Tag Archives: Local

The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon

Originally published in WELD on October 24, 2015

The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon




Those who have followed city politics in the past decade or spent evenings as bar flies at any time between the 1960s to the ‘90s in local drinking establishments perhaps know of Terry “T.C.” Cannon. In 1962, Cannon and his older brother Joe opened the Plaza bar (better known as the “Upside Down” Plaza) on 11th Court South behind Western Supermarket on Highland Avenue (currently the long time home of Hot and Hot Fish Club).

Cannon recalls with a grin that his brother Joe had been ‘captured’ (involved with) then gambling kingpin of Birmingham, Little Man Popwell. “So everything (at the Plaza) was in my name,” T.C. says.

The Plaza drew a nightly cast of characters, creating an oddball clientele mix; Lawyers, doctors, students, businessmen, musicians, librarians, and schoolteachers made it the most eclectic bar in town. Bohemians drank with professionals. “It’s a wonder that the magnolia tree outside the Plaza survived because almost every lawyer in Birmingham has pissed on it,” an attorney friend and long ago Plaza patron told me.

The lounge was a Southside landmark. The Upside Down Plaza is currently still in business in the Five Points South area beneath Pickwick Plaza, where it relocated when the lease was not renewed in the mid-‘80s. In 1987, the nightclub began operation under new ownership.

Cannon claims the Plaza was forced out of its original locale because the landlord discovered religion. “A local preacher instructed them that they had to get rid of this horrible beer joint,” says T.C. “We still had three years on the lease and when we went to court, we won and got to stay three more years. And that was a lot of fun.” Continue reading

Plantation Monthly

Plantation Monthly

Garden & Gun is an eclectic journal devoted to reading, eating, and killing with style.

April 03, 2008 

Garden & Gun magazine’s title and compelling cover photo of a sad-eyed, quail-hunting spaniel is impossible to ignore. (The one-year-old publication, based in Charleston, South Carolina, takes its name from a local 1970s disco.) Marketed as “21st-Century Southern America,” the March/April issue offers something for everyone: quail hunting on Georgia plantations, an essay on cooking fish by Roy Blount, Jr., and tales of Eudora Welty’s terrifying driving habits.

A mouth-watering feature on North Carolina dining and agriculture includes chef and restaurateur Andrea Reusing, who leads her area’s chapter of Slow Food (a consortium of those devoted to consumption of locally grown and raised foods). Reusing operates The Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill, where she drives a red Mercedes modified to run on recycled vegetable oil.

(click for larger version)

There’s a piece on the Cherokee rose, which was brought from China to England in 1759. By the 1800s, it was growing in America and had become a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Readers will also discover “feists,” little squirrel-chasing dogs adored by William Faulkner that are often confused with Jack Russell terriers.

Avid fisherman-turned-artist Mike Williams is profiled by Alabama’s Daniel Wallace, the author of Big Fish. Williams paints giant, dazzling images of fish, making the creatures appear to dart across the canvas. His huge metallic fish sculptures resemble monster-sized lures designed for catching whales.

Roy Blount, Jr., has a hilarious essay on the delights of panfish. Blount uses crickets for bait and scoffs at such notions of catch and release. He believes that tossing fish back into a pond is like picking out a steak at the market, having it wrapped up and carrying it in your buggy as you shop, only to return it to the butcher before you leave the grocery. After musing on whether the panfish (he favors bream, crappie, and bluegill) was named after the pan or the pan was named after the fish, he writes, “A fish made for a pan—unless, as I say, it was vice versa. Scale him (which roughs up his coloring but his meat can take it) and clean him (you can bury his head and innards in your garden plot, deep enough that the varmints won’t dig them up and he’ll feed your collards) and dredge him in cornmeal and salt and pepper and drop him into hot grease, and you’ve got something that is sort of like . . . I’m going to say . . . Sort of like pie. Pecan pie maybe. In this sense: It’s crunchy—in a chewy not a crudité way—and it’s juicy, salty, and sweet. All in one bite.”

Sandy Lang travels to Puerto Rico in search of the endangered green-blue Puerto Rican parrot. Once numbered in the millions, the species has dwindled to a couple hundred birds, all in a 28,000-square-foot rainforest called El Yunque. Centuries of clearing forests to make room for sugarcane and coffee plantations have killed off parrot habitats, and many birds were captured for sale as pets in the early 20th century. The writer can’t resist a peek at the underbelly of Puerto Rican life and visits a legal cockfighting pit. “[The roosters] look as if in a dance, strutting, prancing, posturing, pouncing, the best matched pairs erupting over and over into a rising, feathered ball,” she shares. “It’s all there before you—tenacity, skill, beauty, blood, life and death.” Sounds kind of like the latest issue of Garden & Gun. &

Dr. Lawson Has Left the Building

Dr. Lawson Has Left the Building

His office never had a computer, and his patients were treated in chairs placed in the upright position. After 52 years as a dentist on Southside, Dr. William Lawson retires.

