FAN APPRECIATION DAY 2002
Friday, June 14, 2002, 7:00 a.m. EST—Friday before Fan Appreciation Day
William (Zbeta) fires up his kiln and lovingly caresses the pottery made for THE GUYS. He is looking forward to putting names and faces to the cyber entities (Luvbama, Rebelinangel, SmokyKat, KateyPat, Bootygirl, et. al) who haunt the message board for disciples of Fort Payne’s fab four. William hopes his interview with Ben Shurett of the Fort Payne Times Journal will go well. The Michigan contingent will be present to explain their obsession. William pauses, wipes his face, and wonders if KateyPat really left Pittsburgh at the ungodly hour of 3:00 a.m. and if she will arrive in time for the Songwriters’ Showcase. She has been driving him insane (or maybe sane) by her constant rewriting of “Goodbye?”, her poem about ALABAMA’s retirement from the road after their seduction and abandonment by the fickle whore of the music industry. Katey just HAD to revamp it for the sake of her hoity-toity writing group.
His thoughts turn to Melanie a.k.a. Bootygirl; he hopes she doesn’t have too much trouble driving from Texas to Fort Payne with three rambunctious boys in tow. Melanie is a good Christian girl who loves Jesus, her husband, her kids, and Randy (only she knows in which order).
All these disparate elements are converging on the hamlet of Fort Payne for the same purpose—to be baptized in the spirit of the famous quartet.
The tree-upholstered mountains of Virginia have long before given way to the bumpy mattress of the Tennessee countryside. KateyPat rounds a bend of the Tennessee River and feels the familiar lurch of her heart at the sight of Lookout Mountain on the left, lowering its head to drink. Mount Zion to ALABAMA fans and the ancestral grounds of cousins and band members Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry, Lookout Mountain straddles North Alabama, a sliver of Georgia, and a corner of Tennessee. One more hour to Fort Payne. KateyPat exits I-59 and hangs a left.The town lies in spoon fashion between her two lovers, Lookout Mountain to the east and Sand Mountain to the west. Not much room for urban sprawl here, praise the Lord. ALABAMA fans migrate here in search of “down-home”atmosphere, but KateyPat puzzles over its exact meaning. Does she expect everyone to have outhouses(although Teddy Gentry used one as a child)? KateyPat checks in to her motel room, rests for a couple of hours, and gets ready for dinner and the Showcase. Her urge to be different will lead her to wear her long, crinkled and flowered turquoise skirt with a beige top in lieu of more obvious fan gear.
The DeKalb Theater is designed with the seats on an inclined plane, so that even the balcony will yield an excellent view of the stage. KateyPat, however, is very glad that she paid the money for her third-row perch (naturally she didn’t hear about the ‘good’ seat until she purchased a ‘bad’ one, which she sold for a song). She has never been this close even at a concert (almost near enough to see Randy’s nostril hairs).
Tonight there are about eight people on stage, and they will sing three to four songs apiece of their own creation. They sit on high legged stools, and Randy is in excellent spirits. He virtually falls off his seat laughing as he male half of the songwriting team of Rich and Janis Carns jokes about the longevity of their marriage (in dog years!). Jeff Cook, the Elvis-voiced fiddler and third cousin to Randy and Teddy, is making his first appearance at the Showcase. He and the other guys back each other up on the songs. Teddy pinches Jeff on the leg, and they all cavort like kids. Randy decodes the more arcane lyrics of the song “Mountain Music” ('chert rocks'-formed from silica and understood by the pious to mean ‘church rocks’-rock of ages?—and 'skinning cats,' which is bending a sapling branch down as far as possible and releasing it. The ASPCA had a field day with the latter: with righteous indignation they decried this barbaric “Southern custom” of “cruelty to felines”! The Showcase closes with a rousing rendition of ALABAMA’s signature tribute to the Heart of Dixie, “My Home’s in Alabama.” (H’m, has anyone ever extolled the virtues of Pennsylvania in that fashion?)
