Birmingham Speed Demon

BIRMINGHAM—Early morning. The sun is low. Fog rests on the trees. And I have a persistent case of writer’s block.

I leave my hotel on foot because I love morning walks. They help in more ways than one. When I walk, I’m able to think in straight lines, clear my head, and most importantly, pull a hamstring.

I see a pest guy spraying outside my hotel. He wears a COVID mask, and carries a spray canister of noxious chemicals.

“How’re you doing this morning?” he asks.

“I have writer’s block,” I say.

“Oh, no. I used to get writer’s block, but I don’t get it anymore.”

“Really? What’s your secret?”

“I had four kids.”

I make my hike across a nearby parking lot, aiming toward a shopping complex. Outdoor malls are great places to walk.

This is when I hear tires squeal behind me.

I turn to look. It is a bad dream happening in slow motion. A white Mitsubishi swerves through the parking lot like a runaway diesel, roaring straight for me.

The vehicle fires forward and misses me by an eyelash. I don’t even have time to shout any religious language at the driver.

I am left standing on the pavement. Adrenaline has made me cold. I am doubled over.

The guy with the sprayer calls out, “You okay?”

All I can do is nod. “Just dandy,” I say.

It takes a few minutes to gather myself. I am still sick to my stomach. But I keep walking.

I walk across culverts, ditches, decorative shrubbery, thorny bushes, and steep embankments until I reach the mall. My nerves are shaken, but I’m alive, and that’s the important thing.

The shopping complex is empty this morning except for a few older women out power-walking.

I pass a slew of employees in shopfronts. They’re unlocking display windows, doing inventory, drinking coffee from paper cups. And I am finally starting to calm down.

When I reach the end of the complex I am about to turn around and head to the hotel. But I don’t. Because I see a white Mitsubishi.

The car is parked beside a large dumpster. A silhouette of the driver sits in the window.

The door opens. Out steps an old woman. She is hunched and wiry. She has over-the-counter red hair, and tattoos on her white lower legs.

She sees me looking. “What’s up?” she says.

This gal is something else.

She walks to the back of the Mitsubishi and opens the hatch. She removes an enormous bag of cat food. And even though I hate to be Captain Obvious, I feel it’s my civic duty to speak up.

“You almost hit me,” I tell her.

“You were in the road,” she says.

“No, I was in a parking lot.”

“You should be more careful. Cars drive through parking lots.”

“Not doing ninety they don’t.”

But she’s done paying me any mind. And in her defense, I don’t think she is being rude. She is just sort of, well… Elderly.

She offers no apology. She shows no remorse. She’s too busy. The lady lugs the bag of dry food toward the dumpster.

She whistles once and 3,532 cats creep out of the nearby trees to swarm her. You’ve never seen so many ferals. They just keep slinking from the woods.

She fills several bowls behind the dumpster and uses a high-pitched voice to remind each cat to be nice, behave, be sweet, share, use manners, brush their teeth, pay their taxes, take their Omega-3s, etc.

I stick around to watch her interact with the animals. Because, to tell you the truth, I find it unbelievable that the same person who nearly murdered me is feeding strays like Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

“They’ve all been spayed and neutered,” she says to me. “You can tell ‘cause of their clipped ears. See how their ears are all clipped?”

This woman goes on to say that this morning she still has hundreds of local cats left to feed. Hundreds, she says.

The cats are located all over town. In every side street, dumpster, and back alleyway. She says she’s been feeding cats for twenty years in Birmingham. Every morning she does it.

“You’d be surprised where cats hide,” she says. “They’re smart. They know who they can trust.”

I ask how she got into taking care of cats.

“My dad,” she says. “He used to always feed strays. Didn’t matter whether it was a cat, dog, turtle… Once he even had a goat.

“He’d take me out looking for animals back in Texas. That’s where I growed up. He was a good man. Never turned an animal away. Real good man.”

She loads the food into her Mitsubishi. Slams the trunk door. Then she fires up her little car. The asthmatic engine spits out blue exhaust.

Before she leaves, she leans out the window and locks eyes with me. It looks like she’s going to finally apologize.

She says, “You’re in my way. Move, dadgum it. I’m backing up.”

Our little Hallmark moment is cut short when she guns her four-cylinder until it throws a rod, then peels away like Dale Jr. on a liquor run.

I’m not sure if this was her version of an apology or not. But I guess it doesn’t matter. After all, she’s a busy woman, and I can understand that. She is doing important work this morning. She has a lot of mouths to feed.

And thankfully, I’ve got something to write about.


  1. Sandi. - September 5, 2020 7:49 am

    Sean, that’s the darndest way to get rid of writer’s block I ever did ready about! Whew! Thank God you’re all right.

  2. Thomas Bole - September 5, 2020 7:52 am

    And a billion songbirds who are no longer alive in this world have this “Elderly” misguided woman to thank. Feral cats are a blight on our natural landscape. Next time, get her plate number and report her to animal control. Especially if she tries to kill you again.

