18 May Deep South Update: the Animal House Book Tour

In Birmingham, AL, yesterday I ate two pit-cooked pork barbecue sandwiches from Carlilse’s and nearly passed out from the goodness. If you’ve never had Southern BBQ, you are missing something special. Right now, I’m curbside at a city park in Tuscaloosa. Cleo is sprawled in the grass and I’m trying to keep up with the logistics of booking this 66-city book tour, which means I am on the phone every day and emailing every day in an attempt to fill in the gaps, tie up loose ends, etc. All of this complicates life on the road. I haven’t had time even to send out an email blast to let people know I’m out here. That’s not the way to work a tour. To do it right, you need a staff of three. The publisher gave me one hard-working intern.

My reception in Macon, GA, was amazing, thanks to a couple of friends and the vigorous efforts of Historic Macon. We had a full house and I sold out of books. That almost makes the entire trip worth while. My reception in Birmingham was at the opposite end: three people, one of whom was a friend. That kind of says it all for how things go. Every time I drive through an historic neighborhood I’m tempted to stop the van and sell my book door-to-door. I know I’d stir enough interest if only I could get hold of all those people living in all those cool, old houses.

To make matters more interesting, and complicated, I’m video-interviewing preservationists along the way for a documentary called “Preserving America.” As a result, I’m meeting some very interesting people. One thing it seems all preservationists have in common is that, as children, they a) saw cool old buildings being torn down, 2) had family members (usually parents) who were into history, and 3) spent quality time in old buildings, visiting relatives etc. That pretty much describes my own experience. This afternoon I scoped out Bryce HospitaI (for the insane), built in 1853 and destined for demolition because the university of Alabama wants more parking. Too predictable, I know. Speaking of building, I’ve never seen a bigger football stadium than U. of A’s. It rises from the middle of campus like a gargantuan space ship and, clearly, is better appointed than most professional stadiums. Driving around campus I couldn’t get Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” out of my head becasue one line says, “They call Alabama the Crimson Tide….”

Cleo seems to be enjoying the trip. I brought her along because she was languishing at home, doing nothing more than baby-sitting our decrepit 14-year-old boxer. Now she’s getting plenty of stimulation, meeting lots of people, though yesterday, when surrounded by a crowd of grade-schoolers, she started barking because she felt a bit overwhelmed. It seems she’ll go anywhere and hang out with anybody. Today, while I did an interview, she sat happily under a receptionist’s desk. Tonight we’re sleeping at a truck stop. More on that scene later.

The van is driving well except the new shifter is going out. Mercedes says they’ll receplace it (if I get home). I’ve got a week of repairs awaiting me, what with the ruptured water tank (which must be competely replaced) and, oh yeah, I dropped my camera and the LED screen broke, so now, for the rest of the week I’m filming on blind faith, because I can’t really see what I’m filming (though the camera works otherwise).

Some notes:

You can’t live in a van on the road unless you’re comfortable with small spaces. It’s like a submarine.

I saw armadillos in South Carolina. Since when did they get armadillos?

A response from a preservationist about where I should be: “Meet me at the front doors by the cannon.”

Talking to an old house worker today who cautioned, “You don’t want to go in there without a mask ’cause of the bat guano.”