Saturday, June 15, 2002—F-day minus 1
KateyPat makes sure she doesn’t forget her expenses form. At the behest of Ben Shurett, she and the other Fanatics will record how much “Yankee dollah” they spent in and around Fort Payne (too damn much, her conscience jabs). A knock on KP’s door, and Luvbama and Rebelinangel of the Michigan crew arrive, greeting KP in the pungent twang of their home state and bearing “a taste” of it—a small container of Michigan maple syrup, a tall glass jar of caramel topping, and a small box of fudge, all in a tiny basket. Never mind that the aforementioned objects are a carb addict’s nightmare,Katey greatly welcomes the spirit in which they are offered. The “man behind the curtain," William a.k.a Zbeta, arrives and welcomes KP in true Southern how y’all doin’ style. KateyPat receives her saffron yellow T shirt with her turquoise airbrushed login on the front and FAD 2002 on the back. She is now branded as a member of the crew.
The cast of Zbeta, the Michiganites, KP, Don, Debbie; and the littlest AlabamaFanatic, two-year-old Hunter, is ready. Z is in high cotton after Ben Shurett’s interview makes the front page of today’s paper along with Z’s picture. The entire day is devoted to a Cook’s tour of FP courtesy of Zbeta, as the Michiganers have never been here. Breakfast at Shoney’s, where Z instructs the benighted Northerners in the proper way of eating grits (plenty of salt and pepper and NO maple syrup), and then off to the sacred temple, the Fan Club. KateyPat dutifully saves her receipt and wonders why she can’t just make the figures up: math and bookkeeping have never been her forte. Everyone poses for pictures under the yellow, blue, and red ALABAMA logo, which adorns one side of the building. Two curly-toed A’s bracket LABAM, which arches over an almost football-shaped oval containing a St. Andrew’s Cross, reminiscent of the Battle Flag sans stars. The pilgrims travel to Jeff Cook’s studio and get pictures taken outside. Everyone ends up at Miss Martha’s, Randy’s mama, who is having a yard sale of some rather uninspired detritus. (KateyPat wonders if Randy says to his mama,“May as well try to palm off that junk on the fans. They’ll fork over money for anything connected to us.”) Zbeta affectionately refers to Miss Martha as “a mess,” which is a Southern referral to someone who is spunky and colorful. Miss M’s hair straggles under an old-fashioned hairnet, and her Cherokee slanted eyes and arched nose are duplicates of those of her son. KateyPat buys some of her pecans and a used wallet and gets some free lemonade from a younger member of the extended Owen clan. She takes Miss Martha’s picture while Miss M.jokes about looking like Granny of Beverly Hillbillies fame in her clumsy black gardening shoes. Back to the Little River Falls (reduced to not much more than spit because of drought). The Fanatics scrabble over the hard, flat rock outcroppings and dunk their toes in the stream, where Z enlightens the crew with an example of “chert rock.” Then to Smokykat’s cabin in DeSoto State Park for a picnic.
In the parking lot of a local motel, the pilgrims run into Melanie (bootygirl). She is exhausted from trekking over the highway from Texas to Alabama and trying to referee squabbles among her brood, Brayden, Jeremy, and Kacy (Did so...did too...Mama, Jeremy won’t shut up!...). Kacy, the oldest at 14, helped out the best he can in spite of recovering from an injury. She is relieved to be able to answer the inevitable “Are we there yet?” in the affirmative. KateyPat enjoys taking to Melanie and doesn’t feel that the sobriquet “Bootygirl” does justice to her. At 49, her own nickname should be “Bootysag”!
