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Driving the Deep South

By late afternoon, Highway 90 deposits us in Mobile. We check into the Malaga Inn, a pleasant 39-room hotel built around a large courtyard overflowing with azaleas, and near our day's final cultural stop-- the National African-American Archives Museum. Humble but earnest, the museum is housed in the old "colored library." Hometown heroes like Hank Aaron are memorialized, along with costumes from "colored carnival." Blacks were forbidden to take part in Mobile's official Mardi Gras celebrations until the 1940's, and to this day they hold their own festival. "We're still overcoming," our guide says, smiling.

We dine at Justine's, a downtown bistro. Not bad, but neither the turtle soup nor the grilled ostrich tastes as good as chicken. After dinner we walk to the Port City Brewery and sample a few microbrews.

In the morning we pick up a brochure from the visitors' center and take a walking tour of the Church Street Historic District. Greek Revival, Italianate, and Federal houses serenade us with 19th- century charm.

Forty minutes down the eastern shore of Mobile Bay lies Fairhope, a resort town since the turn of the century. Fairhope Avenue, the dogwood-lined main shopping street, slopes down to a lovely deserted beach. The bay is quiet, calm, and warm, a perfect saltwater pool. For lunch we sit out on the sunny patio at Old Bay Steamer to feast on local oysters and a huge platter of Royal Red shrimp.

Five miles farther on Scenic 98, we find a roadside gem-- Ye Olde Post Office Antiques & Militaria. Owner Jim Mitchell has an eclectic selection, including Spanish doubloons and the Bible that the abolitionist John Brown held beneath his arm when he was hanged in 1859.

An hour later we reach Fort Morgan. Completed in 1834, it sits on the westernmost tip of an isthmus jutting 21 miles into Mobile Bay. The flags of France, Spain, Great Britain, and the Confederacy, all of which controlled the region, fly at its gates. Just offshore, Admiral David Farragut shouted his legendary command, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" During the 35-minute ferry ride to Dauphin Island, dolphins jump by the bow, and pelicans circle, dive, and surface with beaks full of fish.

Heading back to New Orleans, Owen switches over to the AM dial, that bellwether of local culture. We intercept an evangelist in full-throated yell, imploring the Holy Ghost to cure a caller's acne.

Amen, brother!

DAVID KNOWLES is the author of the novel The Secrets of the Camera Obscura (Chronicle Books).

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