Bless his cotton-picking, pedophile, hypocritical 10 Commandments blackheart, good ole child-molesting Republican boy Roy Moore of Gadsden, Alabama is in the news and on the run.
I, too, spent time at Gadsden, and have escaped to tell thee.
It was another time and another place. Between jobs as a correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta reporter/columnist for the Sacramento Bee, I worked at a very esoteric and interesting job for Freeman, Sullivan, Inc., a renowned San Francisco market research survey company.
Founded by statistical guru Michael Sullivan, the company specialized in “providing corporate, professional and institutional clients with expert testimony, statistical analysis, economic modeling, field studies and data collection that can serve as the basis for public policy and programs, as well as business and litigation strategy.”
In my case, they specialized in sending me out across the country to inspect wood siding, following that up with statistical surveys of those who inhabited said structures. The basis for the assignment was a giant lawsuit by Weyerhaeuser Corp. against companies imitating its wood siding without paying proper royalties.
Not just anybody could do this. It entailed flying to far-flung cities, using statistical information and grids along with other information to identify different types of wood siding, then interviewing selected residents with in-depth 45-minute surveys for which they were paid $25.
Believe it or not, identifying wood siding types is not as simple as the uninitiated may imagine. I had to memorize salient characteristics that were like DNA genomes. Then, I had to choose the correct patterns, houses and people to interview, depending on that mission’s parameters. This entailed endlessly driving around strange towns to find the right match.
After that, it entailed convincing people to take the survey. Even offering them $25 in 1997 dollars sometimes didn’t do the trick. Some people didn’t want to be bothered. Others thought it was a scam. And all sorts of concepts and misconceptions lay in-between.
The assignment basically called for an unique combination of investigative and interviewing skills. Aside from my journalism experience, I had worked for several years as an insurance investigator around New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, including Mississippi and — ta-da — Alabama.
The job paid extremely well, in addition to offering a highly generous travel allowance. However, as I said, it wasn’t for everyone. Freeman, Sullivan hired 15 of us to do the job. When I completed the mission, about a year later, only two of us remained in the fold.
Ah, the places we went, the incidents we endured during this quest for wood siding that eventually led me to dream of wood samples in my sleep, and during the day drive around places like Denver, Portland, Tampa, Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas, Boise, Greenville, Asheville, Knoxville and many other villes along the way.
Since I was experienced in southern living — attending Duke and Rice, working at Little Rock, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa, and other places southward bound — Freeman sent me back to the places of my youth to reconnoiter wood and woo those pesky, ever-elusive wood siding survey subjects.
Which brings us to the glory hole that is, and was, Gadsden, Alabama; home of the twice-removed Judge Roy Friggin’ Moore, now a disgraced pedophile Republican running for US Senate, and very much in the crosshairs of the news.
Moore was indeed quite the local yokel. He already had been removed once from the Alabama Supreme Court and was known far and wide for that 10 Commandments monument he tried to install at the local courthouse.
However, I must admit, despite my time well-spent at Gadsden Mall, I don’t recall running into him there. Of course, as we now know, he had been officially banned for bothering young girls. Myself, on the other hand, was a welcomed guest there where I spent time, and money, at the local music store finding Townes Van Zandt and Robert Earl Keen cassette tapes I could drive around listening to as I searched for authentic Weyerhouser wood siding panels and the fakes that were sold at such..
Getting to Gadsden was not exactly a walk in the park. We flew from San Francisco to Phoenix, changed planes for St. Louis, then to Atlanta and Birmingham from which we drove to home, sweet home, Gadsden, Alabama.
I went with a partner from Davis, California, a great guy who liked to party, maybe party too much. He got into fights at several of the interconnecting airports, lost his luggage, got drunk, endlessly complained about mandatory seatbelt laws for some reason, and actually got us kicked off the plane at St. Louis.
Sidebar: We eventually made it to Gadsden. My associate only made it through a short while before he was — spoiler alert — unceremoniously dispatched back to the City by the Bay. While I did the work, he drank case after case of beer. He somehow found the only strip club in that dry, as dry can be, Etowah County. And there he became an instant celebrity.
