Big trees hang over Highway 31 South. The sun is out. I am riding behind an eighteen-wheeler whose signage reads: “Eat Alabama Beef.”
I’m passing through Pintlala. It’s a one-horse town—maybe two horses.
I also pass plenty of kudzu, Spanish moss, live oak groves, secluded railroad tracks, and red-dirt road offshoots.
Rusty mobile homes with Lexuses out front. A John Deere 5100 MH parked beside a clapboard general store.
I like antique churches—the kind that struggle to pay electric bills. Buildings with window-unit AC’s, and cemeteries out back.
Somewhere along the way, churches traded small graveyards for slide-projectors and rock and roll instruments.
On the highway shoulder: a girl riding a four-wheeler. She has a mile of traffic behind her. She wears pigtails and camouflage.
I ride past beat-up service stations. They’re a dying breed.
In this part of the world, these convenience stores are more than gasoline pumps. They are milk, eggs, after-work twelve-packs, Red Man Golden Blend, and gossip.
They sell things like live crickets, red wigglers, and green peanuts from coolers.
The Pit Stop Food Store, for instance, has a lettered sign which reads: “Now we have pistols and rifles.”
I pass cattle. Mudholes. Ancient farmhouses, white-washed before the Battle of Chickamauga.
“Now entering Lowndes County.”
My wife’s family has a hunting camp here. I could die happy in Lowndes.
I see a roadside sign which reads: Greenville; 21 miles. Mobile; 165 miles.
In other words, this exact piece of world is approximately 150 miles from any city.
Some people might call this the Middle of Nowhere. But they’d be wrong, I think. The Middle of Nowhere is any place that’s empty, with no heart.
I’ve been to New York City. New York City is the Middle of Nowhere.
I see a faded, handwritten sign on a pine tree: “Deer processing and taxidermy for cheap.”
Another sign: “I can fix your i-fone.”
Now entering Butler County. I see a man on the porch of a shotgun house, in a recliner, watching traffic. I wave. He spits.
I just spent the last five days in the heart of Birmingham. It was loud. The rush-hour traffic was enough to cause a nervous breakdown.
My hotel bar served beer with lavender and celery sprigs. I tried going for a walk. I almost got hit by a Porsche and three Range Rovers.
I met a homeless woman named Rema—who hadn’t eaten in two days. I watched a man in a three-piece suit step across the street to avoid her.
I saw blue lights every night. I watched a kid get arrested on a bicycle.
I don’t know what’s happening to this world. But technology is spreading like a flu virus. People are getting smarter, and meaner. Fewer gas stations sell crickets and red wigglers.
I hope things don’t fall apart. I hope the world slows down some. And I hope that man in the three-piece suit has a change of heart one day.
But there is one thing I hope most of all.
I hope South Alabama never changes.
Shirley J Brown - September 16, 2017 12:10 pm
I have longed for my former home in Pintlala and to visit my first church all too infrequently. I’d forgotten the tranquility and friendliness of good southern hospitality. Thanks to this short reminder, I’ll make it a point to drive down 31 and visit a spell. I’ll even make it down some of those dirt road off shoots. Thanks for the reminder that life begins outside of city confines.
Melanie Tighe - September 16, 2017 12:10 pm
Amen to that! I want to be able to retire there some day and hope that AL stays like that forever.
Laura - September 16, 2017 12:13 pm
You hit the nail on the head! I wouldn’t ever trade South Alabama for New York City! I love the little hole in the wall cafes where the coffee is strong and smiles come as a side?. Thank you for the reminder of why I love living in the South. On vacation over the last two weeks, I have met a ton of folks along the route from Wetumpka to Niagara Falls Ontario and back! So many from areas like Ohio, Indiana, NY, etc commented- “oh, I just live the South”. And Our part of the South will always be the best for me!
