Welcome to Barbour County, Alabama

I went South to my uncle Bob’s this Thanksgiving. We had sort of a family reunion, with my brother and me, my uncle Big Bob (my father’s little brother) and a bunch of cousins and cousins-in-law. Snake, Willie, Leroy, and Jeb. Traditional southerners, not Yankee transplants. Cigarettes and whiskey, sweet potato pie, black eye peas, and grits. Lots of meat. And dogs under the table to keep the floor clean.

I drove from Atlanta, figuring to arrive about ten in the morning on Thanksgiving Day. I made it all the way through Eufaula, Alabama, down highway 95, and onto county road 97 when it happened.

I had to pee.

I was way out in the country, on an empty two lane road, with nothing at the end but a bunch of rednecks in boats at a place called Baker’s Landing on Lake Eufaula. And even that was a few miles off. So I pulled over and walked around the side of the car, and peed in the ditch.

Most every country road in Alabama has a ditch at the edge. They give people a place to pee, and they trap cars that run off the road. Ditches and trees are two of the reasons those Alabama highways have more white crosses alongside them than a mountain road in Mexico. That, and the white lightning they make in the back country. My own great grandfather had a still behind the Lawrenceville house back before I was born. But I digress.

In the midst of my pee, a sheriff’s car rolled up, and the blue lights came on. I zipped my pants and walked over.

“Watcha doin?” He said. Wasn’t it obvious? I guess not.

“I was peeing.”

“Have you been drinking?” He asked this with barely disguised anticipation.

“No. I just had to pee. I don’t generally drink liquor, and never at nine in the morning.”

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “You didn’t try and hide from me or nuthin!”

“Hide? Why should I hide? I was peeing by the side of the road, and you drove up.”

“Do you want to spend Thanksgiving in jail?” Is this guy nuts, I wondered? But it got worse.

“Did you know I could write you up for indecent exposure, and you’d have to register as a SEX OFFENDER?” He asked this with some glee.

“Are you sure you haven’t been drinking?” He asked again, and stepped closer to sniff me, whereupon I caught a whiff of something on HIS breath.

“That sounds a little extreme for peeing in a ditch on a country road,” I said. “I don’t see how peeing in a ditch makes me a sex offender.”

Now, I was fully sober, respectable looking, and more articulate than most folks. I even grew up in the south. It was immediately obvious to me that this sheriff would have had a fight on his hands, if I’d been two drunk college boys instead of one middle aged author.

He didn’t know I was an author, but he’d figured out by then I wasn’t a drunk and I was too old to be a college boy. With a little more back and forth, he let me go.

It seems to me there’s a fundamental problem when Alabama sheriffs can turn a guy peeing in a ditch in the country into a sex offender with a $25 nuisance ticket. Don’t our cops have more important things to do?

“Welcome to Barbour County, Alabama” my cousin David said, when I arrived at the house.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.

And before I go . . .

I broke down and ordered one of those Kindles from Amazon. My nice letter asking for a free one had gone unanswered, I’m afraid. So it’s due Wednesday, loaded with Books to Test Read it. I’ll report back soon . . . I will tell you this in advance, though: The bar for acceptable performance is now a hell of a lot higher, at $399 out of pocket, than it would have been if they’d sent me the thing for nothing.

I’ve also got one of the new Nikon D300 cameras coming tomorrow, thanks to Bill and Melissa at Nikon Professional Services. I had to pay for it too, but luckily I sold my D200 and got back most of the cost. Are there any photographers out there? Should I write about cameras and photography on the blog? Let’s hear from you. . .

I took up picture-taking about ten years ago, when my brother worked in advertising and had the Nikon account. He got me a free camera, and I liked it so much I kept it up, even though I had to buy all the subsequent cameras and lenses.

And that’s all for this rainy Monday night.


ssas said…
Ahh, firsties. How I love firsties.

Nothing much to say but Iiii'm

ssas said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bonnie said…
SSaS was the first commenter. That's kind of a prestigious thing, I guess.

I love photography. I have a Canon Rebel XTi, and I take it with me as many places as I can get away with, but I don't take nearly as many photos as I'd like, because I have limited space on my hard drive. I would love it if you would post photos and speak about your photography experiences. It's always nice to see new perspectives, so to speak.
amysue said…
Hey John, let me know how you like the Kindle. It's been in my shopping cart for a few days now and I can't make up my mind. It'd be great to just take the plunge and then load it up with all the reading I want before I head over to San Diego, but $399 is a bit of a hurdle to leap. Of course, if you were findiing yourself wondering what the perfect holiday gift for me would be...
Essential Amy said…
Wow, I guess I'll remember never to let my husband take a leak on the side of the road in Alabama.

