Ballad of the Off Course Valient - My Family Travels

I had recently got word that my great uncle of whom I had never met would be singing in a concert in a town not far from Mobile. My mother was very excited for she had not seen him since ’77. So it was inevitable that I would find myself planning for a weekend trip to see him. The town this would be taking place in, I soon discovered, was the town of Monroeville. My experiences in the journey that followed are recollected in my mind into certain categories: the “town” experience, the dining experience, and the concert experience. This series of memories, except for the concert, helped reacquaint me with the reason of why I hate- excuse me, “strongly dislike” small towns.

            Driving up I had no idea what kind of music my great uncle sung and was excited about spending cash at the local mall and, particularly, hopefully, a Border’s book store. My hope soon saw the truth and began to flutter down like the broken body of a bird (probably a mockingbird, considering where I was). I watched in horror as fields of wheat and lazy cows rushed past, and grew into despair as we started passing towns. Sad, half deserted areas filled with houses that were empty and shattered. Some were burned to the ground but never cleaned up. Others looked as if they had been there since Jesus played “go fish” with Judas. The paint had rotted off their crumbling walls and the very structure seemed to slowly be dissipating into dust that floated through windows that had long been shattered. I was followed by the constant stench of fertilizer as we went through towns that seemed to be populated; yet I never saw a soul save for the occasional indistinguishable shape behind the wheel of a ’64 ford truck. When I got past the “rural ruins” and finally got to Monroeville itself, I had recovered from the shock some. The town, all 1.4 miles of it (that’s a joke), was composed of family friendly stores, family owned restaurants, families, and a Wal-Mart.

           My momentary elation at discovering the Wal-Mart was soon grounded once we went in. I could have tossed a paper ball from one end of the store to the other and never have to worry about interference. They didn’t even have a Blu-ray section. Making our way past signs that told the ground-shaking news of the town, (“Congratulations Dusty and Janice Johnson, just married!”- I kid you not) we made it to our hotel. We had no trouble getting a room for the whole of the occupants composed of maybe six out of towners (pun intended). Our room was decent, with a wide window view of someone’s back yard fence and the smell of fresh paint that drifted throughout the building. I’ll take this time to mention the water. Upon my first shower I noticed that my hair was thick and knotted and my skin was slick. I felt as if I hadn’t taken a shower in weeks, despite the fact I was standing outside the tub dripping wet. When mentioned to a local at the Heritage Arts Festival, (which had nothing to do with either art or heritage and was not even worth describing as a festival) she went on to dub it “Monroeville Water” and confided in us “It’s filled with minerals. You don’t feel like you’re clean, but you are.” I would suggest never to drink the water either, if you are ever by way of Monroeville.

            Once we checked in to the hotel we decided to go “out on the town” to get something to eat. To my amazement they actually had fast food restaurants. (Evidently the town’s only McDonald’s is the local hangout on a Friday night amongst the youth.) After driving back and forth across town, which didn’t take long, my vote was on Pizza Hut. But we ended up trying some local flavor at Railey’s Fine Dining- The Exquisite Dining Experience. We got in a small back room of the Used-To-Be-A-House-And-Is-Now-A-Restaurant. We ended up with one of those clingy waitresses that hovers over you and must not have been used to guys with long hair; for she automatically called me “miss.” There were a couple of high school or collage girls working there ranging from decent to cute. They grinned and looked up at me with those eyes that just screamed “oh my god, it’s a city boy.” I began to think that maybe there was something here after all, but then they opened their mouths and began to speak and their deep country accents scratched at the surface of my inner earlobe. Oh, well. I decided to go with a bacon cheeseburger and some very sweet tea. The next day for breakfast, upon finding nothing in town, we decided to go to the next town to find something. We settled with Famous Fred’s Family Diner. I don’t know what Fred was famous for, but it wasn’t his cooking. How do you mess up a pancake? They were rubbery and tasted old. I had to swallow it down with some more very sweet tea. When my mom tasted it she promised to stop at McDonald’s on the way back to the hotel. By lunch our adventurous spirits had diminished and we all decided on Pizza Hut. I’m all for irony.

            The concert took place at the local college and, having met my great uncle the day before, I had an idea of what to expect. His name is Brent and he is hilarious. This is the uncle that my mom is ten months older than. When they were kids he would get them into all kinds of trouble, but everyone assumed my mom was the instigator. Now he sings acappella with three other guys in a group called The Foyer Boyz. They are a close knit group and joke around all the time. He talked to me as if he had known me my whole life. Evidentially it was a christen concert we were attending, but I was fine with that. It was for a good cause called Pilots for Christ. They fly people who need important surgeries, for instance, for free. About an hour of enjoyable acappella singing and joke making and their time was up. Then a guy who did amazing guitar picking came up, but should have left the singing to Brent. The next morning it snowed. If any one suspected we were tourist were proven right when we went outside to take pictures. I hadn’t seen real snow since we left Alaska. We had breakfast at the hotel bar with Brent and company and must have woken up its other five inhabitants with our laughter.

            I slept all the way back home so it was relatively uneventful, except for a casino, ahem. So I had a very entertaining and memorable weekend. It started out very drab, depressing, and downright icky. But I ended up meeting my great uncle and watching it snow. The deep, life changing, philosophical moral to the story is that even when things look (way) down in the dumps, something good can always be around the corner- unless you’re near Monroeville, and then it’s either a barn or a cow.    

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