​​​BamaRider

Day 1
August 7th, 2017
Prattville, Ala.



After 2 months of careful planning I was at last ready to begin this ride into the past.  I moved the Si out of the garage to make room to get the CB 1100 out to the driveway.  This will only be a 4 day trip, so I was packed light.  The tour would look like this;  place Prattville in the middle of a 1200 mile lap, and go.

I told Debbie good bye and fired up the CB.  It is has a distinct rumble exhaust note, unique in all of motorcycling.  A great sound.  To make this a official retro ride I was going to have to ride the 4 miles back to the home I lived in 1973 to reset the trip meter.  I filtered throught the traffic of the East side and arrived in front of my old house 15 minutes later.

With my summer gloves still on, and the 1100 idling, I pushed the small button and held it to reset trip meter B.  "There, now I can see how close I come to the original ride in terms of miles ridden."  My notes read I left home at 10:50am, and promptly went to mid town to fill up the 350 Four at the Exxon station at Main and Memorial.

No late start today, time noted was 7:02 am.

The station at Main and Memorial is now a large Marathon station, and not the old fashioned "gas station" of 1973.  Back then a guy actually came out to pump your gas, but I would always wave him off,  not risking finding out if he knew how to gas a bike.

The CB was on half tank so the fill up was both short and cheap.  I left the station on 31 South in a moderate commuter flow to Montgomery.  My plan to retrace today's ride was straight forward, U.S. 311 South out of Montgomery to Brantley, where I turn east for Dothan.  Normally Dothan is a straight shot south down U.S. 231, but in 1973 I went 331 just because.

Through the depressing Southside of Montgomery I went.  Past the pawn shops, car lots, closed shopping centers, and run down convience stores I scooted by.  I was glad to turn South on 331 and escape into the rural countryside of Montgomery County.  In Snowdoun I took note of a friends house from 1973.  The house is still there but the large oak that stood in the front yard had been cut down years ago.  I don't know who lives there now.

Weather was warm and muggy, with a lot of unstable air, but weather radar advised no rain was in the area.  Knowing that, I rode on in confidence.  I only bought one pair of gloves for this trip, the summer mesh.  I had no cool weather gear at all, not even a coat liner.  C'mon y'all its early August in the deep South, it is not going be any thing under 75 degrees, even at 4am in the morning.

 
I packed all my gear in the half empty Moto Fixx bag.  Socks, a pair of shorts, a few T shirts, and some Nikes.

Not much has changed on 331 in the last 44 years.  I come this way often.  It is the the main route to the Florida beaches for most of the country and Alabama.  Us savvy, long term beach goers, use a much more effective route, with better roads, and less traffic.  That course is a series of highways that must be connected.  I'd post it here, but don't need to bog it down like 331 in the summer with tourists.  Send a email and I'll let you in on it.  Looking at a map, 331 jumps out at you, why it is so busy this time of year.

On this day I was lost in thought already.  The state has made a few improvements to the road since 1973, a couple truck passing lanes, and some new bridges.  The landscape is farmland and timber.  

Just south of Highland Home I was sure to make note of the farmhouse with the large yellow ribbon around a big tree.  It is still there, and has been since 1984, when I first noticed it on my way to the beach with Debbie and Chris in our 1982 Civic.  It is old, dirty, and faded and clearly visible.

A few miles later I went into Crenshaw County, and soon after the town of Luverne, the first major stopping point on today's ride.  I ate lunch at a local place called the Chicken Shack back in the day.  I know that establishment is still there.  I've ate there a few times over the years.

It was something after 8 when I pulled in the parking lot of the Chicken Shack.  Not open for business yet.   In 73 it was a small place with a walk up window.  I ate my chicken under a few nearby trees, that were cut down in the late 70s when the Shack added a dining room.  The building and lot look nothing like the area of that summer so long ago.  On that day I had a short conversation with older man (60s?) in a pick up truck, who saw me eating chicken on the curb.

"on a trip?"

"yes sir"

"where ya from?"

"Prattville"

Any place particular?"

"Not really, just riding"

"Enjoy it son, that sounds like fun"  And he went to the window to place his order.

