The Corner

Derb Does Dixie

Three days in Alabama, and I am a much wiser and better educated man. Hard

to imagine that this time last month I had never heard of Bear Bryant. I now

know that he was likely the greatest human being that ever lived, with the

possible exception of Julius Caesar. At the Paul W. Bryant museum in Tuscaloosa,

you can get your photograph taken sitting in Bryant’s golf cart. (I passed.

“How do I know it’s actually Bryant’s golf cart?” I asked an Alabama friend.

“I mean, it could be anybody’s.” Reply: “Well, if people was to find out the

museum was cheating on a thing like that, why, they’d burn this place right

to the ground.” When I suggested to another Alabama acquaintance that college

football is like a religion down here, he shook his head. “Like a religion?

No, it’s more important than that….”)

So I went to see the Crimson Tide play Arkansas Saturday, and, aside from

getting soaked in the pre-game thunder shower, had a wonderful time. You can’t

say the same for the Tide, who blew a three-touchdown lead. My companions, all

Tide fans, were seriously depressed–one left before game end, saying: “I

can’t bear to see the Tide lose. Meet you by the car.” Be intereting to see

state suicide statistics after a Tide loss. For me, a passing observer, though,

it was just a glorious spectacle, full of color, skill, struggle, and passion.

And the Tide will find their way again, I’m sure. With fans like these, how

could they not? Guys, in these dark times, just keep asking yourselves:

“What would Bear Bryant do?”

Then on Sunday–Talladega! I was never at a NASCAR race before, but, like

the late great Hank Williams (whose grave I visited Friday) I saw the light.

What a spectacle! I got to shake hands with the winner, Michael Waltrip, who

describes himself as a “redneck,” but who seemed to me like a perfect American

gentleman. I got to meet Miss World, did a pre-race lap of the track riding in

the open back of a pickup truck with David Green while the crowd cheered us

(all right, they cheered HIM), and I stood in a pit while the pit crew changed

all four wheels of an automobile faster than you could get out of your car.

(“Slicker ‘n snot on a doorknob,” as one of the pit guys said approvingly.)

Another great crowd–and HUGE: 150,000 or so, and more RVs than I shall ever

again see in one place. People camp out here for a week beforehand. The NASCAR

people were wonderful to me–Hey Les, Beau, Gary, Gary and Mac–THANKS! But

Beau… what was that humongous great rubber band for?

I’ve been reading a very fine history of this state–”Alabama, the History of

a Deep South State,” by four academics: W.W. Rogers, R.D. Ward, L.R. Atkins

and W. Flynt. Fascinating, and much better written than the average for

academics. There is so much history here, so much to know. What was it about the

early settlers in Washington County that caused a missionary to describe them

as: “grossly worldly and extremely wicked”? I’d like to know. And here are

the authors on Hank Williams (who gets two full pages): “Even by the rustic

standards of country music, Williams was a rube.” They got that right.

Which brings me to today’s dilemma. I am in Montgomery, with a few hours

free. Which is it to be: the Hank Williams Museum in Georgiana, or the

Horseshoe Bend memorial and military park, which is about the same distance, but in

the opposite direction? Maybe I’ll try for both. I love this state.


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