Alabama is a long state north to south. I jumped off the superslab around Greenville and drove county roads the rest of the way. Woods and hills in the north give way to empty fields where cotton once grew, then further south to lumber plantations thinly dotted with corrugated shacks and decaying automobiles, the side ditches empty save the carcasses of sharp-boned roadkill dried and blackened on the rough pavement, eyes wide open, but seeing nothing.
Had to stop for a band of grim-faced men in rusted pickups probing the underbrush with sharpened sticks, and bloodlust. Their truck beds bore packs of caged hounds, red-eyed and ravenous, their slatted ribs showing through thin and scarred hides, eager for the hunt. I drove on.
Around dusk we pulled off into a nondescript hobo jungle. I entered a building marked “Campground Office” ringing one of those little bells on a coiled spring that hung over the doorframe. A man was seated behind the counter watching a fishing show on an old-school television. He was an older man, big-bellied with a mottled complexion, and greasy hair the color of tossed bathwater. He wore thick-lensed glasses with frames made from antelope bones.
He barely glanced as I entered, but continued to watch his fishing show. A small poodle at his feet, with a coat of dirty lamb’s wool, stared at me with pink and runny eyes. I cleared my throat and asked if he had a site available for the night. He peered out over his glasses at me with a look of vile contempt and turned back to the TV. After a long, awkward pause he finally said, “Twenty-fi’ dollah’s cash.”
I pulled out my wallet and laid my money on the counter like Doc Holliday and waited for him to raise or call. After another pause, and with great effort, he lifted himself from his chair and approached the counter. He quickly folded the cash into his dirty shirt pocket and pulled out a crude printed map of the campground and said, “Site eighteen, checkout at eleven.”
I quietly thanked him, and as I turned to leave, looked down at the dog who was sniffing my pant leg. He looked up and growled a soft disapproval, but allowed me to pass.