I am not from Alabama, I married into it. But I’m glad I did. There are a lot of reasons why I love it.

Ashland, Alabama—I gave a speech in a little theater. I told stories to warm up the audience before a bluegrass band took the stage.

The band was good. The lead singer was the grandson of Ralph Stanley, and he sounded like it. The boys picked their strings so fast their instruments started melting.

The people in the audience were in good spirits. Thank God for that. Last week, I spoke to a crowd of Presbyterians in Florida. I’ve had conversations with water heaters that went better.

I wish I could tell you how much I love Alabama, but I think I already have. I’ve been writing about this state for a long time. I wrote a novel about it, sang about it, told stories about it, and once I got stuck in Birmingham traffic on a holiday weekend.

I am not from Alabama, I married into it. But I’m glad I did. There are a lot of reasons why I love it.

One big

reason is barbecue. You can get pulled pork anywhere in the state. In Mountain Brook it comes served on fine China with garnishes of parsley. Down in Georgiana, you get it from a utility shed beside a gas station. Tell them Sean sent you.

Alabama football is also important to me. I have been watching the boys in crimson since the day of my birth. Literally.

I was born during the third quarter of a Liberty Bowl. My father held his infant son before a black-and-white TV in the delivery room and introduced him to Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It was decided that my middle name would be Paul.

The literature from Alabama couldn’t be any better. I don’t care who you are, Kathryn Tucker Windham is queen.

And music, Lord have mercy. William Lee Golden couldn’t be any cooler. Nat “King” Cole had no equals. If…

I placed one hand over another. I looked like a moron. I should not have been climbing that wall. Boys like me didn’t rock climb things. Boys like me liked Moonpies and had kankles.

I had dinner with an old friend. I haven’t seen him in years. He looks different since he moved to Tennessee. He has a shaggy beard, lines around his eyes, a bigger waist, and three kids.

Here’s the kind of guy he is: Earlier today, he opened his front door to find me standing on his porch.

“Wow," he said. "Do I look as old and ugly as you?”


“Getting old sure stinks, don’t it?”

“Speak for yourself, I plan on using my AARP card to get free coffee at Waffle House.”

"Waffle House doesn’t accept AARP."

Long ago, we were close. Back then, I needed a friend like him. I was a kid who had survived my late father’s mess, and I wasn't exactly Mister Sunshine.

He was a good pal. And he was no stranger to the rain, either. His mother died when he was six, from similar circumstances. His kid brother was more like his son. We sort of leaned on each other.

I remember when he got a job at a

sporting goods store. The store sold shotguns, ATV’s, crossbows, and for a few bucks you could get a fishing license. He loved this job because my friend is your all-American deer hunter.

This store also had a tall rock-climbing wall. He invited me to try it once, but I didn’t want to because I was fourteen, chubby, and I was no athlete.

I have always been the sort who spectates. Especially when it comes to sports. As a boy, I was a professional spectator. I spectated four or five times per day sometimes.

One time my friend brought me to the sporting goods store and brought me to the rock wall. He issued a dare.

Before I knew it, he had fitted me with a rappelling harness.

It is impossible for chubby boys to look dignified when wearing a harness secured to…

I am telling you all this because when you feel like a loser you end up doing strange things. Sometimes, it can make you act like someone else altogether.


A girl I like is in my class and I like her and wanna get her to like me, too. And I wanna figure out how to ask her out, but I’m a loser most of the time.



You couldn’t find anyone worse to ask for advice. Especially when it comes to this subject.

But believe me, you’re not a loser. You want to see a real loser? The guy writing you is someone who once got choked up asking a girl on a date and started referring to himself in the third person.

You must never refer to yourself in the third person. It makes you sound like a serial killer with mommy issues.

This is what I told her:

“Um, yeah, Sean Dietrich really wants to go on a date with you. Sean really likes you?”

Notice the question mark on the end of that last sentence, which made my voice slightly higher pitched. We can see from further grammatical analysis that I had forgotten how

to function in American society.

I ended up making such a fool of myself that she told me to get lost.

Anyway, do you know who I wish you could talk to? My grandmother. She would’ve been the right person to ask. She knew everything.

The only advice my grandmother ever gave when it came to the opposite sex was this:

“Treat her better than you’d treat your mother and you can’t lose.”

I can attest to this being true.

Something else I have learned about girls: It’s a bad idea to try to get them to notice you through strange and unusual means.

For example: Once, I followed my uncle’s advice and played guitar on a girl’s front lawn at one in the morning. I sang “Happy Together” by the Turtles.

As it happened, the…

...I was raised on golden-era Disney classics, and I would not want to live in a world without Big Al.

My earliest memory is of a record player. It sat in my mother’s bedroom. Sometimes, she would play records for me.

In one particular memory, she holds me in her arms and we dance to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The tune is “Girl from Ipanema.”

Then, she turns off Herb. She puts on another record. It is a childhood favorite. The album is Walt Disney World’s Country Bear Jamboree. The sound of a fiddle fills the room.

Mother and I have a Disney-style hoedown.

I don’t know how I remember this, but I do. Just like I remember Mary Ann Andrews, who once kidnapped my Teddy bear. The bear she stole was the guitarist for the Country Bears Jamboree band, Big Al.

Mary Ann’s family moved to Texas, and she took Big Al with her. I was heartbroken.

