JACKSONVILLE, Ala.—Late afternoon. I am in the deep woods. It is raining. I’m riding a tricycle along the Chief Ladiga Trail, pedaling toward Georgia with my wife. We are soaked to the gristle.

We are far from civilization. This trail cuts through ancient farmland, abandoned pastures, cornfields, peanut fields, and miles of kudzu-laden forest. We have twenty miles left to ride.

The tricycle I’m riding came from the classifieds. I bought it a month ago. The man selling it said the trike had belonged to his older brother who’d recently passed. His brother's name was Larry.

He said Larry had been excited when he bought this trike, he sorely missed cycling ever since his Parkinson’s disease made riding bikes impossible. Sadly, Larry never got to ride this trike more than a few times before he died.

When I first took this contraption for a test spin, the man nearly cried when he saw me ride it. He stood in his driveway, watching me pedal in circles.

He said, “Oh, Larry would be so happy to know

someone was enjoying his trike.”

When he’d finally gathered himself, he handed me a little red flag on a long pole.

“What’s this?” I asked.

He told me the flag attached to the back of the trike so that approaching eighteen-wheelers wouldn’t run me over in traffic. Then we laughed.

But as it turns out, the reflective flag is an important piece of safety equipment. The flagpole is about four feet tall and the flag flaps behind you when you ride, signalling to all oncoming traffic that you are an official member of the dork squad.

Right now my flag is flailing in the rain. I am not only a member of the dork squad, I am also the president.

But this trail couldn’t be more lovely. The Chief Ladiga Trail was once part of the Norfolk Southern Railway line. The winding flat paths…

CHELSEA, Ala.—We've been on the road all week. And I've been listening to Willie Nelson on my radio. I'm listening right now. He is singing one of my favorite songs.

“In the twilight glow I see her,
“Blue eyes crying in the rain,
“When we kissed goodbye and parted,
“I knew we’d never meet again…”

I turn it up because I am a sucker for this tune. Though, I’m not sure why. When I was a boy, the lyrics never made sense to me.

After all, nobody with blue eyes ever cried in the rain for me. And I certainly didn’t have blue eyes. My eyes are gray. My mother used to say my eyes were the color of our pump shed.

Even so, there’s something about this tune that moves me. I can close my gray eyes and go back in time.

And I see my father’s work bench in the garage. A radio sits beside a chest of mini-drawers that is filled with bolts, nuts, screws, washers, and rubber grommets.

Crystal Gayle

is singing “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue?”

Then Willie begins playing over the speaker. My father turns it up.

“Love is but a dying ember,
“Only memories remain,
“Through the ages, I’ll remember,
“Blue eyes crying in the rain…”

And I am holding a GI Joe doll, watching a tall, skinny man work on something beneath a shop lamp, holding a screwdriver.

He does all his own repairs, this man. Because he believes it is wasteful to hire people to do work you could do yourself. Just like it’s disgraceful, and even unforgivable, to throw away refrigerator leftovers.

The people I come from are proud and self-sufficient, and they are not above eating ten-week old meatloaf that has turned Sea Foam Green. They cut their own hair. And their own lawns.

When I started travelling a lot for…

COLUMBIANA—I am eating barbecue. Good barbecue. The kind prepared in an establishment that looks like a hunting cabin. A spot called Tin Top Barbecue. I believe God lives in the back room.

I cannot eat barbecue without first saying grace. It’s not like this with any other style of cuisine. For example, I recently tried eating sushi. Not only did I forget to say grace, apparently I also forgot to make sure my food was dead.

But with barbecue it’s impossible to look upon tender, carbon-encrusted glistening pork and not remove your hat to say a few words of heavenly thanks.

You cannot find barbecue like the kind I’m eating at mere restaurants, eateries, or cafés. You only find it in backyards, pit trailers, or at places my people call “joints.” These are usually establishments with gingham table cloths, rough-milled walls, napkin dispensers, and Merle Haggard on the radio.

I’ll bet Merle always said grace.

I remember the first time I ever ate the bounty from this particular joint:

I was about to make a

speech at Shelby County High School—just down the road. The shindig was catered with barbecue from this very kitchen. When the meal was served I had a spiritual experience and I almost blacked out.

I was struck with a whiplash of hickory-scented memories. All of a sudden, I was sitting with my uncle in the middle of a cow pasture. I was watching him tend his homemade smoker.

Though, calling his heap a “smoker” would be too generous. It was really just some automotive junk my uncle would light on fire. His apparatus was a homemade cinder-block pit, filled with coals, topped with chain link fence, covered with a salvaged hood from a Chevy Impala.

Every few minutes he’d lift the hood to stab the fire with a shovel. He’d take a big whiff and say, “Smell that wood?”

I would breathe in the colorful…

Somewhere in Alabama. I am watching the first baseball game I’ve seen all season.

Eighteen Latino boys are playing in a shabby ball field of stubbled grass and red dirt. They have a few spectators, mostly adults with snacks, fold-up chairs, and surgical masks. The parents here are speaking Spanish. They also speak English, but you don’t hear any of it spoken tonight.

Except by me.

This is not sandlot baseball. Neither is this a suburban Little League game where parents scream at kids while suffering psychotic breakdowns. This is béisbol.

One of the Mexican mothers helps me with this word. It is pronounced: “BAZE-bowl.” Whenever I try to say it she laughs at me.

In every way this is the same gentle game my father taught me to play in an alfalfa field. The same game his father taught him.