I reviewed your book for Canada Amazon.
The Muse said…
Indecent exposure! HOW FUNNY. At 6'4" you must have been quite a proud spectacle just standing there in broad daylight peeing. John!?! You're lucky Bubba didn't haul you off to the slammer! Those small town cops LOVE to harass out-of-towners. We've been pulled over for ridiculous reasons before traveling through Southern towns.
Polly Kahl said…
Hi John, I'll review it for Amazon Canada, and even Amazon, U.S., which I've been meaning to do for some time. Tomorrow. (Really)

Loved the Alabama story. Probably a good thing you're a clean cut Caucasian.

I can do most things, but one thing I've never been able to do is understand the F-stop and slr cameras. Several people have tried to explain the basics to me, but my brain goes all puddley. It's like a math anxiety thing. But I do love your pictures and I check back once in a while to see if you've updated. Like the pictures of people the best. More please.
ssas said…
I kinda wish you'd been charged. It would have been so fun to see the look on the cop's face when he figured out you were famous...
piglet said…
firstly, i love how you describe the south b/c you do it so well and with great accuracy.

secondly, i am very happy that you walked away without a charge from that alabama police person. some parts of the south (unfortunately) have yet to leave the 1950's.

i just listened to the interview you did with our local radio station out of charlotte, nc "the link" with morning hosts, bob and sheri. as usual, it was a great interview.

finally, i left a review for your book on amazon. don't look for piglet tho, they made me use my real name.
Polly Kahl said…
I got secondies. Left a review at amazon canada and an abbreviated review at amazon U.S. Also read all 60 reviews on the U.S. pages. Can't believe I read the whole thing. Most were great, but a couple...? My fave was the one who said you had two marriages and three kids. (And you thought you only had one. Surprise!)
Polly aka Just Another Reader
Holly Kennedy said…
When I posted a review for LMITE on Amazon.com my assumption was it'd be posted on both sites!

Anyhow, I just posted one for you on Amazon.ca and also here: www.chapters.indigo.ca

Chapters/Indigo is Canada's equivalent to B&N in the US, so maybe ask your blogging pals to post there as well, John.
kristen spina said…
Hi John, yes definitely do some posts on photography. Your photos are lovely and since it's a hobby of mine too (Canon digital Rebel), I'd love to hear and see more.

Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving with the family--despite the close run-in with the law.
Unknown said…
Photography... hell yeah.

I have a Rebel Canon XT (tried not to get suckered by the Megapixel hype) but love the speed and power of the DSLR. Thought about one of the more professional Canon or Nikon but figured I'd better work with something with a little less horse power. I also have a Canon AV-1 (35mm) that I scored at a yard sale for cheap and my step dad just gave me his Canon FT-b which is the professional version of the 1980s 35mm. I also carry a compact camera just in case I see a scene that fancies my eye.

Not once in your book did you say that you were offended by sex, especially being on tour with KISS, so that ticket would be illogical. But we are talking about the south and being in the "northern part of The South" and have been on field trip to exotic Alabama and Arkansas...
Robin said…
My 11 year old son (on the spectrum) has discovered photography. It is amazing to me how focused he is when he has the camera in his hand, and how patient he will be, taking shot after shot to get one just right.

We bought him a relatively cheap kodak with an extended warranty because patience is not usually part of his personality.

Any advice on getting the best pictures out of his camera?
Oh dear Lord! And THAT is why I stay NAWTH of the Mason Dixon when possible! Glad we're not bailing you out of jail before Sunday, John.
Chris Eldin said…
Damn! I didn't get firsties.

Loved your story. Don't you carry pee cups or bottles in your car? hahahaha

I went to Amazon, but you won't recognize me because it has my old information (Takoda)

Hope you get lots of great reviews, which are highly deserved!!!

The Anti-Wife said…
Having many relative in the South, here's my recommendation for next time you get stopped for peeing in the ditch. After the cop asks what you're doing and you give him the simple answer, before he can question you again ask him how far it is to your destination (even if you know the answer) and tell him you're really anxious to go visit your relative *insert name here* there. Just make sure you mention a relative who's never possibly been in his jail. That might create some bias.

The object is to distract him and let him know you're at least semi-Southern. And make sure you shake hands with him when you leave - you know, surreptitiously leave him some of your DNA!
Lainie Petersen said…

Excellent advice, though I'd think twice about telling a man to shake the sheriff's hand if they'd just been urinating! :-)
Sandra Cormier said…
Oh, my gosh, I would've been petrified if a State Trooper talked to me like that! They seem to have so much power down there. The police here have to follow so many rules -- you wouldn't think so with the taser incidents.

