“So, we’re having a baby,” he said.

My friend told me this while we were eating breakfast in a crowded place. I looked at him and almost dropped my fork.

He started happy crying.

“You’re having a baby?” I said.

He nodded, then cried even harder.

The number one rule of manhood is, you are not supposed to cry. I don’t know where this rule comes from, but I think it’s in the Boy Scout manual somewhere. As men, our fathers were stalwart examples who taught us to be stoics. Like like little John Waynes, minus the hats.

So you can imagine how uncomfortable I was when my friend covered his face with a napkin and sobbed in a public place.

Soon, the waitress came. “Is everything okay, sir?”

I sniffed my nose manfully and said, “Pollen.”

You’d have to know my friend to understand what a big deal this baby is. He has had an uphill battle for most of his life.

For starters, he has a speech impediment, which has always been a challenge. When

he gets stressed, he has a hard time making words happen.

We once took a community college class together, epochs ago. I sat beside him in class. Whenever the teacher would call on him, he would look at me and say, “Tell her.”

Thus, I was sort of his mouthpiece. I guess he’d been made fun of too many times to risk speaking in a classroom. As I recall, I made a D in that class.

I always loved his mom. His mother was one of those exceptional kinds of women you read about in “Guideposts” magazines. She gave birth when she was 17, in a home for unwed mothers. Then she lit out on her own and raised her only son in a 22-foot camper.

She worked in a salon by day; she attended GED classes by night. They lived in squalor…

I have here an email which reads:

“Sean, you often write of angels and miracles, and today, of Heaven. But if Heaven and angels are real, which I do believe, then Hell and demons must also be real. I guess writing about those is less fun? People don’t like to think about those ideas. But presenting only one side of the spiritual realm is perhaps misleading?”

After reading the above letter, I realized something important. I have never written about hell. Over the years I’ve written about angels, miracles, cancer survivors, dogs, play-off games, small towns, and eyebrow hair. But never hell.

To verify that this was true, I had my research department, Jamie Martin Dietrich, comb through a decade’s worth of columns. The research department determined that—unless you count columns on the NCAA National Championship—I have never written about hell.

Thus, I am going to tell you a true anecdote about hell, a place which, I can assure you, is real. I know this because I visited hell a few months

ago when I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to register a boat trailer.

No sooner had I entered the DMV than the clerk said, “Take a number and get in line!” And I knew I was in purgatory.

So there I was, standing in a line of tormented souls, all waiting for our numbers to be called. This line was longer than the line to the men’s room at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

I was alongside people who were unshaven and disheveled, gnashing their teeth, and surviving on vending machine food. I met an elderly man who had been standing in line to register his Ford Station Wagon since 1954.

After 40 days and 40 nights of waiting, I was finally invited to approach a teller window.

I told the clerk I wanted to register my boat trailer.

She managed to say her next sentence in one, eye-rolling…

Tamara opened her eyes and found herself within in a realm of light and clouds. She was met by a man in a white robe who was apparently waiting for her.

The man was enormous, maybe 24 feet tall. His head was bald, his face was nothing but cotton whiskers.

He greeted her with a nod. Then he said, “Right this way, Tamara.”

And he began walking slowly onward. His feet were the size of jon boats.

“Wait,” Tamara said. “Where am I?”

He turned back. “If you would just follow me, please.”

“But I want to know where I am.”

No answer.

“Please tell me,” she insisted.

But he would not.

The man led her through a long corridor of more light, which led to another corridor, which led to 55 thousand more hallways.

Finally, they reached a tunnel that was made of glass. There was a sheen to this glass, sort of like a bubble from a vat of soapy water. Only this “bubble” was about the size of nine solar systems.

She jogged to catch up to him.

“Aren’t you going

to tell me where I am?” she said.

Apparently not.

“I’m dead, aren’t I?” she said. “That’s what this is all about. Because I remember lying in bed… I can remember closing my eyes, and—”

The giant interrupted. “You are not dead. There is no such thing.”

“Then where am I?”


She glanced at the glass-bottom floor. She was adrift among the clouds, miles in the air. Beneath her toes was her hometown, and the natural landmarks she’d come to know on earth. Major highways. Trees. Rivers. Mountains. Canyons. The Gulf of Mexico.

They trudged for what seemed like a thousand miles. Or maybe it was only 12 feet. There was really no way to know, time and space sort of mushed together in this place.

Eventually, however, they reached a colossal archway.

They stopped…

Morning. I am seated on a bench in downtown Thomasville with the ghost of someone’s granny beside me. I can feel her spirit, whoever she is. This is her town, where life still ambles slowly. Being here is like taking a trip into the 1950s.

“Not a bad town, huh?” says the ghost.

She wears a bell hat, and a floral dress. Nobody can see her but me.

“It’s nice,” I say.

“City of Roses,” she tells me.

“How about that.”

“It’s changed some,” she says.

The flawless storefronts catch the morning sunlight, the birds are making noise, markets and cafés are opening. And the ghost is right, it’s perfect. All that’s missing is Opie Taylor.

“You from around here?” I ask the ghost.

She doesn’t answer.

It’s as though time has overlooked the City of Roses and its elderly patron saint. I look around and immediately travel backward into an earlier age. Her era.

An era when Americans were a little more innocent, and the highest technology we possessed was the KitchenAid mixer. A period before 5G wireless networks, before Netflix,

and before the advent of thong underwear.

On cue, a restored Chevy Bel Air passes us, rolling by slowly. Baby blue. White-walled tires. And I’m three quarters of a century away.

