Place: Birmingham, Alabama
Purpose: Visiting my boyfriend Scott, a world-class magazine editor who is here working on Cooking Light and Southern Living.
We are driving around town in a rented Toyota Rav 4, which I am thinking might make a perfect “next” car if the mini van dies before me. We have visited the Civil Rights Museum here, which is fascinating and detailed and heartbreaking and inspiring all at once. Across the street is the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls were killed in the 1963 bombing. It is hard to leave the place without wanting to cry. I wait until later for the tears, but I do have incredible awe for all the brave souls who stood up to the hate, who were beaten and threatened and served to the dogs, but kept on anyway. I wish my girls were here to see this. Sometimes it’s important to get your heart broken, just so you know.
We drive down country roads with horse farms and past dilapidated projects. We go through Leeds, Alabama, which I do believe is the original home of Charles Barkley. I interviewed Charles at Michael Jordan’s Celebrity Golf Tournament. He invited me to dinner and I accepted. He asked me why white people never finished anything on their plate. I didn’t have an answer. Then he asked me why white people film themselves having sex and I didn’t have an answer for that, either. He just continued on his white people riff and I laughed along. He introduced me to Wayne and Janet Gretzky and Paris Hilton and I noticed the perfectly light ice blue eyes of Derek Jeter in the background. John Elway introduced us to a woman, I assume his date, who would have done better with a smaller bar tab. I watched Charles lose more money than the value of my house at black jack. Less than a tenth of that would change my life in a big way and I kept thinking of all the single moms out there whose lives could be changed with just a little bit of that. I’m sure MJ (at the next table) was betting way more than Charles, but I didn’t get close. I know it’s not fair feeling angry at people blowing money like this because it’s their money and they earned it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much good could be done with it and feeling out of place in my 15 year-old Limited Too skirt and flip flops. Clearly, Charles’s life has come a long way from Leeds.
After a long afternoon drive, I am ready for some true Southern barbecue and Scott takes me to a spot called Dreamland. There are license plates with cool names tacked up everywhere. There’s a Wyoming one that just says BAMA and there’s one from Iran that’s in Arabic that could say Dixie Sucks for all I know. There is a fabulous mist of barbecue in the air and there are lacquered advertisements on the tables. I am drawn to one that’s for a Private Detective to follow your spouse. I walk over to this big open barbecue where a young man is flipping ribs. I haven’t seen bones like this since I watched the Flintstones. We indulge in it all: chicken, ribs, slaw, baked beans and banana pudding. After a frenzy of meat and carbohydrate shoveling, I feel the need for bigger jeans. I notice a red neon sign above the barbecue flames, it says : No Farting.
I am a) again wishing my daughters were here as they would LOVE it and then take a snap on their cell phones to send to all of their friends and b) thinking I could use one in the van.