama. It’s got a 174 inch circumference, is 105 feet high, and sports a 69.5 foot crown span. It’s 225 years old. In case you are wondering, the sign says there is a bigger one somewhere in Lawrence County.

So what’s interesting to see at the brutalized-by-time remains of an estate once used to house old war veterans and their wives? Well, the concept itself was enough to spark a lot of good conversation as we wandered around the property. It’s 102 acres. It calls to mind the situation in 1900, when there were over 2,000 survivors of the CSA army living in Alabama. The state gave a tiny pension to these vets because the federal government (obviously) only paid pensions to Union troops. A lot of the CSA vets were injured and living in county poorhouses. Homes to care for such vets sprung up around the southern states (and one in California too).

Jefferson Manley Faulkner, a Montgomery lawyer, decided to fund and build the Confederate Soldiers Home. He gave 80 acrethree-csa-flagss of his own (still beautiful) land for the new facility. The vets lived in cottages, along with (sometimes) their wives and families. The state took over a few years after the home opened, after private donations faltered. The home became a 22-building complex with a 25-bed hospital. It had its own electrical and sewage system. The old men had a pond that was stocked with fish. They had meals, clothing and a place to be buried in a military grave. There are two cemeteries on the site, and the one we visited (Cemetery #2) was on a beautiful hill with vaguely crooked marble gravestones lined under the three flags of the CSA.

There were 313 vets housed there total: 187 from Alabama, 15 women, 5 deserters. Two lived to be 112 (estimated since they didn’t have, you know, birth certificates back then). The last veteran died in 1934 and the last widow, Lula Camp, died in 1936. Once the state Legislature closed the home in 1939, the homes and outbuildings were (tragically) torn down immediately. One destroyed building was called the “Blue and Gray House,” a home that was paid for by Northern Soldiers. Sad to rip down a home that was built as a symbol of reconciliation between warring fellow Americans.

Look, the CSA cemetery is no Arlington, but there is still a sense of dignity. With the wind flapping in the three CSA flags, it wasn’t hard to muster reflection on the brutality of the war, the ragged rebels, the post-war lives of those that survived the war and their injuries. Did they feel guilt, these old men fishing out Reconstruction in their tiny stocked pond? Did they think about their doomed vision of a sovereign nation, their illegal institutions, their dead friends?

So much more can be said: about how current vets went to the disgracefully mis-managed Walter Reed hospital while these warriors went to a summer resort community near Mountain Creek, and about how these soldiers and their families lived in state housing and were cared for by blacks that still would have been legally considered property if the CSA had successfully broken away.

Race relations aren’t much of a topic here at the Park – just the odd servant in pictures of the Home, some video footage a group of African-American bodyguards from a reunion of soldiers early in the 20th century, and this quote from William Hooper Council, who was a black college president of what would later become Alabama A&M. He said, offering the services of his students to help at the veterans home, “Although I drank from the dregs of the cup of slavery, still I honor these gray-haired veterans.” Was he trying to be conciliatory to still-in-power whites? Or expressing genuine feelings of interest in honoring elderly whites and their CSA memories?

The museum is worth the cost even if it’s a bit slim. Particularly wonderful was the video display with footage of Civil War vets talking, joking, parading, and dancing with young girls in modern shift dresses. There’s an exhibit of leaflets and souvenirs from the annual Confederate Veterans Reunion (scheduled to last until “only two soldiers are left,” according to the president of that organization) which was held in Montgomery in 1931. Hugo Black addressed the group, and more than 1,200 veterans were housed in the recently opened Sydney Lanier High School.

Other than the site-specific memorabilia, the museum offers only the standard Civil War filler. We’d seen plenty of guns and musket balls before, so we skipped out on that stuff. We loved the place, though – its quiet dignity, its complex character, the beautiful woods.