When Dothan, Alabama, rose to number 37 on Money Magazine's annual list of the Best Places to Live in America, I wasted little time in going up there and buying me a trailer. I didn't have much money and no job lined up for when I moved, so I got one of those little half-sized trailers—you know what I mean. Some trailers, they're so roomy and nice that, while you're in it, you can hardly remember you're living in a trailer. But with these little one-room economy deals, you always know what the deal is. But hey, all the more incentive to move up in the world, isn't it? And that's exactly why I took off for Dothan in the first place.
Thirty-seven. That's in the top 40, that's higher than Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa or Huntsville and we're just talking Alabama. Now those of you who know me know that I resided for some time in Gainesville, Florida, which was number one on the list a few years back. Since then it's slipped, and steadily. It saw it's heyday, and that was it...but Dothan, it's up-and-coming! Next year it might be in the 20's, and even higher the next, until it'll be The Place! Gainesville went down 'cause everybody started moving there once it was number one, and the bull market was over, sport. But me, I can say, yeah, I lived in Dothan back when it was only number thirty-seven! Hell, I'm probably at least part of the reason it's number one, and I'm no good-time Charlie fair-weather resident, not I. Me and Dothan, we go back a-ways, I'll say with pride.
Now I'd never really been to Dothan before my move, I'd just driven through there on the way back to Florida and once I got stopped there for speeding and had to go back to go to court ('cause it wasn't my fault, just a honest mistake, I'm sure) and once when another car I had broke down there. On another occasion I stopped at a music store in the Wiregrass Commons Mall to buy a few tapes to keep me going on what was turning into a long drive. I might've even thought at one point that there wasn't a hell of a lot to do in Dothan. You might not think so either and you might think I'm just wacked out, to up and move like that. But it's a beautiful city with wonderful people and I'm glad I moved here.
Take last Friday night, for instance. I was walking into Dothan Lanes on Highway 231 to do some bowling. Went with Chemaine, this charming lady-friend of mine who lives here, too. Her parents named her after the heroine of El Cid, the great Spanish epic. Now that takes some class, and some knowledge, too. Anyway, we got on our bowling shoes and we were ready to spin some strikes, yeah BOY! And right then in through the door comes this little girl with her boyfriend, they was about 19 or 20, I 'm guessing. Boadie, the dude, he says to me, Psssst... brother, would you buy me and Susan a beer if I gived you the money? He was both serious and persistent, and Chemaine and I did need partners (the Tatums having gone to Brundidge for the weekend to see her daddy), so I said, "Sure! What'll it be? Bud?" That was cool by them and I got two Buds. The people I guess thought they were for me and Chemaine (which was good, I don't need to get busted) but me and Chemaine don't drink, Lord, last time we did that we were down to the cooking sherry by the end of the night. That's another thing, if you have some kind of a personal problem, there's some fine folks in Dothan who'll tell you they've been exactly where you've been and understand, and they'll even spread the word around so as to help you stay in line.
So the kids were drinking their beers and Boadie was beating us all, I just couldn't get more'an a spare, and those flat shoes they make you wear were the wrong size and I felt like some guy in a clown suit. Susan opened up a black fake-leather cigarette case she carried around with her and took out some Marlboro Light 100's. " Daeaem," she said as she rolled a gutter ball.
Now when she looked back to see our reactions, she saw her ol' boy Boadie there lookin' not at her but at Chemaine, and lookin' her up and down this way and all that. I think she was kind of surprised 'cause not only was he doing it right there in back of Susan, he was doing it right in front of me, too, and even if Chemaine and I's just friends, that's not the point. He made some kind of remark about the way her jeans were fitting.
"Boadeeee!" she screamed, and everyone in that bowling alley turned around to stare at us even though it was pretty loud in there to begin with—she sounded like that old country lady in those old television commercials for Hungry Jack potatoes or muffins or somethin' that says, "Come 'in git it!," you know. But she was teed, you might say, and before me or Chemaine had a chance to say anything she'd come over and done slapped Boadie in the face and made him spill his beer all over his trousers. I was embarrassed, I tell you what.
Well before she had a chance to slap him again this officer of the law stepped up out of nowhere and asked just what in the hail was going on here. Then he asked Susan and Boadie to see some I.D. "Ain't no reason for none of this," Susan was cooing into his face, reeking of beer, "We's just had us a little dis-er-gree-munt."
The officer said well that was all well and it was all good but he'd have to see some I.D., and pron-TOE. So they were showing it to him and me and Chemaine were sitting down pretending to tie and re-tie our bowling shoes. "Says here," the officer said, "That you're only eighteen years of age." And he gave her this look and Boadie this look like your daddy gives you when you're a little kid and you've been real bad and he's gonna have to tan your hide. Then he looked at me and Chemaine and asked us did we buy these here kids the beer.
