Our plan for this trip had been to try and get a number of bike rides in after we left New Orleans, both Mobile and our next destination, Tallahassee, offering numerous possibilities. But with the cold/allergy thing I had going riding was out and so we drove into Mobile to take the walking tour featured in our AAA Guidebook. Our first stop was Fort Conde, a 4/5’s scale reproduction of the original 1720s French fort at the site.
It featured a series of exhibits describing the history of Mobile and we spent an hour walking from room to room inside the walls of the fort, repeating a ritual we’ve practiced a great deal these last two years, learning about the people, the deeds, sordid and noble, of this place we’d come to visit.
Leaving, we moved the car a few blocks closer to downtown, parked in a lot on the corner of North Royal and St Michael, and walked a block to a Chik-fil-A in an office building on Royal for a quick bit of lunch. No problems with service here, this chain providing reasonably healthy fare regardless of its anti-gay marriage stance.
From here we proceeded to walk a little over ten blocks west on Dauphin Street, using the AAA tour guide to examine the many historical buildings along its path. We walked past Cathedral Plaza, at one time a Catholic Cemetery, with most of the remains moved to the Church Street Cemetery in the 1820s. Today it is home to many of the areas homeless and a quaint re-purposed parking meter there discourages visitors from giving money to them.
We entered the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for a few moments of respite, enjoying the peace these edifices bring to the moment, a chance to slow down, too sit with your own thoughts and reflect on issues big and small. Exiting, we continued west on Dauphin until we reached West Washington, where we turned north for a block and made our return east along St. Frances.
Along this part of the route there were less buildings of interest with the exception of the Temple Downtown, a former Scottish Rite Temple sold to a private party in 1996 and now used as an event venue. The only intact example of the Egyptian Revival style in Mobile it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and on its east side featured a pair of sphinxes by the sculptor Allen W. Barr.
We returned to the car and with no other plans, proceeded to drive west on Springhill Avenue through a number of nice neighborhoods until, to our surprise, we happened upon the campus of the University of South Alabama. Not a large university with total enrollment of a little over 16,000, much like the Corpus Christi campus we’d visited earlier in the trip, these institutions fill a valuable niche in higher education, providing quality studies for a regional population desiring a degree, both undergraduate and masters.
It’s a pretty campus, brick buildings, wide grassy lawns and quads, students moving purposefully to and from class and to study break opportunities. Eventually we began to make our way back to camp where we would finish out the day with a dinner from our camping stock of food and a night of reading in the car.
I was still not 100% the next day so we decided against bike riding and instead drove further on down the bay to the town of Fairhope. Sitting close to the water, it was founded in November 1894 as a “Single-Tax” colony by the Fairhope Industrial Association, a group of 28 followers of economist Henry George. Single Tax attempts to create a simplified and equitable tax system that upholds natural rights and whose revenue is based exclusively on ground and natural resource rents, with no additional taxation of improvements such as buildings.
What it had produced in this case was a charming sea side tourist town and artists’ colony, full of shops and restaurants lined along a couple of main downtown streets perfect for strolling and browsing. We stopped first at a sandwich shop with a display case full of inviting looking pies and split a piece of lemon merengue, no better way to start an afternoon. From there we walked up and down the main blocks, Joanna stopping in at a consignment store where she would pick up a nice blouse and pair of shorts.
We were scheduled to meet up for a late lunch with a former ASUCLA colleague of mine, Emile, and with some time to kill before heading back to meet him we drove a few blocks down to the bay and parked, rolling the windows down to let the cooling breezes flow through the car as we read our books. At the appointed time we rolled out of town and drove back towards Mobile, parking in the lot outside our agreed upon rendezvous location, Felix’s Fish Camp Restaurant.
Emile and a friend of his, Sharon* had just arrived as well and we greeted each other warmly. Back at ASUCLA, he had supervised the custodial crews that cleaned all of our 350,000 square feet of facilities, reporting to me for a few years. We’d made a good team and it was a delight to see him, he having moved to Mobile a year or so after Joanna and I left Los Angeles.
We sat at a table overlooking the bay, ordering a beer apiece to start with while we got caught up on each other’s lives. He now owns a restaurant, E Wing House, and also operates a food truck from it, catering to the late night crowd in downtown mobile. Sharon is a partner in the operation, helping him with staffing and driving the food truck when needed. Our food was quite good I again opting for a local white fish, prepared simply to maintain focus on the quality of the catch.
What made the gathering interesting was Sharon. Emile and I had not seen each other in eight years and had a lot of catching up to do and yet she dominated the conversation at the table, regaling us with anecdote after anecdote, many of which did nothing more than highlight what one might consider her inability to exercise good judgement. In the end it didn’t dampen the occasion, this chance to see this good guy who I’ve always felt an affinity for, but it did make for a long afternoon.
Mobile had been good for us; after almost two weeks of staying with other people and and managing a schedule predicated on other’s whims, we got to re-establish our own routine. The campsite was beautiful, we slowed down a bit and decompressed from the whirlwind we’d experienced. Unfortunately, the cold/allergy I’d picked up kept us from cycling, but this wouldn’t be the first time our bikes spent more time on the car than on the road. Tallahassee was next up. What would it bring for us?
*Name changed to protect the not-so innocent
Fort Conde: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Conde
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception: http://www.mobilecathedral.org/cms/
Felix’s Fish Camp: http://www.felixsfishcamp.com/
The Temple Downtown: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Temple_Downtown
Felix’s Fish Camp: http://www.felixsfishcamp.com/
E Wing House: http://e-winghousemobile.com/