I was a kid. My father and I walked into the filling station. The bell above the door dinged.

Daddy was filthy from working under a car. He was always working under cars. He came from a generation of men who were born with Sears, Roebuck & Co. ratcheting wrenches in their hands. These were men who changed their own motor oil, who worked harder on off-days than they did on weekdays.

Old man Peavler stood behind the counter. He was built like a fireplug with ears. He, too, worked on cars all day. Except he did it for a living, so he hated it.

Daddy roamed the aisles looking for lunch among Mister Peavler’s fine curation of top-shelf junk food. In the background, a transistor radio played the poetry of Willie Hugh Nelson.

My father approached the ancient cooler, located beneath the Alberto Vargas calendar my mother warned me not to look at under threat of eternal hellfire.

The white words on the fire-engine-red cooler said DRINK COCA-COLA—ICE COLD. My father removed

the sensuous hour-glass bottle, dripping with condensation. Then he grabbed a plastic sleeve of salt peanuts from the shelf.

We approached the counter.

“Howdy,” said old man Peavler. Only it came out more like “Haddy,” because that is how real people talk.

Old man Peaveler looked at our items, did some mental math, and told us how much we owed by rounding up to the nearest buck. The old man’s cash register hadn’t worked since Herbert Hoover was in the White House.

We exited the store and sat on the curb in the all-consuming sunlight. There, my father and I counted cars. For this is what people did before Olive Gardens and Best Buys ruled the world.

Daddy used his belt buckle to pop open his Coke. He used his teeth to tear open the peanuts. Then he carefully dumped the nuts into the mouth of the…

Welcome to Sweetwater County, Wyoming. You’re looking at 10,500 square miles of deer and antelope playing. Where seldom is heard any cell phone reception. This is God’s country.

Sweetwater lies nestled between Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, clinging to the underbelly of the Cowboy State like a bloated tick. This is some of the most magnificent terrain in the Union.

This isn’t a county you hear talked about often, and with good reason. There’s nothing here. The county itself is larger than nine U.S. states, but the population is barely big enough to form a Methodist choir.

Wild horses thrive in Sweetwater. About 1,500 of them roam across the high desert, cantering among the greasewood, the pepperweed, and the pink hopsage. This is an extremely remote region. In a dire emergency, you’d be hard pressed to find a TJ Maxx.

A few days ago, Ryan was late for work, driving among the miles of sagebrush along Highway 374 when he saw something that caught his eye.

There in the distance, nestled

beneath the shadow of a large rock butte, was an olive-drab house. It was a modest home, with children's toys littering the lawn—that is, if you can call a bunch of dirt a “lawn.”

Ryan saw flames shooting from the windows.

His truck skidded to a stop. He glanced around but saw no emergency lightbars, and heard no sirens.

This is Wyoming. Emergency response time in the Forty-Fourth Sate is not speedy. In most U.S. states, the average emergency response time is 15 minutes, which is about the time it takes to defrost a frozen burrito. Wyoming’s statewide response time, however, is upwards of 35 minutes.

Ryan did not waste time. He hit the brakes, then leapt out of his truck, and approached the two kids standing in the driveway. They were small children, both under age 10. Both scared spitless. Their faces were red from the sub-zero windchills,…

The anti-Alabama letters keep coming in.

“I read that you’re moving to Alabama, Sean,” the email began, “and I’m not trying to talk you out of it. But last month my family visited Florida for a seminar… We drove through Alabama and saw a billboard with a red devil that said ‘Go to church or the devil’s gonna burn your butt’ or something similar.

“I was so disgusted, I was like, ‘If this is how dogmatic Alabamians are, I don’t want any part of this.’ Again, not looking to start a fight, but personally, I’m sticking with Ohio. Live and let live, I always say.”

Okay. For starters, you’re talking about the billboard on I-65 near Prattville. And the sign actually says “Go to church or the devil will get you.” As far as I know, the sign has never included the word “butt.” This is because the sign was erected by fundamentalists, and fundamentalists do not use the word butt.

Take me. I was raised in a strict fundamentalist household by fervent people

who denied the existence of butt. In fact, I did not use this particular four-letter word until I was 29 years old, and even then I wasn’t technically sure what the word meant.