Jeff Cook’s Warehouse
—This restaurant sports ALABAMA memorabilia and Star Trek trappings (Jeff is a Trekker;one section of the ceiling is scooped out and painted black with hanging replicas of the Enterprise, the planets, and stars. Jeff styles himself the ‘Master of the Universe.’) An avid fisher, Jeff displays a bass plaque prominently over one door. The lights are dimmed, with soft fluorescent lighting gives anything white an electric blue cast. Jeff plays bass guitar with the house band; his wife, Lisa, sings. The Fanatics are seated very close to the stage. KateyPat is fighting guilt feelings because of the treachery she will commit on Monday morning—there is only one clerk in the office, and she wants to stay over to sing at open mike night at the Warehouse, so she will develop “Alabama flu.” Jeff is a most genial host, talking to everyone and anyone. KateyPat wants to tell him of her ambition to sing on Monday night but loses her nerve.
Sunday, June 17, F-Day!
—KP shivers on the circular concrete steps of the fan club and berates herself for not packing a light jacket (isn’t it politically incorrect for Southern weather to be cool in June?) April, a physically challenged woman KP remembers from last year’s FAD, and her mother have beaten Katy to the place of honor, in front of the door. Only a light sprinkling of fans have braved the early hour; KateyPat remembers FADs of previous years when the line stretched to the highway at this time. Is today “Fan Depreciation Day”? Don’t they realize that there might not be another FAD? She feels obligated to justify expenditures for this trip by how many fans show. Zbeta and the Michiganites arrive around 7:00 with the mugs. KateyPat knows she should stick with the group and present Teddy’s to him, but she is loath to lose her coveted spot in line.
KateyPat has been assigned a mission by fan club members who can’t be present for FAD this year: PJ wants some pictures autographed for family members, and Janice wants KP to purchase Fort Payne newspapers for her (or does PJ want the newspapers and Janice the autographs?). Her mind feels swathed in cotton. She has decided to get Randy to autograph (in German) a picture for her deutsche e-mail freunde, Christine. KateyPat has writen on a post-it note the exact German expression(Gruss Gott, the Bavarian form of good morning), She also has copies of “Goodbye?” for all the guys, with the lines pertaining to each band member bolded.
The pantheon is enthroned behind a long table in the theater section of the fan club museum. KP gives Jeff his copy of the poem, which he puts behind him (heaven knows if he’ll deign to read it). She plunks the pictures down on the table; Jeff duly scrawls his moniker and shoves them in the direction of Mark, the percussion man and Turkey Hurter from Taxachusetts. To KP, the attitude on the part of the staff and the boys is “send(her)on down the line,”a re-enactment of an ALABAMA lyric. She wants to tell Jeff how good he looks as a fellow Atkins Diet devotee (his table muscle is less prominent) but is too flummoxed trying to get everything done for everybody but herself. Same problem with Mark, as he gently chides her to get her act together. “When I get my act together, I’m taking it on the road!” she retorts.
Mark at least takes the time to peruse the poem. He asks KP if she wrote it or just brought it and is favorably impressed when she informs him that she is the author. Down the table to Teddy (vocals and bass guitar). Same routine of getting him to autograph P.J.’s pictures and giving him the poem. KateyPat has never paid proper attention to Teddy because of being hypnotized by his what’s-his-name lead singer cousin, but she is intimidated by the “hurry up and move along” prompting behind his words. Finally, the piece de resistance, Mr. To-Die-For, Randy! “I’m here on a mission from God,” she blurts. “OK, I guess I ‘d better listen to you,” Randy genially replies. “Uh, I have these, uh, pics to be autographed for a friend of mine, and here's a picture of you I want autographed for my German friend, Christine.” She shows him the post-it note, and he writes, “To Gruss Gott” on the picture. Randy, you big dummkopf! Her name is not Gruss Gott, but Christine! KateyPat tries to explain the above, but Randy just doesn’t get it. She asks him to line out the “To” but he says “Well, at least you have one English word and two German ones.” KateyPat does manage to give Randy his copy of “Goodbye” and confesses that she has a “naughty” poem. At Randy's request, she gives him “Paper Kisses/Under Siege” and hopes that his wife won’t send the Sopranos after her! Katy staggers away from the table and boo-hoos to a staff member that she didn’t even get any pictures of her with the guys! Said staff member advises her to crouch next to Randy for a picture, and she does even though R.O. favors her with a “What does that crazy heifer want now?” look.
