We finally got unloaded in Atlanta around 8 and by noon had crossed into South Carolina for our next load. Some kid outside the Atlanta dock had sold us a bag full of Bazooka bubble gum and we’d been chewing on them for hours.
Al read the comic on one of the wrappers as he drove and said, “Okay……” as in Is this supposed to be funny? Every time we’d read one, we’d think this will be the funny one. I mean, when we were six, Bazooka comics were hilarious. Of course, so was the word boobs.
As we motored along, we listened to Jerry Reed, which was fine by me.
Jerry Reed is an entertainer like no other. He can ease your soul with a gentle guitar (“Smell The Flowers”), then blow your mind with a foot stomping amalgam of rock, funk, country and Cajun – all while picking his guitar with lightning-fast fingers and wailing with such fervor you’d swear he wasn’t human (“Amos Moses”).
Al owned virtually all of Reed’s music on CD. He even possessed a VHS copy of the Scooby Doo episode “The Phantom of the Country Music Hall” from 1972 in which the gang searches for Reed’s missing guitar while trying to avoid the possessed mannequins of a Viking and Davy Crockett.
Jerry Reed was more than just a singer, too. He wrote movie scripts and a warehouse full of songs – some recorded by Elvis. He played memorable characters in movies and on TV with great names like Bama McCall (Gator), Leonard Oates (Mama’s Family), Coach Red Beaulieu (The Waterboy), and Cledus AKA Snowman (Smokey and the Bandit), among others. And on top of all that, Reed loved to fish and often made quest-appearances on Bill Dance Outdoors.
So whatever your tastes, there was something for everyone with Jerry Reed.
We also loved imitating his voice. Jerry sounds a lot like Foghorn Leghorn – sans the rooster cockiness. If you can add “Son!” to the end of a sentence, you’re 90 per cent there. So we’d say things such as “Look at that traffic, son!” or “You need a napkin, son?” or “Which exit do I take for the truck stop, son?”
Actually “Son!” sounded more like “Sawn!” the way Reed said it with his Cajun drawl. Sometimes we’d just say “Sawn!” by itself. If the view was pretty. If something smelled. If we were hungry. And no matter how many times we’d say “Sawn!” it never got old.
Our goal for this day was to listen to every Jerry Reed song Al owned as we drove to the loading dock in Charleston.
We turned off Interstate 26 and headed west onto Ashley Phosphate Road (another oddly named byway I discovered traveling across the country) as “Wabash Cannonball” faded, at which point Al named the next track from memory: “Guitar Man.”
“Guitar Man” began with Jerry picking away at medium tempo. His voice came on like dynamite blowing up a dam:
Well, I quit my job down at the car wash
I left my momma a goodbye note
By sundown I left Kingston…
And just as Jerry said Kingston, the bright red and yellow sign of a Bojangles’ restauraunt scrolled by to the right.
Nothing seemed more important than stopping there to eat. By any means necessary.
Sometimes when you’re on the road long enough, little things like the chance to eat fried chicken at Bojangles’ could make a grinding day better, no matter how much work and humiliation it took to find a parking spot. As long as we didn’t ruin landscaping or run over folks – we’d make things like that happen.
“Bojangles, sawn!” I said loudly to Al.
“What?” he asked. He hadn’t seen the sign.
“Bojangles, sawn!” I repeated.
“Bojangles?” he asked. As in What the hell are you talking about?
I explained how Bojangles had the best chicken in the world and that I’d even buy if he’d please, please turn around. As I said this, the Bojangles’ sign bounced in the mirror, shrinking away from us.
He laughed a few times until realizing I was serious. Luckily, we had some time to burn before our load would be ready, and after hearing me go on and on and on about their life-altering biscuits, corn on the cob, french fries, Cajun pintos, green beans, sweet potato pies, and world famous iced tea, he raised an eyebrow, intrigued. When I said Jerry Reed wouldn’t hesitate to turn around for Bojangles’, that cinched it. He narrowed his eyes and scanned for a spot to make a U-turn.
Ashley Phosphate Road was normally a busy, three-lane street, but the cars to our west were waiting at a stop light and nobody was behind us. Bojangles’ appeared meant to be.
With Jerry Reed still picking away through the speakers, Al slowed then swung wide to the right and began the U-turn. But when he tried to make the full turn across all six lanes, he didn’t quite have enough clearance and needed to stop before hitting the curb, which left our truck spanning most of the road. He cut the wheel all the way to the right and began backing up just as the light turned green from the west.
Cars began piling up as they waited for us. I recoiled into the deepest recesses of my seat and laughed like an idiot. Al remained expressionless as he stopped backing, turned the wheel all the way to the left, then gassed it, slowing briefly as he craned his neck to and see over the hood and avoid grazing a speed limit sign.
“It’s good chicken, sawn!” I said. Tears rolled down my face.
“Shut up,” he said with humor in his voice, still expressionless, trying not to laugh as he concentrated on getting us out of the mess. Luckily, nobody honked or flipped us the bird. If you kept a straight face like Al in those situations, people would either be too intimidated to honk, or they’d write you off as a moron – just a step up the evolutionary ladder from an ape scratching his nuts – and honking might distract or anger and cause further delay.
When we walked into Bojangles, the hearty, heavenly aroma of chicken crackling in the fryer washed over me. Fastball’s “The Way” reverberated through the overhead speakers.
A guy with long, thinning blond hair ate with his girlfriend in a booth nearby. He wore a shirt emblazoned with a rebel flag, and under the flag were the words Real Men Wear Black. As an old couple ahead of us ordered, Mr. Real Men burped and his girlfriend laughed. I rolled my eyes. But seconds later, my inner 6-year-old giggled.