I barely escaped Alabama alive.
Not that I was a fugitive from a chain gang.
And not that I'd transgressed the local customs and left one step ahead of an angry mob toting buckets of hot tar and sacks of goose down. Quite the contrary; so many people offered me so many unsolicited greetings in so many unexpected venues -- in the grocery store, on the street, in the Mens Room -- that I was in a constant state of politesse-induced panic.
It wasn't even the workload, which after the first week was manageable enough that I had time to walk around, gawk at things, and perspire like a Yellow Fever patient.
It was the food that was killing me. It was the delicious, delightful, deadly food.
Now I'm no expert on the cuisine of southern Alabama, and for all I know there were a multitude of hippie communes selling sustainable kale wraps out of roadside stands woven from hemp stems. I just know that every edible thing I found in the downtown area was salty, fatty, fried, and fatal. Which was also my experience the first time I came to Alabama back in 2003 to write Frankenfish, and I found myself asking the same question:
How is anybody alive in this state?
The way they eat, you'd expect to drive across the border and see nothing but bloated corpses bracketing the highway, the landscape permeated by an eerie silence broken only occasionally by the angry caw of two crows fighting over a length of intestine.
I'm not saying the barbecue isn't tasty, because it is, and if you sit inside at a place like Moe's, or Dreamland, your clothes will smell like smoked meat for a week afterwards, so it's like they're sending you home with a doggie bag for your nose. But everything's fried, and vegetables are surprisingly hard to come by as a side dish, except for grits, which I suppose is technically a vegetable, since it's made from corn. And butter. Actually, I'm pretty sure the Four Food Groups in Alabama are corn, butter, pork, and frying medium.
I got so desperate for roughage that I actually ordered that classic Power Lunch of the Mid-80s Woman Executive, the chicken Caesar salad, even though I wasn't wearing one of those silk blouses with a pussy bow. But after one or two bites I dropped my fork, because it was too salty. It was, in fact, the saltiest salad I'd ever had. I daresay deers who live for a nice big salt lick would have taken a single taste of this Caesar salad and gone, "Ehhhh...No. My blood pressure..."
But aside from retaining water, I had an enjoyable time in Mobile, writing dialogue for a gifted and famously eccentric actor, even though I packed a small bag thinking I'd be there only three days, and wound up staying for three weeks. Me and the old ladies at the coin laundry next to the Whattaburger got to be quite chummy.
Unfortunately, the Unwritten Rules of the Rewriter prevent me from saying much about the experience, although I do delve into a little more detail in the upcoming podcast, because those aren't susceptible to Google searches.
Anyway, I'm back, and apologize for the blog blackout. And to make up for it, here are candid shots of the cats' excited, adoring faces when I walked through the door after my long absence...