It’s five in the morning and I haven’t had a coffee yet. That’s why I’m here, at this 24-hour venue where I know the bathrooms are clean and the coffee is OK. Ish.
“GOOD MORNING MA’AM” she yelled as the automatic doors opened to let me in. “WELCOME TO BUC-EE’S!”
The South is many things. It’s hot. It’s politically, er, challenging. It has rules for getting along with your fellows that will only be shared with you if at least half a dozen of your neighbours personally know who your grand-daddy was. And everything that’s even remotely edible can be fried and too often is.
Oh, and then there’s stuff like ranch water that will blow your socks off. I guess people who live with heat and humidity levels strong enough to frizz barbed wire survive by finding ways to stay hydrated and somewhere south (geddit) of fully conscious.
The ungodly friendliness of Buc-ee’s is, however, something else. It’s stereotypically Southern because it’s loud and proud and suffers no dissent. There’s a lot about Buc-ee’s that takes some getting used to, especially if you’re a sweet, innocent non-Southron. I wrote about this unique chain of detour-worthy gas stations once, if you’re interested in the oversized details which include, titillatingly enough, beaver nuggets declining their lustful selves in a variety of firmly artificial flavours.
This time, early in the morn, I wasn’t. Interested, that is. I was in the business of using the (always so sparkling clean) facilities and purchasing a cup of house blend with lots of half and half in it. This I did and back to the Interstate I went, north Nashville-ho. (Or, I guess, Ho Hey.)
The I-65 in those parts is fascinating, and not usually in a good way. For one thing, despite the endless construction, it’s full of cracks and holes and potholes. Not as bad as the I-71 in Kentucky but close. If you’re asking me how states that experience freeze-thaw cycles roughly never can have roads that are à ce point shit-ass, like my youngest would say, I’m sorry to say it probably has to do with common sense politicians running on and getting elected because of platforms promising low taxes.
I tell you how the South hooks you into forgiving whatever sins it has: with breathtaking beauty. The morning sun hit the mist in the mountains just right and if it hadn’t been for the need to keep my eyes on the road in order to make that 9:30 flight to Toronto, I would have spent hours humming St. Dolly’s songs taking pictures of the spectacle nature just casually dropped on my lap.
It was, I’ve decided without counting because I hate math, my 15th visit to Huntsville, Alabama since November 2021. My regular reader has some idea why I keep going, and I trust she enjoys the stories I bring back. Like how lightly regulated things are in Alabama. Almost anyone can set up shop somewhere and sell you food. Or beer. Homes get built faster. And they don’t fall down either. It’s like Huntsville has found a sweet spot where things are safe but not covered in red tape. Unlike in Ottawa, where we have strict measurements for little free libraries, contained in proposed changes to the Use and Care of Roads Bylaw, because… well, see, that’s the part that ain’t clear.
I watched the long debate over the proposed amendments at the Transportation Committee from my little Vrbo condo (it’s for the rhyme) and was so put off by what I heard that I simply had to commit an act of serious satire against the whole eyeroll-inducing ordeal.
The excuse I had this time to zip down to Huntsville for a few days was a wonderful storytelling event at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with my friends from the Huntsville Literary Association and fellow WLRH’s Sundial writers. At the event they were obviously selling booze and one drink on offer was called Billionaire in Space. It included vodka, gin I think and something called pinkie, and also a gummie.
Yes of course I had to try it. When in the Rocket City, you sip space-themed cocktails. It was remarkably drinkable, considering.
Being the sort of person I am — what, where I’m from, we call une mémère indécrottable — I strike conversations with anyone and make friends partout. In the Nashville airport the Starbucks line was very ridiculous but I didn’t care. I’d met a lovely five-year-old girl on her way to Texas with her daddy and she told me all about how she wanted to be a princess when she grows up but also a doctor. Also? Her mother is Canadian, from a town somewhere between Toronto and London. I promised to look her up when she’s an adult, because that would be a fascinating person to write about.
Almost as much as my new best friend, Elizabeth MacQueen, a sculptor de renommée internationale who has chosen to return to Alabama. She has worked with wonderful artists from around the world including (fan-girling alert) the great Montreal dancer Margie Gillis.
CBS did a documentary about MacQueen:
I was sent to meet her at her home by a mutual friend, the incomparable Scott McLain, and was privileged to be very close to so many of her pieces. Including Persephone and Dos à Dos, which are (so far) my favourites.
We drank champagne and toasted our new and beautiful friendship. Nowhere near as loud as a Buc-ee’s greeting, but oh so much more real.