July 14, 2005Fifteen years ago I made my initial visit to the dentist office of Dr. William Lawson. I recall the very first words he spoke to me (while he tugged at a root stubbornly lodged in my novocaine-numbed mouth), “You ever tried to pull a nail out of a 2 x 4 with a pair of pliers, and it just won’t come out?” After practicing dentistry on Birmingham’s Southside, Dr. Lawson has decided it’s time to put away the dental tools he deftly wielded, with deadpan humor, for 52 years.

Dr. Lawson sported a red clown nose when he greeted me on a recent morning as he cleaned out his office. He pointed to a painting of Robert E. Lee on one wall, one of several depictions of Confederate generals that adorn the waiting room. (One has a cut-out photograph of Lawson’s head superimposed alongside the officers.) “That’s not a good picture of Lee, too stylized,” he said. “Lee wasn’t a Joan of Arc character, and that’s how they’ve got him portrayed.”

Despite being on the ethics board of the American Dental Association for two decades and past president of the Alabama Dental Association, Dr. Lawson was an anachronism, a throwback to an era when relations between a dentist and his clients were closer. “A successful practice is knowing the people and having a successful relationship with the patient,” Lawson explained. He’s perhaps proudest of the third generation of patients that stayed with him as they entered adulthood. His office never had a computer, and he worked on patients in chairs in the upright position, as opposed to the modern procedure in which patients recline.

He reflected on changes in the dental world during his half-century of practice. “Back in the late ’50s, early ’60s, there was no dental insurance. A dentist competed with television payments,” he recalled. “People’s teeth are in much better condition now with insurance. There are fewer and fewer people over 65 wearing dentures.” The intimidating drills used to bore out cavities are now high-tech, air-turbo devices with diamond drill bits that whirl at 100,000 rpms as opposed to the earlier contraptions operated by pulley systems attached to a motor that peaked at 4,500 rpms. “Those old drills got hot pretty quick,” he laughed. The drill upgrade took away a favorite trick Lawson employed to distract children as he worked. The dentist would attach a piece of red cotton behind a piece of white cotton to the drill’s pulley cable. He instructed the kids to “watch the fox chase the rabbit,” as the cotton pieces chased each other along the cable.

Dr. Lawson also used other methods to put patients at ease. The walls of the examination rooms were lined with huge murals of soothing Caribbean beach scenes or mammoth photos of the earth taken by an astronaut during a moon landing. He and daughter Barbara, who worked for him for 25 years, recalled a routine the two developed when taking X-rays. Dr. Lawson would take the wooden block that held the film from a patient’s mouth and, without turning away from the patient, toss it over his shoulder to Barbara, who was standing in the hall to catch it.

Sometimes his entertainment was unintended. He used to perform magic tricks while working, pretending to pull coins from children’s ears, then doing the same trick with the tooth he’d just extracted before the child realized the tooth had been pulled. “One time this lady was in the dental chair—she knew about his magic tricks and stuff,” his daughter Becky remembered. “Dad felt a little weight in the sleeve of his lab coat, and the next thing you know, he’s pulling a bra from his sleeve that had gotten stuck inside his coat from static electricity when my mom had done laundry.” The woman in the exam chair grabbed her chest and said, ‘My you’re good!’”

A baby blue jay that Dr. Lawson found outside the office was adopted by the Lawson family. “Melvin” stayed at the dental office during the day. “We kept him in the lab,” laughed daughter Betty. “If little kids came in, Dad would bring Melvin in for the kids to see. Melvin was really attached to Dad. The door to the lab was occasionally left open, and Melvin would fly into the room where Dad was working on a patient, and Melvin would land on his hand just as he was about to stick it in a patient’s mouth.”

His children told of his wicked sense of humor. “He’d be working on us on weekends when it didn’t interfere with his making a living,” Lawson’s son, local radio personality Dollar Bill Lawson, remembered. “He’d put us in the chair and chant, ‘I’m gonna get me a bucket of blood, I’m gonna get me a bucket of blood.’” The younger Lawson also recalled the acrylic imitation pink gum with tiny red fake capillaries used with dentures. “My dad would fix everything with that pink plastic. He’d fix the refrigerator door, anything. Even fixed my glasses. I’d have to go to school with this fake pink, human gum-looking stuff holding my glasses together.”

Friends would bring fish they had caught to the office and ask the dentist to install human teeth, complete with gums. He once fitted a bass with tiger fangs, which was proudly displayed at the famous Ollie’s Bar-B-Q restaurant located on Greensprings Highway.

Dr. Lawson even worked on himself on one occasion. He was due to leave town for a convention when a filling came out the night before. His daughter Barbara held one mirror, while he held the other. Injecting himself with novocaine, he drilled on the tooth and installed a plastic filling. “It’s very difficult to do,” he admitted.

