Sunday, November 28, 2004

Columbia, South Carolina—Birmingham, Alabama—Day 302

After dropping off the rental car and checking in for my flight to Birmingham (via Charlotte, North Carolina) I sat in the Columbia airport terminal slumped in my seat, barely being able to keep my eyes open.

I was exhausted. It wasn’t even that early and I was just ready to go back to sleep.

I wasn’t able to sleep on the flight over to Charlotte, nor in the airport waiting for my slightly delayed departure to Birmingham. I arrived into Birmingham and was hardly in the mood to deal with anything except taking a nap in my hotel room.

That’s when I decided to take a taxi to the hotel, rather than just renting a car. This was to be my big mistake of the day.

After getting my luggage, I hailed a taxi and climbed in. My taxi driver, a middle-aged man of Indian origin, asked me if he should take me to the hotel going via stoplights or on the freeway. I told him whatever was fastest—I guess the freeway.

He agreed.

Perhaps was this way of getting me to agree to the longer route. It seemed to take ages to get to the hotel and I noticed a bit of double backing as we turned from one freeway to the next.

The hotel seemed to be in the middle of nowhere!

I was so tired and irritated that I thrust my money at him as I climbed out of the taxi, leaving a mediocre tip. I took my bags and ignored the driver’s insistence that I call him whenever I needed a taxi. I went inside the hotel where I was greeted with warmth and reassurance and was even shown to the elevator (as if I could have gotten lost or something).

I was tired. I was cranky. I needed a nap.

I got into my room and shut the curtains and climbed into bed.

I woke up an hour and a half later, feeling slightly more rested and slightly out of it. You know, that woah, I just took a nap in the middle of the afternoon feeling. I got up, took a shower (much needed after two days of avoiding getting clean) and headed downstairs to seek the “rental car” desk that the hotel boasted. When I found that there was none, I was told that I could call one and they could bring a car to the hotel for me.

So I went back to my room, found the numbers to call and then found the car rental places to be closed. I checked on the internet and discovered that the car rental places that were open were at the airport.


So I tired to get a cheaper shuttle to the airport (the hotel doesn’t provide one despite the exorbitant cost to stay here) and I was reluctant to call a cab but had no other option if I wanted to do anything while I was here. I dialed downstairs and asked them to call me a cab. Shortly thereafter I headed downstairs to wait.

As I stood outside a big basketball-type looking guy came out and asked me if I had called a cab. I told him yes, and he proceeded to tell me that he needed to go to the mall. He was about my age (actually a bit younger since it turned out that he was on his college basketball team) and was in town because his such-and-such team had a game against the University of Alabama’s team.

Pretty soon my “cab” pulled up---turned out to be a bright red Lincoln continental. That’s your cab? The basketball guy asked. I smiled and shrugged.

The cabbie was a big black man in his mid fifties. I opened the door to sit in the back and my new basketball friend asked the cab driver if he could take him to the mall. I said it was no problem and the guy jumped in the front seat after the driver moved all of his stuff off of it.

We headed to the mall—wherever it was, surely it was not on the way to the airport—and I became very much amused by my two driving companions. The basketball player guy introduced himself to me (his name I didn’t really catch) and asked me if I had any lotion. When I told him no, the cab driver told him that he might have some in the glove compartment.

So basketball guy looks in the glove compartment (by the amount of junk in the car I would assume that he had to dig to find anything) and I listened to him and the cabbie debate as to whether or not the cocoa butter that he scrounged up in the compartment was lotion or not. Basketball guy kept looking and finally produced some lotion and proceeded to slather it all over his hands.

Then the cab driver put on rap music. Quiet at first, then slowly increasing the volume until my butt was vibrating from the booming of the bass behind me. Both of the guys did that head bopping guy dance thing (you know, that thing) and were clearly enjoying the music. Basketball guy even knew the words, most of which I cannot repeat on here due to profanity. Mostly because I can’t remember them.

We cruised along and pulled up to some stoplights and I thought, how funny this must look to other people. Two big black guys cruising in their continental jamming to the music and, what’s that awkward white girl doing in the back seat?

We cruised along as the two conversed about the music and the taxi driver whipped out several mix cds that he just so happened to have in his car. The basketball guy flipped through them and ended up buying one for “five dallas” from the cabbie. Nice.

We pulled up to the mall, basketball guy got out (saying goodbye to me) and we pulled out of the parking lot. The cabbie turned down the music—in fact, turned it on to STING—and we headed out of the mall towards the airport. Shoot, he says, you know, I just hadda show that guy where its at, you know? He says to me.

I knew. I knew that if basketball guy hadn’t come in the car that I would have not been shown his music. That I would have been driven to the airport in basic silence (or polite conversation) and would have listened to Sting—or perhaps Michael Bolton—the whole way. I knew that once the driver dropped me off he would put his rap back on and cruise back to the hotel, where he would switch back to Yanni and then some. I knew this, and for these reasons, it made me sad.

After a mini tour of downtown Birmingham (driving past it on the way to the airport) the cabbie dropped me off and as I headed into the airport (again) the cabbie shouted, good luck gettin’ back! Shoot—yo’ hotel is in the middle of nowhere, girl!
He was right. Luckily I did make it back just fine and spent the rest of the afternoon idling around the hotel and the various shopping plazas nearby, which I was able to explore now that I had a car. Tomorrow I will go to the zoo bright and early to get my pictures. Until then.