I began my day today by making my way to the 1700 acre Hyundai plant outside of Montgomery, Alabama, to go on a tour of their state-of-the-art assembly line (completed in 2005). Nate and I had visited the GM assembly line in Janeway, WI, a while back and I had been immensely moved at the sight of an army of welding robots cavorting in a dance of milimeter thick precision, so when I read that Hyundai's plant was considered to be the most highly automated plant in the world, I wasted no time in reserving a spot on the tour.
Shortly after I arrived, my group was chauffered all over the million square foot facility in a two car golf tram by a public relations czarina who sported a huge rhinestone belt buckle with her baby pink Hyundai "Teamwear (TM)"golf shirt. While she was perfectly nice and perfectly capable, she reminded me of one of the main reasons I'm glad I'm no longer working for The Man. I think it was the PowerPoint slide presentation complete with laser pointer that did it.
Still, the brief bland dose of propaganda did little to diminish my excitement at being there to witness the extraordinary ballet of 2,000 people making 1,000 cars a day. A car typically rolls off the line every 50 seconds, each car requiring about 16 hours of labor including the painting process. Every one of the cars that rolls off the line is test driven on a long test track at the back of the plant. Think of it for a moment, because it helps put a scale on what they do here every day: imagine you had to organize and automate starting up and driving 1000 cars a day. Think of the immensity of that single task alone. And that's just one tiny step in the whole process of starting with giant rolls of dime thin steel and turning out a brand new car, ready to ship to the dealership.
There is no way my words can convey to you how amazing it all is. I'm a bit hamstrung here, because there are absolutely NO photos allowed at the plant. Apparently, the state of industrial espionage is such that little old pink hair ladies cannot be trusted not to start competing automated assembly plants, leveraging all the secret robot programming that can be gleaned from photos hurriedly snapped on a point and shoot camera from a moving tram. Or something like that. I've taken the liberty of including some images I found on the web so I won't be completely without visual aids here.
The feeling I was most present to this time around was how amazingly modern it all is. I remember watching The Jetsons when I was a kid and and wanting nothing more than one of those machines like Jane had to prepare her for her day. Step in the box, push a button and presto! You look like a million bucks. All performed by little gizmos and robots.
But to actually watch a robot the size of a small dinosaur move with the subtlety and grace of a zen master is an awe inspiring sight. One of the particularly striking examples for me is a robot that picks up an entire dashboard unit from a robotic trolley, delicately threads it through the openings on the body frame, and then plugs it very precisely into perfect position.
Alright, I'd imagine about 3/4 of the audience is snoring at this point, so I'll conclude my ode to the automotons. All in the world more I need to say is I clapped for the dashboard dude. He deserved a round of applause and I gave him one.
After leaving the Hyundai plant with a giant grin and some souvenir safety glasses, I purposefully aimed for tiny little backroads to take me north and east to Georgia. I had reserved a room in Buena Vista and decided to meander a bit on my way there. Turns out remote Alabama and Georgia are very remote. Most towns I passed through on my drive either had no businesses whatsoever, or sometimes a single gas/convenience store/chicken liver and gizzard combo basket serving store. I stopped at one such store and hit double pay dirt: two of the best fried chicken wings I've had in a long long while and a bag of, get ready for this, deep fried peanuts in the shell. Is the South great, or what? Who knew you could deep fry a peanut in the shell? And I'm quoting here, "...so good you can eat 'em shell and all!" You know me. I just had to try them.
My review? High in fiber! Not bad, really - I bet Mark will absolutely love them since he likes to eat sticks and rocks, but the peanuts themselves are extra tasty. They're tiny and dark brown with a rich roasted flavor.
Between the rain and industrial interdiction today, I didn't get a chance to take many photos. I did, however, run across this splendid set of hand crafted street lights marking the twin driveway entrances to a home in rural Alabama.
My drive through the post autumnal country roads of Alabama today was really lovely, even with a steady drizzle making it a bit more tricky. Not long after dark, however, I became a bit weary of the heightened attention required by the waterlogged blacktops and was eager to reach Buena Vista and my lodging for the evening.
When I arrived, my host Walker Williams was gracious and solicitous. He showed me to my lovely room and fetched a nice chair and card table so I could use my laptop. And here I sit, crafting words into pale representations of my experiences with an ear to the crack in the door that lets in the lullaby of rain savored from the comfort of a dry nest. Hear my sigh of roadtrip contentment.