I’d arrived in Alabama late in the night, finally stopping at a chain motel when I couldn’t keep my gritty eyes open any longer. After too few hours of sleep the morning dawned a silvery grey and I blearily stumbled to the lobby to check out. ‘Bama “Crimson Tide” had continued their winning streak last night, and the parking lot was speckled with a fresh dusting of broken glass and a single Air Jordan. Lovelia at the front desk had trouble with the computer and tried the same sequence over and over again, clicking the mouse more firmly each time. I needed coffee.
I drove north through cities I’d only seen in Civil Rights era news photographs, jarred by the familiarity– it felt a little like passing through a movie set, at once both foreign and oddly recognizable.
Outside of the cities the streets were empty this early on a Sunday morning, but the church parking lots overflowed onto their lawns. Worn clapboard houses losing their battle with kudzu stood next to tidy pre-fab homes, the kind with whimsical mailboxes and tractor tires used decoratively, buried partway as borders or split at the rim into star-shaped planters for sunny geraniums.
A mist floated over the road like a soft blanket, in the volatile weather it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a cool fog or steam rising from the southern soil. Cheaha State Park appeared abandoned, and I dropped my entrance fee by a gate swinging with an ominous squeak. It was the opening scene of every horror film I’d ever seen.
The wind had stripped the November trees nearly bare, and pistachio-green crusty lichen painted every surface. The ground was covered with a shin-deep carpet of leaves the color of dirty pennies, and I shuffled through them slowly, the dry susurration the only sound in this forest muffled with fog.
The highpoint itself is at the base of a stone lookout tower, built in the New Deal but rising eerily out of the mist like a musty remnant from the Civil War. On cue the door swung open with a loud creak, and I hesitantly crept inside. Cobwebs draped the corners and hung in torn streamers from the top floor’s ceiling. The stone was chalked black with coal dust and dripping with white lime.
I peeked out the tiny fogged windows at the jade and copper forest down below, subconsciously searching the cloudy shadows for more of the slasher-film tropes I’d come to expect from Cheaha, but there wasn’t even the rustle of leaves under the damp grey sky.
About the beer:
It was Sunday in Alabama, and I’d had to buy my beer at a state-run package store the evening before. The night was cold and grey and I chose a hearty dopplebock, Intimidator from Straight To Ale. I’m hesitant to review this one because I suspect I might’ve had a bad bottle– it was a little syrupy and overly boozy tasting, a cloying sort of orange juice flavor like an old school Brass Monkey, just not quite right in a way that I doubt it usually tastes this way– perhaps just another effect of the spectral tower in the mist.