I wonder sometimes about our love affair with the tools of war. Throughout the South, fighter planes and old cannons keep keep popping up in the oddest places. Stuck awkwardly above a highway rest stop near Pensacola, there's a Blue Angles jet with a stick up its ass. Mobile's primary tourist distraction is the decommissioned USS Alabama battleship.
I suppose if I longed to spend the day tromping around several acres of battleship steel in the midday Alabama sun, and was willing to pay $12 for the pleasure, I would have followed the masses up the gangplank.
But I don't, and I'm not, so I didn't.
Instead, I walk down to a nearby pier overlooking muddy Mobile Bay. A small knot of families has pooled together an admirable collection of fishing gear, and is hard at it.
They're using fat local shrimp for bait. Personally, I'd be just as happy to pop a beer, cook up the shrimp and call it good. But they throw in their lines with determination from a spot overlooking the battleship and distant city skyline, while ignoring both completely.
The afternoon passes with cheerful banter among the grown-ups and gentle lessons for the boys. No one gets too excited when the kids tangle lines, they get the help they need and I watch as their casting grows more confident, even if the results are roughly the same: Fish growing fat and happy on an inexplicable supply of shrimp floating in from on high.
On the other hand, Dee Dee, one of the few women on the pier, is killing 'em.
She excitedly hollers "I'm going to break it!" as her rod bends against a struggling fish. In the excitement, her chair is hurled over, beers are spilled and everyone laughs as she lands a five-inch Croaker. Someone snorts "That's baby jaws..." It's her first time fishing, and the guys laughter becomes only a little less enthusiastic as she lands fish after fish.
A breeze cuts through the stultifying noon heat, and distant storm clouds build and trap the humidity without offering any relief. I walk back to my car past the assembled tanks, mortars, jets, choppers and even a submarine. None of it really captures my interest. Off in the distance, though, I can still hear laughter.