I’m writing this in shorts and a tee-shirt. My flip-flops are sitting on the floor by my feet and the fly fan is turning over my head. Unless I’m mistaken, this is still March, yes? According to our weather person our lack of rain does not bode well for the months to come with hot-tempered summer looming behind the skirts of her lighter spirited and more colorful sister, spring. As the heat moves in, our beautiful lake will begin to sink slowly as water is sold and pumped down to our neighbors in the south to nurture those nortoriously well manicured Southern California lawns. For me, it’s fire season that’s worrisome. Some years ago we experienced a summer entirely shrouded in a red haze. For three months the lake was never visible from our deck and we wandered the smokey streets wearing masks like denizens of the streets of China.
As far as I know, there is no place in the world that doesn’t come with its share of possible natural disasters. In the south we lived under the shadow of tornadoes. In Alabama, two weeks after we moved from Muscle Shoals to Hurricane, West Virginia a tornado touched down two streets from our house, completely obliterating a trailer park. California with its perfect climate and glorious beaches, shakes like a corpulent belly from time to time and lights up like a holiday tree in Time Square during the dry season. When I lived on the east coast hurricanes hovered offshore during the warmer seasons, and in the winter, blizzards buried us under blankets of snow. I guess as with all aspects of life, there is balance.
Spring and fall are my favorite seasons, as they seem less fraught with disaster. When I think of spring, my thoughts often turn to Alabama. It was early spring when I first crossed the border. Wildflowers were blooming profusely in the swaying pastures along the roadways, as I remember, and in the rural areas herds of cows dotted across the pastures like raisins on an oatmeal cookie.
Having depleted the contents of our cooler hours before, we stopped at a small diner with a sign reading “best burgers in Alabama”. Conversation was lively at the counter, the only available seating. As usual I was odd man out, lacking a drawl of any consequence. In spite of my shortcomings I found the locals friendly and the burger, dripping with sharp cheddar, lived up to its touted reputation. The tall iced glasses of tea passing by looked refreshing, so I ordered a glass. Tea down in that region, I discovered, tasted more like lemonade. It was heavily sweetened and syrupy. When I asked if I could have my tea unsweetened, I could see by our server’s face this confirmed for her my lack of southern heritage as sure as if I’d waved a union flag under her nose. Shortly I was served a hot cup of water and a tea bag. I took this as a statement.
The first night in the state we stopped in Decatur. Decatur, Alabama, a city of 50,000 plus inhabitants is also known as “The River City”. It rests on the banks of Wheeler Lake an offshoot of the Tennessee River. Once thriving due to its waterways, it has since been overshadowed by Huntsville and now is largely supported by very visible manufacturing plants.
I have had the pleasure of enjoying some fine accommodations in my travels, including all the luxurious amenities included in the price of the rooms, but while on the road during the construction years, we kept our budget low when it came to housing. After twelve hours behind the wheel I would have gladly slept on a blow up mattress had one been provided. Often we found ourselves in small motels off the beaten path with the only prerequisite for comfort being the room included an air conditioner or a heater depending on the season, a bed, and a place to wash up. Other than a bar of soap and clean towels this was all the pampering we got.
Such was the case when we pulled into Decatur. The sun was slipping beyond the horizon as we passed the city limits sign. A bright blue strip mall type motel came up on the right with an orange neon sign flashing “Vacancy”. It had a pool, so to speak, although from its appearance nobody had taken a lap for quite a while. A sign with an arrow indicated the lobby was to our right. On entering we were greeted by the overwhelming aroma of chili and behind the curtains a TV was tuned to Jeopardy. A short man with a broad handlebar moustache emerged carrying a soda. Without much interest he handed us the registration paperwork. Running the credit card, we were given a huge plastic key ring with the number of our room on it and the key. With the point of a finger we were directed towards our room at the end of the farthest building.
Parking was available directly in front of our room. In truth, parking was available in front of all of the rooms except two. Inserting the key in the door and turning, the door remained firmly shut. After several tries it didn’t give any indication of moving any time soon. We returned to the lobby. Not looking any too pleased, as surely he was missing the bonus round, after hearing our dilemma our proprietor walked back to the room with us. Banging several times on the door then ramming it with one beefy shoulder it finally gave way and pushed open. Seemingly satisfied, he handed us the key once again and headed back to Alex Trubeck. Each time we entered and left this was to be the procedure we would have to follow. We stayed one night.
The room itself was clean but spare. There was a bed, a TV with dials, two night stands with lamps nailed to the top, one with a Gideon bible next to it, exactly two large towels, two hand towels, and two wash cloths. Needless to say the Ritz Carlton was not stressing this competition. Either for romance or economy, each light socket was equipped with one 25W bulb. A mole would have felt right at home in such surroundings.
Tired, I felt my way to the bathroom and ran a bath, looking forward to settling in with the book I was reading. My husband reminded me when I emerged I wouldn’t be able to see the pages in the dim lighting. TV being the other option I switched it on. When I turned the dial to change channels it came off in my hand. Really? Once again I spoke to the gentlemen in charge and was assured someone would be right out with a replacement dial. True to his word, I opened the door not long after to find a younger version of the owner carrying a box of assorted TV dials. The entire box was handed to me with expressed hope that one of the dials in the box might work. Never mind.
The following morning I went to open the drapes so I could see to put on my make-up to find they had stapled the drapes shut. Now I’m all up for economy but enough is enough. Perhaps they felt that if anyone really got a good look at the room they’d turn and get back in their car. The next night I picked the motel. It was all good until I tried to use the shower only to find three million ants staging a march on the interior walls. Life was full of adventures on the road, some good and some bad. The quirky days made it fun and provided me a wealth of information to write about.
This is such a nice dressing. I even like it with pork. It looks pretty on the plate as well and offers something a little spicy and different on the buffet table.
Creamy Mustard Dressing
1/4 cup Canola oil
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
1 1/2 tsp. dill
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients but salt and pepper in food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Best if refrigerated overnight. Makes 1 1/2 cups.