A few other things I was not allowed to do as a churchgoing child:

—Say “gosh”
—Watch “Charlie’s Angels”
—Or “Fantasy Island”
—Or any TV show containing females
—Including segments of the “Lawrence Welk Show”

So anyway, the highway sign the author of the email is talking about is not just a run-of-the-make billboard. It’s considered a historic Alabamaian landmark, on par with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Civil Rights Memorial, and the childhood home of A.J. McCarron.

The Devil Sign was originally erected in the ‘80s by a guy named W.S. “Billy” Newell. People say Newell was an eccentric character who kept deer and…

We got married shortly after the death of Dale Earnhardt. It was a uniquely dim period in American history. Not long before our wedding, the World Trade Center attacks had happened, then our nation was at war. American flags fluttered from every pole, business, and automotive antenna. There was an unspoken gloom in the air.

I was in our apartment, watching the news, eating breakfast before work. The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster had recently occurred. Cable news was blaring footage of NASA’s STS 107, which disintegrated upon the reentry, killing seven crewmembers.

It seemed like the world was falling apart.

The news anchors were incessantly talking about shark attacks, terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, shoe bombers, car bombers, mystery bombers, and “American Idol.”

Our kitchen phone rang.


It was my new wife. I heard screaming toddlers in the background. My wife worked at a daycare.

“Hey,” she said, “don’t forget about tonight, we’re meeting the realtor after work.”

More toddler screaming.

“I can hardly hear you,” I said. “There’s a lot of shouting.”

“Oh, that’s just little Timmy. He’s pooping.”


yells when he poops?”

“No, he’s hollering because I am currently wiping his bootyus-maximus,” she said. “Look, just don’t forget about the realtor, okay?”

I hung up and I said a silent prayer for Timmy’s unfortunate plight in life.

After our shifts ended, I picked up my wife from work in the singular car we shared—a stunning ‘89 Nissan Maxima which, at one time, had been metallic gold, but was now completely obscured by approximately six inches of rust.

We followed our realtor’s SUV deep into the country, taking a labyrinth of dirt roads into the West Florida woods until we heard banjo music. Finally, the realtor pulled over beside a cattle gate with a painted plywood sign reading LOT FOR SALE. Although, to call it a “lot” would be misleading. It was an alligator singles bar.

The realtor…

“Can you believe it’s ours?” said my wife, as we stepped into the modest three-bedroom house.

Although, technically, I wouldn’t call this house “ours” yet. The house is ABOUT to be ours. There’s a difference. A few days ago we put an offer on this home and were answered with a phone call later that night. The realtor informed us that our offer had been accepted.

It was an emotional call. Afterward, my wife hung up the phone and wept like a baby. So did our tax guy.

And now here we stood. In our soon-to-be new house.

Well, actually, it’s not “new.” Far from it. The house itself is 100 years old, built slightly before Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, back when Social Security numbers were still in the single digits.

The home’s floors slope like tsunamis, the doors are ancient, the antique windows are made of warped plate glass, and the porch is roughly the size of the Jefferson Memorial.

My wife was pulsating with glee.

“It’s perfect,” said she.

Our realtor, Robin, was with

us for the victory tour. My wife’s friends and cousins were there, too. In fact, I was the only male in the group.

No sooner had we entered the front door than the home was filled with an impenetrable cloud of estrogen. In mere seconds, the ladies were deeply involved in heated conversations centralizing around crucial topics such as, for example, duvet covers. Frankly, I don’t even think they knew I was there.

“You’re just here for eye candy,” said my wife.

Which only shows you how delusional all this excitement has made my wife. Because on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Brad Pitt, I’m the late Gabby Hayes.

Soon, the women’s design brigade was marching through the house dutifully. I headed up the rear, carrying approximately 29 handbags and pocketbooks.

Photos were taken. Notepads were consulted. Tape measures…

I have here an email from a man who shall remain anonymous. He says:

“Sean, you cannot be serious about moving to Birmingham, Alabama! I’ve lost all respect for you. Anyone who would choose to live in Alabama is a total [beep], I would NEVER move to Alabama by choice.

“I worked in Alabama for 11 years, I’m originally from Brooklyn, and it [Alabama] is the most backwards state… Those people are a bunch of small-minded [beeping beepers] and I’d never move back unless someone paid me a million bucks.”

Call my crazy, but I detect a slightly negative tone in the above letter.

