Sunday, September 4, 2016

An Editorial Meeting in My Mind

As I considered various themes for a post on our Memorial Day weekend trip to the Gulf of Mexico—loosely speaking—it occurred to me that I was pitching story ideas to myself.

"5pm editorial meeting,"
from "How the Guardian is Made" (2 April 2014),
courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd. through Open Licence.

Eventually that became the theme; the Rickwood Classic special edition; three longer features and four shorter ones—at least conceptually!

Rickwood Classic

The itinerary for our late-May, early-June trip was structured around the Rickwood Classic, the annual game played at Rickwood Field, built in 1910 and the oldest professional baseball park in the United States. That story should appear prominently, even if it isn't the longest.

Photo credit: Brittany Faush-Johnson from
"Rickwood Classic is ‘old-time baseball’ for young and old alike in Alabama,"
courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter.

The contest between the Birmingham Barons and a Southern League opponent is usually presented as a baseball bucket-list destination. Having now attended, a fresh take on the story might be, 'Birmingham residents invite you to join their annual celebration of a well-loved local landmark.'

This year, the Barons donned the uniforms of the 1967 Birmingham A's and honored Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, who went 6-5 with a 2.21 ERA in 18 games (17 starts) for the league champion (84-55) A's.

Rollie Fingers at BHM. Photo credit: Melvin, being discreet.

Rollie and Melvin and I had dinner at neighboring tables at the Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q franchise at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM). That might have been the best meal that we had in Birmingham, which segues into a second story.

Birmingham: Awesome or Awful?

I keep reading about a burgeoning restaurant scene in Birmingham (e.g.: Zagats) so, having visited twice, Melvin and I must be doing something wrong. I had the worst ribs of my life—and I am including my remaining years—at Carlile's Barbecue. They were so bad that a cook, the waitress, heck, the dishwasher should have just told me to order something else.

And who can forget Niki's Downtown Restaurant, where a sign on the door instructed us to take off our sunglasses, caps and hoods—always a harbinger of fine dining. The place certainly had character, with the bathroom especially characterful.

We did no better in Birmingham bars. At The J Clyde, it took far longer to order and pay for a beer than to consume it. That is better than we did at the Garage, however, where we never did get served or even spoken to.

But enough with the awful. Sloss Furnaces, a 20th-century blast furnace that closed in 1971 has reopened as an event space, metalwork studio and completely cool place to walk around.

We saw several people painting en plein air but many
photographers could spend days at Sloss Furnaces (detail).

There wasn't much to see of the fenced off former Ensley Steel Works but we did see one of the iron ore mines in Red Mountain Park, 1,500 acres being redeveloped southwest of the city. We visited Joe Minter's "African Village in America," a folk environment known as a "yard show."

African Village (detail). The ongoing project
incorporates contemporary concerns.

Regions Field, the new (2013) home to the Birmingham Barons plays tribute to the city's industrail heritage and looks great. The Negro Southern League Museum next door has more artifacts (and reproductions) than we remember seeing at the more famous Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Also nearby is Railroad Park, another new (2010) open space.

Reproduction poster by
Yellowhammer Creative.

Of course, there are the sites downtown associated with the civil rights movement; the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Kelly Ingram Park, some of which we visited in 2007. We also got shook down for five bucks.

Along the Shunnarah Trail

The omnipresent Shunnarah (and friend).

This should be the longest article, most ambitious too. Alexander Shunnarah is a personal injury attorney with 17 offices across Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia, states that also feature thousands of billboards advertising the services of his legal team.

I have an author in mind, a geographer who has visited the area a few times. The assignment would be to blend the Shunnarahian landscape, the author's recent reading of The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera, and his own perspective.

Redneck Riviera

The serial surreality of identical advertisements—one after another after another—each the fore- or middle-ground to a semi-tropical and often economically depressed landscape ... perhaps a photo-essay might be better, someone like Alec Soth, only more affordable.

The World as Putt-Putt Golf Course

On our trip 14 (!) weeks ago, Melvin and I played miniature golf twice and visited the derelict remnants (above) of a third. It is no surprise to find a two-story tall Easter Island head on a putt-putt golf course, even one that you can climb up inside of.

Inscribed in the stairwell was the proclamation, "I fucked Brandon
right here," followed by the note, "His name is Keith."

Elsewhere on the itinerary, we visited a full-scale fiberglass replica of Stonehenge...

Fabricator Mark Cline has built pieces for goofy golf courses.

...a half-scale house in Pensacola...

Small house, or very large electric panels?

...and dioramas of scenes from American history.

George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette meet Bob Dylan,
Pettus Randall Miniature Museum of American History.

The varying scales and approaches to reality, combined with our constant movement from stadium to stadium ... there is a story here but I cannot quite put my finger on it.

We're not Condé Nast but some shorter pieces might do well to ground the preceding.

Where is the Lux in Biloxi?

Eight casinos and Keesler Air Force Base; is that all there is to Biloxi? We did stumble across the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art. Closed when we stopped by, we explored the Gehry Partners-designed campus.

Gehry buildings, it seems to me, work best close-up or at a distance,
but not nearly as well from the perspective of the middle ground.

We weren't in town that long. Maybe there is more. Wanna bet?

Seaside® at 35

The small master-planned community with a trademarked name!

It looks great (although how many upper middle class resort towns don't?) and we especially enjoyed lunch at Sóng, a Thai food counter in a trailer off the central square.

Baseball is Back

When it was more of a homespun affair, there was minor league baseball all over the south. The ballparks are fewer now but also grander—well, maybe not so much in Biloxi. There are new stadiums there...

MGM Park (2015), with MGM's Beau Rivage
conveniently located beyond center field.

...and in Pensacola...

Vince J. Whibbs Sr. Community Maritime Park,
or Blue Wahoos Stadium (2012) if you prefer.

...and Birmingham, where the Barons got a significant upgrade from Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, the team's previous home for a quarter-century.

Regions Financial Corporation is paying $10 million,
$500,000 per year, for the naming rights to Regions Field (2013).

For the record, we saw the Biloxi Shuckers squeeze by the Mobile BayBears, 2-1 in their last at-bat; watched the Blue Wahoos crush the Birmingham Barons, 12-5, scoring in all but one inning; and saw the Barons lose twice more to the Chattanooga Lookouts, 10-6 at Regions Field and 7-4 at Rickwood.

"Houston, You Have a Problem"

Melvin and I flew through Houston three times on this trip. Heavy rain and flooding delayed one leg of the trip and forced the cancellation of our return flight, which we had to re-book on another carrier.

The detour to Texas and New Mexico at the end of the itinerary was always an anomaly; necessitated because El Paso is nowhere near any other stadiums that we haven't visited and made possible by an $800 airline voucher received on our way to another outlier, Grand Junction.

The day-trip never fit geographically and it doesn't fit here either. Rickwood, Birmingham, Shunnarah, miniature golf, Biloxi, Seaside® and baseball. That will suffice for the Rickwood Classic special edition! Now all I have to do is find someone to write and illustrate it.

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