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Moon Pie over Mobile

January 3, 2013

Alabama – Monday, December 31

I had woken up really hungry during the night, so my appetite seems to be back! There was a Cracker Barrel next door, so I went and had a good breakfast. I had read about Mobile’s New Year’s Eve celebration – instead of dropping a crystal ball like they do in NYC; or a peach like they do in Atlanta; Mobile drops….a giant moon pie! I couldn’t imagine why. But, that all eventually became clear. Moon pies are actually made in Chattanooga Tennessee, but for some reason they became a popular treat for revelers to throw from Mardi Gras floats, and Mobile started celebrating Mardi Gras even before New Orleans. And in these southern cities, New Year’s Eve signals the beginning of Mardi Gras, so the powers-that-be in Mobile decided about 5-6 years ago that they should drop a giant moon pie from the top of one of their tallest hotels. Rumor had it that the largest edible moon pie would also be on hand for the community to sample. I headed for downtown to see what I could see. I wasn’t that far away, and once I was there, I discovered I had left my camera behind so I went all the way back to get it, only to discover Tula had been sitting on it. Between taking my time to get ready this morning, and taking time for a good breakfast, and running around for the camera, it was already early afternoon, and I was eager to get out walking.

But, in getting to the parking place so I could get out and walk, the van acquired another battle scar. At the same moment that I turned left out of a driveway into a clear lane, a 16-yr-old driver quickly pulled out of her parallel parking spot a car length or so behind me into the same theoretically clear lane. Neither of us saw the other, and we bumped. I don’t think the timing could have been more perfect, and I’ve often wondered on highways when there’s a clear lane in center (when there’s 3 or more lanes of traffic) what would happen if someone decided to pull into the center lane from the far left lane at the exact same moment someone else decided to pass a slower vehicle in the right lane – both parties would think the center lane was clear, but they would potentially collide. And that’s what happened, but on a much, much smaller scale. Both of us thought our intended lane was clear, and we apparently pulled out at the exact same time. No tickets were issued (although they nearly got one because they couldn’t produce the correct insurance papers and I don’t know how that was resolved), and the young lady got a reminder from the police officer about it being her responsibility to look ahead of her as well as behind her when pulling out of a parking place. But the bottom line is probably my fault since I was turning left. My damage is mostly a little paint scraped off right front bumper (I had completed a good part of my turn) but they got a dent in a door. The young lady’s companion was a little scary – a thin older white lady who kept talking about the devil being in Mobile! She told me the devil is in Mobile; what in the world was I doing there from Michigan; and only bad things happen between New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras because of the devil! And this incident was her proof! It was a little unsettling – I was glad when we could go our separate ways.

And I had been thinking of my donation-of-the-day too. In reading up about Mobile’s New Year’s Eve activities, I saw one of the events was a formal ball where the proceeds would benefit McKemie Place – Mobile’s only shelter for homeless women. In fact, it’s the only women’s homeless shelter in 3 counties. Since I had forgotten to pack my ball gowns, I decided to call them about simply making a donation. They had quite a long wish list, and I wanted to find out which supplies were most urgently needed. But no one answered the phone – not surprising on a holiday. The address of the shelter is not made public for the safety of the women who need to use it, but the website said financial donations would be gratefully received at a P.O. box. So my donation-of-the-day was a check to McKemie Place, along with hopes that fewer women need to use the facilities this year.