Outside, the line has burgeoned considerably and snakes around the building to the street, giving KateyPat her money’s worth. Fans clump like bees around the concrete steps and congregate in the parking lot. April’s mom is doing duty, wiping April’s mouth and feeding her her pureed lunch. Katey is still regretful that things did not go as well as she had planned in her mind, but she is grateful not to be in April’s position. She can’t squelch the sympathy/revulsion upheaval in her entrails but tries to picture April’s autograph session: April’s clawed index finger pointing to the letters of her alphabet board that signify JeffMarkTeddyRandy; her cerulean eyes candlelit, and her head bobbing joyously as the guys treat her as a princess on a throne, not as a wheelchair-bound object of pity.
Meanwhile, Luv, Rebelinangel, Smokykat, and the others are having a FAD-tastic time! At the presenting of the mugs, Mark crows in astonishment and delight over his. Teddy and Randy are “happy as larks” with theirs; especially Teddy’s with the “Bent Tree” logo. Jeff can’t get enough of his mug, with the head of the bass that didn’t get away imprisoned on one side of it. Luv’s husband has converted her from a rock fan to an ALABAMA acolyte; Randy’s leading Luv by the hand back to the table and saying sit and tell me this story will stamp itself in her mind and heart forever. Unselfconsciously, Luv relates the tale and basks in the afterglow of their attention. Randy wins the heart of Melanie forever by making a big deal out of her youngest son Brayden’s birthday. The boy loves his card that they all signed and has told everyone that "ALABAMA RANDY” came to his birthday party.
KateyPat and the Fanatics take “the long and winding road” with the treacherous hairpin turn (it must be hell to navigate in winter) to Randy’s farm. A huge tent has been set up; farm workers are serving ice cream, cooking hotdogs, and providing soft drinks. A table has been set up in the middle of the “Dixieland Delight” barn with cakes, cookies, etc. The Fanatics compare notes on the autograph session and debate on the possibility of Randy’s coming out to mingle; the poor man will have been worn out after signing his John Hancock for over 600 people. Goats in their playground are slithering down the slide and butting heads. Thor, Randy's big bull,is another attraction along with Randy's dog and horse and her baby. The kids try without success to entice the little mare to come and eat grass from their hands. KateyPat gets her picture taken with Randy's son Heath, who has bushy dark hair and his dad’s eyes. (Oh, to be a twentysomething again!) Finally, at dusk,the lord of the manor arrives after barely having time to choke down a few bites of lunch.
Randy looks “rode hard and put away wet” after the marathon autograph session. He engages Z, a long time acquaintance of his mother, in conversation at the steps of his log cabin-esque office. Jokingly but rashly, Katey opines that she “has a bone to pick with him;” Randy mutters something mercifully unintelligible and brushes past her. Katey feels like a bounced e-mail as R.O. regales other fans with tales of his family tree and his plans for the future. How chagrined Katey is to find herself in the same position for which she has castigated other overenthusiastic fans! Too demoralized to venture any closer to the Presence, she sits down at a table under the tent and tries to console herself by working on “One Last Show,” her foray into songwriting. “What y’all writing?” shatters her concentration, and she looks up into the face of Kacy, Booty’s oldest. Katey sings a few bars, and he comments, “You ain’t shy a-tall about singing in front of people, are you?” Katey and Kacy have a very amicable conversation about music preferences, etc. As the evening moseys along, in a spirit of rebellion, KP listens to one of her New Age Celtic CDs on her discman instead of ALABAMA music. The Celtic stuff is really not too inappropriate; American country music has its roots in English and Irish folk songs. However, how did Missa Kodaly Brevis and an Evensong CD manage to stow away in her CD carrying case? Beauty of holiness, meet Yeehaw!
