Darts tradition not withstanding, if you've ever traveled to Birmingham, England you'll understand why I prefer Birmingham, Alabama.
I used to have a good friend in Birmingham. England, that is. Ian was his name. Good shooter. World class drinker. All around fabulous guy. But I felt sorry for him.
By all appearances Ian's life was about as good as it gets. He was down at the pub every night. Standing at the line. He won most of the time so his Guinness tab was usually picked up by others. Ian lived my dream. Until he got home.
It's what was back at Ian's flat that drove this poor bloke to the pub every night of the week. Ian lived a typically dour British existence. His heat didn't work. He took baths instead of showers because there wasn't enough water pressure to make the nozzle squirt. And his wife ... well let's just say the women in Birmingham, Alabama don't look and squeak like the Queen of England. And they certainly don't (at least none that I met) have six cats, two dogs and a guinea pig following them around the garden.
I couldn't help but think about Ian, and his nagging wife and menagerie of critters, as I wandered the pubs of Birmingham, Alabama last night looking for a game of darts. While the darts scene in the Magic City would have greatly disappointed my old friend there's no doubt he would have been impressed by the belles or the fillies or whatever it is they call their ladies down this way. Yes siree, they're as purty as Christmas trees compared to them there British birds. You betcha.
Birmingham is a place that, like the proverbial rabbit from a hat (hence the moniker "Magic City"), literally sprang up over night when iron ore was discovered on Red Mountain in the 1870's. From cotton fields and crawdad swamps along the meandering Cahaba River exploded a thriving metropolis -- the Pittsburgh of the New South. In the years that followed the city catapulted forward with uncommon free enterprise vigor. The population swelled. Some people prospered. Others toiled away in the steel mills for subsistence wages. And then, in the 1960's, Birmingham exploded yet again when some maniac detonated a bomb inside the 16th Street Baptist Church killing four little black children. In a flash the international community was awakened to the reality of segregation and racial injustice. A new kind of magic had sprung. The world was about to become a better place.
Today Birmingham is, indeed, a very special place. Young. Vibrant. Tolerant. Want some Indian food? Check. Looking for a little white water to kayak? Check. A nature hike under the dogwoods? Check. Opera. Theater. Shopping. Jazz. Birmingham's got it. It's a big little city with a tumultuous past and a future that just couldn't be brighter. Except when it comes to darts, at least those of the steel tipped variety.
The recommended place to shoot, a huge joint called The Break (in Five Points South) has several boards, but most are electronic and the few sisal circles should have been replaced years ago. The place is basically a pool hall with some sixty tables and a section of pin ball machines. Darts just ain't a priority here. At least it wasn't the night I stopped in. I spent most of my time shooting the breeze with a couple of good ole boy bouncers with chains.
Club South (1102 10th Avenue South) seems to be the center of the soft tip action in the city -- in fact, as it turns out, soft tip is the center of darts action in Birmingham. Club South is a much smaller and friendlier place than The Break. You're sure to find a large contingent of plastic shooters here each Monday night for the Luck of the Draw. There are four boards. The pot is good (Club South kicks in a healthy share each week). I peeked in briefly, threw a few, and then headed on. Plastic gives me a rash.
In the end, after several unsuccessful attempts to reach somebody from the Magic City Darts Association, I ended up at what can only be described as an oasis in a desert of soft tip hell. Aptly named The Oasis (2807 7th Avenue South) this joint is one of the few spots in the city to find a serious game of steel tip. There's a weekly tournament on Monday nights where Birmingham's handful of steel tip stalwarts gather to do darts right and condemn the soft tip trend. Two locals named Tom and Andy pounded me pretty good.
Yep, my friend Ian would have loved America's Birmingham. Like many Brits, he was a beer and Indian food connoisseur. Like most men he was a serious fan of the fillies. Like every one of you who has read this far, he was a hell of a fan of the littl arrow.
And, darts tradition nothwithstanding, had Ian not tripped over his wife's guinea pig and smashed his head on a garden cobblestone -- buying himself a one-way ticket to the big dart tournament in the sky (okay, the truth is he just plain drank himself to death) -- I have no doubt that he would have enjoyed the camaraderie, every bit as much as I did the past few nights, at both The Oasis and Club South.
From the Field,