I documented the present Chicken Shack with a few pictures and continued South on 331.


In 1973 the CB 350 clocked the distance from home to the Chicken Shack at 64.1 miles.  I know this by the note I jotted while sitting on the curb.  Today the CB 1100 clocked it at 64.2.


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The Chicken Shack in 2017 looks much different.  In 1973 only a walk up window, highlighted in the red brick.
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The highway turns 4 lanes south of Luverne into Brantley.  Knowing how this city operates I was sure to check my speed through the town.  They seem to have photo radar in the parking lot of the school.  The only in the state of Alabama I bet.  Doesn't surprise me, they've been preying on beach bound yankees for years.  At least they don't try to hide it.

The Front Porch City- Brantley, Alabama.  Just like 1973.

After passing over the Conecuh River I left 331 for SR 189 for a nice little ride into Elba.  I've not been on this road since that day, even though I've passed by it a thousand times.  I guess I never had a reason to return to Elba.  The road had some nice sweeping turns that I did not remember.  It was good riding.

The only thing I remembered about Elba was the county courthouse.  It was as I remembered it. The downtown is right on the Pea River.  A flood in 80s or 90s breached the levees and washed the town away almost, but I see the courthouse survived.


The Courthouse in Elba.

I took SR 12 out of Elba and followed the signs to Enterprise.  I wanted to see the Boil Wevil monument in 73, one of the reasons I came this way.  I also took a break in a Standard Station.  I knew the odds of me finding that station would be remote.  The area surrounding Enterprise is covered in urban sprawl.  Mega car lots, malls, fast food rows and hundreds of con stores.  "Even if the building is still here it might no longer be a Standard."  I made 2 passes on the street in question but could not find it, so settled on what I thought might be the closest thing to it, if not the place. "This Marathon station will have to do."  I stopped and pulled a 7 Up out of the cooler, because that's what I did in 1973.

I sat on a curb, drinking 7up and felt 18 again.  Memories so thick I had to swat them away from my face.



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 "Memories so thick I had to swat them away from my face."



Back on the CB I rode straight through the old downtown, where I found the Boil Wevil Monument, right where I left it.  Unusual a city would erect a monument to a bug, but the Boil Wevil made the South diversify off cotton, so there you go.


Boil Wevil Monument, Downtown Enterprise.

Next stop was Dothan, 35 miles east on U.S. 84, and my stopping point for Day 1 in 1973.  I made quick work of 84 and was in Dothan in time for lunch.  The suburbs of Dothan have encroached far West of the city on 84, and it slowed me.

My son went to college in Dothan on a baseball scholarship in the late 90s, but since then, I only know Dothan when I pass through here on my way to Key West, and in those instances I never left the eastside.  Today, I'll be going into the downtown business district to find the Bee Line Motel, where I spent the night.


The CB 1100 is a great bike in tight urban traffic.  I took full advantage of that while in Dothan.  I recalled the motel was just on the fringe of downtown on one of the main boulevards.  I wasn't sure it would still be there.  After a little fumbling around I found it.  The Bee Line wasn't much in 1973.  I mean it was OLD back then, but it was clean, and this area of town seemed to be acceptable, but then again I was just a few days past 18 years old, and was naive about such things.  My notes said it cost me 6.50 for the night.

Presently, the Bee Line is a crack house, prostitute hang out.  I put my life on the line to take the following pic.  The room I slept in is still there, but I could not close enough to capture the moment, just too many shady people around.  The CB seemed to call out to me, "Get the dang pic and let's go."



The Bee Line Motel looks  just as I remember it.  A closer inspection told me it was currently a bad place.  

Mission complete on the Bee Line, I went back to Ross Clark Circle to the Mcdonald's I ate supper at that night.  I'll be eating lunch there.  Traffic was heavy back to the circle.  While waiting out a traffic light, a man in a delivery van, with the window down, spoke to me.

"hey that's a nice looking bike, what year is it?"

"2017"

"I didn't think they made bikes like that anymore, I use to ride something like that"

"They don't, though not said it, I believe this bike will be a limited edition"

The light changed and I was off.

Coming into the parking lot a lady leaving the drive up window cut me off.

