I have been here a couple of days and I have to say that driving here has been quite the experience. The last time I was in Montgomery, for COT, I never drove. We were pretty much confined to base the entire time and, besides that, I didn't have a car. This time around I have an off-base apartment and a rental car, so I've been getting to know the city of Montgomery a lot better.
One thing I've noticed a lot of is this:
There are University of Alabama fans all over the place. (My uncle Tom Blackwell, who went to 'bama, will love to hear this.) To put this in geographical context, Montgomery is about 107 miles from Tuscaloosa, the seat of the University of Alabama. Pretty close, right? But in between Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, only 55 miles from Montgomery, is Alabama's hated rival, Auburn University. If anything, this should be Auburn country. But white or crimson letter As are plastered all over the backs of cars around here. I haven't seen a single bumper sticker on the road. Nor have I seen a single Auburn sticker. Only 'bama stickers, and I swear I can't drive to and from base (about 15 miles round-trip) without seeing ten of them.
And the bigger the sticker, the bigger the fan. I think this guy, with a huge elephant sticker, two smaller A stickers, and two flags attached to his truck bed, might be the biggest Alabama fan in Montgomery:
Update: I started writing this post after being in Alabama about a week. Since then, I have finally come across an Auburn fan. But the only indicia was on the license plate (see below).
Another funny driving-related thing happened on the first day that I was here. I arrived late on a Saturday night, too late to meet the property manager for my apartment complex and too late to get my rental car. So I took a cab to Maxwell AFB and took a cab back to the airport the next day to get my car. Knowing that I'll have to make my way back to the airport to pick up Susan and Joaquin when they come out in early August, I was trying to follow the route and memorize it. My cab driver was an old african-american man, probably in his sixties, named Bill Wright. He had brought me to Maxwell from the airport the night before. The radio was set to the same jazz station as we cruised along. As we turned onto the Selma-Mobile highway, I craned my neck around to see what exit I should take when making my way back to base after getting my car. I couldn't see it, so I asked Bill.
"On my way back, do I take that last exit to get back to base?"
"Sure you do. That one right there. We just passed it."
"Is that Airbase Blvd.? I know we were on that as we left the base but I couldn't see if that was the exit."
"It's the one right after the fire station," Bill said, pointing out the driver's side window at a fire station on the other side of the highway. "As soon as you pass that fire station, just take the next exit."
"Okay, but is that Airbase? Or Day? I kind of got lost there for a second."
"Son, just pay attention and look for the fire station. It's the only one around. As soon as you pass it, take the next exit, and you'll be fine."
I had to laugh to myself at all this. I know there's the stereotype of the old southern man giving the out-of-towners directions based solely on landmarks, and here it was, playing itself out right before me. So I decided to just go with it. Take the exit after the fire station. Should be easy enough. And it was.
Another thing I've noticed is that Alabamans drive fast. Once I got my rental car and took to the roads myself, I quickly realized that if you aren't driving at least 20 miles over the speed limit, you're bound to be in somebody's way. On the 85 freeway, which the State Legislature designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway, 50 means 70 and 60 means 80. I've been afraid for my life a number of times already - and I live in the freeway capitol of the world! And it's not limited to freeways, either. People fly down the surface streets with reckless abandon. Maybe it's because there isn't as much congestion as there is in Los Angeles. Fewer cars on the road and such. But the rule seems to be that you go as fast as you can, all the time. And I haven't seen a single highway patrol or police car. Wish me luck navigating these roads over the next couple of months.