But these boys play with more squint-eyed sincerity than I ever did. They are an underground ball club. Meaning: they aren’t doing this for anyone but themselves. They aren’t advertising it, either.

“We started

playing because they cancelled baseball,” says first-basemen Miguel (age 10). “With no games on TV, hey, we had to do something.”

Every boy lives within bike-able distance from his teammates. They are close friends who play in vacant lots, backyards, public parks, empty playgrounds, and school fields.

But what really impresses me is that they all chip in to pay a middle-aged guy to umpire for them. They call him “Chaparrito” because he is only five-foot six. He is not Latino, but fair-skinned, blondish, and originally from Muncie, Indianna.

“I’m not a real umpire,” the man says. “I actually work in pest control.”

But the boys tell me everyone looks up to Chapparrito because, rumor has it, he played minor league ball once. Chaparrito refuses to deny or confirm this rumor by winking at me.

Because he is not being hired by these boys to…

BIRMINGHAM—It's late. And I wasn’t going to write this, but I have to. Not only for me, but for the good of our children, and our children’s children. No matter how hard it is to address. I’m talking, of course, about the highly controversial issue of homemade ice cream.

Ice cream wasn’t always under scrutiny like it is today. It used to be okay to eat ice cream. But then, suddenly it wasn’t okay, and lots of companies started coming out with healthy frozen yogurt.

A few years later, news reports claimed frozen yogurt was just as bad as ice cream. So they came out with “sugar-free” frozen yogurt, made with “aspartame.” And the world as we knew it fell apart.

Aspartame is actually a lot of fun to say. It seems like a dirty word, but isn’t. You can use it in social settings and it’s acceptable.

EXAMPLE: “Have you seen traffic today? It’s a real pain in the aspartame.”

So Americans were eating sugar-free yogurt sludge by the gallon, hoping to live to be one hundred,

and doing step aerobics. Life was all right again.

Companies started going bonkers and making bizarre frozen yogurt flavors like Blackberry-Garbanzo Bean, and Coffee-Bubble Gum, and Toenail.

Then, reports came out with new information claiming aspartame was deadly.

One report stated: “Aspartame turns your bodily fluids into formaldehyde, side effects include: Numbness, tingling, and profound interest in Jazzercise.”

All of a sudden, journalists were telling mankind to stay away from anything that even remotely looked like sugar-free frozen yogurt, and for mankind to eat quinoa instead.

Which is probably why a few months ago, I found two fifty-pound bags of red quinoa in our pantry. It wasn’t long before we were eating what looked like chicken feed for every meal until sometimes—especially if we sat in one place for too long—grade-A eggs would start appearing beneath our haunches.

But mankind can only…

I am driving through shallow green hills, under a big blue sky, on a two-lane highway. Ahead of me is a beat-up Ford with a bumper sticker that reads: “I ‘heart’ Alabama.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a road trip through Alabama. Too long. I haven’t been here since the pandemic began some six hundred years ago.

I’m an adopted Alabamian. I married into the family and have spent more time in the Yellowhammer State than in my home state of Florida. I have written more stories here than anywhere else.

And I’ve done many quintessential Alabamian things. I’ve eaten blueberry ice cream at the Blueberry Festival in Brewton. I once hung out with the mayor of Tuscaloosa. I hugged the neck of a former Slocomb Tomato Festival beauty pageant title-holder. I have been in the same room with William Lee Golden.

But it was my Keego-born-and-bred father-in-law, the noted hellraiser and foul-joke aficionado, who made my adoption official. Once, directly before a family supper, he stood at the table, raised a

glass, and said, “I hereby declare you an Alabamian.”

I am lucky indeed. For Alabama is grand.

When I started writing, my wife and I began traveling across this state full-time. We have spent years rolling along these wobbly highways, roaming the backwater roads.

I have driven the length and breadth of the state more times than I can count. I used to do this so frequently that once, I watched the sunrise up in Elkmont, and made it down to Bayou La Batre in time for sunset.

But then a worldwide epidemic happened.

Ever since then our vehicle has been sitting in the driveway, untouched, and our battery started to die.

I’ll level with you. At first, being quarantined drove me nuts. My mind had been in work-mode for so long that I didn’t know how to relax. Nobody tells you that workaholism happens…


It’s me again. I just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. Also, I wanted to ask you to do something about this crummy weather. It’s overcast and pitiful.

There’s no hurry. I know you’re busy. I imagine you deal with lots of headaches, and the last thing you need is me whining about a few clouds. This whole COVID business hasn’t been easy on anyone, least of all you.

So I guess it’s a good thing that you’re a divine being. That must make things easier. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that makes everything harder. I don’t know. I’ve never been divine.

The closest I ever came to holiness was when I played the role of Joseph in the school Christmas pageant. I got to hold the hand of Amber Hodges who played Mary and also looked like a high-school senior. It was great.

But anyway, I’ve been feeling blue ever since this whole coronavirus thing started. Some days I’m in a great mood; other days the sunshine hides behind clouds and I get sad.


dark period the world is going through is no laughing matter. I read yesterday that suicides are on the rise because people feel more isolated than ever. Alcohol and drug abuse are at an all-time high. For America, this is one of the toughest years, mentally, since the Great Depression.

My request for sunshine must sound petty in light of all that.

But then, why am I telling you all this? You already know this stuff.

Actually, you know more than we humans give you credit. Humans can be real dipsticks sometimes. I know this because I’m usually the biggest dipstick of them all.

The truth is, I went through a long period of not knowing how I felt about you. I’m not proud of this, but I’m only being honest.

I wasn’t sure if you were real or some…