All Backed Up

Traffic is bad. We’re stuck in a three-mile line of cars. Total gridlock.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive in traffic. You have two kinds of drivers in this world: Those who weave back and forth, fighting to get ahead. And those of us who are stuck looking at their butts.

My wife and I are on the road looking at lots of car-butts today.

This is our life. Being on the road for weeks on end. Her driving. Me writing on a laptop in the passenger seat. Sometimes it feels like all we do is drive.

If you would have told me seven years ago that this would be my life, I would have laughed you off your barstool. But somehow, this writing gig is the only thing I’ve ever done that works for me.

And believe me, I’ve had my share of jobs.

Right now, beside our vehicle is a woman riding a Harley. She is listening to the Doobie Brothers at full volume. Our windshield is rattling loose from her music. I roll down my window because I sort of like this song.

“Without loooooove, where would you be now….”

She notices me listening and gives me a thumbs up. This woman is—how do I put this?—very large. She looks like she could bench press a Plymouth Voyager. But here she is, stuck looking at everyone’s butts with the rest of us. There’s something admirable about that.

“Without loooooooooooove….”

Ahead of her is a truck. Also looking at three miles’ worth of everyone’s butts. The driver is dancing to his own radio music. He must not think anyone can see him because his windows are tinted with roofing tar.

But I see him. And he looks funny. He is a middle-aged guy, and we middle-aged guys aren’t known for our dancing skills.

At my cousin’s wedding, for example, I saw twenty middle-aged men take the dancefloor for the “Cha-Cha Slide,” and it was like watching the Ceremonial Dance of the Torn ACL. They were bumping into furniture, falling over sideways, I even saw one man put down his beer.

At that same reception, there was an elderly woman in the corner with candy-red hair. She asked me to dance. I am not a big dancer. When I dance, I look like a guy having a grand mal seizure, but I danced with her.

The DJ played “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers. She said her husband died after they’d been married for fifty-one years. And I’ve never felt as inadequate as I did when her tiny arms wrapped around my waist.

That’s sort of how I’ve gone through life. Feeling inadequate. I’ve never been a winner, and I’ve never been the kind of guy who butts ahead in traffic. In fact, I’ve always been the guy at family reunions who is “between jobs.”

I’ve been a lovable loser since childhood. And the thing is, you get less lovable when you’re older.

Do you know what I’ve always wished? I have always wanted to win something. Just once. I’ve entered several contests and never won squat. For crying out loud, I’ve played more Bingo than a senior citizen living at Bedpan Alley Retirement Villages. Never won a cent.

The only time I’ve ever won was at the roulette table in Biloxi, which doesn’t count.

I walked into the casino with fifteen bucks. I went straight to the table and asked the dealer to teach me to play. I tripled my money after one hour.

That’s when the dealer said, “You want my advice, kid? Walk away now and take your wife out to a steak dinner.”

Before I left, I told him that this was the first time I’d ever won something. He just smiled and said, “What do you want me to do, clap?”

I took his advice and treated my wife to dinner. But first I had to pry her away from the slot machines because she was about to take out a second mortgage and hock her wedding ring.

We went to a joint that served ribeyes and had an Elvis impersonator singing “Jailhouse Rock” with a band. My wife and I did the Twist on the dance floor, and it felt so good not to be a lovable loser for one night.

When Elvis started with “Love Me Tender,” my wife and I did the famous Prom Dance. You know the dance—two people hold each other and rock back and forth like arthritic penguins. I hope we can do that dance fifty-one years from now.

Traffic is moving again. But slowly.

A Honda Accord shoots around us in a hurry, nearly clipping our side mirror. I don’t know where he thinks he’s going in this congestion. But I suppose that’s just how life is. Some people race ahead and win it all. And other guys like me are sort of made for the back row.

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve learned that just because a man loses, it doesn’t make him a loser. In fact, it makes him honest. And I can honestly say that, after all these years of being me, I’ve come to enjoy looking at everyone else’s butts.

Wait. That came out wrong.


  1. Harriet White - Atlanta - January 23, 2020 8:51 am

    I can’t believe this writing gig has taken off for you too. I mean that in a good way. Most people write for decades and decades and get nothing. I think it’s because you write directly from your heart that you are successful – and for some reason it’s really caught on. I am so thankful to see your column in my email every morning around 1 am.