Monday, June 17, 2002—post FAD—
Katy calls off work with an Oscar-winning performance. She says goodbye to the Fanatics as they all head their separate ways, with many promises to meet again. She has definitely committed to staying over long enough to sing tonight at Jeff Cook's Warehouse. Aside from a duet at church, this is her first time performing music in front of an audience: it is an almost orgasmic experience that neither choir nor karaoke can top!
Tuesday evening, June 18
Katey has pulled over into a rest stop, where caffeine jitters are duking it out with her need for sleep. The journey home has been a neverending loop of drive, stop, pee, take a dump, eat, drink; gas up, check oil,and back on the interstate. Due to a late start, Katey doesn’t get to West Virginia until around 10 that night. She has been inhaling coffee and diet Coke constantly,the white lines on the road are threatening to waver, and one of the many devilish incarnations of Orion the Trucker fills her rear view mirror--BL-LARTT!! (Move your goddam ass, four-wheeler!) She doesn’t dare call off on Wednesday to stay home to sleep because she will be asked to produce a doctor’s excuse, and no reputable M.D. will have heard of “Alabama flu”! Katey sets her alarm clock and hope she doesn’t wake up dead because some lowlife sees an easy target. The alternative, crossing the median and smashing into an oncoming vehicle on the other side, is not too appealing either.
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
KateyPat has survived the rest stop and is never so glad to see the Pennsylvania border! Home, shower, clean clothes, and off to work, where her white, strained visage gives credence to her sudden “illness.” She is glad she went in spite of the disappointments but overjoyed to be home safe.
Kathy Egan a.k.a. Kateypat
This is Zbeta’s site for his pottery: http://www.tallapoosariverpottery.com/
After two congested hours of stepping on toes and elbows jabbing my ribs, no air circulation,
bad breath, and essence of flatulence in the hallway of the fan club, PJ (Peggy J.), Gale,and I finally make it to the “The-ATE-r”! Here the climax of FAD 2003, the autograph session, is taking place. PJ is in line ahead of me, talking to Mark Herndon, the drummer. It had been my incredible luck to be rescued from potential heat exhaustion on the golf course during Randy's charity tournament by a staff member who looked like Mark! Serves me right for chasing Randy all over the links. ‘Hey you!” a voice bellows. Is Randy talking to ME? “Yeah, YOU! Have you seen any more ‘visions’ lately?” Oh Lord, he’s referring to “Fort Payne Syndrome”! Jeff Cook, the Alien, plays satirical, fractured versions of popular songs while holding court at his cyber store. I apologize to Teddy Gentry for being so mesmerized by the big guy down Ol’ Baugh Road that I hadn’t paid proper (or improper) attention to him in my twenty years of loving ALABAMA--and the “fasten seatbelt” sign winks on not five minutes into my return flight to Pittsburgh.
The this-is-no-big-deal announcement of the lone flight attendant that seatbelts MUST remain
fastened and trays MUST remain in the upright position curiously fails to reassure. A “whole lotta shakin’” is harassing my flying coffin. As planes go, this one is strictly a stepchild—a Delta “connector,” beneath the notice of any self-respecting terrorist, but how much turbulence can it stand up under? Aren’t I being premature? We haven’t come close to crashing! The actual moment of congress on the ground couldn’t be worse than the icy, enema-inducing fear currently disrupting my memories of FAD 2003. This time around I had decided to fly to Chattanooga, TN and rent a car—didn’t want to spend the trip speculating on “which part of my car will poop out on me now?” Should’a chanced the Altima, could’a gone Greyhound, would’a hooked up with someone else,
kind’a late for regrets.
