It felt odd to not be packing up and rolling first thing in the morning - but you betcha we weren't complaining. Well, at least Suzanne & Duncan weren't complaining, as they got to stay snuggled in bed while Richard had the pleasure of dragging his butt downstairs early for the AASHTO Subcommittee on Traffic Engineering meeting. Richard has the honor of being the official representative of the 6th largest state in the US at this meeting, and he effectively represented the 5+ million residents of our home state in participating in discussions of issues affecting road users across the US - and then being a very willing participant in an "appreciation session" for Federal Highway Administration's work on new traffic engineering standards ("appreciation" being defined here as "pinata") - but fortunately the FHWA folks took the bashing in good stride (and we'll see if they get their revenge later in the week).
Meanwhile, 14 decks, er, floors above, Duncan was gazing out the panoramic windows at the bustling Mobile skyline, intently watching a big crane lift and plop materials for a building rising up across the street while he in turn erected amazing structures with his Duplo blocks. Dunc's mom also craned her neck to watch both builders for a while, and also kept busy with getting all the items needed for family survival for the next week arranged and organized.
Once the meetings were finished and the sun settled down a bit, we all got back together again and strolled the streets of downtown Mobile to seek a bite to eat. We ended up out on the patio of Heroes, a grill facing the burbling fountains and scampering squirrels of Cathedral Square. After the remarkably good sandwiches satisfied us, we explored the nighttime landscape of downtown Mobile and made it back to the Riverview for an evening's rest.
Mingling with Mobile
Richard began the day by joining the tribe of traffic engineers downstairs and giving an absolutely brilliant presentation on the upcoming US Bicycle Routes initiative with Ginny Sullivan of Adventure Cycling Association (OK, Ginny provided most of the "brilliant" part, but it was a good sell to a tough crowd nonetheless).
Meanwhile, the other two family members were across the street having a lot more fun than the folks at the Riverview. They visited the Gulf Coast Exploreum science center, where Suzanne and Duncan met giant talking frogs, experienced electrical excitement assembling buzzing and whirring components, and played with big big soft cushy building blocks.
After the day's science and engineering was complete, we steered down Royal Street to the historic and famous Battle House Hotel, a place that Richard's mother knew well from visits 65 years earlier. This evening, the historic hotel was hosting an evening social for all the meeting attendees and their families. We invaded the impressive lobby of the Battle and traversed the polished floors to join the party, with just one minor oops - the serving line ran out of food right before we got to the carving station. Undeterred by this slight setback, we departed under the arching skylight and intricate carvings out to the streets of Mobile, where we found a good evening's nourishment in the marble-and-woodgrain ambiance of the Cafe Royal. Fortunately, the white tablecloths survived Duncan's encounter with the delectable lasagna, and we thanked them for their superb service and headed back to the hotel for a last stroll on the observation deck and a trip up the glass elevators to a moonlight snooze.
The beautiful Battle House
On this day Suz & Dunc transported themselves back to the Gulf Coast Exploreum, where much of the day was taken up wandering the Wharf of Wonder, wading through the Sea of Balls of Plastic, netting astonishing blow-molded creatures, making a cute colorful two-dimensional jellyfish, ogling oddball optics, riding a virtual roller coaster they designed all by themselves, and creating an epic motion picture using the time-honored method of stop-action photography (but we're still working on the distribution deal). Not to menition the interesting device that used a plummeting bowling ball to send a tennis ball to the roof, and the mesmerizing magnets that sent regiments of iron filings into synchronized swaying.
Back at the RenRiv, the AASHTO Traffic Engineering meeting was wrapping up by passing resolutions to support many worthy endeavors, including a hearty endorsement of the US Bicycle Routes corridor and designation plans that Richard and his task force have been working on for several years. But this wasn't the end of meeting fun - the afternoon brought the beginning of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices meetings, where Richard was reunited with many old friends and new colleagues as he chaired his technical committee sessions.
When the committee tired of talking technicalities, it sure didn't mean they were completed with the chatting. We all (including Suzanne & Duncan) strolled the walks and blocks of central Mobile, ending our sojourn at Wintzell's Oyster House, an establishment where you can get your molluscular meal "fried, stewed, or nude". Since we are set-in-our-ways dwellers of desert and woods, we spared some shellfish an early doom by instead sharing some primo poultry and darn good grouper.
For Richard, this day was a long one of unremitting meetings, beginning before 8 AM and lasting to just short of 7 PM. So, let's talk about what Duncan and his mom got into instead.
There had been reports of a "kid's day" going on down in the park at Bienville Square, and sure enough when Suzanne and Duncan slipped down to the square they found many entertaining activities within the leafy expanse. A happy clown worked her balloonsmithing expertise to fabricate a pair of fine inflated sabers for our son, which he wielded with skill and enthusiasm (well, enthusiasm) as he dueled daringly. Then on to the petting zoo to make new furry fuzzy feathery friends, and then off for more activities, including a stop to make an interesting paper-product hat for his dad, which Richard proudly wore later in the day as motions were made and proposals were pulverized. Oh yes - somewhere in there was a lunch stop at a most interesting place - Three Georges, an authentic candy shop and soda fountain down on Dauphin Street serving Mobilians for almost 100 years. They also serve some serious sandwiches too, and Duncan & his mom plopped down on the stools at the marble counter under the whirring ceiling fans for a good meal and some even better desserts.
