12 November, 2020

Exploreum in the '90s

Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville

My favorite place to be in Winter 1996 was wherever she was. Like most boys at that age, I was infatuated with someone I found impossible to stay away from, so when she wanted to drive downtown to explore the "big" city of Mobile, I gladly followed along.

Ervin S. Cooper
Mobile, Alabama, was a city of 200k residents back then, and the city was then actively working on making the downtown area a much nicer place. Cooper Riverside Park first opened in December of that year; we would frolic and gaze and rest and vigorously enjoy ourselves there. Nearby was the Adam's Mark Hotel (now known as the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel), the tallest highrise hotel in Alabama at 28 stories. Despite its size, the foyer would be deserted at 3 a.m., save for the person on duty behind the desk, so I could play their grand piano to an audience of just two for forty-five minutes or so. I wasn't terribly good, but that didn't matter; it was wonderful just to have a grand to myself for a few minutes each night, regardless of the quality of my playing. We never went to bars, or interacted with others beyond a word or two. We just walked from park to park, sampling the smells of azaleas and camellias, sitting on benches next to statues, and finding secluded green areas for privacy. We took full advantage of the new downtown developments as they came up. By 1998, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and IMAX Dome Theater opened across the street; I flashed the news crew as it filmed the Exploreum's grand opening live for the evening news; it was the first (and hopefully last) time I've ever been stark naked on live television.

Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel
Later, when I was by myself, I still loved visiting downtown Mobile. I would go well after midnight and stalk the platforms of the Arthur C. Outlaw Convention Center. I would lie on the grass at Cooper Riverside Park and listen to the waves gently crash against the pier. I would gently ask the Adam's Mark receptionist if I could play the grand piano so often that the employees working at 3 a.m. would eventually just immediately gesture to the piano the moment that I would walk in. I would play light jazz, improvising notes with my right hand while holding a basic chord progression on my left. I would (poorly) play songs by Nobuo Uematsu, often slowing down during the hard parts that I hadn't yet learned. I would play more than I would play.

St. Josephs Chapel organ by Heissler
(Even later, in 2003, I would spend two nights each week going up to the Heisler tracker pipe organ at St. Joseph Chapel at 3 a.m. to continue the tradition, though I'd almost always play to an audience of none there, and I'd immediately stop if anyone came into the chapel. No one needs to hear me play Uematsu's Dancing Mad at three in the morning when they've come to the chapel likely for guidance of a very different kind.)

These memories mean little to whomever ends up reading this. But it's not written for you; it's written for me. To me, these memories are precious. They're moments of time frozen in amber back when I was too immature to realize that the world didn't revolve around me. They're memories of a self with so much naiveté that, even now, I cannot fathom how I could possibly think the way that I did. They remind me of happy times, but, also, of the shame that comes with not appreciating it the way that I should have. They help to ground me in the changes that I've made over the years — they cement the surety I feel that the many dividing lines between then and now are worthwhile and good. They make me more fully appreciate the joy I feel in the simple pleasures I take in the here and now.

The deep regrets I have for what my ancestor did may loom large, but these memories help to remind me that no man is pure evil. That the error was in grasping too hard, in assuming that fate had a plan, in tasking myself with making it work instead of letting it go. The error, too, was in my drastically poor choices, but, behind that, it was an error of faith. I stand here ever so grateful that I will never again make that category of error.

11 November, 2020

Taking a Walk

 4:12 a.m. EST

I'm a little late for my walk. It's much better to go at 3:30 or so; that way I don't run into anyone and I can keep my mask in my pocket. Starting this late means by the time I get back I might run into early morning dog walkers. In years past, I would have just canceled. My desire to be alone would have been just too great. But after my health scare earlier this year, I promised myself I'd do these walks at least thrice a week. I have to go.

4:27 a.m. EST

I reach the tunnel. It's dark. I can see only a few feet in front of me if I use the tiny low power LED flashlight on my keychain. Without the light, I can see nothing. The first few steps crunch the fall leaves near the entrance. My heart picks up a beat, even though I know no one is here. It's silent. Each step echoes lightly. It's a strange sound; maybe I should have worn something other than crocs for this walk. I move my phone up to take a short video, illuminating the graffiti on the sides of the tunnel as I walk past. I'm careful to just use the small light on my keychain; if I turn on my phone's flashlight, it will be too bright, and it will break the illusion. Another step echoes, and I catch a reflection from above. It's the covering for fluorescent ceiling lights, but they're all turned off. They're always turned off. I wonder when they are ever turned on. After a few more steps, I reach the center of the short tunnel. Above me is the 'main' road. No cars at this time of night, though. I close my eyes and inhale deeply. It smells of... well, the same as outside, really. The tunnel is too short and too shallow to have its own smell. I smell the trees; the leaves; the breeze. No stale air here. I'm disappointed yet again in how not-scary it is, despite the darkness. Despite the seemingly encroaching walls. It occurs to me that the echo is not weird because of my choice of footwear — it's the accordion fold shape of the metal walls that distort the echo so.

5:10 a.m. EST

I like living in this community. Neighbors live in small houses, big houses, townhouses. There are garages, people parking in the streets, driveways, parking lots. Some places look well tended, with the leaves absent from the ground; others have piles. This one appears dilapidated. Next door is a man-made basin, only half full. The water is green, and signs say to stay away. Yet I know that a half mile behind me is a much larger natural creek, beautiful and full of life. The disparity so close together is what makes me really enjoy this area.

5:26 a.m. EST

I arrive at my doorstep. I feel successful, though I encountered no deer tonight, as I sometimes do. I don't always feel great; times have been tough lately. I'm worried about the country I live in, half of whose voting inhabitants wanted Trump to be reelected. I'm worried about several members of my family, who only recently contracted COVID-19 and aren't yet getting better. I'm worried about life. And death.

But at least I got some exercise today without having to put on a mask.