Here at Northern Arizona University we’re three weeks into the Spring semester so I felt it the perfect time to drag myself away from studying and instead fill you all in on my winter break.
With four weeks for break I decided to spend Christmas and New Year at home and then the first two weeks of 2016 travelling the southern states with my two friends and fellow Swansea American Studies students Heather and Emily. We affectionately called our trip the “Rethinking the South Tour 2k16” with the tag line – “From Swansea Gals to Southern Belles”. I even made tour t-shirts, don’t judge. Our trip would start in Atlanta, Georgia and end up in Dallas, Texas and what a trip it was.
It began with an emotional reunion between Heather and me in Heathrow Airport followed by a pre-flight burger. The flight itself was filled with trivia battles with fellow flyers and us trying to synchronise the start of our inflight entertainment. Nine hours later we met Emily at Atlanta airport where we gushed about three months’ worth of conversation and attempted to navigate Atlanta’s public transport system to get to our Atlanta Airbnb.
Atlanta was lovely, we started the day with Coca Cola World which was very enjoyable until we challenged ourselves to try all of the sodas of the world in the “Taste It!” section of the experience. Now, the word “tasting” evokes images of sophisticated wine tastings and food tasting for banquets and even the website invites you to “sip, mix and savour to your heart’s delight”.
We approached the tasting in a different way. In true uni student style we tasted them in the form of shots. Why we did this I still don’t know; I presume our thought process was that with 56 fizzy beverages to try, the best way to try them all was to do it with speed! We quickly realised this was a poor life choice as no one can handle that much sugar and carbonation at such speed. Halfway through the sodas of Africa I asked a staff member if anyone had ever thrown up, she replied with an eyebrow raise and said no. I was sure we would be challenging that clean record. After a long sit down our stomachs settled and we set off to the birth home of Martin Luther King Jnr. It was a great insight into the early life of MLK and it was good to see a different side to Atlanta.
The following day we explored the Georgia State Capitol building as only Am Studs students would and then headed to the Centre for Human and Civil Rights. It was an incredibly interactive museum which really added a new perspective and depth to our previous studies of the Civil Rights Movement. An outstanding exhibit was a simulation of a lunch counter sit in. You sat on a bar stool at a counter, put headphones on, closed your eyes and placed your hands in front of you. As soon as your hands hit the counter the voices started. They began reassuring that you’d be fine and to sit tight at the counter but then other voices started. They were threatening and full of anger telling you to move, then the bar stool jolted as if to symbolise it being kicked. That’s when I flinched and squealed and shot out of my seat. A passer by asked if it was really that bad but all I could think of was if that was just a simulation, how terrifying the real situation would have been and how brave these campaigners really were.
After a thoughtful visit to Atlanta we headed to the Greyhound bus station to head to Montgomery, Alabama. Although we’d be warned to stay away from travelling by Greyhound, it was cheap and there were three of us so we thought it would be fine. And to be fair it was! While there were a percent of people who looked like addicts, murderers and legit felons, everyone was just trying to get from A to B and overall our Greyhound experiences were chill. On one of our journeys Heather was even offered fried chicken from a Cowboy!
The take home feeling of Montgomery was “why are we here?” When anyone thinks of Montgomery they should think of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an important figure and event in the Civil Rights Movement. One would assume that transport would be good in Montgomery due to its history with buses, though this was not the case at all. We walked for miles to find a bus stop and when we did we found that the last bus into town was at 10 in the morning. We’d spent the morning in the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum so had missed the last bus.
We didn’t let that dampen our spirits though! The city of Montgomery did that for us. A failed trip to “Old Alabama Town” and an underwhelming visit to the First White House of the Confederacy later we admitted defeat and called a cab to take us back to our Airbnb. The cab took nearly two hours to come but when it finally did our cab driver lifted our spirits. Philip was the best thing about Montgomery! He was really confused about why we had visited claiming that the only two things worth doing in the city were going to the club or church. I asked which one he did and he unconvincingly said he preferred church over “the club”. He dropped us back and told us he was off home to get his “hammer” to protect himself before he started his night shift. Though slightly perplexed by this statement we thought nothing of it and went to dinner.
With renewed hope that Montgomery wasn’t all bad we set off the next morning to visit the Rosa Parks Museum. While there we were invited to board the “time machine bus” which took us through a time line of Civil Rights in the US. It was ironically the only bus we rode throughout our trip to Montgomery. We prematurely called it a day and rang our cab driver from the night before. He picked us up and proudly declared that he’d bought his “hammer” with him. Heather and Emily saw it before I did and their reactions were not what I was expecting when seeing a hammer. I then peered slightly more forward and then it clicked, Philip did not carry a hammer around with him, but instead, a gun. I was speechless and as he laughed at me for looking for a hammer! He told us it was fine as he had all the papers for it with him and that it was loaded with only two bullets, one as a warning and one for when he “really needs it”. We were shocked to say the least! Philip was Montgomery’s saviour as if not for him we would remember it as a deserted city of poor transport and bad lunches.
The next morning promised another Greyhound trip but this one was more exciting as we would be travelling through Mississippi and onwards to New Orleans, Houston and Dallas.