By Land, By Sea, By Minivan. Part 1

Milwaukee to Montgomery

A favorite board game, Quelf, used to cheer, “To ancient times and distant music!”  As spring break is here at last, I like to rephrase that toast as, “To distant lands with not-so-ancient music!” (unless you count early Dave Matthews band and educational songs about presidents by Anamaniacs as ancient).

And so we sallied south from our cloudy, just-turning-greenish-land of Milwaukee, seeking greener pastures, blooming flowers, and considerably warmer waters to splash in: the emerald coast of Florida–Miramar Beach and Destin!  Should be an easy 16 hour drive, right?  Two parents, four kids ages 6 to double 2’s, a trusty Honda minivan- let’s do this!

The first leg of the journey was a nighttime foray into Indianapolis. Takeaways? The Illinois tollway loves non-integer payments totaling $8.80, The oasis stops above the highway are fun for the four kiddos to run and pretend they are kings and queens of the highway, and while it is funny when people have the Toy Story action figure Woody hanging from the back of their van, it is not so funny when a semi-truck has a large doll wearing a white hockey mask and resembling Jason roped to its back doors and staring you down. What’s creepier is after I passed it, we had a pit stop, and then in the inky blackness of the night it materialized again, more malevolent than ever. I don’t believe anyone else was happier to arrive in Indianapolis in one piece that night. 4 hours completed!

The second leg of the journey was much more enjoyable. On Easter morning we savored breakfast with the birds (also a cool place in Australia) as our open air Embassy Suites atrium in Indy was under construction, and wild birds had made their home inside the upper rafters, cheerfully calling down to us as we ate omelettes. At 7am we followed the flowering purple trees south and made a stop at 9:20 to see friends at Waterfront Park, in Louisville KY, which I recommend.

A 4-story clubhouse in the air, Waterfront Park offered plenty of climbing challenges and sliding rewards for all ages. Well-maintained grounds were great for games of tag followed by yellow and purple flower bouquet picking. The Ohio River flowed nearby, although its murky depths looked like a rusty train had derailed into a mud-bath. Kids wanted to feel the water temperature, but ominous signs told us that was a recipe for trembling stomachs. So they settled for catapulting rocks into the river. Overall, I’d recommend a visit to the park.

While I wanted to see Crocket Park in Brentwood outside of Nashville for our next play-stop, four snoozing kids in the van meant we were wiser to keep pushing south than wake them prematurely and face irritability. As far as country roads go, the hills and trees of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama are beautiful, and seem softer and more varied than the hardwoods of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

So we drove into Alabama, and as nature’s call demanded quick action, we exited into Athens, AL. If you have the choice between a playground in Athens, Alabama, and Athens, Georgia (like where I thought I was) I’d go with the World of Wonder in Georgia. The playground at the Sportsplex in Athens, Alabama nostalgically reminded me of my own 1950s style elementary playground, and was substantial– plenty of wooden crawl towers and rings and bars, and a cool six person xylophone area– and it did have some newer features to one side.

But a lot of the equipment looked tired– frayed rubber climbing bars, a couple of rotted wood posts, a dividing wall that strangely separated half of the playground from the other. Years of kids jumping on you will do that I suppose. It also didn’t help to have only a smattering of shade, and a bathroom that was in dire need of repair/cleaning. Broken drinking fountain, no! So, although it was April, it felt like the sweltering, dog days of August. Also, maybe I imagined it, but there was an uneasy social tension between the grandpa toting a Trump cap and the happy, Latino family celebrating Easter. And then there was the man with a tattoo on his thick arm of an evil clown popping up from a toy box. Make of that what you will.

The final part of the day was driving through central Alabama, through Birmingham and onto Montgomery. Having never been through AL before, my thoughts were influenced by two experiences: reading “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” and Mason Jenning’s song, “Black Panther,” both of which focused on the bombing there in the early 1960’s. But, Birmingham appears to be thriving now. I wish I could say more, but kids needed pool time, so we kept cruising till we hit our hotel in Montgomery. Day 2 was a success when we got snacks and much needed pool swimming at 7:30pm.  Only 3 more hours to drive!

*unmentioned parts: twin 2 year olds crying that their iPads didn’t have the movie they wanted and throwing their toys in unreachable areas, 4 year old drawing all over her seat, and 6 year old doing her best to corral the chaos. And potty breaks every hour, sometimes a blissful two hours.