A Joe Six Pack Saturday Morning in the Changing South: Part One: Mexico, Alabama.
I try not to be a redneck... but I know I am one. Once you are born here it is something that can not be washed out with Tide or Super Bleach. It's just something I have to accept: that I am the Southern Equivelent of an Alaskan Joe Six Pack.
Therefore I thought I would show you what a Joe Six Pack Saturday Morning is like... in the Changing South.
Joe Six Pack's around here, start out there morning with a steak biscuit or gravy biscuit somewhere. I got mine from Jack's, a regional fast food place specializing in grease. Nobody cooks breakfeast any more. All fast food places are packed EVERY morning. I am fifth in line at the drive through. There is a red Town and Country van ahead of me.
Through the window I see two pre teen girls playing with their ipods in the back seat and flipping their hair. One of them looks back at me. It is my daughter. I can't believe it's her, and she can't believe it is me. Her friend and friend's mother picked her up a little while ago to go to a pee wee football game. They wave, eventually get their food, and go off to the game... still little girls, but not for much longer.
The lady asks me if I want mustard or jelly with my steak biscuit. I choose catsup. Then I start Joe Six pack cruising and eating... a common thing here.
My plan is to go to Collinsville, to look for cheap cd's to burn for my ipod. The Collinsville Flea Market is open there on Saturdays... as it has been for forty years. In the past, I met one of the family members who owned it. They are millionaires. You will see why.
I myself live on a mountain where rich people used to live. Not anymore. They have moved to another mountain, and Joe Six Pack's like me have started dwelling on their past sacred ground... where before the rich people, the Indians used to live.
I start down the mountain toward Collinsville, about 18 miles away, and try to put catsup on my biscuit while driving. Not a smart move. I have to swerve right after I have drifted left, crossing the line toward an oncoming car. But I live to eat the biscuit... this time. Sarah Palin would be proud of me.
The road goes down to the interstate, and then crosses it. Before it does though, I see Maw And Paw's Steakhouse, long closed down, and with letters from the sign having falling down leaving it to say, "Ma and Pa eak ouse." At this interchange, there is only a gas station for interstate travellers to get something to eat at.
AT the bottom and past the interstate, I take a right and head up Highway 11 toward Collinsville. As a writer, titles for this piece I hadn't even written yet, are coming to mind. I choose, A Joe Six Pack Saturday Morning. But soon, I will add to that, for reasons I will tell you.
In a yard on the left I see six used cars for sale. A pretty common sight. There are no cars coming from Collinsville, but many are passing me going to it. I am the slowest thing on the road. I read the plate of the last truck that passes me. It says, TN GYPSY (Tennessee Gypsy).
There is an old barn that says, SEE ROCK CITY FROM SEVEN STATES. And a house with the front roof fully caved in. And then two single wide trailers together of different makes and colors, making a double wide. Snazzy.
Then something I had forgotten about happens that makes me remember something else, and change the title of this piece. It is this. About halfway to Collinsville, I see two houses... and each have Hispanic families for residents... as they are in their yards.
Then I remembered, that because of the chicken plants in this area, there are hundreds if not thousands of Mexican immigrants living in or near Collinsville... and some people have said they have "taken over" Collinsville.
As I get closer to the city I see a church sign that says, "Everyone Smiles in the Same Language." It appears that at least the religious community, is trying to promote acceptance, understanding, and tolerance here.
I decide to at the last moment, to go past the flea market. It can wait. I decide to see what Collinsville is like, as it has been several years since I have been to it. On the left ahead I see a taco stand and a sign that says "Taco Uniqo" (The Unique Taco). Then a sign on the right that says that in "Dogtown" up the hill, you will find unique furniture.
Right before I get to "downtown", Hobo's flea market is on the right. I turn right past it and I am on Main Street... in Collinsville, Alabama. Only now, it could be Main Street in Old Mexico. Actually, about half the business I see... are Hispanic.
I park my car and decide to walk, and maybe take some photos. Across the street is a "Tienda", a store. I can understand some of the words. It's a butcher shop, and a bakery, and maybe a tavern, I'm not sure.
On the side of the street I am on, is the Iglasia Bautista Hispanic: The Hispanic Baptist Church. And it says "Bienvenidos!" or Welcome!
I keep walking and at the next store I do a double take. The sign in it says, "ReElect Jimmy Carter" and for a moment I think it is an antique store. But on inspection it seems a guy named Jimmy Carter really is mayor of Collinsville, and is running for reelection.
(My cat just jumped across my keyboard!)
