i went down to the watertown RMV before they opened at 9:00. i was surprised to see a line of already 40+ people snaking out the entrance. apparently i wasn't the only one who thought it'd be a good idea to take care of some RMV business in the early morning. left with no other choice, i patiently waited in line. once i got to the front a lady handed me a form to fill out before giving me a number. one mystery solved: i saw a sign that said the RMV would no longer be sending out license renewal notices as part of a cost cutting measure. my wait wasn't very long, and after i got my photo taken, i was issued a temporary printed license. i can't use the temporary license as my valid form of id to get on the plane, but i do need it when i rent a car when i go to san francisco in another 2 weeks. i returned to my parents' place by 9:40.

my father gave me a ride back to my place, where i still had to pack and run some errands before my afternoon flight to birmingham. i showered, made some lunch, and was ready to leave after 2 hours. i grabbed my stuff and took the subway to the airport. the last time i was on a plane was back in september, when i went to newark, another business trip. it sounds so serious when i call it a "business trip" but my mind it was one of those situations where the client sent me to some place to fix some stuff, essentially a service call for a special type of repairman. this time around it's the same scenario, just with a different client. the one difference is i'll be unsupervised, arriving in birmingham to meet a team of other contract workers like myself whom i've never met before (a few i've talked to over the phone though).

i was taking US airway to charlotte, then a connecting flight to birmingham. US airway is one of those airlines that've done away with some of the niceties of flying, like meals, in-flight entertainment, and even snacks. for $2 you can buy a can of soda or a bottle of water, $1 for coffee or tea, and $7 for beer or cocktails. most of my other fellow passengers were probably just as disappointed as i was in having to pay for something that used to be free, so there weren't many takers. as another cost cutting measure, there was an ad for AT&T printed onto the surface of the collapsible trays. i'd never been to charlotte before but got a quick tour of the airport because i had to move from gate E to gate A on the other side. thank god for moving sidewalks! charlotte airport seemed more like a cozy mall than a normal airport, with a plethora of commercial storefronts and even empty rocking chairs for people to sit down and relax. my flight to birmingham was due west, so essentially the plane was chasing the sun as it was setting, rendering the outside landscape in a perpetual state of twilight.

once i arrived in birmingham, i made my way to the info desk and asked about the redmont hotel shuttle. the woman called the hotel to have them sent out their driver. i went outside and waited for the shuttle. birmingham was surprisingly cold, felt about the same as boston actually. i think in the back of my mind i was expecting almost tropical weather with green trees everywhere, but from the plane i already saw that trees here in alabama lose their leaves during the winter just like back home in the northeast. when my ride got here we headed into downtown birmingham. i kept my eyes opens to see if there were any hot spots nearby that i could go explore once i got settled. i didn't know what the proper protocol was for shuttle service and i ended up not tipping the driver. the hotel - a historical landmark - looked almost too fancy from the outside. i registered at the front desk, asked them if the rooms have internet access (yes), and then took the elevator to the 5th floor.

room 507 wasn't what i expected. for one thing, i hardly had any view outside of my corner window, just the roof of a building down below, the steeple of a church nearby, and the tops of a few buildings. the windows were also sealed shut, and even if i could open them, there were chicken-wire screens outside. i also had a good view of the maid closet, which was empty but the lights inside were on. i turned on the tv to check the channels (bright house network was the cable company). although they said there was HBO, it was just a blank channel. there was a game controller attached to the set; apparently you can order pay-per-play video games. most important, the internet access: no password required and the signal was surprisingly strong (full bars).

i've wandered strange cities before, but never one so desolate as downtown birmingham after dark. the whole experience reminded me of grand theft auto, with blocks after blocks of virtually empty streets, with the occasional car or pedestrian. meeting someone in the dark with nobody else around can be a scary encounter, and i found myself involuntarily tensing up.

i couldn't find a single restaurant or cafe that was opened after about an hour's worth of wandering the blocks. fortunately the streets are laid out in a grid like manhattan so i could always find my way back to the redmont hotel. starving, i ended up ordering a burger for dinner from the hotel bar. i had a brief chat with the hotel owner who was there eating as well. pretty much nothing else is opened around here, not even a convenience store. i ended up getting a bottle of orange juice from a hotel vending machine. i went back to the room and took a hot bath because it was so cold. the tub was shallow enough that my nose would still poke out of the water if i tried to submerge myself. because alabama is central standard time, everything here happens an hour earlier, including all the primetime television shows, which start at 7pm.