Beauty and the Beasts
Beauty and the Beasts
A selective list of major and minor requests for funding approved by the Birmingham City Council.
(Dollar amounts and the name of the organization or firm that received the city funds are followed by a description of how the money is to be used. These descriptions are taken, verbatim, from the Council’s meeting agenda.)
April 6, 2004
$90,000 to Jefferson County Board of Health
“To provide services to Birmingham City middle and high schools, which include health classes, summer workshop participation, mentoring program for girls 9th through 12th grade, and providing consultation and mini health programs for students in selected schools related to pregnancy prevention, obesity, tobacco, diabetes, nutrition, and physical fitness.”
$17,500 to Literacy Council of
“To provide literacy information and services for children, adults, and families within the city limits of Birmingham.”
$63,000 to YWCA—Homeless Program
“For consultant service, which includes providing emergency, transitional, and permanent supportive housing for victims of domestic violence and their children, providing case management and supportive services for homeless and near-homeless women and providing housing information and assistance for city residency program through YW Homes.”
Total expenditure during the last two weeks: $170,500
Total expenditure since October 7, 2003: $135,818,606.67
King of the Road
A hitchhiker’s memories of a bygone era.
Many years ago, there was no greater freedom than standing on the side of a highway with an extended thumb, hoping (and sometimes praying) that the next vehicle roaring past would stop to transport me a little closer to my destination. Hitchhiking was pretty exciting, fairly reliable, and an expense-free method of going from town to town when my car was deemed not road-worthy.
I was initiated into the world of hitchhiking during the summer of 1975, when bumming rides became my only mode of getting to work each day. I was selling Bible reference books and study guides door-to-door in the summer student program for Southwestern Company out of Nashville, and the company had assigned two students and me to the Athens, Ohio, area. They had automobiles, but I didn’t. Each day, I was up at 6 a.m., walking to a nearby county road where I hitched rides through a three-county area to peddle my Bible wares.
We arrived at a trailer in the middle of the south Mississippi woods where the drummer lived. The guy had hooks instead of hands, but he drummed like a champ.
On July 4, I got my one and only ride from the law. An early ’70s Opel Cadet with a municipal tag pulled over, and a man in a floral-print shirt and Bermuda shorts climbed out and flashed a badge. He was the constable of Nelsonville, Ohio, and he asked to see my peddler’s license. Not having one, I was placed under arrest and taken to the mayor’s house, where a barbecue was underway. As I stood in the mayor’s kitchen watching her stir a pot of beans, she informed me that if I purchased a peddler’s license I would be “set free.” I forked over my $25, the mayor wrote out a license on the kitchen table, and I was pointed back toward the road without so much as an offer to join them for lunch—or a ride back to the road.
The brother of my best friend in Selma died of leukemia later that year after their family had moved to Dothan. I got a ride out of Auburn the morning of the funeral, but getting picked up on the Montgomery bypass is an arduous endeavor. Dothan is a good two hours from Montgomery, and I found myself 120 miles away from a funeral that was scheduled to start in 90 minutes.
I had almost abandoned my plans and decided to head back to Auburn when a black Trans Am pulled over. I told the driver of my predicament, and suddenly I was frozen in my seat as we zoomed south at 100 mph. He dropped me off at a traffic light just inside the Dothan city limits, with the service scheduled to start in 15 minutes. From out of nowhere, I heard my mother shout my name. The church I had attended with my best friend in Selma had sent a van with my mom and a half dozen others to Dothan for the funeral, and it was waiting at the stoplight three cars behind the Trans Am. Mom always insisted that God had arranged the Trans Am ride, but I had my doubts.
By spring 1975 I found myself mesmerized by English sheepdogs after seeing the movie Serpico. A week later, I grabbed a couple of weeks’ pay saved from my dorm cafeteria job and went to the highway to come to Birmingham to purchase a sheepdog I’d found in the “puppies for sale” section of a Birmingham newspaper. A guy in an old pickup truck stopped for me after I had gotten on the north side of Montgomery, but 10 or so miles later he started asking intimate, suggestive questions. I yelled at him to let me out immediately or else, so he pulled over near the Millbrook exit. I bolted.