Then there is an H And R Block income Tax store... with advertising in Spanish.
Then there is on the other side of the street, the Collinsville Medical Center, with the doctor listed as Dr. Sunil Jaiswal, M.D.
Now I know... I have to add to my title, and make it: A Joe Six Pack Saturday in the Changing South. Here is a little Southern town, with a large Spanish speaking population, and an Indian doctor.
And I know there are other towns like it with growing Hispanic populations... and other foreign professionals coming to serve them.
On my right now is an old building, once a theatre, now with a store in the bottom and a rusted marquee at the top... with one single pigeon sitting atop it. I take a picture of the place. There is a flyer advertising a "SuperBalayso," a big dance, "con el grupo Relampago!"... with the group, Lightning!
There is also a flyer in Spanish, for a trailer for rent, for $300.00 a month. No deposit necessary.
Then there is a store specializing in sending money to Mexico, then another doing the same. Later there would be another, so sending money to Mexico is a business in itself here, and a lot of money must be sent from these parts, to support three businesses involved in it.
Then there is a Tae Kwon Do Studio, which is not unusual in small cities in Alabama, except that here, the instructor's name on the window is a Spanish one.
At this time, 9 AM exactly, a loud clock begins to ring it's bell. I look around and I see no high church steeple. The highest building in the town is the old theatre. Then I remember years ago, seeing a church steeple. That church is gone... but they must have put the bell somewhere else, because it is very loud. The kind that used to call Andy and Opie and Aunt Bea to church on Sundays.
Main Street slopes upward toward it's end, and I get in my car and decide to drive up it, hoping to get a high shot of the downtown area. Instead I come to a dead end, and at the end of the dead end, at the end of Main Street... is a beautiful White Old Mansion.
The symbolism about knocked me over. In the old days, that house was probably owned by the banker or lawyer who ran the town. Now it's just a white house that leads to a changing "down town area." An area which is now at least fifty percent hispanic businesses. I got out and took a picture, but my batteries were near dead. But I thought I had gotten one shot of it.
I decided to go get some. I drive to a dollar store off the main street and get some. As I am leaving I see the first black person I have seen in this town, coming out of the Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store. I have seen plenty of Hispanics walking around... and very few Caucasians.
After the batteries, I decide to try another road up the mountain, still trying to find a high vantage point to take a bird's eye picture of Collinsville. At the top of the ridge I still haven't found one, as there are too many trees to see below. A car is stopped at a stop sign, and I roll down my window and ask the guy if there is a vantage point up here I can see Collinsville from. The guy and his wife looks as "American" as you or I, but he looks at me as if I am stupid. Then I realize the problem, and ask him in Spanish the same thing. He answers in Spanish accented English for me to go back to the Piggly Wiggly. There is where I want.
I believe it is a testament to my bad Spanish, that he couldn't understand me, because I had just come from there, and it was on land flat as a board. I told him in Spanish thank you anyway, and went back down the mountain. I don't like to give up, but enough was enough.
At the bottom I was caught by a train passing and it was flying. Probably a hundred cars long, and going at least 50 maybe s60 miles and hour. The rail line runs all aong Highway 11, from at least Birmingham through Chattanooga.
Then I saw some more old goats riding motorcycles, as they seem to be everywhere nowadays.
I turned to the left and headed for the flea market, and turned into the drive. Up ahead was a little shack where a guy charges you $1.00 to park. I took a picture of it, then it was my turn to pay.
I asked him, "How many people do you get here a Saturday?"
He said, It depends on the day, you know, what else is going on somewhere else."
I said, "In the hundreds, or thousands?"
He said, "Oh yes, definitely in the thousands."
This is why the people I told you about who own this are rich. Every Saturday for forty years, they get thousands of dollars, a dollar at a time... just for letting people park in their pasture. They also get money from the people who rent hundreds of booths to seel their wares from.
I find a parking place and check my photos so far. The white house photo did not come out. I'll have to go back... or give up.
But for now, I am here, and you are with me. And the first thing I hear, is a little boy who is looking at an expensive travel motor home parked near me. The name of the mobile home is "THE ESCAPER." And the little boys says, "Wow, Really Cool."
Already, he may be thinking about... getting away from here.
But as I type this I am thinking... I have to go to work soon. This is all I have time to write today. Next time I will take you the reader inside the flea market. Where I will see things, and meet people, and ask some of them... some of these Joe Six Packs... which way are you leaning in the coming election? In this changing South.
As if I didn't know.
Saturday, October 4, 2008