Down south

From Philadelphia I head for Norfolk. I arrive on this coastal city at night, and meet up with the guys from 757labs. They have a Dr Who pinball machine, so the first thing I do is play a quick game. They have a neat setup there, with a central control for lights, camera’s and other gimmicks. I learn about workshop88’s ‘hackerspaces in space’ challenge, to which they participated by sending a weather-balloon into near space and taking pictures from the earth and the blackness of space.

The next day, before I head off to Charlotte, I drive by the beach. I stroll along the shoreline of the Atlantic ocean. It’s cold, but clear. The sun is beating down on the peer jetting out into the Atlantic. A nice place for breakfast, so I get the bread and Nutella.

As I head into Charlotte, I’m a bit wary of what I’m going to find. This is the south, you know. And indeed, before long the southern federation flags start making their appearance along the highway. I hope people will not shoot at me, I do have a strange accent and dreadlocks. I’m getting hungry, and need some more bread. Time to pull off the highway. I go into a local shop, and although they do look at me as if I’ve come from another planet, they are very friendly. They don’t have any bread though, but kindly point me to a place that might have. There, I indeed find some as well as some bananas. I’m good to go again, and continue the 8-hour drive.

When I first get into Charlotte, I wonder what I have gotten myself into. I need some batteries for the voice recorder, so I pull up into a mall. The parking lot proves to be an obstacle course, with deep holes and wide cracks in the asphalt. A police car keeps watch over the crummy shops, and as I walk into a ‘Family Dollar Store’, people start shouting. Apparently, I can’t go in to the store with my bag. Ah well. I do find some batteries though, and moments later I drive into town.

The hackerspace folk welcome me with open arms! They are about to have the grand opening about a week from now. I can only stay for a night so I have to miss that. But what a fun-filled night! Not only can I help here and there with straightening out the place, we go on the roof to do some spying on the high-rise office buildings in downtown Charlotte. And if that is not enough, we drive around finding a supermarket that sells dry ice! Having found it, we attack it with a jig-saw and later with a table-saw to create evenly-sized Jamendo pieces (blowing the fuse on a lab-psu while at it).

Now, after sleeping in an entirely empty apartment it is time to head out again on an 8-hour drive into Alabama. The radio speaks of sins and savior and penance and assassination of Julian Assange. Friendly.

I’m glad I did not skip Huntsville though. Makers local 256 is one hell of a hackerspace. Located in their own dedicated building not far from the highway, they are an interesting bunch. My attention is drawn to a nice mixing-desk on one table, and after inquiring it turns out they have started their own podcast under the working-title ‘the hackerspace digest’. Of course, I want that on Signal!

I leave Huntsville under a stark blue sky. All of a sudden, a huge Saturn V rocket attracts my attention. Someone just parked his launch vehicle next to the highway, it seems. I take the exit to investigate, and end up on the parking lot of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (, ain’t that funny domain name for a museum portraying one of america’s greatest feats?). Inside, there is more Saturn V, also a moonlander and a space buggy. Outside, a whole park of rockets and missiles. Even a bunch of German v2’s, the once deadly WWII weapons that inspired the whole American space program.

There is a difference between SW Metropolitan Parkway and Metropolitan Parkway. Most importantly, one is 10 miles from Atlanta, the other is in Atlante. Anyway, I do arrive before my host has to leave for work. At first, I wonder whether I have the right address, as this looks like an industrial complex. With my host on the phone, I drive through the gate and enter the repurposed former corn processing plant.

Inside the gates I find a thriving artistic and creative community. People live in the old industrial buildings, and there are literally dozens of workshops to be found. The hackerspace, Freeside, is also located on the terrain. It is huge! They’ve got everything, from a classroom to a car workshop. There are several rooms, each with a purpose of their own. I’m still very much tired though, and sink in a chair behind my laptop to catch up with email and edit the last episode of ‘gmc does america’, which airs tomorrow.

There is one more space to visit on my trip: Familab in Orlando. It is sort of the opposite from freeside. In terms of surface area that is. But first I meet up with my host of that night, who is a student at Full Sail University. The campus turns out to be too complex for my exhausted brain, and we decide to meet up on the McDonalds parking lot. At the space, which is a storage/workshop unit, I meet several people with interesting projects. We don’t stay long though, everyone is tired and it is getting cold.

And with that, I conclude the visit of my last hackerspace on this tour. I have one final destination: Miami! Stay tuned for the wrap-up.

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