Half an hour later, another man offered a ride, asking, “Can you drive a stickshift?” He was carrying a gun, and a parole officer identification badge was mounted on his chest. I got behind the wheel while he dozed for 45 minutes. When he awoke, we began to chat. He told me he had spent the weekend in Dothan. I told him I had friends in Dothan who once lived in Selma, and he asked in shock, “Their name wasn’t Hartzog, was it?” I said yeah, it was, and, sure enough, he had spent the weekend with my Selma buddy and his family. We marveled at how tiny the world was before he dropped me near the farm where I bought an eight-week-old English sheepdog puppy.
The return trip was a breeze. Instead of sticking out my thumb, I merely had to cradle the puppy I’d named Sebastian in my arms. Four rides later I was back in Auburn. Two of the rides had been from women—the only time that has ever happened on my hitchhiking journeys. I later told my mom about the guy who had stayed with the Hartzogs giving me a ride, and she insisted that it was God who told the guy to stop. Again, I had my doubts.
Among my fondest hitchhiking memories are several rides that took me from Birmingham to New Orleans to visit my brother. On one such trip, my first lift got me to the Mississippi state line. I had taken a guitar along, as I had a theory that a guy toting a guitar case looked relatively harmless. It began to drizzle, so I made a mad dash for an overpass that I could see about a half mile down the highway. There I found another hitchhiker with a guitar, so we sat and played together for about a half-hour until the rain stopped.
Eventually, I walked further and got a ride from a drunken middle-aged man in a car loaded with six young children. He explained that he had kidnapped the kids from his alcoholic ex-wife. The children stared at me wide-eyed as the fellow sipped from a bottle of Thunderbird. He offered me a drink, but having experienced a Thunderbird hangover once in my life, I declined. Finally, he started crying and began to confess how screwed up his life had become. Suddenly, he told me that he knew he couldn’t take care of his children and he had decided to take them back to their mother. I thanked him when he let me out and contemplated calling the cops at the exit where I had been dropped off, but decided it was not a good idea because I might be implicated in the kidnapping.
An 18-wheeler stopped for me around mid-afternoon—the only time in my life I was ever picked up by a trucker. I’ll never forget sitting in the cab of a tractor-trailer, high above the highway with a commanding view as we bounced down the road. After stopping at a McDonald’s where the trucker bought me lunch, we were again headed west when we spied a young couple and their three children stranded beside a broken-down automobile. The family climbed into the cab with us. The wife sat in the husband’s lap in the passenger seat as I crawled into the sleeper behind the driver with the three kids. The couple thanked the trucker profusely, and repeatedly told us we were “angels sent from God” to rescue them. We dropped them off in Laurel, Mississippi, and went on our way, but half an hour later the trucker began to chat with a woman on his CB radio. “What you haulin’, Mexican Cowboy?” the woman asked. “A big ol’ load of smelly fish,” the Hispanic trucker replied (which he was indeed carrying). The trucker pulled off at the next exit for a rendezvous with the woman, who promised to meet him at a local motel, sight unseen. “This is as far as you go, boy,” he told me with a grin, adding that he “really liked her voice.”
I jumped down from the towering cab and headed toward Hattiesburg, 20 miles down the highway. It was getting dark by this time, and a fellow in a pickup truck stopped for me. He was immediately interested in my guitar and told me he had just gotten off work and was going to a band rehearsal. He invited me to come play with his group, and for some reason, I foolishly said yes. We arrived at a trailer in the middle of the south Mississippi woods where the drummer lived. The guy had hooks instead of hands, but he drummed like a champ. I felt as though I’d been dropped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” We played for a couple of hours, and since they appeared to be decent folks, I felt no reason to fear for my life.
