ALABAMA

 

"Ode to Bobby Joe"
or "Shoulda Gotta Tow Truck"

-from Anniston, AL to Memphis

Just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, we left the van on the side of the road in the middle of the night. We tried everything we knew, and some things we didn't, but couldn't put the van back together again. We had to leave all of our equipment in the van, because it wouldn't fit in the taxi. We got no help from the people we had met and filmed earlier that day, either in fixing the van, or putting us up while the van was worked on. We knew we weren't in Memphis anymore...

We crashed at a crappy motel, after we had found out from the cab driver that her son (I think), could fix the van tomorrow. The only problem was, he was in jail (again) tonight. He was supposed to get out tomorrow, and she would send him over to our motel room. We fell asleep watching the Richard Pryor movie where he gets a job as a bus driver for a bunch of kids....

At about 6am, a banging on the door woke me up. We were finally meeting Bobby Joe, and me and Wheat would be the ones to go with him, because we knew the most about cars. We got in his pickup, which I don't think had a hood, and he immediately started blaring music from the boom box that sat on the back of the seats, right behind our heads. It was too loud this early in the morning, even if I had slept in a bed. I began to recognize the bassline of the song, as I watched the brass man & woman hanging from the rear-view mirror fucking as we flew down the road. I think it said 'stud' or something like that, and might actually be a pendant for everystud. The song that was the soundtrack for the loving couple, and this whole tangent trip, was Vanilla Ice. The one with the Queen bassline that was so popular, was now being blared into our ears in 1996 at 6am in Alabama! I think Wheat and I realized at the same time what music it was, and looked at each other with terror in our eyes... I just wanted to get this over with.

When we got to the van, Bobby Joe climbed underneath it and the 3 of us kept trying everything in the book. This meant a couple trips to the auto parts store, peeling out through the median of the Interstate we were stalled on, back to Anniston. We ended up replacing a part or two before we decided to tow it to his friend's place to have him look at it. Couldn't be far I thought...

How much is a tow truck? That's OK, Bobby Joe would just chain the van (a full-size utility van full of heavy film equipment) to his bumper and pull us there. I figured it must be really close for him to want to pull us this way. We chain it up and away we go.

Me and Wheat are in the van, chained to Bobby Joe's truck four feet in front. It takes me a minute to get used to the steering and braking, but we do OK...for the first 10 minutes. Then it starts to get a little crazy. When you are the caboose in this situation, it is hard enough to steer and stop this huge, heavy van with no power brakes and no power steering. It became even harder when we reached speeds of up to 70mph! The roads are the small, rural 2-lane roads with hills, curves, and stop signs. Unfortunately for us, Bobby Joe knew the roads, so we could go all the faster !!!

It took us about 30 minutes to get where we were going (and the thought had crossed my mind as to how we were going to find our way back!). I can't remember the guy's name, it might have been Jim (Bob). He had a little house in the distance, and the usual junkyard of discarded parts, cars, and steel drums that litter most of the yards of the rural South. His wife was there too, and she could turn a rachet wrench with the best of them. She was a nice lady, even sold me a VHS movie while we waited around for him to say, "OK, try it."

At the foot of the driveway, was their livelihood; a 2-car garage where they work on most of their friends & neighbor's vehicles. The garages were full, with a tall, skinny guy working on one car, and a short, fat guy working on the other. Between the 2 of them, they had as many teeth as a hockey goalie. They were both nice, didn't talk much, and I think one of their names was Clem.

Bobby Joe hung around for awhile and helped a little until he had to leave. We owed him some money since he "helped us" and towed us all the way out here. He actually wrote us a "receipt" and took about $80 or $100 of our money! Luckily I had it. It tapped me though. (These dollar amounts might actually be the total for Bobby Joe and 'Jim & co.', I can't remember.)

We ended up being there for more than 2 hours while THEY tried everything. No one could figure out the problem. It had to do with the timing, which is a MAJOR problem, and the thing won't run if it's wrong! We ended up getting it close enough to start and sputter our way back to the motel. They gave us directions back to town, and me and Wheat were breathing a sigh of relief. We were back on the small roads that lead to town, and then I realized, semi trucks were passing us UPHILL!! This thing MIGHT make it back to the motel! Our sigh of relief was very short.

We finally rolled into the motel parking lot (and I mean ROLLED!). Everyone piled in and we drove it to the gas station.

They took a look at it and they didn't have the parts to fix it, nor did they want to even promise that they could fix it! Since we got it there so late, he couldn't even do anything with it until tomorrow. That's the same response we got from all the gas stations. We struck up a deal with the guy who I think was the manager to tow the van back to Tupelo the next day for $300. (This is actually a good deal, because he had to also drive back to Anniston after he towed us). We walked up the hill to the hotel and ate at the restaurant next door. The hotel had a great sign out front. Can't remember the name, but I could take you there...

The next morning we walked back down the hill to the gas station, and hooked up the van to the tow truck. (The van was a Ford and the tow truck was a Chevy.) There was a total of 5 of us so 2 rode up in front with the driver, and Mike, Wheat and I all rode on the flat platform on the back of the tow truck!! This is totally illegal (even in Alabama), and the front of the van was just staring at us, bouncing up and down the whole way. I can't remember how far it is from Anniston to Tupelo, but it is at least 150 miles.

At some point in Alabama, we could tell that the driver was hitting his brakes and pulling over. The only problem is, the shoulder of the road was dirt and gravel, and it had recently rained. The three of us on the back of the tow truck got a bumpy surprise when we careened off the road and into the ditch!!! The two heavy vehicles created huge ruts in the muddy grass. After me, Mike and Wheat jumped off the back of the tow truck with the same expression as roller coaster riders, we decided it was time to get out the Polaroid. No film.

We flag down another tow truck. This one's a Ford. He attaches his winch to the stuck tow truck, the one pulling our van. We manage to get both of the damn trucks out. We start on our way, and eventually get back to Guntown, Mississippi. This is our Tupelo Headquarters. The tow truck guy leaves, and we jump in other vehicles and drive home to Memphis.

**This story actually took place in June 1996, and was selectively remembered in November 1997. I'll add more as I remember it.

- Darin