Alabama was fabulous. Eclectic, friendly, fragmented, unusual. I visited the Tuskegee Airman museum, recounting the story of a 100% black air squadron in World War II; they helped defeat the racists and fascists of Europe but returned home to segregation. I visited the Welbourn Muscle Car Museum. I partied at the W.C. Handy festival in Muscle Shoals, a ground-breaking music town in the 60's and 70's. And I visited the hometown of Jesse Owens, the black athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, much to the disgust of an onlooking Adolf Hitler.
I’d expected Georgia to be quite different from Florida, and so it proved. But I thought Georgia and Alabama would be much the same, both bastions of the deep south. But it wasn’t: Alabama felt different. I didn’t notice it at first, but the more I drove, the more I realized this place was different. It was hard to pinpoint exactly. It felt poorer than Georgia. The houses were smaller and generally lesser kept; the towns tattier with a greater prevalence of bail bonds and pay-day cash advance outlets. The petrol stations were all old looking with clapped out signage and pumps that needed a lever lifted to start the flow of gas. I filled up at one; I noticed the customer before me had purchased $4.00 worth. I looked at the other nearby pumps: $5.00 and $10.00. It seemed Alabamans refueled with their pocket money. The land itself didn’t look as fertile as Georgia either; much of it red clay rather than brown loamy soil. Maybe that was the crux of it: the quality of the land matched the quality of society. It may have been my limited exposure to Alabama, but this place certainly had a unique identity; the fact that simply crossing a state border could have such a marked effect struck me. I wasn’t expecting the difference. Maybe every state did have its significant defining qualities after all. Georgia and Alabama were as different as Somerset and Lancashire.