This weekend was my first visit back to Huntsville in many years– I think the last time I was there was in 2005 or so. I will be visiting there regularly to see the boys, and eventually relocating there, so I was quite curious about what had become of the place.
I was scheduled to fly AA SFO-DFW-HSV, arriving about 10pm. AA was kind enough to match my Delta Platinum Medallion status and make me an AAdvantage Platinum, the equivalent of Delta’s Gold Medallion. Unlike DL, which gives their elite members unlimited access to upgrades, on AA Platinum and Gold elites have to buy 500-mile upgrade coupons– so a 1000-mile flight needs two coupons, a 1501-mile flight needs 4, and so on. I elected to request upgrades for the SFO-DFW and DFW-SFO legs, since the DFW-HSV leg is short enough not to bother with.
My flight ex SFO left 25 minutes late, with no announcements or explanation. Surprisingly, the aircraft I was on, a 757, didn’t have onboard Wi-Fi. That’s something Delta has led me to expect on pretty much every flight; even on what must be a heavily traveled route with lots of business customers, AA didn’t provide Wi-Fi equipment. Luckily, though, the plane did have in-seat power, using a standard 3-prong outlet, so I was able to plug in and get some work done en route.
Unfortunately, my flight DFW-HSV was delayed by an hour, so I didn’t get to pick the boys up until nearly 11:30pm. I had in mind that we’d make a tradition out of going straight to Dairy Queen each time I picked the boys up for a visit, but unfortunately I forgot to inform the local DQ, which closes at 10pm sharp. Luckily we went to Sonic instead. Thus began a great weekend. We ate well and thoroughly enjoyed each others’ company (well, except for a few minor fraternal disputes, but those are par for the course.)
One of the highlights of the trip for me was a return visit to the US Space and Rocket Center, one of my all-time favorite museums. They have completely redesigned the place since my last visit; there’s a beautiful new building that houses the Saturn V that used to be out on the back lawn, rusting away. It’s been repainted and refreshed and now occupies a place of honor in the main hall– as it should. We saw “Legends of Flight” (needs moar 787) at the IMAX theater and “Sea Rex” (not bad; fairly educational, though the 3-D effects made the picture a bit dim) at the 3-D theater in the new building.
Another highlight was the huge thunderstorm system that swept through Madison Sunday night. As I was driving the boys back to their mom’s house we were marveling at the lightning strikes, which were frequent, violent, and intense. The rain was so heavy that I had to slow down to below 20mph. This morning I learned that the storm had claimed a casualty in the form of one of Bo’s neighbors. That tempered my enjoyment quite a bit, but it was still quite a dramatic show– something we just don’t get in the Bay Area, along with good BBQ, Dairy Queen, and decent rock radio stations (why does Huntsville have 2 while the huge SF market has none? beats me!)
We made it out to KMDQ to have a look around; I got my first look at a G1000-equipped Cessna 172 (which rents for only $140/hour– considerably less than at KPAO!) I learned that, payload considerations aside, there’s no way to shoehorn me and the 3 boys into a 172, and I saw some really interesting “for sale” notices on the bulletin board. More on that another time.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip report if I didn’t talk about food. I was surprised to see which restaurants had survived since I moved away and which hadn’t. No more Green Hills Grille, for example, and Tim’s Cajun Kitchen was closed when we went there (turns out they’re still operating, just not on Sunday evenings). Kings Buffet in Madison lives on, as does Ivey’s. Even Tai Pan (formerly known as “Tight Pants”), my old standby Chinese place near Intergraph, is still there. The rest of the area has grown tremendously overall, too; the airport was booming when I left this morning, and there’s all sorts of new construction, including Bridge Street, a swank open-air shopping center near Research Park, and a ton of new defense contractors sprouting around various parts of town. More on the military-industrial aspect of Huntsville another time; for now suffice to say that drone wars are apparently quite good for business.
I’ll be heading back in a couple of weeks to see the boys again; this time I’ll do a bit more research to look for some specific places I remember.