0415 is a disgusting and unholy time of the morning, but there I was, awake and getting dressed. Yep – we’re going back to Huntsville.
SOBUMD and the three lunatic children dropped me off at my folks’ house Tuesday evening. As I’ve gotten older, the bedtime routine with my parents has evolved – I miss the bedtime stories, but the good-night Scotch is a welcome addition. This kids acknowledged my blandishments about behaving for SOBUMD with their usual nonchalance, left with SOBUMD, and we shortly retired to sleep.
I may have mentioned in previous posts that my father collects penguins. I’m used to all the birds around the house, but I’ll confess the penguin mobile over my bed was freaking me out a little. The windows were open, and the little bastards were swaying, floating gently just below the ceiling. Penguins just shouldn’t fly, ya know? Of course, I’ve only myself to blame – I’m pretty sure we bought it for him.
Time in the wee hours progressing in the manner of a dream, I suddenly found myself thanking FOBUMD for the stay and the ride to the airport and walking into the eerily empty, post-apocalyptic vision that is DCA before 0500. Neither the folks from TSA not the ticket agents speak, not even to each other. I guessed they were communicating through some godless pre-dawn telepathy, as though to break the silence would profane even further this already unholy hour of the morning. As I make my way to the check in desk, they all stare at me like somnambulant feral zombies, with only their eyes moving, waiting for any sign of weakness. I had the distinct and uncanny sense that, were I to stumble, even for a moment, they’d be on me like a pack of hungry dingos on a baby.
I have no memory of checking in. I suppose it’s possible that I might have supressed such a memory to protect my sanity, such as it is. The next thing I remember was boarding a plane, finding my seat, and getting up again to make room for my cute twin blonde seatmates.
Things were looking up. I like this dream. So did they, evidently – they were both asleep before we pulled away from the gate.
As I reseated myself, an even more stunning brunette stopped in front of me and asked if she could move my hat. I took it from the overhead bin and, after watching her struggle for a moment, offered to help with getting her carry-on up into the bin. Mind you, when I say carry on, as far as US Airways is concerned, if it has wheels, it’s a carry on. This was proven by the fact that she was pulling a 1973 Ethen Allen hardwood dresser that was taller than the Reigning Queen of Pink. It had rolling casters on it, though, so it’s a carry on. For $25 per checked bag, I didn’t really blame her.
My sleeping beauties made a few kind remarks about how strong I was, how polite I was, and US Airways redefining “carry on” – and drifted back to sleep.
I have vague and uncomfortable memories of channelling OJ Simpson in the airport at Charlotte, NC, which is somewhere between “bigger than I expected” and “fucking enormous.” Mind you, when I say I was channelling OJ Simpson, I don’t mean I was jumping over furniture and people, I mean I looked like a slow-moving white Bronco going through the interminable hallways. Walking out to the tarmac to board the next hop, I realized that happiness is seeing US Airways loading your luggage onto the same plane you’re boarding. Mind you, since my luggage is technically smaller than most Buicks (at least smaller than pre-1990’s Buicks), I could have saved myself the worry and just carried it on.
We landed in Huntsville, where I was reunited with my luggage, rental cars, and that smell of Alabama air that is unlike anything else. It’s not just roast pig, it’s something else undefinable. It was a nice day, so with the windows down I drove about until hearing from my cohort that they’d meet me for lunch. That right – it was time for Thomas Pit.
It remains a subject of myth and legend up here in the northern climes, but it’s real, and it’s been real since 1932, when between 80% and 90% of all Huntsville voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and put their faith and their BBQ in the New Deal. Since then, it’s been pulled pig the best way, in a smokehouse behind the restaurant that may have seen a layer of paint on the outside, but the inside is just the same as it’s always been. You cook pigs for 80 years, you get damn good at it, is my guess.
But I was stymied! The cohorts were late getting out of their meetings, and we were all due back to work (I do, actually, work sometimes, hard though that is to believe) in short order. We settled for nearby and quick. It was Steak-n-Shake.
I have to admit that Steak-n-Shake does not suck. The problem lies in its reach – I can go to Steak-n-Shake without leaving my home state. (I don’t, but I could.) I’ll go to chains at home, but when I’m travelling, I want to eat the local fare, not homogenized Generican food you can get anywhere. However, in this case as in so many others, omnivorousness was trumped by expedience, and we retired back to the work.