After my little fender-bender incident, Tula and I walked for nearly 4 miles all around Mobile. We followed the parade route, and walked up and down lots of the streets but it took me quite a while to begin to enjoy it, and then an insurance agent called – and I think I was still stewing about everything. Plus Mobile isn’t quite a pretty as some of the other towns I’ve been in, although I did admire the “iron lace” on a lot of the balconies. But, I put it behind me, walked some more, and then decided to get a hotdog from a busy street vendor, and I took it into the park to eat. When I was nearly finished, I heard some shrieks, and realized a bicyclist had just been hit by a car right in the intersection near my park bench. I didn’t see it happen, but saw the car rocking to a stop, and was relieved to see the bicyclist pick himself up, dust himself off and then retrieve his bike. There were police all over the place because of New Year’s Eve, so they were on the scene in less than 60 seconds, and there was no need for sirens, and an ambulance was not called. The driver at least wasn’t going fast since downtown was busy. That kind of put my incident in a different perspective. This is a city that has a pre-American Revolution fort within city limits – it’s kind of strange to look up and see both a 1700s fort and modern skyscrapers at the same time. And something else strange happened when I was taking a picture of some crepe myrtle trees – their bark is so smooth I wanted a picture, but there’s some really weird flashes of energy/light in the first photo, and it just adds to the strangeness of the day – I posted both photos and any logical explanations would be welcome! It’s a little eerie. We walked a little more, and then drove to find the Carnival Museum which was going to open at 6pm and be free-of-charge this evening. I found that I’d be able to park in the same place to visit that and watch the Mardi Gras parade. So as I returned to my original parking spot, all of a sudden there were blue police lights behind me, and I wondered what in the world I’d done now! It was an officer on a motorcycle. I couldn’t pull over because the police had put up heavy metal fences along the parade route, and there was a lot of traffic in the other lane. I slowed down to indicate I saw them, but didn’t know where to pull off. AFter about 3 blocks, I was able to pull over a little, and he wasn’t even after me – he zoomed around when he could. But it rattled me again and all I could think of was that old lady saying the devil is in Mobile!! Goodness! At that point I knew I wasn’t going to stay downtown until midnight – the Moon Pie would have to drop without me! My plan was to go on one more short walk by the stages (the Commodores were their headline act); visit the Carnival Museum at 6; and watch the Mardi Gras parade at 7:30 – I really wanted to catch a moon pie and some beads! And then I was going to head back to the motel, and watch the rest on TV. I’d had enough of Mobile!

Tula and I went on our last walk of the day, and festivities were in full swing. I never found the edible moon pie (one lady said it hadn’t been delivered yet), but I got some nice shots of the big electronic moon pie. A bunch of people were doing sound checks for the Commodores – an old Motown group – I think they’re older than me! Police officers were standing around on corners and Tula went up to one of them, and he said he could tell she was a real killer! Even though the parade was still 2 hours away, he told me dogs are not allowed at the parade – “a few big dogs with big mouths and big teeth” have spoiled it for all dogs. That didn’t matter – Tula wasn’t going in the Carnival Museum anyway, and I was going straight from there to the parade.

So I took her back to the car, and went to the Carnival Museum, where I got my education of the day. I think I was expecting scary jester costumes and gaudy masks (why I wanted to do that to myself after the day I’d had I don’t know!). But what I got was a lesson in the culture of the royal Mardi Gras families of Mobile. I had no idea. Mardi Gras royalty is serious business around here, and the gowns and lavishly decorated capes of the current and former Mardi Gras Kings and Queens were on display in all their opulent finery – sequins, beads, gems, crystals, antique fur – mind boggling. And there’s crowns and sceptres – this was like a different world. It’s a huge big thing here – there’s a campaign for a white king and queen, and another one for a black king and queen – this seems to be perfectly acceptable. The potential candidates must be between the ages of 19-26, and must have impeccable local geneology, and be wealthy enough to spend so much money on the campaign that one could have bought a house instead! Some people have a multi-queen past in their family geneology, and this is reflected in the designs of the cape. One cape was so heavy they had to sew in little stainless steel wheels to help it roll along! The man telling us all this said Bill Gates himself could come to town to offer up his daughter as a candidate, but despite his great wealth, she wouldn’t be eligible unless she married into a geneologically-correct family. Really?!? Like I say, it was an education! And they start the guys young – to get them used to dressing in elaborate costumes and comporting themselves with dignity in front of large crowds. It’s a whole slice of American culture I had known nothing about!

Then it was time to go find a good spot to watch the parade. I found a place near the beginning and near where I parked, so I could make a quick get away! The parade lasted for about 45 minutes and had some Mardi-Gras floats (nothing in comparison to what they’ll have for the actual Mardi-Gras parade when the royalty is out!) and a variety of school bands and dance groups – some of whom were better prepared than others. People on the first few floats threw out moon pies (yes, I caught one!) and lots and lots of beads were tossed out. The crowd was enthusiastic and was well behaved from what I saw – actually sharing beads with people who hadn’t caught any. Then I was ready to go after one more look up at the moon pie – I didn’t want to hang around for another 3 1/2 hours until midnight.

As I headed back to the motel, I passed a movie theatre, and made a quick choice to go see the Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen road trip movie – Guilt Trip. Nice way to end the day – it was funny. Then I watched the Moon Pie drop on TV. Happy 2013!!
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