Ride, Harriott II, Ride

By on 23 September, 2013 in City Living, Food, Fun, Jesseca Cornelson, Outdoors with 0 Comments

Okay, so the Harriott II isn’t technically in Midtown, but I’ve wanted to take a cruise on it since I first saw her. Last week, I finally got to live out my dream with a dinner cruise.

My friend and I arrived shortly before the passengers were allowed to board. It had rained earlier, so there was a nice mist on the water and it was a pleasant evening. Upon boarding, we were quickly ushered to our table in the third-floor dining room.

I don’t know exactly what I expected on a riverboat, but I felt like I was in another world as I looked around the dining room. The windows were fogged from the air conditioning, so I didn’t feel like I was on a boat so much as in a small restaurant-shaped time capsule. The tiled ceiling and hardwood were nice touches, but there was something about the room that reminded me, except for its size, of the dining room in The Shining.

Naturally, the only correct thing to do in a dining room reminiscent of that film’s memorable interiors is to visit the bar. Dinner was included in the nearly $50 ticket, but adult libations cost extra. The selection was adequate but not impressive after having become habituated to the varieties available at El Rey and Leroy. I selected a vintage Jack Daniels to accent my Diet Coke. My friend, a Yankee, went with a classic gin and tonic. Our deck was only half occupied, and the bartender confirmed that it was a particularly slow night. I had seen, however, that the next two Fridays were already sold out when I purchased my ticket, so it’s safe to say that the Harriott II is popular.

Dinner — grilled chicken, tangy green beans, and potatoes — was good, but not the main attraction. And with the windows fogged, I could hardly tell I was on a riverboat at all and was eager to wander around. Until desert arrived: bread pudding! Heavenly!

After dinner, we explored the riverboat. I liked that it wasn’t crowded. My friend and I roamed the boat as we pleased, peeking in on the closed second deck dining room, which seemed to evoke The Shining even more than the third deck. I was giddy when we discovered the paddle wheel. There was another musician on the patio, and another bar on the bow. We didn’t have to fight to find good views and had plenty of space to ourselves.

We have a lovely river — well, many of them; I’ve spent some fine days on the Coosa this summer and hope to paddle the Tallapoosa soon. The shore separated itself from the Alabama as my eyes adjusted, and the moon flickered on the river’s surface. From time to time, we’d pass a house or bar on the shore, and the people would cheer us, and we’d wave and holler back. It was festive and communally friendly, which made the trip seem quaint in a delightful way. Things were decidedly less quaint when one of our shore-side neighbors treated us to gunshots over our heads. Even in gun-loving Alabama, this seemed a bit out of place, perhaps more so because we departed and returned in downtown Montgomery, which perhaps made me feel as if I’d carried some of the city with me. I grew up around guns in the country where they served a purpose and seemed a part of the natural landscape, but the sound of gunfire in a city is different — so many people and buildings and cars are difficult to miss. But, I had to remind myself, we weren’t in the city. We’d paddled up-river into the country where the relationship with guns is more casual.

The Harriott II is, as one might suspect, named after a previous riverboat that simply went by Harriott (and not the Harriott, Sr.). Harriott, the elder, was “the first steamboat to make the trip from Mobile to Montgomery, when it came to pick up a load of cotton in 1821,” according to a 2008 article in The Montgomery Advertiser.

My recommendation for visiting: skip dinner and just take a cruise. It’s expensive and probably not why you’re there anyway. Instead, enjoy drinks on the patio. Catch the breeze on the bow. Marvel at the fantastic red paddle wheel. And enjoy both the charming and slightly disturbing behavior of your fellow Alabamians.

Jesseca Cornelson is an Assistant Professor of English at Alabama State University and is a resident of Cloverdale. She grew up in Mobile and did her graduate studies in the Yankee North, earning degrees at The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati. She blogged about her visits to Montgomery to do research at her now-defunct blog, Difficult History, and was a Platte Clove Artist-in-Residence, sponsored by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.

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