The guitar player who had picked me up invited me to stay at his house with his wife and two young sons for the evening, as it was now after 10 p.m. When we arrived at his home all hell broke loose, with me cast as the villain. He had gone into the bedroom with his wife, and I could hear her shouting, “What the hell are you doing bringing this stranger to our house? He could be a serial killer!” The guy emerged from the room to tell me his wife was terrified of me and that I was welcome to sleep on an air mattress in the back of his truck unless I wanted him to take me back to the highway. I opted for the highway at midnight, three hours from New Orleans. Two hours went by and no one stopped, so I climbed a fence and tried to sleep in a field. Back on the highway, I walked several miles before getting a ride to Slidell, Louisiana.
It was an hour before sunrise when an offshore oil-rig laborer picked me up on his way to work. Talking nonstop in a thick Cajun dialect, the toothless fellow began to preach to me about Jesus and the many sins that the Lord had removed from his life. He had once raised champion pit bulldogs, which had ruled Louisiana dog-fighting rings, and had been a heroin addict for 10 years. Detailing the desperation of his life as a junkie, he told of his daily struggle to score enough dope to feed his addiction. He spoke of how badly his wife and children had suffered, and how he had lost all of his friends. Then one day Jesus appeared to him while the junkie oil-rig laborer was lying in bed going through withdrawals. He never wanted heroin again.
“Praise Jesus!” he began to shout as we rode over Lake Pontchartrain, the sun coming up in the rearview mirror. Suddenly, he grew very quiet and serious as he turned to me and said, “You know, buddy, there’s a lot of bad things in this world that Jesus don’t like, things that Jesus will save you from if you’ll only invite Him into your life.” As I nodded in agreement, he grinned and whispered, “But there’s one thing that Jesus don’t mind.” And with that, he pulled a joint from behind his ear. All I could think about through the cloudy haze and lovely sunrise was that perhaps my mom had been right all along about the Lord and the kindness of strangers. &
Staff writer Ed Reynolds currently drives a 2001 Dodge Stratus.
Let the Good Times Roll
The blur of 43 screaming stock cars storming around the Talladega Superspeedway returns for Alabama’s annual 200-mph spring rites with the Aaron’s Rent 499 on Sunday, April 25. The 2004 NASCAR season is the first under new race series sponsor Nextel after longtime patron Winston threw in the towel, largely due to limits on tobacco advertising.
For the uninitiated, Talladega Superspeedway is a sight to behold. The massive stretch of acreage is the equivalent of 10 Legion Fields hosts nearly 150,000 fans twice yearly. Though it has lost some of its redneck luster over the years, the hayseeds still flock to the speedway like ants to honeybun crumbs. The influx of Yankees to NASCAR racing, however, has brought a new set of manners to the rough-knuckled sport that was born and bred in Dixie: Confederate flags have been replaced by banners proclaiming favorite drivers, and women no longer flash their breasts (thanks, Yankees).
But the race cars are still fast, the crashes are frequent, and, thanks to the tight restrictions placed on coolers brought into the speedway following the September 11 attacks, ice-cold beer is now sold for a shamelessly exploitative price at the concession stands on Sunday. Call 877-462-3342 or visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com for more information. &
Motorcycles Return to Barber Track
The AMA Chevrolet Superbike Championship returns to the Barber Motorsports Park on May 14 through 16.
The number of patrons forced the Barber facility to extend parking a mile from the track to a field next to Interstate 20, where the Leeds school system loaned school buses to serve as shuttles to transport spectators into the racing facility. The elderly women driving the buses looked less than pleased about pulling extra Sunday afternoon duty (which was not considered overtime, according to one grumpy driver), but they did offer a quick smile and “thank you” each time a dollar bill was dropped into the tip jar each maintained at the front of her bus.
