Travels and Travails

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I had mentioned on Monday that I would blog about my weekend trip. This was not one of my best vacations, but it wasn’t a vacation for me. I was going as the driver. My aunt, who is near my age and, incidentally, my roommate (she’s more like a big sister thank an aunt). Anyway, a few months ago, we got tickets to see Luke Bryan in concert in Birmingham. That was how the plan for this trip started. We were going to take my aunt’s former foster daughter (aka M) to the concert. (My aunt was given custody of her for about two years because the girls parents had major drug problems, but when they got mostly straitened out, the courts gave her back to her parents. My aunt is still a very important part of her life, and they, hopefully, will always be part of each others lives.)

M rarely ever gets to go anywhere or do anything unless my aunt takes her. Sadly since going back with her parents several years ago, she is the grown-up in the household, even though she is 15. So my aunt does her best to make sure she has what she needs and is able to have some sort of a normal life. This is why we were taking her to the concert. She loves Luke Bryan.

There is a fair amount of backstory to this trip, so stay with me.

Add to this that my aunt is a big fan of “Duck Dynasty” on A&E, especially of Jace Roberts. The shows funny, but I don’t get her obsession. Anyway, Jace was scheduled to be in Huntsville at a hunting and fishing expo Friday. Since we were going to be in Birmingham on Thursday and Huntsville is only an hour and a half to two hours away, my aunt wanted to go see him. So a trip to Huntsville was added on to the Thursday night concert.

Well, Huntsville is only two hours from Nashville. My aunt has wanted to go back to Nashville, and it was an opportunity to take M on a short vacation to a place her parents would never take her, so two days in Nashville were added to the trip. My aunt took me to Nashville when I was a kid, so I was game to go back. We had not gone to the Parthenon when we had gone before, and this was somewhere I wanted to go. Also, the Country Music Hall of Fame had moved to a new home and it would also be nice to tour.

To say the least, M was extremely excited about going, and even though I didn’t have the money to go, my aunt convinced me that it would cost very little. She was paying for the hotels and gas, if I would drive. All I had to pay for was food (and we were planning on picnicking as much as possible) and admission to museums that we went to visit (they were relatively inexpensive). I figured I could afford this. However, some unexpected expenses came up, and my money was gone. Since I am a teacher who makes very little money, and in January 2013, I lost my second job that supplemented my income, I am struggling financially. Being poor sucks. In this current economy, keeping one job is hard enough, finding a second is nearly impossible. So when something unexpected comes up, it can be a big problem. It seems like, I can no longer keep my head above water. My “guardian accountant,” and he know who he is, says that it will take time for things to get better. I hope that’s true. Anyway, I’m off topic. With M’s excitement, I couldn’t back out and disappoint her, I would just have to make the best of it.

I knew things were not going to be good when a deposit I made into my account did not post like it should have. Next, I got a speeding ticket going through Montgomery on the way to the concert. I don’t understand how, since my cruise control was set on 65 mph, the speed limit, and the state trooper, aka officer asshole, said he clocked me going 85 mph in a 65 mph speed zone. What he clocked was the gray Ford Fusion that was passing me, or one of the other dozens of cars passing me, instead of my gray Ford Focus. I tried to explain this to him, but he called me a liar. I made the mistake of putting on my brakes and trying to move over when I saw an emergency vehicle (just as the law in Alabama says to do). Now add to no money, I now have a speeding ticket to pay for. Things were not starting out well.

The concert was outdoors at the Oak Mountain Amphitheater, and it was hotter than Hell, as Alabama summers are wont to be. Florida-Georgia Line performed first, and were not very good in concert. Thompson Square, however, was far better than I had expected. Luke Bryan was smokin’ hot, a lot of fun to watch, and put on a great concert. So that was at least one thing that went well.

On to Huntsville. First let me say, I am not big on hunting and fishing expos, so I was not looking forward to this. We waited over an hour to get in and then the line to see Jace Robertson was quite long and he was not even going to start sign autographs for two more hours. I left M and my aunt in line while I went to to check out the expo. Compared to the Buckmasters Expo in Montgomery, where I have taken my niece several times to see the guys from Swamp People (she’s 5, and it’s her favorite show), the fishing and hunting expo in Huntsville was pretty crappy. I was able to go around the whole thing four times in two hours. After which I decided to take a seat and wait to hear Jace’s seminar. I knew it would be partly about hunting and partly about his faith. The Robertsons are members of the Churches of Christ, most of them are ordained ministers. I figured it would be an I greeting talk, and I got a fantastic seat. My aunt and M got their autographs and came over to where I was. Since my aunt is such a big fan of Jace, I gave her my seat and took M to show her around the Expo.

Once all of that was over with, we headed to Nashville. Apparently, the reviews of our Nashville hotel were all lies. The place was comfortable, but it sat behind a liquor store and there was a big ugly black drag queen screaming in the parking lot. First appearances what they are, the hotel didn’t turn out so badly. We had a pretty good day in Nashville, and things started looking up. We went to Music Row, the Country Music Hall of Fame, saw the Parthenon and Centennial Park, then went to the Opry Mills Mall that used to be Opryland. We had planned on touring the Opryland Hotel, but they now charge $20 for parking, so we opted out of that. At Opry Mills, we ate at the Aquarium Restaurant, which has great food and great atmosphere. I had eaten at one in Houston before. M loved it. It was like going to an aquarium and a nice restaurant all in one for her. Two things she’s never gotten to do before. It was a trip of firsts for her.

On the way home on Sunday, we had to more stops we decided to make, because we would be driving by them and since M had never seen them, it seemed like a good idea. The first stop was the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama. Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature,” Ave Maria Grotto is a beautifully landscaped, four-acre park designed to provide a natural setting for the 125 miniature reproductions of some of the most famous historic buildings and shrines of the world. The masterpieces of stone and concrete are the lifetime work of Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey. Begun as a hobby, with various materials he could find, and infinite patience and a remarkable sense of symmetry and proportion, Brother Joseph re-created some of the greatest edifices of all time. It is definitely something that if you have the chance, you should see, even if it is like a little tacky roadside attraction.

The next stop was in Birmingham at the Vulcan. The Vulcan statue is the largest cast iron statue in the world, and is the city symbol of Birmingham, Alabama, reflecting its roots in the iron and steel industry. The 56-foot tall statue depicts the Roman god Vulcan, god of the fire and forge. I had not seen the statue up close in years. Since I had last seen it, the statue had been restored to its original condition. The restoration and the new visitors center are really nice.

With the exception of the lack of funds and the speeding ticket, the trip actually turned out to be very nice. The only thing I regret, and I just didn’t have the finances for it, was that I would have loved to enjoy some of e famous nightlife in Nashville. Oh well, that will have to be for another trip.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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