Move!

Beginning in 2014, all new cars will be required by federal law to have a back-up camera.  This latest attempt by the United State’s government to legislate care of her citizens from cradle to the grave was initiated not by the current regime, but by–wait for it–George W., back in 2007.

It seems that about three hundred kids are now squashed each year (mostly by their parents) by cars in reverse.

I am perplexed by this.  Three hundred kids–and apparently thousands more injured under similar circumstances.  What does mean in evolutionary terms?

I don’t remember the need to be so protected when I was a kid.  I had no helmet when I rode my bicycle (which explains some things, I know).  I had no pads for my homemade skateboard, which was made by cutting the wheels off a roller skate and nailing them to a two by four pine board.  We had no seat belts, but we did have a big metal dashboard that worked quite well in a quick stop.

Back-up camera?  Not needed.  My daddy simply said “Move, son.”  If I didn’t, I quickly learned why.

I did have a dog that could have benefited from a back-up camera.  Old Snoopy was as good a dog as any kid could hope for, but he wasn’t so attentive to “Move!”

My mom was backing out of the carport one day.  “Watch out for the dog,” I said.  “Move!” I said.

Neither one paid me any attention.

“Stop!” I said.

And mom did.  Right on top of my dog.

“Back-up.  Go forward.  Do something,”  I said.  “You’re on the dog.”

My poor, panic-stricken mom pulled forward.  Old Snoopy yelped some, but he was not seriously injured.

Funny thing, though.  He never had any problem knowing what “Move” meant from that day forward.

Surely children have that potential.  Don’t they?

The Grifter

Gray is the color of north Birmingham in late Winter–black and gray.

The landscape is gray: gray streets, gray trees devoid of leaves, gray buildings that once produced commerce but now sit empty and idle. A few little gray houses that once were homes for workers but are now occupied by old folks with few possessions other than memories of the good old days. It has a forlorn look of hopelessness. I imagine I can hear the clang and clatter of a product that once defined a city: iron and steel. The Pittsburgh of the South is no more. I am in the shadows of Sloss, now a rusting relic that once fueled the magic in the “Magic City.”

The faces are black, except of course mine and one other traveler on this cloudy February day.

I am passing through at lunch time. I have options: fast-food fried chicken or fish. These two fine dining choices have a common parking lot. I choose the chicken because I have always had a weakness for fried bird. This bird is the famous “New Orleans style,” which means it has been breaded in hot spices. Otherwise, it’s nothing special. It sure ain’t my grandmother’s chicken, but it will suffice.

The restaurant is mostly empty. As I take my first bite I am approached by an old Black man. He is thin and angular, dressed in jeans and an old army field jacket. He is wearing a baseball cap and new tennis shoes (that’s “sneakers” for those of you who don’t speak Alabamian). He walks right up without hesitation and sits down at the table next to me.

“How you?”

“I’m good, sir. How ’bout yourself?”

“Well, I’d be doing pretty good if I was like you.”

“Like me? How’s that?”

“Eating.”

“You need some money to get something to eat?”

“Yeah, I could use a little something.”

I reach in my pocket and hand him a bill. He takes it and rises, heading for the door.

“You sure you going to get something to eat with that? Or are you getting up some drinking money?”

“Naw, I’m gonna eat. I can’t eat this chicken. I’m gonna go over there and get me some of that fish.”

I watch him slowly amble across the lot to the fish place next door. He disappears inside. I eat my #2 special–maybe I’ve done a fellow man a little good on this gray day.

As I leave, I see my man accosting another traveler in front of the fish place. He only scores pocket change this time. He doesn’t look my way as he heads back toward the chicken joint.

It’s a gray Valentines day in north Birmingham. Try to stay warm and have one on me, my friend.

Saturday Night Excursion

Ride with me tonight, dear reader, as we run an errand in a typical medium-size Alabama town. It might be your town but perhaps not. Though we share a lot of similarities across the South, we are not all the same. We remain, even in this post-modern era, a people tied to the land beneath our feet. Roads, dwellings, stores, and houses of worship–creeping toward uniformity with the passage of time, and yet still distinctive. Piedmont, Black Belt, and Coastal Plain, mountain and valley, river towns and lighted mountainside metros; all retain a uniqueness recognizable in culture and syntax–if you care to notice.

This particular night is cold for Alabama, even by February standards. A clear sky filled with stars that look as cold as I imagine the infinite reaches of space. A waning gibbous moon provides enough light for the journey–no headlights necessary, but we will use them anyway, you and I, because we are good citizens, are we not?

We will stop at the grocery store to pick up a few essentials. The store is named for two merchant partners of days long past, but ignorant Yankees who relocate to our homeland will often make the incorrect assumption that the name refers to our desire for a different outcome to that conflict fought here some 150 years ago.

We could drive a little further, you and I, out to the highway that bypasses the old downtown in almost every small southern town. The Great Whore of Babylon, home of the smiley face and the falling prices resides there, and her wares have hypnotized our people. She has murdered Pop, trampling his broken-hearted body in the small town street, and poor Mom now resides in the nursing home–having driven them out of our presence and boarded up their shops on Main Street. Her patrons “save” on the labors of low-wage part-time workers–50 check-out lines and only two operating at any given time. We won’t go there tonight, you and I. I loathe her for what she has done to my land, and I will not feed her, even with my meager gold.

Purchases made, we follow a circuitous route back home. Something big is happening at the high school auditorium, somewhat pretentiously named “The Performing Arts Center.” Lots of buses and trailers, rows and rows of cars. I finally figure it out. It is a southern gospel music concert. A packed house of matrons with big hair and floor-length skirts, their husbands in polyester sans-a belt slacks and starched white shirts. I spot not one, but two “Thrasher Brothers” buses. Not school buses, mind you, but the $250 grand jobs that only the biggest rock and country stars use for touring. I marvel. Is there that much money in singing about Jesus? If so, is that how the Master would have it spent? It is a mystery too great for you and I to solve tonight.

We arrive back home, shivering as we unload our purchases. The dogs will come inside tonight with us where it is warm. Twenty degrees and 25 mile an hour winds are not easily tolerated by Southern man nor beast.

The dogs are lucky. Some people in our little town will not be as fortunate. But at least it’s not you and I, and for that, we can be thankful.