One irresistible attraction for the tens of thousands invading Barber Motorsports Park in May is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, home to 750 motorcycles—the largest collection in the world. The museum also houses the most revered assortment of Lotus race cars on earth. The manufacturer’s latest creation, the 2005 Lotus Elise, a sleek automobile billed by Road and Track magazine as the “finest sports car on the planet” was unveiled at the Barber track in March, The racing facility is currently in negotiations to bring the MotoGP, the number-one motorcycle series in the world, to Barber in 2005. The worldwide racing circuit has not staged a United States Grand Prix in a decade, and if George Barber can lure the motorcycle equivalent of Formula One Grand Prix automobile racing to Birmingham, his already well-heeled reputation in the international racing community may reach legendary status. For more information call, 956-6693 or visit www.barbermotorsports.com. &
All-American Soap Box Derby
The Set List
We’re coming up on 10 years of Lonestar, meaning that they’ve outlasted their contemporaries in *NSync. They were much cuter back when they all dressed like the Cowboy from the Village People, though. Sometimes, you should just ignore Q”ueer Eye for the Straight Guy”‘s Carson Kressley. So, let’s see . . . boy band comparison, made fun of their clothes . . . oh, yeah, they actually remade Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” into the kind of manly street version that made Cher’s version sound, in comparison, like it was sung by Bob Dylan.
But, of course, Lonestar’s greatest sin is that they give guys such as Steve Earle and Elvis Costello the chance to bitch and whine about the country scene. But those guys are just envious that they’re not as handsome as opening act Jimmy Wayne, who believes his rough childhood allows him to sound really manly as he pleads with you to love him. (Friday, April 2, Alabama Theatre, 8 p.m. $39.50.) —J.R. Taylor
I prefer bands patterned after the film 2000 Maniacs rather than Neon Maniacs, but you can’t help what those suburban kids once stumbled across on cable back in the early-’90s. At least it’s easy to believe that the members of Slipknot could also be killed by water. They bring some nice hooks to their plundering of death metal. And you have to go see them live, because you’ll feel stupid cranking them up in your car stereo anytime before 3 a.m.
Fear Factory, however, is an unjustly overlooked act that probably gave Slipknot the idea of toning down the ambition and upping the wardrobe. They’re (mostly) back after a very short break-up, more than likely spurred by the realization that few musicians share their commitment to finding beauty among the “possessed demon” vocal sound of which death metal bands are so fond. (Friday, April 2, Sloss Furnaces, 7:30 p.m. $29.50) —J.R. Taylor
Nobody had a bigger audience to tap than Amy Rigby in the mid-’90s, as her albums Diary of a Mod Housewife and Middlescence examined the plight of aging hipsters torn between the lure of traditional happiness and the restraints of a fabulous lifestyle. The suddenly single mom didn’t have to revamp her style, either, since she’d spent the ’80s as a pioneering urban-country popster. Rigby simply had to grow into the shambles that she once adored. A move to Nashville, however, has reduced her to being great only on every third song. Until the Wheels Fall Off managed to be one of last year’s best albums, but she’s clearly outgrown the Americana handbook. Rigby is still underrated as a vocalist, though, and her sharp wordplay remains more honest than clever. (Saturday, April 3, Moonlight Music Cafe, 8 p.m. $10.) —J.R. Taylor
Emerson Hart (of Tonic)
Well, the billing is certainly a good way to teach people the name of the lead singer of Tonic. That band was so faceless that nobody even noticed when they attempted a big sell-out with their Head On Straight album in 2002. Emerson Hart had already relocated to Nashville, too, which is usually a move made by songwriters who age more gracefully—like, you know, Seals & Crofts. Anyway, Tonic is still a band, and remain best known for forgettable ballads that bask in big rock settings. Those songs touched many people, and $5 is certainly a reasonable price to hear how those tunes sound better in stripped-down versions. (Tuesday, April 6, The Nick, 8 p.m. $5.) —J.R. Taylor
Her narrow view of the South guides Kate Campbell’s assurances that you are truly, truly stupid—unless, of course, you’re in her audience, in which case you are assured that you’re nearly as fabulous as Kate Campbell. Why, you can even watch her marvel at just how pathetic people are with their miserable little dreams. This former Samford University student doesn’t like how Birmingham looks, either, but who cares? Campbell’s the kind of woman who’ll show up in your living room and complain about how your Bible isn’t dusty enough. One of her recent lousy albums is called Monuments, and has tombstones for sale on the cover. (Thursday, April 8, Workplay, 8 p.m. $20.) —J.R. Taylor &