“I think he really just wanted to see if it was possible,” said Barbara. “He doesn’t really like dentists in his mouth, anyway.” &

City Hall — Homeless Plight and Blight



June 02, 2005

With Birmingham City Council elections only five months away, Councilor Elias Hendricks is feeling the heat from downtown and Five Points South merchants who want the city to do something about the urine, excrement, and sleeping bodies discovered on business doorsteps each morning. It’s been 18 months since Hendricks first proposed an ordinance that would crack down on such trespassing. But he “resents” Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s referencing the ordinance as “criminalization” of the homeless. “This is about trespassing and about definitions of trespassing, and how those definitions have to change as we become a more urban environment with people living (downtown),” Hendricks told the Mayor. “It’s not denying anybody access to shelters, and it’s not against the homeless. It’s against a behavior, no matter who’s exhibiting this behavior.”

At his May 24 press conference following the weekly City Council meeting, Mayor Kincaid addressed the issue. “I think there’s a duty to protect the businesspeople and the residents who live downtown, to be sure. But there’s also a duty to provide adequately for that genre of citizens [the homeless]. So we haven’t done all we could do. And the councilor that is presenting this ordinance is the councilor that was most vehement in his opposition to the [abandoned[ Parisian warehouse becoming the place that would house (the homeless). We could have additional housing facilities, we could have counseling facilities, we have job opportunities, all in that property that’s lying fallow sitting over there on 26th Street . . . But NIMBY is alive and well—Not In My Back Yard—and that’s what we get everywhere,” explained Kincaid. “Trespassing is a criminal act. You can’t take a criminal statute and attach this doorway portion to it and pretend it’s not criminal in its scope and nature. Criminal penalties don’t provide for civil remedies.” The Mayor also had a startling suggestion. Referencing Councilor Carole Smitherman’s solution to a vagrancy problem by erecting a fence around the entrance to her downtown law office, Kincaid said, “[Councilor Smitherman] talked about putting up a gate, and when the business is closed, the gate was closed. And the sleeping in her vestibule stopped. Maybe we as a city can make resources available to business owners as a stop-gap measure, to be sure, that will help abate the problem while we search for a permanent solution.”

“That just seems like a gigantic waste of money to build fences for private residences and businesses,” said Jeff Tenner, owner of Soca Clothing in Five Points South, in an interview the day after the Council delayed the ordinance. “If somebody wants to build a fence, they should build a fence themselves. But a much simpler (solution) is to pass this ordinance, which is not really a new law at all. It just defines a certain area to make sure that it’s specific to trespassing.”


“This is just a simple common-sense tool that says you cannot do things on my property that I don’t want you to do.” —Five Points South business owner Jeff Tenner

Tenner had addressed the Council during the Tuesday meeting. “Things need to happen simultaneously. We need to do what we can to get more shelter beds and to be able to help the people that need the help,” said Tenner. “But at the same time, we need to recognize that it’s an economic issue and that if we cannot give the police the tools needed to deal with those certain members of society who are breaking the laws, that it will affect the tax base . . . This is just a simple common-sense tool that says you cannot do things on my property that I don’t want you to do.”

Barbara Dawson, business manager of Chez Fon Fon in Five Points South, read a statement from Frank Stitt, owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega, and Chez Fon Fon. Stitt noted that he is “saddened and disturbed by the decline of the Five Points District.” The restauranteur complained of loitering and “very conspicuous drug deals” made in the Five Points South area. Stitt commented that homeless persons sleeping in doorways are also more commonplace now. “Consequently, the daily observance of men and women urinating and defecating on the walls of buildings and in potted plants and alcoves is increasing as well,” he wrote. Stitt added that he had witnessed panhandlers harassing visitors and the “unsolicited rantings of a person or persons gathered around the fountain.”

Michelle Farley, executive director of Metropolitan Birmingham Services for the Homeless, was on the original task force that crafted the ordinance, which Hendricks previously delayed so concerns for the homeless could be addressed. “There was work being done on solving the problem rather than putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” said Farley. She explained that Birmingham has a chronic homelessness rate (those homeless for a year or more) of 29 percent as opposed to a national average of 20 percent. While she sympathizes with businesses that deal with excrement and loiterers in doorways, Farley said there is another aspect worth considering. “When people are asked to move along, they don’t really have a place to move along to,” she explained.

City Attorney Tamara Johnson said the challenge for the law department is “to try to fashion a penalty that will allow some kind of punishment for these individuals who are breaking a law that the Council will enact but, at the same time, have some kind of humanity in it.” Johnson added that penalties for loitering in doorways “really depended on the moral compass of the Council in terms of what they actually want in the ordinance.” At the suggestion of the law department, the ordinance will be rewritten to address such items as a lack of specific definitions for “plazas and common areas,” and to make enforcement of the law city-wide. =-

“It was poorly written,” Kincaid said of the ordinance. “No one in the law department takes authorship of this document, and it’s wrought with problems, as I see it, just from a legal standpoint: the absence of definitions, the applicability of one part of it to one part of town and not to the other.” &