By now it was hot, and I was glad for the AC.  The last few years I've come to rely on Mcdonald's for breaks.  Good wifi, AC, drink bar, rest room, and place to sit, but I try not to eat lunch there.  I went against that thought on this day, and had the double cheeseburger.  I couldn't begin to guess how many times this Mcdonald's had been remodeled in 44 years.

I caught up on messages and made a few phone calls.  I checked the weather radar for the Mobile area, where I'll be spending the night with Chris.  In 1973 it took me 3 days to get to Mobile.  That was then and this is now.  Radar said rain was nearing Evergreen, "I'm going that way,"  I thought to myself.

Lunch was quick and dirty.
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So far the CB 1100 was doing just fine.  Nice riding position, and decent seat.  Enough power to do what I needed to do.  Handles and leans well, but does have a tendency to drift a little when heeled over.  I just love the bike.

A Shell station on SR 52 out of Dothan appeared and I pulled in to fill up.  The CB gives me about 175 miles in return of its 3.9 gallon tank.  8.92 cents filled the tank this time.

I was now on the day 2 ride.  A quick 100 miles or so to Evergreen where I spent the night with a friend from Hickory Lane who moved there a year ago.

Even though it had been 44 years since I'd been on this road, I felt familar with it.  Still had the same feel.  Not much traffic as I rode west.


On day 2 in 73 I ate lunch in small local place in a shopping center on SR 52.  I failed to write down the name of hte place, only that I ate lunch in Geneva.  I shot by a shopping center, "I think that was it!"  I doubled back and went in the parking lot, and it was then everything came back to me.   I'm sure the cafe was in this shopping center but not sure which end it was located. That didn't matter I had my picture.  My notes said the food was mediocre except for the pork chop.  It was a meat and 3 kind of place

Lunch in 1973 was in this mercantile.  Not sure if the cafe in question was near the black truck, or the other end in the old cafe they called Pop's.  
It was mid afternoon, and I was riding across the state East to West.  "Better get going, still a ways to go."

1973​.  This welcome to Geneva billboard was no where to be found in 2017.

Despite all the years, miles, and the relative closeness to my home, I'd not been in this area of South Alabama since 1973.
 
A farmhouse close to 84 wore a fresh coat of paint as it sat under a few trees surrounded by many acres of cows grazing in the pastures.  It was a nice scene.  

Near Kingston I passed 2 pulpwood trucks.  I dropped out of 6th to 5th pull off the manuever.  


Modern maps told me U.S. 84 diverts around Opp.  Knowing that, I kept the CB going straight, ignoring the 84 signs.  U.S. 84, and 331 intersect in Opp, so I've been through it many times going to the beach.  The by pass around Opp has not been online all that long, back in the day 331 went right down Main Street.

Clearing the city I rode on to my next stop of the day- Evergreen.

In Andalusia I stopped for a Gatorade to knock back a deep thirst that had been coming on the last 25 miles in the 90+ humid degrees.  The clerks stood outside smoking cigarettes when they could, so I moved down the front curb to escape the smoke.

"Gas is good, so not going to fill up right now."


In 1973 I ran into rain somewhere between Andalusia and Evergreen.  The same happened on this day.  I know that because I wrote it in my 73 journal.  "Rain outside Evergreen on 84, stopped to put on rain gear." Today  I saw the dark clouds ahead, and crept on West.  "I''ll ride to the edge and then find someplace to wait it out."  I got lucky and found my favorite spot for such, a country church.  I pulled in just in time and got under the breezeway as the bottom fell out.  "This won't last long."  The air cooled off, and I just sat and watched it rain for 15 minutes.  A nice break from the heat and highway.   Summer rains are always good.



Waiting out a thunderstorm near Evergreen, Alabama.

As quick as it came over, it left.  I saw broken clouds ahead and mounted back up.

Evergreen is not the vibrant little town I spent the night in 1973.  Now in decay, it is not doing well.  It seems most of the money has left town.  Even though it had been 44 years since I last saw Harding's house, I had no trouble finding it.  It lies just off the old business district.  I recalled it as a distinct antebellum home.  Still is.


