It’s a gray afternoon and we are traversing Alabama. Today, we make our run across the Yellowhammer state. My wife only ever pulls over to buy gas or let me pee.

This is how we live. In the past years we have traveled all over the U.S. doing my little one-man show, living on gas-station burritos, while our friend stays at our house watching the dogs.

In the backseat is a guitar, along with all our hanging clothes. We travel, eat, work, and sometimes sleep in our little white van, which resembles a plumber's van. It’s the same kind of van driven by the LabCorp guy who visits your place of employment to collect urine samples.

It’s not a masculine looking vehicle. It’s small, a four cylinder. When the engine revs it sounds like a little cat hacking up a hairball.

In our years traveling we’ve become connoisseurs of gas station restrooms. We can simply look at a filling station and know whether the bathroom is going to be a total horror show.

Like last week,

a restroom in South Georgia took the grand prize. The men’s room urinal was detached and lying on the floor. And the commode had been removed so that there was nothing but a giant festering hole in the ground. And that’s not even the worst part. I WAITED IN LINE TO USE THIS BATHROOM. But I couldn’t do it.

My wife and I turned right back around and ran to the van. I told my wife, “Quick, find a cow pasture!”

Believe me, I know I’m giving you too much information, but I’m only telling you that we have spent a lot of quality time in cow pastures together over the years.

But anyway, when you travel you have to make do. Especially when it comes to creature comforts. That’s why we love our van. It’s sort of like our mini home. I’ve seen…

A middle-aged woman peeks into his kennel. She smiles. He wags his tail. Then she walks away.

Everyone who peeks into his kennel just walks away. Always. Nobody wants an old dog. At this shelter, most visitors end up adopting young dogs who can’t control their bladders.

If only humans could understand canine language, he would’ve told the lady all about himself and what a good boy he is. It’s a shame that humans don’t speak Dog.

He’s not sure how he ended up in this place. Once he had a family. And you’d think that your family would always be your family. The idea of them leaving you doesn’t even enter your doggy brain. But you can lose a family. He found this out the hard way.

They left him here. He waited for them, staring out his kennel door, but they never came back. His owners were simply done with him.

That was a lifetime ago. Since then, he’s been stuck in this loud room of kennels with dogs who cry all day long. Mostly, they’re just

begging humans to adopt them.

“TAKE ME!” they all scream. “PICK ME! PLEASE!” That’s all they ever shout.

He’s overheard their remarks about him. “How old is THAT dog?” “He looks kind of gray.” “Mommy, I don’t want an old dog.” “Poor guy, nobody’s gonna want that old thing.”

Old. They are right. Who would want an elderly dog? The worst part is, it’s been so long since he’s been touched. When you’re a puppy everyone showers you with affection. But when you’re an old dog they just get mad when you have accidents.

But he doesn’t have many accidents. This is one of his skills. In fact, he wishes he could tell the humans about all his skills. Being old has its advantages. He can hold his bladder, he knows how to watch TV and keep a person warm, he…

I just received an email that reads: “Hello, Reverend Sean! Congratulations on being ordained for three years…!”

I laughed because I thought it was junk mail. Then I realized—hey, wait a second—this was a legitimate email. Let me explain:

Three years ago, I actually became ordained in the state of Alabama so that I could officiate a wedding for a lady who wrote to me asking me to perform her ceremony.

I had never conducted a wedding before, so I was not enthusiastic about the idea. I’m not what you’d call an ultra-religious guy. I am just a Regular Joe who prays mostly during third down situations and happens to have several openly Episcopalian friends.

But the bride was insistent. So was my wife, who when she heard the idea indicated that if I refused to officiate I would be walking with a limp for the rest of my life.

Thus, the next step was to figure out how to legally perform an Alabama wedding. For help I called the Escambia County courthouse. The

conversation went like this:

ME: Yeah, hi, I’m supposed to be marrying two people, how would I go about this?

HER: Sir, polygamy is illegal in Alabama.

So we were off to a great start. What I learned was that I had to become ordained through a recognized religious organization. Any organization would do.

The lady never explained HOW exactly I was supposed to convince a major world religion to give me wads of unbridled authority. She just said it was against the law to conduct weddings if your only official religious affiliation was limited to saying the occasional grace at Thanksgiving.

I thanked her for her time, then called my friend Ray Jay who, aside from being a dirt-bike mechanic, once officiated his brother’s wedding in his backyard. I attended this wedding. I will never forget it. The Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill punch and spray-cheese…

FAIRHOPE—This upstairs sewing room belongs to John’s wife, Celia. There are ironing boards, quilting looms, sewing machines, and a five-piece bluegrass band crammed into a tight space.

We are recording music tonight. The band, Blue Mullet, is making the music, and I’m singing along like a tone-deaf bloodhound.

The recording equipment is set up on an ironing board. All the musicians gather around an old-fashioned microphone that looks like something from the stage of the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show.

The band warms up and I’m listening through headphones while the “levels” get adjusted.

Levels. That’s a professional recording term. Pros are always talking about levels. When you record, your levels are always getting adjusted, checked, prodded, operated on, stabbed, massacred, resuscitated, and in some cases eulogized.

The fiddle player takes a solo. He plays so beautifully that makes you tear up and completely overlook the Saint Louis Cardinals cap he’s wearing.

