Big trees hang over Highway 31 South. The sun is out. I am riding behind an eighteen-wheeler whose signage reads: “Eat Alabama Beef.”
I’m passing through Pintlala. It’s a one-horse town—maybe two horses.
I also pass plenty of kudzu, Spanish moss, live oak groves, secluded railroad tracks, and red-dirt road offshoots.
Rusty mobile homes with Lexuses out front. A John Deere 5100 MH parked beside a clapboard general store.
I like antique churches—the kind that struggle to pay electric bills. Buildings with window-unit AC’s, and cemeteries out back.
Somewhere along the way, churches traded small graveyards for slide-projectors and rock and roll instruments.
On the highway shoulder: a girl riding a four-wheeler. She has a mile of traffic behind her. She wears pigtails and camouflage.
I ride past beat-up service stations. They’re a dying breed.
In this part of the world, these convenience stores are more than gasoline pumps. They are milk, eggs, after-work twelve-packs, Red Man Golden Blend, and gossip.
They sell things like live crickets, red wigglers, and green peanuts from coolers.
The Pit Stop Food Store, for instance, has a lettered sign which reads: “Now we have pistols and rifles.”
I pass cattle. Mudholes. Ancient farmhouses, white-washed before the Battle of Chickamauga.
“Now entering Lowndes County.”
My wife’s family has a hunting camp here. I could die happy in Lowndes.
I see a roadside sign which reads: Greenville; 21 miles. Mobile; 165 miles.
In other words, this exact piece of world is approximately 150 miles from any city.
Some people might call this the Middle of Nowhere. But they’d be wrong, I think. The Middle of Nowhere is any place that’s empty, with no heart.
I’ve been to New York City. New York City is the Middle of Nowhere.
I see a faded, handwritten sign on a pine tree: “Deer processing and taxidermy for cheap.”
Another sign: “I can fix your i-fone.”
Now entering Butler County. I see a man on the porch of a shotgun house, in a recliner, watching traffic. I wave. He spits.
I just spent the last five days in the heart of Birmingham. It was loud. The rush-hour traffic was enough to cause a nervous breakdown.
My hotel bar served beer with lavender and celery sprigs. I tried going for a walk. I almost got hit by a Porsche and three Range Rovers.
I met a homeless woman named Rema—who hadn’t eaten in two days. I watched a man in a three-piece suit step across the street to avoid her.
I saw blue lights every night. I watched a kid get arrested on a bicycle.
I don’t know what’s happening to this world. But technology is spreading like a flu virus. People are getting smarter, and meaner. Fewer gas stations sell crickets and red wigglers.
I hope things don’t fall apart. I hope the world slows down some. And I hope that man in the three-piece suit has a change of heart one day.
But there is one thing I hope most of all.
I hope South Alabama never changes.