Practice Makes Perfect

Birmingham Travel Blog

 › entry 15 of 16 › view all entries

Miles Traveled: 300                                

Roads Traveled: I-485NW, I-85S, I-20W                                

Time on the Road: 5.5 hours              

States Crossed: N. Carolina, S. Carolina Georgia &  Alabama

Tanks of Gas: .75                              

CD’s Listened to:  Timbaland, Hall & Oates & Green Day                                                                                                   

Practice Makes Perfect

The Drive

               I finally got to see Olympic Park in Atlanta.  I stopped to check it out.  I have driven through Atlanta about six times since the 1996 Olympic Games and never saw the torch statute until this time.  Oddly enough, it is smack dab next to the freeway.  What is wrong with me?  To quote my Dad, “If it was any closer, it would have bit me.”  I was unable to figure out where the bomb and shrapnel occurred, but it was still very impressive. 

The Town

               Birmingham is the largest city that I have traveled to and stayed in while on my journey.  I did get a chance to go to the Civil Rights Institute.  I have always been completely stunned by the atrocities that one group will commit against another group in the name of an ideal or belief.  However, I never expected the visuals to be so gruesome in the South.  When I had the opportunity to go to the Nazi museums/camps and holding pens in Germany I knew what to expect and it wasn’t until I saw the rooms filled with shoes and eyeglasses that I understood the magnitude of the devastation and murder that had occurred.  The same can be said for my visit to the CRI.  Sure, I know who Emmet Tille was and what happened to him.  I saw the photos that were printed in Jet Magazine, but to hear and see other non-publicized events of racially motivated cruelty, torture and death was beyond my comprehension. 

               As a side note; after my visit to CRI, I have to give even more credit and respect to RJ “Big Rick” Tilley.  He was born and raised in the region of Birmingham during the Civil Rights movement and eventually ended up in the kitchen of The Pot in Cleveland, Ohio.  He witnessed the violence and never had a problem sharing his experiences with me (usually while sipping a snifter filled with Hennessey.)  He has taken the fall on more than one occasion for more than one “white coll-ege b-oy” simply because, “they had mo’ to lose.”  He is not bitter, nor does he blame anyone for anything.  He enjoys his life, his children and his beautiful “gran-babies” the best way he can.  My favorite thing about Big Rick is that he laughs through his day while doing one of the worst jobs ever and still motivates others to “FINISH STRONG, YOUNG BLOOD, FINISH STRONG!”   

The Campus Experience

The most obvious difference between the North and the heart of the South is the economic well-fare of the community.  In Cleveland, we have fine lines between socio-economic classes.  You can easily describe yourself as upper or lower middle class and people know what that means.  Down here, there isn’t a poverty “line” or socio-economic “gap.”  In the down and dirty South, it’s a frickin’ poverty CANYON.  There is no middle class.  You are either broke as a joke and live literally in the hood or have more money than the Vatican and live in a pristine mansion.  This was my first observation when exiting the freeway to get to Birmingham-Southern.   BSU is a breathtaking campus located less than half a mile from the exit ramp and it is in the center of the hood.  The area surrounding the campus, which has a gated, police manned entrance and a 12 ft brick wall with barbed wire encompassing the grounds of the school, is about ten times worse than the Taft Road exit on I-71, which leads to the campus of The University of Cincinnati.   

I wasn’t that concerned with the area surrounding the school.  I never really left the campus.  However, life-threatening disaster struck the school anyway.  It was my second night on campus and I was snuggled up in my guest suite.  At around 3:45am (central time) a large thunk resounded throughout my suite.  I was in a dead sleep and the noise was so loud that I shot straight up out of slumber land.  Those of you that have attempted to wake me up know damn well that I am not easy to wake up, nor am I in the least bit pleasant upon regaining consciousness.  About thirty seconds later a siren was blaring over the campus.  At first, it sounded like an air raid siren of years gone by.  As another loud thunk echoed from the window, it hit me.  I have heard this siren before at Shaker.  My God, it is a TORNADO!  Who knew that the years of the semi-annual, seemingly worthless tornado drills would come in handy at some point in my life?  No matter how many times you practice an escape route or emergency procedure, you never know how you will respond to crisis until you are actually in the midst of it.  I can honestly say that I am extremely proud of the way I reacted.  The storm was getting worse and the electricity had been knocked out.  I had only moments to get myself together.  My thirty second thought process was as follows:

1.     Grab your phone.  Use the light on the phone to locate items that you need and you will need to communicate during and after this event.