Nevertheless, I won’t get into an argument with the author. Namely, because arguing on the Internet is dangerous business. One grammer mistak can destroy yor entire argumint

As it happens, I’ve visited Brooklyn. It was scary. One night in Brownsville, Brooklyn, I was approached by a man with a knife who was going to rob me. Things were about to get ugly when a local priest finally showed up at the

last moment. I didn’t stand a chance against the two of them.

So I’m not going to attempt to change the author’s mind about Alabama, or remind him that most of my family lives here. But I wonder if he realizes how vibrant and unique the Twenty-Second State is.

For starters, Alabama is home to some pivotal American figures such as, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Helen Keller, and James Spann.

Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron learned their trade here. So did Hank Williams Sr.

The nation’s first Mardi Gras celebration took place in Mobile, a whopping 15 years before New Orleans was even filling its diapers.

The Saturn V rocket that put Neil and Buzz on moon was designed in Huntsville.

But alas, it has become trendy to trash-talk Alabama. You see a lot of famous people doing it…

So I guess we’re moving. My wife, Jamie, has been looking at houses for several months now, ever since her mother passed away. And it’s getting serious.

This all started one morning when my wife announced that she wanted to leave Florida and move to Birmingham, Alabama, to make a fresh start in life.

My immediate reaction was to kiss her forehead. I told her I was going to miss her dearly.

“You’re coming with me,” she said.

“Me?” I said with a laugh. “Leave Florida?”

Truthfully, I did not think she would follow through. I never thought I’d leave the Alligator State. I’ve never had the desire to leave. During boyhood, when all my friends traipsed off to college to begin their lives far away from home, I was voted most likely to die of mosquito-borne illness.

I grew up in a magical place where 127 square miles of brackish bay water meet the sky. The Choctawhatchee Bay was never less than a mile from my front porch, neither was the Gulf of Mexico. And

living within my backyard, according to the Guinness World Record Book, was the world’s largest brown recluse spider. We named him Phil.

But my wife is not someone who makes idle statements. When she declares that she’s going to do something, it’s already half done. So if this woman says we’re moving, it’s time to call Mayflower®.

Lately, this woman has been constantly obsessing over houses for sale, daydreaming about them, drawing pictures of three-bedroom-two-baths on legal pads, using pocketknives to carve the initials of her favorite realtors into our kitchen table.

She frequently uses my computer printer to print explicit photographs of arts-and-crafts-style bungalows, then hangs these photos up in our bathroom like pinups.

My wife frequently drives thousands of miles to attend open houses, wherein she walks thoughtfully through the homes of complete strangers for the sole purpose of criticizing their décor.

“People are [beeping] awesome,” the young man’s email began. “People are really, [beeping] awesome.”

The author’s name is Denny. He’s an 18-year-old a single dad in Charlotte, North Carolina. He works triple overtime just to pay for babysitting and food. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment. He earns squat for a living.

Times have been tight for Denny, his checking account is on E. And ever since his wife died, Denny has been struggling.

For dinner that night, he was going to make a frozen chicken pot pie for himself, and a feed his daughter a PBJ with pureed spinach. Gag me.

When Denny got to the checkout-line conveyor belt, he met a teenager cashier. The cashier asked Denny if he would allow her to pay for his groceries. Denny refused, but the cashier kept insisting.

Finally, Denny relented and let the young woman pay so he wouldn’t attract any more unwanted attention. When the transaction was finished, the girl told Denny flatly, “My father gives me this money and tells me to help anyone who needs


Denny thanked the young woman and said, “Your dad sounds like a great guy.”

The cashier winked. “He thinks the same about you, sir.”

On the way out to the car, Denny’s vocal 2-year-old asked him why he was crying.

“Daddy’s just really happy, sweetie,” he said.

Meantime, 413 miles north, in the sleepy hamlet of Canal Winchester, Ohio, we have Jenni. Allow me to introduce you.

Jenni is early 50s, born in Ethiopia, but immigrated to the U.S. when she was in her 30s. The first thing you should know about Jenni is that she is a bit of an underachiever.

After earning numerous college degrees, raising kids, and carving out a rewarding career with a major technology company, Jenni took a side-gig—why not?—driving for Uber on weekends.

“The reason I drive Uber,” she told WSYX ABC Channel 6, “is to…