  2. Brenda - January 23, 2020 10:47 am

    Well, I think you are a winner!

  3. Elizabeth - January 23, 2020 11:26 am

    That’s a good one. Glad you are in my email every morning.

  4. KATY - January 23, 2020 11:37 am

    😇 As George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, once said, “No man is a failure who has friends!” 😇 (6:30 am]

  5. Richda McNutt - January 23, 2020 12:07 pm

    You’re definitely a winner, Sean – especially in the “Great Heart” category – thanks for talking to me every morning.

  6. Amy - January 23, 2020 12:13 pm

    Love this! You are definitely a winner and I am happy you are in my email every morning

  7. Lori - January 23, 2020 12:57 pm

    I love every one of your columns, and I love love love this one! Thank you and good morning.

  8. Connie Havard Ryland - January 23, 2020 1:30 pm

    You had me laughing this morning. I’ve never one anything and my life has been anything but easy, but I’m okay with that. Finally after 65 years I like who I am and my place in the world. But I still drive like I’ve got to get where I’m going before anyone else. Lol. Have a great day and you and Jamie stay safe.

  9. Bobbi - January 23, 2020 2:18 pm

    You are a winner in my book. You’ve won my heart

  10. Clark - January 23, 2020 2:22 pm

    Talk about being a loser! When I was fourteen, my dad told me I would never amount to anything. That hurt then but worse later because I actually believed him. But God sent a wonderful woman to be my wife. (50 years married this August) She believed in me and helped me believe in myself. God blessed me in many ways, but she was His best blessing. Another blessing was that the last time I saw my dad alive, he told me he loved me. I believe God uses people and life events to make us stronger.

  11. Sharon Brock - January 23, 2020 2:29 pm

    Laugh out loud. Thanks Sean. Been in gobs of traffic jams during my life and it doesn’t bother me any more.

    Never won money. My Mother however could take $20 to Churchill Downs and always came back with at LEAST $100. Me? I generally won about $6.80. Always bet the horses to show and never bet the exotics. I gambled once at a casino where my son worked. I quit when I lost the $5 I allowed myself. The casino looked askance at me but my son remarked that his Mom could spend with the best but NEVER wasted money. My favorite warning is “stick your hand in my wallet and I’ll cut your arm off at the knees.” I am a single Mom. Money was hard to come by.

  12. Dawn A Bratcher - January 23, 2020 2:41 pm

    😂 That’s funny, but it’s true. Take life a little slower and really savor each day because it goes by pretty fast.

  13. willmarshall68mecom - January 23, 2020 2:49 pm

    Another great read

  14. Shelton A. - January 23, 2020 3:17 pm

    Sean, that did come out wrong but a writer looking for a big laugh…you came out a winner. Lol!

  15. Steve Winfield - January 23, 2020 4:18 pm

    Wait until you get to drive the new 20/59 east or west through Birmingham. 5 lanes wide on each side & most of the exits & on ramps are gone. You can get to the next traffic jam so much quicker than before.

  16. Linda Moon - January 23, 2020 5:14 pm

    Your title today could describe me after two days of no internet service and 3 service people working on it. Now I can catch up on important messages such as this one from Sean of the South. You are lovable, but not a loser. And don’t tell THIS older girl that we get less lovable with time. You will be a dancing winner 51 years from now, with Jamie. Honest. YOU WILL. I won the dancing lottery a couple of weeks ago with lots of older lovable people, and I wish you and Jamie could’ve been there to watch our old dancing butts!!

  17. Anne Stokes Haas - January 23, 2020 9:59 pm


  18. Joe Patterson - January 23, 2020 11:13 pm


  19. Rebecca Souders - January 24, 2020 12:22 am

    I’ve pretty much considered myself a “perimeter person.” I like the view. Nothing wrong with the back row!

  20. Andrea Shoemaker - January 24, 2020 1:54 am

    I’m glad you’ve found your calling! It seems to bring you peace. It’s a blessing not all are able to recognize or receive.

  21. Betty - January 24, 2020 1:57 am

    Sean, how can you say you’ve never won anything? You won Jamie didn’t you?? What more could you want???

  22. Cynthia Woods - February 29, 2020 12:18 pm

    Anyone who let’s a sweet old widow lady with red hair wrap her arms around him for a dance is a winner in my book. Thanks, Sean. ❤️


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