Dinner turned out to be a return to the Ol’ Heidelberg, which lives up to its name by hanging multiple pictures of the bridge over the Rhine showing the ruins of the old Heidelberg castle in the background. The surest sign that you’re not really in Germany is the wait, though – people don’t actually wait, usually, for dinner in Germany; if the place is full, you go down the street a block to a place that isn’t. In this case, we waited for 20 minutes outside in the fading nice day, until we realized that we could get beer and then bring it back outside to keep waiting, but with beer. Elements of my cohort were keen on a repeat of the last trip to the Ol’ Heidelberg, which involved Spaten Optimator. My cohort whispered, “Optimator!” I looked at her and said, “Optimator!” But again, we were stymied! They had Spaten, to be sure, and they had a few other varients, but not the Optimator.
What’s that you say? A locally brewed Porter, you say, on draft? You can recommend it since I liked the Optimator? Hmmm. Well, what’s it called?
“Big Bear.” How could we go wrong with a local brew called Big Bear? And so, we had us some Bears.
It turns out that Big Bear Black Bear Porter is actually brewed in Florida. Now, local can have several meanings, and Alabama does – and I keep forgetting this – border Florida, so I was willing to give the waitress a pass on that, until I realized that it’s brewed in Coral Springs, which is just shy of Ft. Lauderdale and more than 800 miles from Huntsville. We’ll settle for “redefining local” and roll with it, since it’s really, really good beer. The Black Forest Schnitzel, veal topped with a Marsala wine sauce with mushrooms, onions, and the all-important bacon, was amazing as well.
The next day dawned with a shot a breakfast in the hotel, which turned out to include waffles. That’s it. Just waffles. There was no protein, no meat, nothing but waffles and something that had been carefully manufactured to closely resemble butter. Physically adjacent to the hotel, however, was a Waffle House, where they serve more than just waffles. Oh, yes they do.
Several sausage and grits and waffles and biscuits and eggs later, I resumed the work with the intrepid cohort and we carried on our way. Today, the dawn had broken in our favor, and the Great Pig was smiling on us. Lunch was on for Thomas Pit.
This is the best pulled pork I’ve ever had. I’ve said it before, I’m sure I’ll say it again. The cohort – and we dragged several new mouths to this font of pork – tended to agree with me, to the extent they spoke at all; mostly we ate. Mouth melting piles of hot porcine goodness, with a tasty tangy vinegar sauce next to it – excellent but not needed on pig this good.
But all good things must come to an end, even lunch, and the cohort split up for planes and offices and hotels. I met the boss back for dinner at Dreamland – Ain’t Nothin’ Like ‘Em Nowhere – and we split a rack of ribs; they were fine, good perfectly adequate. Plus they changed the channel so the boss could watch the
boxing match hockey game, which was nice of them. We broke some pig, solved the socioeconomic problems of the world, and retired to our respective hotels to prepare for the morning’s flights.
0445 is a disgusting and unholy time of the morning, but there I was, awake and getting dressed. Despite the hour, I was actually late to check in for my flight. The US Airways ticketing lady was nice enough to put me on a later flight without charging me anything extra, so that was OK. For a very nice change, the HSV TSA folks didn’t find any reason to take me aside and ask me about those embarrassing pieces of cutlery in my bag, mostly since I’d taken a different bag this time and deliberately failed to put anything with an edge on it in the new bag. Ha! That’ll show ’em.
My luggage and I eventually found our way back home, and SOBUMD picked me up in time for some lunch before she had to rush home to get the kids from school. We went to a great Irish place called P Brennens, and had a plate called an Irish Breakfast. Despite the afternoon, it was the first breakfast I’d had, and it was great.
It’s good to be back in my own bed – the beds in all the hotels are lacking something, no matter where I stay. Mostly they’re lacking SOBUMD, but that’s a different post. Huntsville was once again marvelous in food and people, and I was glad to have gotten to introduce more of the cohort to Thomas Pit. With any luck, a return to their primal pig lies somewhere in my summer!