Cathi Russell - September 16, 2017 12:17 pm
Me too, Sean, me too! I will live here the rest of my life unless there is a drastic, unpleasant change!
teachenglish67 - September 16, 2017 12:18 pm
You are so correct in saying, “The Middle of Nowhere is any place that’s empty, with no heart.” I live in a small town in Illinois. I’ve been to New York City and Chicago and felt the same way you do. To me, sometimes progress is regression; there’s too much focus on mechanical and electronic which have no heart and getting ahead at the expense of another. I’ll take a small town in the middle of somewhere over a large town in the middle of nowhere, any day.
Smiles and blessings to you, Sean for loving small towns in the middle of somewhere.
Gerrie H. - September 16, 2017 12:30 pm
Grew up in Luverne. Lived 10 years in Opp. You are so right, South Alabama has a big heart. I’m convinced the number one problem in our country today is that people left the small towns for the cities. I know they left because jobs were in the city, but life is real in small towns. Keep writing. You make my days better.
Buck Godwin - September 16, 2017 12:44 pm
That’s a good one Sean.
Bobbie - September 16, 2017 1:12 pm
Janet Lee - September 16, 2017 1:21 pm
I was not born here. But I would not live anywhere where there was no trees, no grass, no animals. Concrete and buildings and traffic and noise are no exchange for it. The South has some of the world’s warmest most loving people. It is like you said, some places are empty, no heart. But even in the midst of these places are people who bring their heart with them, or wear it on their sleeve. Least we forget. Um, I do like to be related to the spit. I would make an exception for you, lol. Love small and old cemeteries and churches too….
Joel Mikell - September 16, 2017 1:26 pm
My wife and I spent four of the sweetest years of our life in the part of Alabama you are describing! Today we are celebrating 45 years of marriage. The rock solid foundation upon which we have built our lives together was laid in Greenville and primarily through the good people of Southside Baptist Church.
TN Lizzie - September 17, 2017 5:46 am
Happy 45th Anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Mikell. Congratulations!
Judy Miller - September 16, 2017 1:45 pm
I feel any big city is the middle of nowhere. There isn’t enough oxygen in those places to even get a good breath! You can’t see the horizon for all the tall structures, so there is no sunrise nor sunset to view to even know what time it is. Ugh–gives me the shivers!
Jady Regard - September 16, 2017 1:47 pm
Or South Louisiana for that matter.
Steve dolan - September 16, 2017 1:50 pm
Linda Mann - September 16, 2017 2:01 pm
Awesome, raised in NW Alabama, don’t know of any other place I’d rather be!! Thanks for giving me a ride through the South this morning!!❣️❣️
NovaLee - September 16, 2017 2:10 pm
This gave me such a sense of peace. Thank you!
Edith - September 16, 2017 2:30 pm
I too live in the middle of no where. Rio Grande Valley, Texas
Lyn Cawthon - September 16, 2017 2:45 pm
Time has stood still in Lowndes Co… hope this part of the world remains a secret.
Please say something about the fishing guides of Weeks Bay, Fish River, Mobile Bay. They treat you so special… wether you are a true fisherman or think you are. Very early mornings on fishing days… please dedicate to Fish hook…a patient man always with a smile . Thanks
Susan Hatfield - September 16, 2017 2:50 pm
You can come to South Texas Darlin’. I am Postmaster for a town of 250 folks and it is just like LA (lower Alabama LOL).
Roger Woods - September 16, 2017 2:55 pm
You paint a mighty pretty picture, Sean. Appreciate the art work, Dood.
Shirley Northington (Skelton) - September 16, 2017 4:03 pm
Please write a book! Or have you??
Janet Lee - September 17, 2017 3:22 am
He has, and they are great!! Check Amazon!!
Sharon murphy - September 16, 2017 4:09 pm
You got that right!
Ann Engel. Denmark, Europe - September 16, 2017 4:17 pm
Sean, thank you for presenting the South I remember and love.
You are a blessing……..wish I could shake your hand…….even better give a hug!!!