My mother wrote Mary’s family a letter, threatening legal action if Big Al was not returned unharmed. In a few weeks, Big Al arrived in our mailbox

and my mother agreed not to press charges.

I still have that stuffed bear today. In fact, he sits above my desk because I was raised on golden-era Disney classics, and I would not want to live in a world without Big Al.

Anyway, my wife and I went to a concert a few nights ago. It was supposed to be fun, but it left me feeling empty. A few guys onstage attempted to see how loud they could crank their amplifiers while having grand mal seizures.

We were with friends who were younger than us. I don’t know how many concerts you’ve seen lately, but young people don’t actually watch live bands anymore. They point cellphone cameras at the stage and look at their phones instead.

Halfway through the concert, I was ready to leave.

I’d rather suffer gout than listen to music that…

There is something remarkably hopeful about this town and its residents. There is a kind of excitement here. It’s too bad the rest of the world can’t be so optimistic.

Nashville, Tennessee—The noon sun is shining on Music Row. The world-famous recording studios, radio stations, and record offices sit lined up like dominoes. I’m walking into one such studio right now.

This is weird.

I walk past mic stands, cables, and foam-covered walls.

When I was a teenager, I played music in a band. We were god-awful. What we lacked in musical talent, we made up for in body odor. One night, a Nashville man visited the bar and tipped the band one hundred dollars. My bandmates got so excited they left for Nashville to see if they could “make it.”

I didn’t go with them because I had a job I couldn’t afford to lose—also I couldn’t stand their smell.

In this town, people dream big. You can see them everywhere. Their dreams are too large to keep beneath their hats. They are hopeful, talented, nice-looking, and most of them don’t have a chance in Hades at “making it.”

At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

This morning, I met a sixty-seven-year-old man who

once moved here from Indiana in hopes of becoming a country songwriter. He washes dishes, and also works as a construction worker. His face has some mileage on it.

“I came here after my mom died,” he said. “Thirty years ago. I just wanted to be able to say I gave it my best shot.”

If you listen to him talk, you’ll find out that he believes he’s somewhat of a failure because his name isn’t in neon lights.

“No, I don’t regret moving here,” he said. “But, it’s been real disappointing, I’ve learned how to be hopeful even when nothing’s working out, you know, that’s not easy.”

He laughed. I could see he was missing a few teeth.

There is something remarkably hopeful about this town and its residents. There is a kind of excitement here. It’s…

The backroads between Florida and Alabama are perfect. The scenery is all dirt roads and sleepy homesteads. If you drive these two-lane highways with your radio playing old-time music, you will appreciate the music.

If you are so inclined, play a little Hank. If you are feeling adventurous, Willie Nelson. Romantic, try Patsy Cline.

I don’t know what it is about this drive that moves me. Perhaps it’s because this is my home county. Or maybe because I have been burning these local roads since my youth. Maybe it’s because once, I had this ridiculous idea that I wanted to leave.

I don’t know why.

Here, not much has changed since the pavement cooled. The one-story houses on the sides of the highway are frozen in time. The homemade vegetable stands, vacant until summer use. The broke down tractors, the cotton fields.

If you’re into rural beauty, there is nothing but beauty from here to Huntsville.

I pass Hart’s Fillin’ Station, in DeFuniak Springs. If you

have never been to Hart’s to eat fried chicken, you aren’t living right.

On this road you see homes with hordes of cars parked in the driveway. Those cars probably belong to adult children who have returned home. It could be that everyone is in town for a wedding. Maybe a funeral. A baby shower. A birthday. Karaoke night.

Either way, there is going to be good eating, I guarantee it.

The narrow highway lopes across a flat Panhandle. I feel sorry I ever wanted to abandon it. Soon, I am leaving my county. Welcome to Florala, Alabama. We have officially left Florida and crossed into the Yellowhammer State.

The two locales look more or less the same. There are wide fields with gracious trees that bow over the roads. Pathways adorned with live oaks, flat green pastures peppered with round bales.

I pass…

And I’ve always thought that the rhythm of playing catch feels like a slow waltz.

We bought a Roku for our TV. I’ll admit, until this morning I thought a Roku was a Japanese three-phrase poem that grade-school children were forced to write at gunpoint.

The Roku is actually a small device that plugs into your television and gives you TV service via the internet. A neighborhood kid named Tyler helped me hook it up because I am technologically challenged.

Tyler is not yet twelve, but he is your all-American preteen, which means he knows everything about technology and will likely be rich one day.

In no time, Tyler had it running and we were watching a spring training baseball game.

The Braves and the Rays were tied. Tyler and I watched in silence for a few minutes. Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a home run. People on TV cheered. I cheered.

Tyler looked like he didn’t understand what he was watching.

“How do you keep score in baseball?” Tyler finally asked.

And this broke my heart.

In my

childhood home, there was no clear division between baseball and the red letters in the Bible. We talked baseball on Sunday mornings, and we talked church during Saturday night ball games.

As fate would have it, there were two baseball gloves on my bookshelf. My wife keeps them around as decoration, to lend a masculine feel to our living room. Today, the mitts served another purpose.

The smallest of the two gloves was my old Little Leaguer. My father bought it for me when I was in second grade. I will never forget that day. Daddy took me into a store, we tried on gloves until we found the right one.

That night, my father showed me how to oil it with bacon grease.

“Grease it up good,” he told me. “And it’ll last for the rest of your life.”

To this day, I cannot smell…