Day One: Birmingham, Alabama
It’s the first day of our Trek! My night out in New Orleans had bested me, and I spent the first few hours experiencing the terrible mix of being half drunk, half hungover.
Our Trek Leader, Glenn, arrived at our spooky old townhouse (see previous post) at 7.30am and we introduced ourselves and filled out some basic forms. I was still ridiculously nervous (and drunk/hungover) but still excited to get started. We hopped into our little Trek van which was to become our second home for the next 8 days. We were finally on the road!
Tucked up into our cosy van, we chatted and got to know each other. Then eventually all fell asleep. It is impossible to stay awake for more than 30 minutes in that van. Sometimes we’d all sleep for so long Glenn would become concerned that we had died. It was actually just a really comfy van.
My hangover got worse and worse and I began to regret all my life choices (mostly the $14 hurricanes). However, my life changed for the better when I encountered my first gas station in a dream-like state (by this I mean not only half-drunk/half-hungover, but also half-asleep.) If you’re not used to them, you could spend hours browsing in these huge gas stations. Rows and rows of coffee machines, slushie machines and soda fountains with every possible flavour you can think of. And the candy. The immense stacks of candy!
I was pretty much sold on America at this point.
Pleased with my purchase of a giant slushie and an even gianter (sp?) bag of onion rings, we headed back on the road to our first destination – Birmingham, Alabama…
Birmingham is sometimes referred to as ‘The Magic City’, and is also a very religious place. This I believed, as we arrived on a Sunday (a day of rest for Christians) and I never saw a single person on the street. It was deserted.
Our first stop was at Civil Rights Institute, a huge museum devoted to the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, particularly those within Birmingham and the state of Alabama.
By this stage, we were all tired as hell (I probably shouldn’t blaspheme whilst writing about Alabama, sorry) and headed back to the hotel to prepare for our evening activities/ Glenn had found a surprise for us, he was sending us to a furnace. And we were very excited at the prospect of impending doom.
The Furnace – Sloss Furnace, to be precise is a historic iron furnace that operated from 1882 to 1971 and supposedly haunted by James “Slag” Wormwood, a cruel foreman who worked his staff mercilessly, many of who lost their lives under his reign. Slag met his demise when he fell into a pool of molten iron ore; some say he was murdered by his workers.
Since then, workers reported an “unnatural presence” in the furnace. Over a 100 reports of paranormal activity were made following Slag’s death, from machinery operating by itself, sightings of Sloss and people experiencing unexplained burns, even long after the furnace closed down and all it’s machinery long turned off.
This was obviously the perfect place to visit. What’s more, being Halloween weekend it has been set up as a haunted attraction. Complete with zombies chasing you through a forest, a maze full of clowns, horror movie screenings, a rather questionable slide and finally a terrifying walk through the furnace itself, including parts that aren’t usually open to the public.
If you want a group bonding experience, try a haunted furnace. We spent the majority of the time holding hands and clinging on to each other for dear life. And screaming. So much screaming. Glenn was much better at controlling his outbursts, and occasionally exclaimed Oh golly!” when approached by an axe-wielding maniac or feral zombie. We were also given the option to go left through the forest, if we would like to be touched by the furnace inhabitants, or to go right if we didn’t want to be manhandled. To which Gary announced “I WANT TO BE TOUCHED”, triggering a long period of tentative silence from both the group and furnace staff.
The furnace itself was terrifying inside, and we went through about 4 floors, including the roof. Everywhere we turned we were confronted by zombies and knife-wielding maniacs that yelled in your face or chased after you, breathing down your neck and generally being a bit creepy. Or in my sister’s case, trapped you in a corner and lovingly renamed you Sugar Bear.
It got pretty cosy in the clown maze, as one dude took a particular liking for myself and another Trek mate. Trapped in a dead-end, the terrifying clown quizzed us on our accents, our favourite kind of alcohol and whether were married. He eventually let us go and asked us not to mention the conversation to anyone else. He was a nice clown.
So nice, he followed us out of the maze and then interrogated our friends, too, amazed by our mix of UK accents. My favourite moment was the tension when he demanded to hear my sister’s accent.
Nice clown man: “Say something.”
My sister: “Uhhh.. Happy Halloween?”
In his stern Southern drawl: “It’s not Halloween yet.”
My Sister, triumphant: “… Happy Halloween Eve?”
The clown, defeated: ” 🙂 “
At this point, he broke his terrifying composure and tried in vain to suppress a giggle, before creeping away. I do miss that clown.
And that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about Birmingham, Alabama. I never expected to encounter so many deranged clowns and axe murderers in this sleepy, God-fearing city.