Little butterball Peggy of the short dishwater hair and Peter Pan nose (a la Michael Jackson,
except that hers is natural), and tall, rangy Gale, with sable-brown curls and sparkling blue eyes;
Mutt and Jeff, the long and short of it—they are a complementary pair. Too bad about their mutual alienation post-FAD--Gale admitted to no wrongdoing;at least I had had the grace to apologize to Peggy.
A niggling sense of guilt over “conduct unbecoming an ALABAMA fan” is my invisible,
fly-for-free companion today. Face it, Egan, you and Gale let PJ down when she needed help. You could have asked Gale for the car keys and driven PJ back to the cabin if she really wasn’t feeling well! A lousy half hour and you would have been back to hear about Randy and his family’s meeting Dale Earnhardt and watch Randa feed the heifers (yeah, big deal). The reproachful tear streaking down Peggy’s face will forever scrape across the chalkboard of my conscience if I make it back to The ‘Burgh. Even so, I can’t fault Gale—this was her first FAD; naturally she wanted to stay at the farm and listen to Randy’s anecdotes! Gale's mouth parted in awe; her eyes aglow—
I relive the rapture of my first time.
The plane burps again, and I shut my eyes and conjure Randy’s arrival at the fan club (sans police escort or entourage; his and Jeff's availability to the fans is one of their endearing features). Poor Randy can’t find the way in, but there is no lack of docents willing to assist him. Everyone wants
some of Randy, be it a hug, a handshake, or maybe a vial of his bodily fluids (overly devoted female fans exist who would mortgage their homes and sell their kids into slavery for the latter). I writhe in shame at the memory of my irrational urge to knock aside those ahead of me so that I could insert myself right next to him. I’m not much better than the legendary Shirley, about whom apocryphal stories have made the rounds of the message boards. She is supposed to have sat in the front row at a concert with her legs spread, sans undies! Most mainstream fans find her appalling, but she does only what they don’t have the courage or bad taste to do.
A hiccough over another aerial speed bump--will I die not knowing the true identity of Message Maid, the maven of Jeff’s board? Is she really Jeff in drag, a composite of several of his staff members, or maybe Miss Betty, his mama? Will the Almighty hold me accountable for my failure to keep my adoration of Randy in perspective? Somewhere there must be a primitive tribe in the South Seas who got ahold of Randy’s picture and worships him as a god! It would have been better to follow PJ’s example—she loves the guys and is also a Bible-believing, PraiseTheLord-ing Southern Baptist who knows very well that none of the members of ALABAMA died on the cross for anyone's sins! Once a Catholic, always a Catholic—I mumble the opening salvo of the Act of Contrition but balk at "I am heartily sorry”--I have “committed adultery in my heart” with Randy and have enjoyed
every minute of it!
OK, maybe I shouldn’t have asked Randy why he sticks out his tongue during concerts--
he didn’t take too kindly to that revelation. I told him that a fan sent a picture of him doing
just that, and he mumbled something about how they can do amazing things with computers
and wanted to know who sent me the picture. At Randy’s statement that he had been in bed with
his wife during the minor earthquake of North Alabama a few weeks ago (Darlin’, did the earth move for you?), I DID refrain from commenting what a bodacious orgasm that must have been—I really didn’t want to be forcibly ejected from the Owen farm! Does speculating on Randy’s and Kelly’s
sex life constitute a sin?
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now beginning our descent...” Whoa, when did the ground
get so close? Suddenly I can make out trees and insect cars—a jerk as the wheels deploy. We are going to live after all—what a letdown!
Thump, bump, and the plane hits the ground. Strange shift in perception—above the clouds,
the plane seems to drift slowly, but on the earth it speeds like the Indy 500. I mash the nonexistent
brake pedal to the floor, trying to stop the aircraft on my own. Debarking, I collect my luggage and make plans for FAD 2004,ignoring my sense of unfulfillment. Fandom anymore seems like a high-carbohydrate diet—raises the psychic blood sugar only to cause your spirit to plummet.
Time to nosh on the more substantial protein of the “eternal verities.”