When I do get around, I write about it. If you want to read exclusively about my visits to United States presidential sites, you can do that over here.
I had one-nighter in Alabama in 2007, so I haven't really had the chance to explore the state in all its glory. I will say that all the waitresses I encountered were insanely polite. I will also say that I still managed to sneak in a visit to Space Camp.
August 17, 2007
I'm in Alabama for the first time!
1) When you drive over the state line on US-72, the sign says "Alabama the Beautiful." It looks like somebody bought an "America the Beautiful" sign and then just slapped "Alabama" over the top. I know this is a poor state, but you'd think they could afford an original slogan. I'm offering, for free, "Last in SAT scores, first in our hearts." You're welcome. That said, it is very pretty here. In northern 'bama, there's Birmingham, Huntsville, and that's it. They're leaving the rest economically undeveloped just in case someone decides they need to add more golf courses. A risky strategy in the information economy, but one I'm sure will eventually pay off.
2) The customer service here is beyond awesome. I live in D.C., where the below-rock-bottom standards can crush your spirit. You ask clerks for simple things and they stare at you like you just pulled them out of a coke orgy to plunge a toilet. Here, everyone has been friendly and pleasant.
This is not just a "Southern" thing -- there's lots of crappy hospitality in the South. So yay Alabama.
3) Last summer in Nashville, I met the guy from Skynyrd who wrote and recorded the guitar riff that opens "Sweet Home Alabama." This has nothing to do with my current trip. I'm just bragging.
Marshall Space Flight Center
August 17, 2007
I went to Space Camp! Sadly, it was nothing like the movie "Space Camp."
But it was still cool. When I put Huntsville on my schedule I totally forgot that it's the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center. I was reminded by the replica Saturn V rocket you can see from I-565. That's the first rule of the publicity business: There is no better advertising than a 36-story phallic symbol with "USA" painted on the side.
I learned so much in my brief visit -- to the museum and the "rocket park" -- and here it is:
The history of the space program as indicated by my notes after running through a museum in one hour and not taking any notes.
1945: The U.S. Army launches "Operation Paperclip," a mission to keep top German scientists out of Soviet clutches by kidnapping them, bringing them to America and then trapping them with the ol' "keep-a-Kraut" baby. Thousands of busty candystripers sign up, but only the bustiest get the honor of sleeping with shriveled German geniuses. First among the Germans was Werner von Braun, designer of the V2 rocket which the Nazis used to thoughtfully gentrify London during the Battle of Britain.
1957: The USSR launches Sputnik, and with firm control of space established, divides the moon into a collectivized farm with 5-acre plots. Thousands of drunk peasants die in desperate attempts to reach the moon using homemade rockets. Those who survive are put in gulags for failing to reach their moon fruit quotas.
1958: NASA is formed, and millions of American schoolchildren are forced at gunpoint to learn multiplication tables at an advanced rate. The psychological damage of this process leads to complete mental breakdowns of an entire generation, as evidenced by the 1960s. The Marshall Space Flight Center is established in Huntsville, in part because it is already home to the Army's strategic missile command, but mostly because Alabama's economy closely mirrors that of space. Werner von Braun leads the effort to develop space-faring vehicles.
1960s: By modifying various military rockets, von Braun and his team shoot a series of living things into orbit, starting with a piece of celery, then moving on to a goldfish, a mouse, and a cockapoo in a jockey's costume. When the Soviets shoot a labradoodle into orbit, NASA dresses a very intelligent monkey as a human, names it John Glenn and hopes no one notices. It goes on to serve four terms in the Unites States Senate.
1963: The success of the Mercury program inspires the Venus program, in which John F. Kennedy is shot into space to marry the Queen of Venus and therefore keep that planet out the Soviet sphere of influence. Kennedy's death is faked to keep a frazzled public from learning the truly horrifying reality that our president was cheating on his wife with an 8-foot-tall lady in bondage gear with five eyes. And also the Queen of Venus.
1969: The Saturn V rocket pushes Apollo 11 all the way to the moon, where Neil Armstrong singlehandedly defeats 30,000 Russian space farmers, planting the American flag in the chest of Joseph Stalin Jr. A fake moon landing is filmed in a television studio in Huntsville, to soothe an American public that was still reeling from the cancelation of "The Andy Griffith Show."
1970: Tom Hanks orbits the moon.
1976: After Nixon greenlights the shuttle program, NASA builds the Enterprise to test atmospheric operations. It was originally supposed to be the "Constitution," but a write-in campaign by "Star Trek" fans leads to a name change. This is actually not a made-up fact.
1979: Space-based weaponry takes a step forward as Skylab smites our greatest enemy, Australia.
1980-present: Things happened, as detailed in displays I skipped in order to visit the gift shop. Mostly, they managed to shoot women into space, which was a big deal, because who's going to iron the spacesuits on one of those years-long trips to Mars?
Honestly, I have new respect for astronauts. Especially the Mercury/Apollo guys. An Apollo dude would have been sitting in a tiny capsule stuck on top of a 36-story controlled explosion, anticipating a trip to SPACE, knowing that there's a great chance they'll never come home again if even one tiny detail goes wrong. If you could strap in to that seat, you had BALLS.
The whole rocket park is pretty awesome, but they have a V2 inside the museum. For some reason I also really thought the control ring for the Saturn V was fascinating. There are also a few command modules -- it's shocking to see how small they are.
The odd thing: I don't think the word "Nazi" was in there once. Von Braun seems to be pretty legit -- a lot of the German rocket scientists became U.S. citizens and were primarily working for the German military because they had no choice. But how do you not say "Nazi" even once in the whole museum? Maybe I missed it.
See the World