State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

battleship

by Natalia

After seeing all those airplanes in Pensacola we haven't had enough of the Navy and went to see USS Alabama battleship in Mobile. I say diving USS Vandenberg and USS Spiegel Grove was much more comfortable, if less informational, experience. And becoming an artificial reef may be a better fate for a decommissioned ship: less danger of attracting scouts by way of overnight adventure of same-sex groups.

Touring USS Alabama you get to see everything from spud locker (yes, they stored potatoes there), through engine room and its steam (yes, steam) turbines, enlisted men kitchen, chief petty officers' mess to captain sea cabin which is different from captain cabin under the deck. Apparently captain has two cabins: one for use and one for show. Among innumerable items required to feed, cloth and protect nearly two thousand crew members we are astonished to find out that the ship carried non trivial amounts of cash: 400 thousand dollars a month was distributed. I wonder if Navy switched to debit cards these days.

The terminology seems vaguely familiar: suddenly many scenes from my favorite sci-fi show Battlestar Galactica make sense.

I thought living quarters aboard a battleship were cramped until we continued the tour onto USS Drum, a submarine. With half of the bunks dismantled I just cannot imagine where they fit all the 72 crew members. People weren't that much smaller 50 years ago.

We finished the tour in the hangar looking at airplanes - again - including A-12 which is really a rocket disguised as aircraft. It can't even take off with more then half tank due to pressure exerted on tires and had to be topped off on route (after 7 to 10 minutes) to achieve its maximum speed of Mach 3.35. At this speed US can be crossed from coast to coast in an hour. And all that in the sixties. The progress of aircraft design slowed down in recent years, and it's a good thing. Otherwise we would really had personal planes, instead of cars, now as some sci-fi writers envisioned then.

This extravagant plane was already obsolete when tested. It was designed to spy over enemy territory and that job is more cheaply and reliably performed by unmanned satellites then and now. Well, now we also have suburbanite soccer mums as sleeper agents.

The military tradition and the southern tradition find a perfect match in a crewmate program: selecting six young women to represent USS Alabama for a year for $1000 of college money. You may think gender equality never happened and man's role is to fight for the country while woman's part is to look pretty. One Pip Tattersall is not going to change that.

alabama

It's only about 150 miles from Thomasville to Birmingham. But I feel like we've travelled from Mars back to Earth. We spend one night in Sunset Inn in Thomasville and the next in Hotel Highland in Five Points district of Birmingham. In Thomasville we can't find a place to get a decent coffee (google map suggests a place only 20 miles away). In Birmingham we stay in a designer hotel, have dinner in a stainless steel and polished concrete restaurant named Twenty Six and conclude the evening listening to Glen and Libba in the hotel bar. They play in Highland every Monday and if you are in the area don't miss it: Libba's voice and Glen's guitar are quietly explosive combination. The entire neighborhood looks like Cambridge and we feel at home. The price tag is probably around half of what we would pay in Boston. We don't even mind the temperature that refuses to fall even long after the sunset. I can't believe it's the same Alabama which is last in the nation by any measure (Glen's words, not mine).

mobile

We escaped to Mobile trying to get away from Pensacola's Blue Angel's weekend. We don't like crowds and it turns out that if you prefer solitude Mobile is a perfect destination. There are absolutely no people here. They probably all went to Pensacola for the weekend. Mobile has a big problem. You cannot really research it on the internet. Try googling for mobile life music or mobile restaurants or mobile night life and you'll see what I mean. One has to wonder why city officials did not take advantage of the anti-French sentiment and change the name to something less ambivalent - may I suggest Verizon, Alabama? French are to be blamed for establishing the city here (in 1702), and christening it (after a native tribe), and naming most of the streets (after various French things and catholic saints). Later Spanish changed all the names but when the city finally was taken over by Americans they changed the names back to French. This is strange: as if Canadians took over New York and changed its name back to New Amsterdam. But in any case, the town even today is supposedly quite catholic so we expect good food and some entertainment (think New Orleans or Montreal)