Dad here, with an account of what I would consider a perfect day. The weather was pleasantly cool with a fresh breeze, so I took Henry to a nearby open field for a little kite flying and we had a blast. The grass was about two feet high, so even without the kite he was amused, walking through this chest high growth looking for whatever creatures might be lurking there. I put the kite together and the wind was brisk enough that it was almost hard to hold onto. I let Henry hold the reel (though keeping my hand inside just in case), and up it went. Squeals of delight! We let line out, watching the kite get smaller and smaller and letting Henry get a good feel for just how hard the wind was pulling it. Eventually I started worrying about getting all this line back in and convinced Henry we should bring our bird a little closer to earth. Of course, once I had reeled it back to a reasonable height he wanted to let it out once again. We did this a few times, and despite his pleas that we "do this all day," the four year old's empty tummy finally got to him and we loaded up for home, where we found Mom had cooked us up a delicious breakfast - eggs, grits, sausage and even homemade biscuits. What a treat.
I had been wanting to take Parker on a baseball pilgrimage, so he and I kissed everyone goodbye and headed to Birmingham, first stop the oldest operating baseball Park in the U.S. - Rickwood Field - "the closest thing the baseball world has to a time machine." What an experience. The park is not open on Saturdays, but I knew from their website that this Saturday morning was a volunteer cleanup and I figured if we got there in time someone would let us look around. Sure enough, we got there a little after 11:00 and found a group of guys hanging around the West end gate. I asked about seeing the park and was told to pull on in, park and enjoy our visit. Parker and I toured at our leisure, walking through the stands, checking out the view from the dugout, pounding imaginary homers, and pitching imaginary strikes from the mound once occupied by Christy Mathewson, Satchell Paige and Dizzy Dean, among others. We walked up and down and in and through the entire park, taking pictures and reading the signs and generally just soaking it all in. When we finally felt we had seen everything we walked back out to where we had parked. What we found when we got there was a locked gate - really locked, with a big chain and padlock. We did not, unfortunately, find people. No one, not a soul in sight.
It took a few minutes for this to sink in, and we first walked around looking for the gate we just knew they had left open somewhere, then when that failed we walked around a bit more looking for the person we just knew was still there working on something and waiting to let us out. When that failed as well, despite a few tentative shouts of "Anyone here?," it became clear that 911 was our only recourse. "How embarrassing," says Parker. So thanking God for cell phones I called and explained to the dispatcher that my son and I were locked in Rickwood Field. There was a bit of a pause as I suppose she must have been trying to decide if this was a practical joke; then understanding that I was quite serious she told me she would get someone out to us.
We waited 15 or 20 minutes, during which time I told Parker I guess a couple of loonies locked in a ballpark wasn't a real high priority for the Birmingham police. So we looked around the park a little more, fiddled with the car, and twiddled our thumbs. I called back a few minutes later to give the police an exact address based on the street sign I could see and make sure they knew we really were locked in the park. She took the address and assured me someone had been dispatched. An officer arrived a few minutes later, which although we had never really felt in danger was comforting nonetheless. We explained what happened and I told him that since we knew he didn't have a key to every lock in Birmingham my son had suggested he just shoot the lock off like they do in the movies. We thought this would have the dual advantage of being more fun and considerably quicker than waiting for someone to come with a key, but while he seemed amused he assured us this was not an option. Rats. He contacted his dispatcher who he said would contact the Public Works Department who would try to find contact information for someone with a key.
Not expecting this to be quick, Parker and I broke out our snack bag and found a shady bench for a picnic. We munched our apples and granola bars and took an occasional brief tour around, careful not to get too far from our rescuer. Within just a few more minutes a guy pulled up in a pickup truck, spoke with the cop and unlocked the gate for us. The beauty of this was that he had not been contacted by the police or the city, who had had no luck locating anyone with a key, but had been in a meeting at his church down the street and stopped when he saw the police by the gate and the two people inside the fence. Pure serendipity - or as he indicated by a finger pointing upward, divine intervention.
We thanked the officer and the churchman, got outside the gate where we stopped for a couple of last photos, and headed toward our next stop. As we drove away, Parker asked, "Dad, why can't we just do things like normal people?"
So the next stop on our pilgrimage is the museum at Vulcan Park, where there is an exhibit on the history of baseball in Birmingham. We stop at the ticket booth and when we tell the nice lady there that we're interested in the baseball exhibit she asks if we're going to get to Rickwood field today. Parker and I look at each other and start laughing hysterically, which of course leaves the lady in the ticket booth wondering if we're OK. We recount our morning so far and we all have another good laugh. Parker and I head to the museum and enjoy the exhibit, though after our morning the museum was a bit anticlimactic.
Leaving the museum we took the stairs to the top of Vulcan (forgetting to count) and walked out onto the observation deck on what could not have been a more perfect day to see Birmingham. The air was wonderfully clear, there was a light breeze, and not a cloud in the sky. We could clearly see all of Birmingham in Jones Valley to North and Homewood in Shades Valley to the South. Just spectacular.
After a leisurely visit atop Vulcan we agreed we were hungry and set out in search of food. I detoured by our old house on Mecca Avenue and seeing a couple I assumed were the current owners stopped for a chat. They were amused to hear a description of their home from over 40 years ago, and I was a bit saddened to hear from them how much it had changed. It looked pretty much the same from the outside, but I think it would have been unrecognizable inside. Anyway, we visited for a while and resumed our search for food.
We had an unremarkable meal at Demetris BBQ and drove back downtown to Parker's favorite destination in Birmingham - Sloss Furnace. Did our usual tour there and decided to walk around downtown for a while.
We had a stroke of luck when we passed the Alabama Theater. A recital of some sort had just finished and I figured with all the people milling around no one would notice a couple of tourists or care if we looked around. What a treat. I had forgotten how glorious this old movie palace is - four stories of pure luxury, built, ironically, in 1927, just before the beginning of the Great Depression. Anyway, we looked around at our leisure, seeing every floor and every angle, and decided to call it a day.
And what a day it had been!