My old man always said there were two kinds of people in this world: Those who love the Cardinals, and those who go to Heaven.

That’s just

a joke of course. I don’t know what happens to Cardinals fans after they get released from Purgatory.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is: Blue Mullet is a dang good band, Cardinals hats notwithstanding, and they have a great band name.

I’ve visited states where people don’t even know what a mullet is. A lot of people think it’s a style of haircut (shaved on the sides and long in back). But anyone who has ever fished the brackish bay water knows what a true mullet is.

My youth was spent on such a bay. On the shores of the Choctawhatchee, I tried to teach myself to throw a mullet castnet, but I never got the hang of it. I am a simple rod-and-reel man.

Many of my friends were mullet fishermen, though. They could hurl ten-foot nets that unfurled over the…

DECATUR—Right now I’m onstage at the Princess Theater. People in the audience are looking intently at me as though I am wearing thong underwear. This is what it feels like to perform.

The Princess is one of those theaters that’s expressly American. The tall neon marquee is unforgettable, towering over the wet streets of Second Avenue. Photographers come from all over to take the marquee’s picture because everyone loves art deco theaters.

This building was originally a livery stable back in 1887. Which means that this floor was once covered in, literally, millions of fresh horse apples. This gives me chills.

In 1919 they renovated the building, turning it into a vaudeville playhouse and silent picture theater. Soon, the floor was no longer covered in horse excrement, but popcorn. The theater entertained mostly kids who screamed at a silver screen while an elderly woman, probably named Miss Ida Mae, played an upright piano along with a Charlie Chaplain flick.

Throughout history some big acts played the Princess. Ray Charles once performed here, so did

Glenn Miller. They all stood where I am standing. That’s kind of cool.

In honor of this occasion, I’m playing my old crummy guitar. It was built in 1919, the same year this room was resurrected.

I got this guitar from a trim-carpenter in Houston who found the guitar shattered in a dozen pieces. He was not a guitar maker, just a run-of-the-mill carpenter. He glued it back together the best he could, but he admits he did a sloppy job. I didn’t care. I’ve been playing it ever since.

It’s not a valuable guitar. For its whole life it’s been a low-grade instrument owned by a list of no-name street performers. In other words, it’s a glorified piece of junk.

But I’ve always liked pieces of junk. Because when junk lasts for a hundred years, it’s no longer junk, it becomes archeology. There’s something to…

He’s a normal guy. A normal guy who cashed his entire paycheck last month for charity. He did it because he was ahead of his bills—for once.

At first, he was going to put the money into savings, but something made him do otherwise. Call it a gut feeling.

He’s a part-time truck driver and a night-shift security guard. He’s a dad with two daughters—he sees them mostly on weekends.

The first person he gave money to was a woman at his daughter’s daycare. The woman’s car had duct tape covering her passenger window.

“Here,” he said to her. “Someone told me to give you this.”

A hundred big ones.

The lady almost lost it. He didn’t expect the reaction—which was unrestrained hugging.

His next victim was an old man in a supermarket parking lot. The man was placing flyers beneath windshield wipers.

Our hero dug into his pocket.

The old man only looked at the money with big eyes. “Are you with the company who hired me?” he asked.

“Yeah,” he answered. “Here. The boss told me to give this to you.”

The farmer’s

market, downtown—he wandered the booths of honey jars and fresh breads with his daughters.

A teenage boy and girl were playing guitars. They had CD’s for sale. They had young voices and real talent.

But nobody was buying. People only walked by them.

He dropped a tip in their bucket. Then, he bought their whole box of CD’s. The teenagers were so overcome they forgot how to hold their guitars.

And, for the next few weeks, he searched for people to give money (and CD’s) to. He tipped waitresses too much. He tossed money at men holding cardboard signs. He even tipped his mailman.

Then, it happened. He was at a uniform-supply outlet. He was on the job, making a delivery.

The woman was hard to miss, she had kids with her. She was buying…

Today is a big day for him. He stands before his mirror, adjusting his collar, fixing his white hair until it’s just so. He’s thinking of her.

She always took care of him. He was used to having her do all the little things. Not just the laundry and cooking. Any trained dog can learn to do his own laundry. It was things like stocking his favorite snacks in the pantry, always refilling his prescriptions, or remembering to replace the toilet paper.

Above all, he says he misses having her beside him in bed. King beds don’t feel the same without the weight of another person beside you. A bed can feel like a tomb when you sleep alone.

Her dog, Martin, misses her too. The first day she didn’t come home, he took Martin on a walk and the loneliness was overwhelming. This Labrador was her friend.

Martin sleeps beside him at night now, in her old spot. But it’s just not the same.

He’s switched to using instant coffee because he can never remember

to set the coffeemaker. Besides, he doesn’t see the point of making a full pot for just one person. It’s funny how dependent a man can become on another. He says he hasn’t made his own coffee in half a century. Or eggs. He can’t figure out how to flip them without breaking the yolks.

He says, “Nobody tells you that you’re going to be afraid a lot when you lose your wife. You know, even though you’re the man of the family, and always have been, she was kinda your strength.”

He’s adapting though. In the last few years he’s come to truly enjoy his daily walks with Martin. They follow the same route she used to take through the neighborhood. When he gets home, he and Martin eat lunch. Then they piddle.

He says the memories of her don’t hurt anymore, they…