2.     Put REAL shoes on and a sweatshirt.  Every televised post-tornado interview, there is always some crazy crying woman with disheveled hair wearing a tank top, pajama pants and no shoes.  Don’t be that woman!

3.     Grab your wallet.  You need identification and money.

4.     Grab your keys.  You will need to either A) get back into your suite or B) drive away, assuming the Doc survives.

5.     Grab your jewelry.  What can I say? My Dad gave me the Dr. Seuss watch and everything else I wear on a daily basis came from Mom.  I didn’t realize how much these items meant to me until it was a matter of life or death.

6.     As I stood in the doorway of my suite, I had a brief and odd moment of, “Should I put a bra on?”  On one hand, if I survive this and the place is demolished I may need it.  Then again, I don’t give a crap if I die and don’t have a bra on.  Who needs support of that nature at a moment like this?  I grabbed one off the dresser and shoved it into the pocket of my hoodie, just in case.  

I shut and simultaneously locked the door to my suite and headed to the basement.  The hallway was crowded with co-eds in pajamas.  As I scanned the crowd, I was stupefied that some of them brought blankets and pillows and even more dumbfounded that some of them brought their laptops with them.  Are you girls crazy?  I also noted the few males that were trying to hide amongst the sea of females.  The winds and rain got harder, whipping items into the building.  I crouched facing the wall and decided it would be a good idea to get a hold of my parents.  I tried to call, but being in a basement I couldn’t get a signal.  I tried to text to no avail.  I could somehow get to my web browser.  I checked for updates and then got into my email.  I sent the following email to my parents from my phone:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tue, 26 Feb 2008 5:15 am
Subject: love you

good morning dad, mom & don. its really early. just around 5am your time. a 
tornado has touched down near Birmingham. i am ok and in a basement hallway with strangers. just wanted to say i love you and thanks. i am sure this will pass I will call later.  LOVE YOU ALL TA Jewels    


The tornado’s path never actually touched the school.  It passed directly over top of the BSU campus; littering the place with broken tree branches, residential roofing tiles, bathmats, sneakers, towels, license plates and various other debris.  I was safe, the Doc was safe and I went back to sleep.  My parent’s response to my somewhat cryptic email tells a lot about who they are.  A few hours later my phone rings.  It is my Mom; a bit frantic, but then calm.  Here is her response email:

Sent: Tue 2/26/08 8:50 AM


i love you infInitum.   CALL ME NOW !!!!!

OK I JUST SPOKE WITH YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

While, my Dad, on the other hand, I called him around 10:30am EST at his office.  He is glad I am ok and then made some wise crack followed with, “What, you didn’t check your email?”  Here is Poppa Rossi’s response:

Sent: Tue 2/26/08 9:24 AM

glad your ok Love DAD. and don t make ME come down there and have a talk with God about adverse climatic conditions, while my daughter is traveling

Biggest difference between Mom and Dad: Mom will panic at the perceived danger or possible loss and Dad refuses to panic unless something has actually occurred that has caused the loss.  For that, I love them both!

For the record, I have now officially survived the following natural and man-induced disasters virtually unscathed that qualify as catastrophic events (in reverse chronological order):

A Tornado in Birmginham

A bench clearing bar brawl involving a felon and a gay man in Cleveland (it was WAY FIERCE!)

A botched work-place robbery attempt in Cleveland

A police chase complete with gunshots on the strip in Las Vegas

An ATM robbery inside my place of business in Las Vegas

A high-impact multiple-car accident in Charlotte

A four-hour drive through a freak white-out in Niagra Falls with 2 Australians in the car

A car bomb explosion outside of my office in London

A terrorist attack on the Tube in London

A flood in Cincinnati (missed out on the race riots…I was in London when that happened)

A robbery at knife-point in the Flats

An earthquake in San Diego

An engine fire that ignited the wing of a jet while en-route to Florida

The Fifth grade

A hurricane in Hilton Head

Not to mention all the insane things that I have done that qualify as “sports” such as bungee jumping off a bridge, repelling down a mountain and white water rapid rafting. 

Lucky Girl?  Why, yes.  Yes, I am!

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photo by: denisx