Due to my health issues this year and pending move back to Virginia, we decided not to take our annual SEC spring break trip this year. So, I decided to post my journal of the first trip we took in 2012.
Because it’s never too early to tour college towns…
Taking toddlers on an annual tour of college campuses sounds, well, like over-the-top helicopter parenting. But, as our ESPN buddy Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend!” These trips started out as a whimsical idea to tour Southeastern Conference (SEC) sports meccas, but these trips have become cherished journeys filled with love, laughter, and life lessons.
When Steve and I realized that we’re in for many years of spring break school vacations and juggling work schedules, we figured, why not take a trip? Why not do something different? So, as the crazy sports fans we are (and those we’re creating in our son, Jack and daughter, Anna), we thought, an SEC tour sounded like a great idea. Why SEC? We used to live in Gainesville, Florida and are huge Gator fans, but actually, have found ourselves loving all SEC schools (which is actually something I shouldn’t put in print).
Our first trip was in the spring of 2012 and we headed down to Alabama – our son was and still is crazy about Alabama’s Crimson Tide, we don’t know why other than they were winning a lot at the time. Of course, we were nervous about flying, you never know if the kids are going to be calm or complete crazies. Luckily, a wonderful couple entertained us for the flight from Charlotte to Montgomery. The gentleman was quite taken with Jack’s affection for Alabama – while waiting for our luggage; he gave Jack his Crimson Tide hat. Wow – talk about Southern Hospitality!
We arrived in Montgomery, tired as any family is when traveling, and headed straight to Dreamland BBQ. Lesson #1 – There is no such thing as a kid’s menu at a true BBQ joint. This was ridiculously delicious BBQ; the kids survived on cornbread and whatever snacks I had in the bottom of my carry-on. But, no worries, we found some classic chicken tenders later at a fun little place called Jack’s.
We had to get back on the road to head to Tuscaloosa and check-in at the Hotel Capstone (University of Alabama’s hotel). We hope to continue staying at university hotels because the college and town history that is displayed through photographs, artifacts, and other artwork is simply wonderful. It was impressive and kind of sweet actually, to see the community’s allegiance to the Houndstooth pattern worn by their forever beloved football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. It really does look good on anything – a scarf, a lampshade, dog’s leash; really, ANYTHING. As the sun was setting, we took a lovely tour of the campus. This is where a Southern school truly shines with its grand architecture and beautiful landscaping. THEN, we arrived at Bryant-Denny stadium – an enormous shrine to all that is Alabama football. This was serious – they even had their Admissions Welcome Center inside the stadium. I’ve never seen Jack smile so big – this trip was just getting better and better.
Friday morning in Tuscaloosa and we were about to have the best breakfast of our lives! In the shadows of the football stadium stood Rama Jama’s – it has all the makings of a neighborhood institution. We figured before heading to our next location, we’d try to get a closer look at the stadium. Lesson #2 – Always, Always check the spring football game schedule. This is when football teams test themselves in a scrimmage type of game and get their fans excited for the upcoming football season. The stadium was on lock-down for the game the next day – the lady we spoke to almost broke the rules to let us in – she was impressed that we had come all the way from Boston to see the campus. Jack was disappointed, so Steve and I agreed to never mention getting inside a stadium again. Good-bye, Tuscaloosa.
Another thing you should know about us is that along with being crazy sports fans, we long for the island-time, Jimmy Buffett, Parrothead lifestyle, so we just had to check out the Gulf Shores (and see for ourselves the infamous Flora-Bama bar that gave oh-so-many musicians their start). We had a great time at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach – did all the typical beachcomber activities of swimming, playing miniature golf, and go-karting. Lesson #3 – If your child is recently potty-trained, go ahead and keep him in swimmer diapers as to not embarrass yourself with a “Baby Ruth” incident on the pool deck. To tap off our beach trip, we had to go to Jimmy Buffett’s sister Lucy’s restaurant and marina - LuLu’s. We ate some really good fried okra, jalapeno hushpuppies and grilled shrimp…and a cheeseburger, in paradise of course.
We said a fond farewell to the beaches and headed back north toward to the college town of Auburn and home of the Auburn University Tigers (and War Eagle) – fierce rival of the Crimson Tide of Alabama. This was a quintessential college town and the Hotel at Auburn University did not disappoint with their lobby, rooms, and conference center stocked with history. We learned that the restaurant in the hotel was an Italian restaurant run by an Italian professor who takes students to Italy on study abroad trips and then has those students work in the restaurant. The campus was lovely as we expected it to be – the stadium had somewhat of an understated class to it – nowhere near the brick after brick shrine of statues at Alabama. Still, it was a nice stadium and clearly, football and championships were important. We also went to the university’s art museum – a nice museum with a beautiful Dale Chihuly chandelier.
The best and unfortunately, sad part of Auburn is Toomer’s Corner. Home to a fantastic, old-timer drugstore, Toomer’s (pictured below), famous for homemade lemonade and Toomer’s trees – a staple in post-game, commencement celebrations. Unfortunately, a misguided Alabama fan poisoned these trees and despite exhaustive attempts to save them, they will be removed in ceremonial fashion after the spring game on April 20, 2013. We might be crazy sports fans, but this was just a sad display of fan-dom gone wrong and hopefully, the Auburn community will find a new way to honor the trees and all that is the history of that special corner. We didn’t go into details with Jack about what was happening to the trees, but I do think, one day, it will be an important story to tell because winning isn’t everything.
We headed back to Montgomery to catch our flight back to Boston – reflecting on all that we did and hopeful for the adventures to come. Back home, I sat at the dining room table working hard on organizing our photos to complete a photo book of our trip and in the background, I was serenaded by Jacks’ cry of “Roll Tide” and Steve’s retort of “War Eagle” – and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Kentucky, Ole' Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU are up next!