I asked for your book for Christmas, and you can be darn sure I'll review it when I read it. I have the opposite problem -- two reviews of my book on the American site and none on the Canadian one, even though it's sold out.

I'd love to see more photography posts. I worked my way through college as a photographic consultant at a chain of photo stores here in Ontario. I got the job because I knew what an F-stop was.

Nikon is the best! We still have a closetful of equipment that we must trade in for a good digital SLR. Most of the pictures on my blog are taken with a fair to middlin' Pentax point-and-shoot.

Squeaky, burn your pictures on to CDs and carry an extra memory card, then snap away!

I have a certificate to teach photography, but I never used it much. I don't mind teaching it, though!
Lisa said…
I finished reading Look Me in the Eye and I really enjoyed it. I have very good intentions (that will be realized) of writing up a post on it and some of the things it got me thinking about in the very near future. Work has me so swamped that I've only been "out here" every few days. I will check amazon.ca and add to it as soon as I have a few minutes to write up something coherent (lack of sleep!). Great book John and thanks for having the courage to share your story with the world.
John Robison said…
Lanie, your post seems to reflect a wrong sentiment I've heard often from females.

Guys I know, when urinating, do not pee on their hands. As teenagers all guys watch this stuff, so we know.

Nine times out of ten, when a guy comes out of the mens room with wet hands, it's because he washed them, not because he peed on them.

And the one time of ten . . . that's because the guy leaned over the toilet and dropped his glasses or his cell phone.
John, that's a howl! But you're still, you know, handling the parts.... That's a little skeevy as parts dribble and um, move around. Enough!

So I got an email from a gal in the town where I used to live in Ohio. She was thinking of me. Found my blog. Saw YOUR photo on it. And had just finished your book! (She has a child on the spectrum.) She wants to buy copies for eveyone she knows, especially in the school district, which is pathetic in dealing with spectrum kids. I know, we were there for 6 years and lost valuable time for my girls. Maybe this spring we can finagle a reading in Cleveland. They have some great independents there.

Lainie Petersen said…
Hi John:

Actually I wasn't really thinking about men peeing on their hands so much as what Kim said about how "handling". In any case, I am glad that the situation got worked out. Cops can be a real pain at times.
Trish Ryan said…
So sorry to hear you weren't treated a little more kindly on your Thanksgiving journey...shouldn't this guy be reported to the Southern Hospitality Enforcement Council?

Can't wait to hear your thoughts on the Kindle!
The Muse said…
Hey Kim,

Eew...Naughty girl! This is a PG- rated blog. If you're going to "talk dirty" you need to post something on Sex Scenes blog...
Jill said…
Yes, please talk more about photography. I'm a photographer by profession and have a son with Asperger's and one with Tourette's (never a dull moment here!). My son with Asperger's just gets the best images and has that "straight to the point" perspective that I love. I love your images and the titles that you give them.
D. Burrell said…
Your book came with me on MY trek to family on Thanksgiving, and was my father's first encounter with the... well, spectrum? He read it immediately, and recognized himself. I had just self-diagnosed, and I think he's doing the same. [we come from a long line of engineers, including a prof. at MIT.] Thank the gods you included such funny stuff--the blast furnace was the perfect ice-breaker.
But, fancy cameras? Heck, no, I'm way too overloaded now to deal with one more thing.
My very best wishes to you, and my thanks for writing that book. I will indeed review it in the next few days.
Michelle O'Neil said…

Kim! John! Come to Cleveland.
Kanani said…
I've met really great cops and cops who are looking, wanting drama.
Sounds like you just got a really DUMB one, a passive aggressive one, and I'm glad you were able to bring the incident to a peaceful closure.

I love your photos. I've always found them fascinating.... Just really great stuff!
John, you aren't kidding about that crosses in the Mexican mountains - perhaps there's more here because the cops could care less about relieving yourself? I'm glad he let you go without a ticket! My husband does that so often I'm convinced we'll get busted.

I just bought your book and I can't wait to read it!
ORION said…
John makes a really good point about reviews. Many readers don't realize how helpful it is for the author when they post reviews on Amazon UK, CA and US. In the same way it's useful to post on Barnes and Noble and BAMM or any other online review source. However if a reader is really not comfortable doing this I'm never offended -
That Alabama episode would make a GREAT short story and if it was published probably would do some good.
UncleRabbit1 said…
That Alabama sheriff that pulled you over. He was discriminating against you because you were Black. That was ridiculous. He's probably married to his sister and together they are raising their inbred children.

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