  3. Nell Thomas - September 5, 2020 11:55 am

    So glad you did not get hit. We are like the ferrels. We need you words of wisdom, encouragement, entertain and nonsense to keep us going too. Thank you.

  4. Harriet - September 5, 2020 12:01 pm

    Dang Sean! By an eyelash! I’m glad you’re here to tell the story.

  5. Teresa A Brown - September 5, 2020 12:05 pm

    That’s a good story. I’m still laughing. Not that you were almost hit though! I’ve always wondered how elderly people get away with anything. I’m 6 years away from being 60 and now I’m wondering if I will try to get away with anything. Probably not. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Tammy S. - September 5, 2020 12:17 pm

    Reading the Bible every morning is like water to my thirsty soul and reminds me I am loved beyond measure. In fact, we all are, and, I am called to love the same. Reading Sean Dietrich every morning reminds me to look, and see people. There are fascinating stories all around us. Sean, you just make us feel like we are there with you. Speaking of, so glad “cat-lady” did not run you over! Stay safe and thanks for the morning read. PS… Your last lines are always the best!!

  7. Beverly King - September 5, 2020 1:00 pm

    There’s a Buddhist (lojong) slogan that says: Whatever you meet unexpected, join with meditation. It basically means sometimes our minds are shocked into stillness and we remember to be in our bodies. 🙂 As Pema Chodron said, “We are one blink away from being fully awake.”

  8. Denise Walker - September 5, 2020 1:05 pm

    watch out for us old geezers! We’ve got things to do and places to go! I’m glad Granny was able to help you with your writer’s block. Just another service we provide……………:-)

  9. Betty F. - September 5, 2020 1:11 pm

    So glad you are okay. That’s two close calls you’ve written about. Maybe you need to wear a reflective vest or a big sandwich board with big letters on it saying something like “the end is near, don’t make it mine today”.

  10. johnny bracey - September 5, 2020 1:13 pm

    The spay and neuter of feral cats is a great program. After a generation, the population diminishes and perhaps will become manageable in time! Most animal shelters that I know of are over run with cats and kittens. Cats can breed at least three and up to six times a year. The number of cats grows exponentially. Kittens becomes sexually mature around the age of 4 months and therefore capable of producing kittens themselves. The average number of kittens in a litter is 6 and can be up to 12. DO THE MATH!!

    God bless this lady for helping keep cats from euthanasia by sterilization. Our rescue deals mostly with dogs, but we have strong ties with cat rescues and are very familiar with this major problem. If she was just feeding the cats with no sterilization there would probable 4,567,810 cats rather than the 3532.

    As for the white Mitsubishi, just watch out for the white ones!

    Keep up the blog, it is one of the highlights of my day.

    Johnny Bracey

  11. Jan - September 5, 2020 1:35 pm

    Wow! Sorry you had such a tough morning in Birmingham. I guess you at least got something out of it – a great story! Thanks, Sean!

  12. Maria Mullins - September 5, 2020 1:52 pm

    Hilarious!!! Love your emails! I find it so interesting that you mentioned St. Theresa of Calcutta when she is the Saint of the day today! Very cool!

  13. Eleanor Ford - September 5, 2020 1:54 pm

    Loved this one!

  14. Rebecca Barnes - September 5, 2020 4:36 pm

    I can just see her now! That was too funny. God bless Ryan woman and glad she didn’t turn you into a grease spot in the parking lot! 😻😻

  15. MAM - September 5, 2020 5:18 pm

    Glad you got over writer’s block, but much happier that you’re OK. Whew! You seem to sometimes go to drastic efforts to “get” that story, but this one was a bit too drastic. Parking lots are dangerous, especially the ones where people can go what I call “cross-country” by driving THROUGH the parking spots, instead of staying in the driving lanes. Stay safe, and yes, your closing lines are always great, as Tammy S. said!

  16. Linda Moon - September 5, 2020 5:50 pm

    I’m thankful you weren’t blocked from your 2,345,428th word here. You survived the murderous cat-lady just as Jamie was once rescued from a runaway SUV driven by a self-centered texter. Keep walking and thinking in straight lines, Sean. We wordy book-reading folks (and gazillions of your fans and followers) are glad you lived to tell us more of your encounters in LIFE . Keep stayin’ alive and be careful out there, my friend!

  17. Susie Murphy - September 5, 2020 6:18 pm


  18. Ann Gramlich - September 5, 2020 11:28 pm

    That was TOO CLOSE for comfort !! You scared me just reading about it. I am thankful she missed you.

  19. Nancy M - September 6, 2020 12:46 am

    Two narrow escapes in just a few weeks! Scary! Be careful out there!
    Cat lady should be careful, too. Those kitties will wait til she gets there.

  20. Pat McGilberry - September 6, 2020 1:28 am


  21. Diane M Worsley - September 8, 2020 6:10 pm

    Loved this one! Made me smile!

  22. Peggy Thompson - September 20, 2020 1:19 pm

    Glad you safe…she should have apologized Sorry she was rude but a blessing to all those cats. You seem to be traveling alot ?? Be safe Covid 19 is still here!


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