After waking up in a late-afternoon stupor, my associate daily went to the strip club where his California dollars made quite the impression. He enthused to me how great it was since similar entertainment at Baghdad by the Bay cost a factor of 50-times more. After Day Three, the club started sending over a private limo daily to make sure he got there, and back, safely.
Unfortunately, after about a week, one of our clients came to Gadsden for a morning meeting. My associate showed up just as we were un-convening, smelly and disheveled. He was sent home the next day, and I never saw him again.
That left me and Gadsden to tangle on our own. Little known fact, outside of downtown — if you can call it that — Gadsden had the distinct honor of having NO street signs. None. It was like driving around Russia. In a job that called for locating precise data points on a map before discerning wood siding patterns and appropriate survey samples, that was no small failing.
Persistence was the name of my game though, so I drove around and around and around desperately seeking wood siding panels of the anointed type, trying to locate survey subjects and, in general, enjoying the strange, but true, ambiance.
I got to know a lot of people around town for whatever that’s worth. There were these weird families living in trailers that turned out to be refugees from Brooklyn, New York. When I showed up they nearly dropped to their knees in hallelujahs, being with somebody NOT from Alabama, and threw me a party.
The only locally available motel was a Holiday Inn under perpetual construction. A family of white transients lived in the lobby, quite literally. When I finally realized they weren’t staff, I asked why, but never got a straight answer.
As I said, the mall was the area hot spot. I went there daily and hung out although never thought to bother the young girls, or anybody else for that matter. The only other OK spots were a roadside BBQ place that was amazingly good, and inexpensive, and a Cajun restaurant run by a wandering family from New Orleans where I loaded up on red beans and rice.
Other favored activities consisted of driving to a retirement golf course community, and doing wood siding surveys, about 20 miles north and to a giant furniture and clothing factory outlet mall about 30 miles north that, coincidentally, hosted this giant warehouse store that sold all the lost airlines baggage and goods, in case anyone wondered what happens to lost baggage.
A lot of people lived in these wood shotgun houses, kind of like run-down versions of New Orleans, if you can imagine that, considering the run-down nature of New Orleans shotgun houses. The area, as one would imagine, was deeply segregated with African-Americans living, no joke, on the other side of the (railroad) tracks. I was warned repeatedly not to go there.
Otherwise, relatively wealthy people lived in newer houses — the ones with acceptable types of wood siding — by a river and island area. I staked out quite a few with my binoculars, attempting to identify siding types without prompting local scrutiny.
I had the “honor” of speaking with the local gendarmes on occasion as a result, but eventually they got used to me and stopped responding to worried calls about outsiders — namely, me — staring for long periods of time at empty houses. I listened to Atlanta Braves games and Townes Van Zandt-Robert Earl Keen tapes in my rented vehicle with early-edition GPS.
The surveys and $25 paychecks actually went better at Gadsden than many other places. For example, Dallas proved a nightmare.
For a survey to be officially usable, the final task was getting a signature on the dotted release line. At Dallas, I actually had people sit with me for 45 minutes answering the entire damned survey, then refuse to sign it. Completely wasted effort. Those interviews didn’t count for the purposes of litigation.
I had people at Plano who lived in expensive houses take the $25 out of my hand and run inside their homes without answering a single question — twice. While I wanted to call the police, Sullivan advised me to let it go, go to the next house on the data point map and keep on trucking.
OK, he was the boss. But I digress.
Overall, the good people of Gadsden, while a bit Northern Exposure-like if one remembers that old TV show, were friendly enough, actually friendlier than people in a lot of places and eager to mix with a stranger from such an exotic locale as San Francisco.
Nobody threw a Bible at me and I didn’t need to ask anybody’s parents for permission to speak to their daughters. The mall was OK and the living, while a bit bland, also was inexpensive, so I pocketed beaucoups of travel expense money.
And thank goodness, I never had to deal with the hypocrite pedophile “Judge” Roy Moore. So, there was that, too.
From the Heart of Dixie — I used to joke, heart of darkness — it was back to Denver, Arvada, Boulder, for the umpteenth time, and a whole lot of wood siding and survey excitement.
But that’s a story for another day.