Barbara J Schweck - September 16, 2017 4:20 pm
Born and raised in what has been for some time a big city and getting bigger. When we moved (retired) to Alabama I felt at home again. I had long felt that people were getting ruder and meaner but when I moved hear, I learned that there are wonderful, kind people in the world. What a difference a smlle and a hello from a stranger makes in your day. And having found your writings I am coming to know more and more of these amazing people.!! Thank you, thank you Sean!!!
Linda Daughtry - September 16, 2017 4:24 pm
South Alabama loves you! Having lived in both B’ham and Butler County, I agree!!
Ione - September 16, 2017 5:04 pm
Dear Sean, I am 75 years old. What you are describing in this article is life the way I knew it growing up. I miss it so much…..for me, but I really miss it for my offspring. They cannot miss what they never had. When I try to tell them how things were in the good old days…they snicker and wonder why I would want to go back living like that. Ignorance…not stupidity. There are a few things that I do not miss. Hot tar and gravel sticking to the bottom of my bare feet in the summer, walking a mile to school in rain, sleet, snow and shine, uphill both ways with a hole in my one pair of shoes. I do not miss the steel mill strikes when my Dad lost more monthly income than he ever made up with the little increase the unions “won” from the big bosses. I do miss having my gas pumped and my windshield washed by a nice man. I do miss Kool-Aid popsicles sitting on the back stoop with my buddies. I do miss china berry and pine cone battles. I do miss going to the little creek and catching crawdads, mud puppies and minnows. I do miss lightning bugs, June bugs and lizards on a string, locusts singing an evening song just to me. I do miss roasting marshmallows around a real fire. I do miss not having to lock your doors and windows…ever. I do miss being entertained by TV shows with my family without being embarrassed by bad words or naughty sex scenes. Yes, I am getting older and I really do not live in the past, but it is wonderful to have these memories locked in my mind to revisit. My kids will never know what they never had….sad.
Teresa Peck Reese - September 16, 2017 5:31 pm
My sister introduced me to your stories and I have looked forward to each one everyday since. Such a fresh look on life from all the craziness that is out there. If you ever need to come to Tennessee for our backroads you would be more than welcomed to come stay with us!!
Scott - September 16, 2017 6:04 pm
Amen to all of the comments.above.
After leaving the Navy in ’78, we moved from Orlando Naval Training Center to Largo/Clearwater, FL. Geographically southern only.
Fortunately we now live in very southern TN, just north of Huntsville and New Market and southern Tenn is like this. Love the old country churches, the mailboxes too close to the highway, the fields of corn and beans, the old barns (red or not) and the all but fallen over silos, but most of all we love the friendliness of our neighbors, church folks, and store clerks. So glad I found your website, Sean. Please don’t stop writing. It makes me younger each and every day. God bless you.
Dianne - September 16, 2017 6:43 pm
I know what you mean…my Mother was born on a small farm situated between Evergreen and Casselberry. That part of South Alabama is special and, like you, I hope it never changes!
Jack Quanstrum - September 16, 2017 7:55 pm
Amen to that Sean as well as Hallelujah and Praise Jesus! People like you, your wife, your mother and mother-in-law as well as people you write about get it! Thank goodness for the folks that do. Thank God! Shalom!
Kathy Kelley - September 16, 2017 8:08 pm
First, I love your daily writings and I thank you for them. That said I have a crow to pick with your comment on NYC being the middle of nowhere. I lived for 27 years in rural West Virginia and also several large cities, including NYC. Each place is wonderful in it’s own way, NYC can be loud, isolating and crazy but there are also very vibrant, diverse communities within the city if you walk a few blocks away from the tourist areas. Alabama is the same. There is the sense of community and slow pace that you write so eloquently about but there is also institutional racism, extreme poverty and a sordid history of lynching. I hope you give NYC the same respect that I am willing to give Alabama.Thank you for listening. Warm regards. Kathy Kelley
Don Drasheff Sr. - September 16, 2017 8:23 pm
I ride my Harley down 31 every week or so to Davenport and the East to Highland Home to eat lunch at the IT DON’T MATTER CAFE . I recognized every sight and sound you described so well .When my oldest son comes to visit next week we’ll make that ride together from my home in Prattville . Great missive !