Susan lit up another Marlboro Light 100 and other than that you could've heard a pin drop, (and as a matter of fact you did, from all over Dothan Lanes) but we were quiet until Chemaine said, "I saw that fellow yonder buy it for them." She nodded over to this dude who was sliding down the lane about three over from us.
The cop turned around slowly to see the guy, all the while eyeing us from the corner of his left one. He was one of those young, redneck cops with something to prove, they're the worst kind too, and you find lots of 'em in Dothan these days. The little plastic plate on his pocket said Driggs. Anyway, he was looking over at that dude Chamaine had pointed out and at us at the same time when Boadie and Susan up and made a run for it. They went from zero to sixty in two seconds, hurdled right over the rack where the bowling shoes were and towards the open door to the side. "Heyyyy" shrieked Driggs (he was a corporal, I knew that because I know a corporal has two stripes, my granddaddy won a bronze star in the World War) and started to run after them but he knew he'd been beat, so he pulled out his walkie-talkie and started screaming into it, "Two suspects ontheloose bothwhite underage 10-90! 10-90!" and his face was red and the cords were standing out on his neck and all, and everybody in Dothan Lanes'd stopped what they was doing and were looking at him.
He looked around from that walkie-talkie and saw all the people looking, and some of then laughing, and started screaming, "Heyyy! You wanna go downtown? I'll take all your asses downtown" when Chemaine whispered to me that maybe we'd best slip out, too. But he saw us there whispering and started coming our way when he remembered the guy in back of him, and walked back that way, where the fellow was just standin' there with his mouth open and all and holding a green bowling ball with silver glitter on it in his hand, so he was bent over to his right a little. He was kinda old, had a little moustache and these old brown pants pulled up too high, y'know, and the Corporal says, "These two here" (he jabs a thumb in our direction) "say they seen you buy them underage kids left just now a beer. That so?"
The man was sort of shaking his head and no sound was coming out of his mouth, when his wife, who was very fat and was wearing a house dress with a loud floral pattern on it and yellow slippers got up and ran up to the cop and said, "Listen here now young man, Red done no such thing and we's good Christian people. It's them done it!" she screamed, as she flung an arm in our direction and I saw the cop wipe his face 'cause little drops of her spit had come out of her mouth and into his face and I could tell she had dentures. He put an arm up to calm her down and get her away both. I think she'd had a few Buds herself, there. "Red, he got a haaart condition, you just go take them'n leave us be. Hear? Hear" said the woman, and started to walk away and then turned and said, "You're Billy Driggs, ain'tchee? Artie Driggs' littlest bowy? Should be 'shamed, I known your me-maw since'fore you's even born," and waved him off dismissively as she turned again and started to waddle away again. Red was still standing there with the bowling ball in his hand and his mouth open.
And suddenly a shock of recognition came over Corporal Driggs' face and he said, "Annie Mae? You's Annie Mae Randolph, lives on West Pine Circle?" And before she had a chance to answer he'd turned back around and was looking at us and breathing heavy and Annie Mae was looking at us and lighting a Marlboro Light 100 and she was breathing heavy, too.
Now I didn't know what in hell to say, but Chemaine rose to the occasion. "Look here, Corporal Driggs," she says, "I made a TERRible mistake, and I'm sorry (this to the Randolphs) for ever saying anything 'bout these fine folks here. We was just bowling and I didn't know but I thought it was some-body from down there on that side, and didn't you play ball on the varsity for the Eagles? I though I knew you from somewhere, now.
"And how 'ya been, Bill?" she asked. He was about to pipe up and tell her to cut it out and we'd come with him when she said, in a lower tone, "And we was all real sorry to hear about your me-maw. Real sorry." I couldn't believe just what I was hearing. I mean I'm green, I was new here, all that. And right when he was fixin' to say something, (I couldn't believe my eyes) I saw Susan standing at the entrance again with her arm being held by this security guard and they were coming our way. "Seems she forgot her purse," the guard said to the cop, who was reaching for his cuffs and his walkie-talkie at the same time. "Forgot mah purse," said Susan all sullen and all, looking down and breathing heavy.
"Beeeeelly," said Mrs. Randolph, why's you just leave that little girl on with me and Red'll drive her on home. She lives with Dottie Phillips right down the road, and we're thru here anyway..." she looked at Red, who then nodded quickly. "Yeah, pleeeasse, Miz Phillips my me-maw," said Susan, and started crying. Annie Mae wiped a tear from her eye as well. Good thing Red was driving, I guess.
The cop looked down, looked up, and shook his head. "Hail," he said. Annie Mae took Susan by the earlobe and the guard walked out. Red put down his ball and got out his keys. Chemaine and I, we walked quickly towards the door, bowling shoes and all. "Hey!" yelled the cop. "Hey!" screamed the guy at the counter. And we took off. I half expected to hear gunshots but I didn't, but driving back to the trailer in Chemaine's truck we passed Boadie on the side of the highway, his thumb held out and up. But the city lights lay just ahead, and we just kept drivin'.