Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Real Life Stories 3: Alabama

Honestly, I never thought I would go to Alabama. Out of all the places that I've imagined visiting, like London, Ireland, India, California, New York City, etc... I just never really pictured myself at a NASCAR event in Talladega. Not really my scene, you know? If you have a better candidate for the redneck capital of the world I would love to hear it, because I simply cannot fathom a better choice. Lindsay's joke was that if we had to take a shot for every single Confederate Flag tattoo we saw, not t-shirt or bumper sticker or flag being worn as a cape, but just tattoo, we would have died.
Yeah, it's pretty serious.

So anyways, the reason we were in Alabama in the first place was to help Nina (Lindsay's best friend's older sister) sell these things called Shotgun Champs. These are small plastic cylinders that fit over your beer, punch a hole in the bottom, and allow for a fast and clean way to shotgun. They are far superior to a knife or your keys (or your teeth, as some of these rednecks implied as their method.) Like I said, I never thought I would go to Alabama. Then again, I never thought someone would offer me $300 to leave Kalamazoo for five days and demonstrate something called a Shotgun Champ for twelve hours at a time. You can't say no to that. Not if you're any kind of decent person. I would have gone anywhere, literally anywhere, under those circumstances. And you must believe me, because Alabama is where I actually went.

The Drive Down
Let me just say this: Never before in my life have I had any kind of reverence for caffeine. Even as a kid, I don't really remember Mountain Dew ever doing anything for me. But now, I kind of think that, to a kid, caffeine might be like the first time you smoke pot. Maybe you don't realize it's working because you don't know what to expect, but that doesn't mean it isn't working. That said, during my three hour driving shift down to Alabama, I found the line at which caffeine cannot be ignored, and crossed it.
After drinking one of those gigantic $4 Red Bulls, everyone else in the car drifted peacefully off to sleep and left me alone with the road and the pop-up trailer we were hauling all the way across the country. I've never hauled anything before, so I was a little nervous about it, which is why I drank the Red Bull. I wanted to make sure I was extra alert and awake for my shift. It worked on the way to Arizona. It stood to reason it would work again. But, apparently, caffeine is like any other drug, in that when you are left alone while under its influence, the effects rapidly multiply.
I didn't want to drive. Instead, I wanted to jump out of the car and run down the freeway at 70 mph. My thoughts weren't so much thoughts, but more like a humming blur of nothingness. And I was seeing shit, which was the weirdest part. Lights on the side of the road were leaving trails across my vision. The shape of the headlights took on different forms, specific forms, like monsters and animals. My eyes refused to focus, and at first I thought I might be nodding off, but it was just the opposite. I was too awake. Too awake to drive a car.

Our Days in Alabama
The very first guy we met in Alabama was a 65 year old Vietnam vet named Moonshine, and the day I met him he was wearing a t-shirt that said: "Fuck you, I have enough friends."
Needless to say, I liked this guy immediately.
Moonshine first told me the story of how his pit bull killed a poodle WHILE THE POODLE'S OWNER WAS WALKING IT DOWN THE STREET. And then, when the owner called the police, Moonshine showed "the law" that he had papers for his pit bull, that it was a guard dog, and since it was on his property he wouldn't be putting his dog down. Instead, he bought the other man a new poodle.
Then, he told Lindsay, "with misty-eyed pride" a story about his wife. Apparently, Moonshine and Mrs. Moonshine have a barn, and in that barn they have roughly thirty feral barn cats. One day, a dog got into the barn and killed one of the thirty, and that just so happened to be Mrs. Moonshine's favorite cat "Snowball". So, she grabbed a gun (which was just so readily available) and chased after the dog with the intention of killing it, but the dog got away. Then, the next day, Mrs. Moonshine was driving home from work, saw the same dog on the side of the road, pulled over and shot the fucking dog. And, thusly, Snowball was avenged.