Cindy - September 17, 2017 3:21 am
I grew up in South Alabama and I agree with you on most of your points. But I have to defend NYC. I lived there, too, for a while…. I have a daughter who lives in Brooklyn, NY now and works in Manhattan. And everyone there is as nice to us as they are here. And they LOVE our accent. When the people of Brooklyn hear me open my mouth, they want to know where I am from and almost all of them have a grandmother, cousin, or some other relative from down here. And they get big smiles talking about them. I have felt as warm and welcomed in NY as here. Perhaps its a matter of perspective. And I like the change… to go there for a busier pace and more to see, and then to just come back home to the big water and wide skies. Love is everywhere if you look for it. And I rarely have to look too far no matter where I am. I enjoy your writing and will be hearing you this Friday at Beckwith at Baylights. I am looking forward to it! I’m the official photographer for the event so look for me! I’ll definitely be looking for you! .
Pamela McEachern - September 17, 2017 6:36 am
There are still some places around Birmingham that take less than 20 minutes to escape and be laid back. Our City of Birmingham has become a melting pot of temporary working people. Our Medical Center is world renouned and I hope makes a difference in many lives. The man in the blue suit is a sad excuse and I too hope he has a change of character. Maybe he is from a place that doesn’t have time to be friendly and just maybe one day someone will show him how good it feels to smile at strangers and strike up a conversation with a someone new. Sweet Home Alabama is all I ever want to know. It’s my heart. Thank you for the stories and people that keep us all coming back for more, you’ll always have Alabama Heart too. Peace and Love from Birmingham
Joel marsh - September 19, 2017 12:09 pm
And that is why we remember it as “Sweet Home Alabama”. “They” say “you can take the boy out of the country but, you cannot take the country out of the boy”.
Laura - November 2, 2017 10:40 am
When you look for the heart, you can find it anywhere. I’m working at looking for the heart. Your writings help, most of the time.
Phil Blackwell - November 2, 2017 11:18 am
All small towns are the same from southern California to southern Maine. There is something about small town folk, their generosity, their sense of family and community.
I’ve lived all over and I would not trade places with anyone in a big city. We elected Donald Trump – I’m damn sure embarrassed about that – but it was more a rebellion against big city folk telling us how to vote! Hopefully, before too much longer, we find a small town candidate who can remind us of what makes America the most important country on earth and we elect a President who represents all of us, not just the one percent.
Laura Goslee - November 2, 2017 12:16 pm
Words are powerful and this contrast hurts and is a warning to touch the heart and inspire the heart at the same time.
Olivia - November 5, 2017 4:04 pm
I just moved home to South Alabama after 35 years in Atlanta. One less car on the highway there. My parting gift to the friends I left behind.
Carolyn K - January 13, 2019 11:37 am
Love reading these post, hope the world slows down to. We are changing so fast we don’t have time to enjoy the small things in life. ??
Steve Winfield - January 13, 2019 3:18 pm
I live right outside Birmingham but have to work there. They’re closing I-59/20 through downtown for a year to rebuild the bridges. I just hope I live through it. Couldn’t agree more about New York City.
My little neighborhood just as well be 200 miles from town. Some days I don’t see one car on my street but in 10 minutes I can be stuck in traffic.
Thanks for being you & sharing your stories. Love Steve.
Carolyn Matjasko - January 16, 2019 6:53 pm
Agree with your thoughts on technology. My husband and I have an antenna instead of cable. We also do not text and do not have “Smart” phones. We have old school cell phones. We prefer the simplicity of the older days. I have enjoyed your writings. Thank you for sharing.