Looks like someone cut the trees and bushes, but otherwise looks the same.  The modern 20 Mega pixle Canon Powershot makes the 1973 photo (a 110 instamatic) look blurry.

The cafe we ate supper that night was a little harder.  It too was closed down, and I'm sure it had been many things other than a cafe over the years.  I had the hamburger steak that night, and back at the house I beat Harding x2 in chess.  We played the game often back on Hickory Lane.  At the time he was in school at the University of Alabama.  He was starting his sophomore year in 2 weeks.  We talked about that and other things that evening.  We had the house to ourselves, his folks were at the beach.  I never saw Harding again after I rode out the next morning.

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Though the building still stands, the small cafe where I ate supper that night is long gone.

With Evergreen out of the way I was off to Mobile on I-65 South.

The CB is out of his element on the freeway.  I put the bike on 75 mph and rolled on south in what was becoming late afternoon.  With no fairing or screen, anything faster is a struggle to cope with.  Just too much wind and pushing on you.  No cruise control either, and I missed it.


I shot past roadside memorials as I rode south.  I never knew I-65 was so dangerous.  I stopped for gas at Shell Station on the Atmore exit.  Quick gas and go.


In 1973, I-65 ended at exit number 37.  It would be another 9 years before it was completed all the way to Mobile.  A very tall bridge and 10 mile causeway had to be built over the Mobile River and surrounding wetlandss to get the interstate into Mobile County.  At that time traffic was diverted to 31 South and into Spainish Fort to U.S. 90.

In order to stay true to the ride I left I-65 at exit 37 and went into Spainish Fort for a painful 20 mile ride.  Doing so added at least 1 hour to the ride.  The modern Eastern Shore is a maze of urban sprawl and huge growth.  It is a booming area today, and not easy to negotiate.

I recalled the moment I cleared the town and could see the bay ahead of me.  It was my first time to Mobile.  That view is still the same today.  The excitment of that scene moved me again, despite the fact I've visited many times since then.

The USS Alabama is still moored in the bay, so I stopped for a pic.





I rode through the Bankhead tunnel.  It was much hotter and stale than I remembered it.  On the oher side I emerged into downtown, and copied my 73 movements by going by the cathedral for a pic.  It was late afternoon now.  I sent Chris a text, "at the cathedral, be there in 30 minutes."



"ok I'm in a finance meeting, let me know when you get here."

Up and down Government Street I saw people jogging.  The first 2 miles of the Azalea Trial Run happen on Government.  They reminded me how out of shape I am currently.


My next stop was the St. Francis Motel, where I slept on night 3.  On the way there I failed to see the Burger King I ate supper at that night.  In 1973 I was new at this, and leary of food I knew nothing about it, so tended to stay with what I knew thus the fast food.  I knew the BK was there a few years ago, I think it was turned into a Hardees?

The motel also proved difficult to find.  I knew it was located further West, but couldn't find it.  I made 3 passes over the section of road I thought it to be.  "I think its gonna be where that Whataburger and old shopping center is."  So went back and eased in.  It was then I noticed the small creek off to the side near the wood line.  "This is it, I remember that view of the wood line coming out."  The St. Francis is no more.  







The St. Francis Motor Hotel circa 1960s.
The St. Francis was torn down to make room for this.

With nothing left to do I made the ride across Mobile in the fading light.  The city is the worst layed out place I've ever come across in all the places I've been.  Service roads to service roads, complicated just trying to get off the boulevard to con store.  Its terrible.

My son is the assistant pastor at St. Dominic's Catholic Church.  His first assignment out of seminary.  I texted him, "on the scene."  He left his meeting and took me to his apartment upstairs.  "Make yourself at home.  Let me finish this meeeting."

"ok"

The shower was nice, and felt good to clean up.  I finished the day with 382 miles.

We ate supper at the Texas Roadhouse.  I had the steak and chicken.  Excellent.

Back at the rectory I was able to move the CB under the carport.  I called and checked in with Debbie and answered some emails and text messages.  We spent the evening catching up on things, but I grew sleepy and went to bed rather early.

Weather check before turning the lights out reported a 50% chance of rain tomorrow.




Next Day 2- Battling rain in Mississippi.