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.