I'm saddened that Alabama's image has been damaged by the Roy Moore debacle. My contempt rises when I see him in his stupid cowboy hat and sunglasses, riding that frightened horse.
Once we had another Roy, Roy Rogers, a true cowboy and true Christian gentleman.
Through the years, we've often traveled through Alabama, making the big swerve through Montgomery from I-85 to I-65, and heading south past the Japanese car factories, Indian tribe casinos and fast food places. On the Hank Williams Lost Highway, I've been thankful for the fine Alabama welcome centers and shaken my head at the Alabama Robert Trent Jones golf trail.
Nothing like the lunch buffet at the Pizza Hut in Greenville to replenish a weary traveler, nothing more homey than the boiled peanuts and country music compilations in truck stops, barefoot brides at the checkout counter, and life-size beer company cutouts of Nick Saban. In the changing leaves of fall, deer hunters fill up at country gas stations, rifles slung on their pickup trucks' rear windshields. Near Mobile, a sign proclaims the road to Harper Lee's Monroeville.
The scary soaring bridge at Daphne leads to the wetlands of Mobile, where the Gulf Coast begins. It's an inspiration to salute Mobile's Henry Aaron Stadium, recalling the poverty that Hammering Hank and Willie Mays overcame to achieve baseball stardom. Then it's I-10 west through Gulfport, Pass Christian, Biloxi and Bay St. Louis, the Mississippi casinos and their billboards for faded country stars, and on to Louisiana and home.
With all of its race and sex-drenched politics, Alabama has produced writers like Dianne McWhorter, whose "Carry Me Home" makes me think of W.H. Auden's statement about William Butler Yeats, "Mad Ireland hurt him into poetry." Mad Birmingham hurt her into a testament of love, hate and redemption.
Birmingham's contradictions between repression and populism also inspired George Packer's recollections of his progressive Agrarian grandfather, George Huddleston, a liberal congressman representing Birmingham, defeated by the resurgence of racial politics and Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats after World War II. Packer's book, "The Blood of the Liberals," also gives a heart-rending account of his father's losing his academic career at California's Stanford over 1960s campus protests.
Bull Connor's Birmingham, one of the meanest places on earth, is now a new-economy jewel of trendy restaurants, restored old neighborhoods and recreational trails. Huntsville has the space industry, and Montgomery boasts Hank Williams' grave and a topflight Shakespeare theater.
Of course, there's hell holes like Moore's Gadsen, whose mall where he allegedly cruised for teenage girls sounds like the setting for a dystopian zombie apocalypse. Phenix City, the old haunt of the Dixie Mafia, is another place that time has passed by. Nearby, there's Tuskegee, home of George Washington Carver and the Tuskegee Airmen, and Auburn, whose football ethos and old-South frat culture exist along with cutting-edge agricultural and scientific research.
The state's wealth of music. The Delmore Brothers. Hank. Muscle Shoals, where Wilson Pickett and the Stones cut pioneering albums, backed by that great home-grown horn and rhythm section, and where Duane Allman developed his blues runs. Sorry, Neil, I even love "Sweet Home Alabama," and that eponymous group whose "Merry Christmas From Dixie" helps make the holidays.
Alabama's effort to atone for its violent past is symbolized by the Senate candidacy of Doug Jones, who after years of the state's silence prosecuted two Klansmen for the bombing murders of four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, a cornerstone of McWhorter's classic. Alabama's primitive past echoes in Moore's campaign, with its fraudulent claims to religion and law.
I want to think the best of Alabama, but it keeps showing its worst.