Truman is in office. Flags still wing from every post, pole, and porch. Ninety-seven percent of Americans still read a physical newspaper (whereas today it’s only 4 percent). Hitler’s War is long since over, our boys are home from hell. There are new possibilities in the wind.

The old woman is smiling now. We are back in her heyday.

This is the generation that features both the birth of rock and roll and the “Grand Ole Opry.” A time when mankind will begin producing Fords and Chevys with tail fins tall enough to slice low hanging telephone wires.

This historical period will also include the Cold War.…

It’s sunny in South Georgia. I am standing at the corner of Monroe Street and Crawford Street, in Thomasville, staring at a very big tree.

Trees do something to me. Something profound. Don’t ask me to explain this. I can’t.

I have seen the Grand Canyon at sunrise, I have hiked in southern Utah and dehydrated beneath a Western sky, I have ridden Highway 190 across Death Valley in an Isuzu Rodeo with a bad transmission, and do you know what? There were no live oak trees.

And I don’t want to live in a world where there are no live oaks.

The first time I saw this oak, I was a kid with a bladder the size of a teacup. I was every parent’s worst night terror when it came to road trips. I had the urinary system of a gerbil and I required potty-breaks every one to three minutes.

During one childhood trip across Florida, for example, I remember bouncing in the back seat of the family Ford, gyrating my hips, grabbing my

bladder region, and shouting, “I gotta go!”

“Can’t you hold it?!” yelled my father.

“I really, REALLY gotta go!”

My father pulled over immediately, tires screeching on the pavement, a plume of burnt-tire smoke trailing behind us. Transfer trucks honked. Speeding vehicles swerved.

I leapt out of the car and traipsed through an overgrown highway ditch, but it was too late. The Spirit of the Lord had already moved upon me. I was standing beneath a road sign which read THOMASVILLE—28 MI, and thoroughly peeing my pants.

When I got back to the car, my pants were saturated, and my parents were about to die of cardiac infarctions from laughing so hard.

So we stopped in Thomasville to purchase a new pair of trousers.

That day, we kicked around town, eating ice cream, and seeing the sights. The main attraction I remember was the Big…

“Sit wherever you want, sweetie,” the Waffle House waitress said.

I slid into my booth. Alan Jackson was singing overhead about the Chattahoochee. Birmingham traffic was whizzing outside the plate glass.

My waitress was Latina. She was older, but energetic, with the face of a cherub.

“What’re we drinking, hon?”

I told her.

She gave me a few seconds to look at the menu. But reading the menu took me a while; I was exhausted. Recently, my wife and I have been traveling back and forth between Florida and Birmingham, preparing for an upcoming move.

Over the last few weeks, we have been packing our entire Floridian lives into tiny boxes, and we’re about to move those boxes 263 miles north.

“Know what you wanna eat?” said the waitress.

“Eggs and hashbrowns,” said I.

She made a note. “Want anything done to your hashbrowns?”

“Yes. I want them drowning in enough grease to clog a municipal drainage pipe.”



“Wheat or white?”

“The kind I’m not supposed to eat.”

She smiled and wrote on her notepad. The waitress welcomed a few more patrons into the

establishment. Then she tucked her pen into her apron and looked at me.

“You been traveling a long way today?” she asked.

“Why, do I look that haggard?”

“No. Not haggard just… A little droopy.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Listen, hon, at my age, it’s either droopy or it don’t work anymore.”

The woman then recited my order to the cook. She read it in that wonderful Waffle-House language all servers use.

Long ago, I used to work as a short order cook in a breakfast joint. They made us wear a white paper cap known as the “confidence killer.” My favorite part of the gig was when waitresses would call out orders in diner-speak.

WAITRESS: “Alright, boneheads! Gimme Adam and Eve on a raft with some bad breath and one cup’a mud!…

We are on a rural highway. We have a long drive ahead, but I could make this trip blindfolded.

Our journey starts in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

Defuniak is a lovely American hamlet. Before it was a city, it was a railroad stop called “Open Pond,” which featured a perfectly round spring-fed lake in the center of town, teeming with freshwater Baptists. The lake is still there. So are the Baptists.

After you leave Defuniak, you hit Mossy Head, Crestview, Deerland, and soon you’re riding through pine trees. Lots and lots of trees.

Which brings up an important point, I hope you like pine trees because you’re going to see a lot of them in the next paragraphs.

You’ll also see shotgun houses, rusty mailboxes, cows that stare, toddlers on ATVs, and speeding log trucks driven by adventurous men who steer only with their left knees.

Now entering Milligan, Florida. This unincorporated community used to be the county seat of Okaloosa County a hundred years ago. What will you find in Milligan today? Nothing.

That is, unless you count

all the churches.

First Baptist Church, Shepherd’s Church, Milligan Assembly of God, Lebanon Baptist, a Church of Christ, Beulah Missionary Baptist Church...

Keep following Highway 4 until you get to Baker. Land of Dreams. Founded in 1861, shortly after the birth of Willie Nelson.

There isn’t much going on in Baker, Florida, and even if there were, you’ll probably never hear about it because the internet is slow.

Baker does, however, have a couple world-class restaurants. There’s the Gator Café—try the burger. And, of course, there’s Taco Town, which resembles a Third World gas station but once served exceptional fare. Sadly, they’re closed now.

So maybe you could get lunch at the high school cafeteria instead.

Baker High School is every small-town school you’ve ever loved. Their football team is bar none. Last year, for instance, their running back, Kayleb Wagner, made…