"You're gonna have to pack a lunch if you wanna fight this old man. See, I gotta finish you quick or else I have to shoot you." - Moonshine.

When we weren't listening to hilarious stories that could only be true in the South, we spent most of our days selling Shotgun Champs to skeptical NASCAR fans. Truth be told, you'd think that a NASCAR event would be the premier beer-drinking spot, but mostly the crowd was older and wary of such quick access to alcohol. "Ha ha, oh no no," said thousands of onlookers, passing our booth with what can only be described as clear and apparent fear of their own alcoholism.
Still, most of the time when we did a demo of the product, we sold at least one. So we shotgunned about twelve beers a day. That's really not that bad when you reason one per hour, with a bottle of water in between each one. In fact, I was hardly ever drunk in Alabama.
Except for Halloween night.
To be fair, it our last night there, and we'd been having a really good day. We met some young guys who were really into the product, and who were really nice, and who are probably going to meet us down in Panama, FL for Spring Break and help us sell down there. These guys were in and out throughout the night, and their names were AJ and Jake Went the Bull Rider. Well, somewhere between selling all day, talking with these guys and racing a young couple that walked past the booth and gave me their beer, I got drunk. I also spent ten dollars on a Cuban cigar that was supposedly hand-rolled by a real Cuban, but I now realize that could've been any dark-skinned fellow claiming to be Cuban and everyone in the state of Alabama would've believe it.
Oddly enough, just like the caffeine, I didn't really feel the full weight of the alcohol until I was alone. AJ and the Bull Rider went off to some country concert, Lindsay was off getting more beer, and I looked around me. The table was covered in beer and cigar ash, I was smoking and spitting instead of talking to potential customers, and the world wasn't spinning but it was sort of dancing.
"Oh. I'm drunk," I thought to myself. In lieu of paper towels I cleaned the table off the best that I could with the edge of an empty cigarette pack, and things went up from there.

My biggest regret about Alabama:
The guy next to one of the Shotgun Champ booths was selling deep-fried everything. The fact that there were deep-fried Twinkies not ten feet away from me and I didn't try a free sample... I may never forgive myself.

While the redneck capital of the world may not be the most fair place to make general observations about the South as a whole, I'm going to do so anyways.
Both Moonshine and another Alabama friend of ours named Brandon made one thing abundantly clear to us during our visit: racism is still very much alive and well in this world.
These were guys I liked, guys I talked to and laughed with, guys who seemed genuinely cool and interesting to me. And then that dark and terrible N word would come sailing out of their mouths like it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Oh I'm from North Carolina. The town I come from doesn't let n*ggers in." - Moonshine
"The crowds are easy to predict. In the morning you get the old people, because they get up the earliest. Then a little bit later you'll get the young people, because they were up all night partying and they sleep in. And you'll notice that the n*ggers are lazy and sleep in really late, so they come out last." - Brandon
Then, of course, on Halloween a man was running around in a monkey costume shouting "I'm Obama!" and an old woman gave him a hug because she liked this joke so much.
I have a theory.
I think the South is a very uncomplicated place, which isn't so surprising when you consider how these states rank in education. And that's not a slight, it's just an observation. A lack of education means a lack of complex thinking, and it's simple thinking that keeps everyone on the same page. Fly the Confederate Flag, believe in Jesus, watch NASCAR, listen to country, hate black people. That's the checklist, and that about covers it.
When you live in a society where 99% of everyone abides by these rules, you would never think twice about them. You would just accept them as the laws of life. That's why every other person we saw had a Confederate Flag tattoo. It's like, to be a good southern boy, you have to get the flag in ink on your 18th birthday. And that might not be so far off. They are so proud down there and so enthusiastic about their heritage. All you have to do is wear that Confederate Flag and you're in the club. They'll love you forever. It would be easy to forget that the rest of the country is always sort of snickering at you for being a bunch of dumb hicks. In fact, after a while, with so many like-minded thinkers around you, you would sort of start to take pride in it.

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