But what about dinner? Sorry, nothing exciting to talk about this night - after such a busy day, we were too tuckered out to tag along with any of the dinner groups, and were content to stay in the room (other than a bit of foraging for take-out to give Duncan a last bit of romping).
Kidding around in Bienville Square
Another opportunity for Richard to tumble out of bed awful early (4 AM MST) and get ready for yet another day of meetings. In this morning's NCUTCD general session, he reported the Bicycle Technical Committee's progress in tackling the review of the rewrite of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and succeeded in gaining approval for every major proposal made by the BTC. This lasted until lunch, and then back for just a bit more abuse in front of the regulatory and warning sign subcommittee.
Surprisingly, once Richard escaped the clutches of RWSTC, this meant he was unexpectedly free for the afternoon, since the general session scheduled for that time was deferred due to other issues (the most likely unspoken one being sheer exhaustion on the part of the committee). Suzanne & Duncan certainly had a good idea to occupy this suddenly free time - bringing the whole family (including dad) back to the Exploreum for a few more hours of scientifically calibrated amusement before the evening's exciting exploits.
Although overshadowed by its waterlogged neighbor to the west, Mobile definitely does know how to put on a Mardi Gras event - in fact, it's considered to have the best parades and parties anywhere outside N'awlins. Although Lent is long gone, the city has decided to celebrate Mardi, er, 'Vendredi' Gras twice in the same year with the slightly less evocative but quite descriptive name of the "Celebrate Mobile Parade". This event is in honor of "economic development", most specifically the contract for the new Air Force tanker that might create many jobs in the Mobile area in the near future. The trivial detail that the Federal Government has likely decided to cancel and rebid the tanker award certainly wasn't going to dampen anyone's enthusiasm, though, and so thousands of Mobilians, visitors, and other folks thronged the street of downtown for the festivities.
Mardi, er Vendredi Gras parades are notable for the copious beads, candy, toys, and other trinkets tossed from floats to the perfectly-behaved crowds. Also, this week's meetings here in Mobile have been devoted to signs and other traffic control devices. In that vein, "Watch for flying sheep!" was a warning sign that should have been posted near Bienville Square, as one item of flying fuzzy livestock knocked Suzanne's glasses off as it whizzed toward our unsuspecting family, while Richard in turn was bopped in the noggin by a stuffed bunny. Fortunately, no enduring harm was done, and Duncan hugged and squeezed his new flying friends as beads, frisbees, beads, cups, beads, Moon Pies, and even a few colored beads fell from the festive floats.
After the final float trundled by and the remarkably efficient cleaning crew blew through, we Xed the square and took our bead-laden bodies down to the Picklefish restaurant for some excellent pizza and back to the Three Georges for some evening-ending ice cream and malted milk balls. And then a last stroll as we watched the spires of the downtown skyscrapers turn purple in honor of the celebration, and back up the glass elevators and into the room for an abbreviated rest.
Celebrating Mobile in 'Vendredi' Gras style
By last count, this is Richard's seventh consecutive day of meetings (including briefings on Sunday), and yes, it was a bit difficult to get enthused about spending a Saturday in a conference room tackling endless minutiae of traffic control standards (and guidelines, and options...) However, soon the committee was in the swing of things, reviewing thousands of pages of regulations at rates varying from blistering to glacial. As the hours on hours flew, dragged, galumphed, and wriggled by, proposals soared into the waiting arms of acceptance or crashed down to despairing defeat, and the committee made its wordsmithing way through chapter after chapter after chapter. After over ten consecutive non-stop hours (and we mean non-stop - no lunch breaks, no break breaks, no nothin'), the National Committee completed its longest-ever single day meeting session, declared its review of the draft MUTCD complete, ceased the physical abuse of deceased equines, and adjourned most exhaustedly.
Meanwhile, Suzanne and Duncan were back at the Exploreum for the umprteenth time milking the last from their reciprocal membership, stuffing their brains full with just a bit more scientific wisdom.
But even after all this, the day ain't over yet. After seven days of enjoying the full-service comforts of the Renaissance Riverview, it was time to start collecting our personal items and preparing to eventually exit the hotel. But our thoughts were also on our tummies, as whatever excuse for lunch we had consumed (in Richard's case, none) was well in the past. After considering our in-hotel feedin' options, the best alternative turned out to be the luxury of room service, where ten-buck burgers allowed us to balance packing and feeding (if not our budget). Then after most of the suitcases were zipped and clicked, the only sound was "whump", as our bushed bodies hit the bed, and one last evening's sleep in the tower of the RenRiv.
The sights of the city
Back to The Big 2008 Road Trip Page
Back to Our Big Road Trips Page
Richard C. Moeur's Home Page
Latest Historical Revisionism 24 July 2008Scripting: Richard C. Moeur