Radio stations: at any given moment at any given spot in this country, I'm willing to bet there's at least one station available up there in the ether that calls itself "The Eagle". Driving through central Alabama the other day, the resident Eagle was WQSI out of Union Springs. "We play the Best Country!" (or "The Best Rock", etc) is a cliche every station uses, this one no exception, so much so that it quickly means nothing. But at least while I was listening, this Eagle played some terrific country tunes. Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", the Oak Ridge Boy's "Bobby Sue" ("ba-ba, ba-ba, Bobby Sue") and "Y'All Come Back Saloon" ("late night benediction"), Pat Green's "Feels Just Like It Should" ("let's jump in my El Camino") and plenty of others. Good stuff.
But then I got into the northern reaches of the state, and this Eagle began to fade. Hit the old scan button on the radio and what do you know? Another Eagle, WELR from Roanoke. One more punch delivered to the scan button and I got one more Eagle, WBPT out of Birmingham.
And that's just in one part of one state, Alabama.
Also heard at various points while driving: stations that style themselves "The Fish" and "The Bull" (that last said in a satisfyingly deep voice). (Besides, of course, vast numbers called "Sunny" and "Magic" and "Star").
By now, I've taken to bashing that button in the hope of finding "The Platypus", or "The Lemur", or even "The Big Momma Ptarmigan."
But I keep finding Eagles.
Stopped at a Hardee's (home of the "Thickburger", of which more anon) for lunch. After I order, though not the Thickburger, and while I am waiting, I notice stuck in the cash register a laminated card. Titled "Breakfast Frontline Scripting" (wasn't that a Tom Cruise flick?), it has these lines:
- Hi, would you like to try our __________?
- Can I make that a combo for you?
- Would you like me to upsize that to medium or large?
- Will you be eating here?
- Your order number is __________.
Then it comes to me. The lady who took my order, she had rattled through precisely those phrases, verbatim, in precisely that order.
Not that she appeared to be listening to my answers, but never mind. Excellent training, for sure. Only, these lines are from the breakfast frontline scripting, and I'm there for lunch.
No wonder she wasn't listening.
As for the Thickburger, singing its praises is a minor cottage industry with small-town publications across the country, if various quotes in the store and on their packaging are any indication.
There's this from the Missoulan of Missoula, Montana: This is one burger that screams, "Eat Me".
And this from the Daily News in Troy, Ohio: It's a serious burger for serious eaters who want to fill up fast.
And this from the Tennesseean in Nashville: These well-dressed, one-third-pound Angus burgers rival real restaurant burgers but at fast food prices.
And my favourite, from QSR magazine: The Thickburgers are really good and Hardee's has in fact supplanted the casual dining restaurant I used to favour when I needed a burger fix.
No, I have no clue what QSR is.
Some church in South Carolina informs me: "God is the perfect judge and he can declare the guilty perfect."
One in Alabama asks me: "Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God?"
In Louisiana, a huge hoarding advises me: "We Need To Talk." It's signed, simply, "God."
And then I remember the two stores on opposite sides of the old Atlanta Highway on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama. One is "Family Christian Store." The other is "Christian Book and Nutrition Center."
Now I'm willing to talk, really. But would anyone be able to explain what Christian nutrition might be?
Speaking of radio ... one definite evolution since I was last in these parts is the equivalent of fine print in commercials you hear. For example, you might listen to a car dealer breathlessly offering you a slew of what he wants you to believe are fabulous deals.
You know, like "A Ford F-150 truck, originally $32767, no-o-o-ow just $24381 and 57 cents! A savings of OVER EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS! Buy Now! Before I bonk you over the head!"
So an ad like that, it will invariably end with a man rattling off various conditions and details -- in a low voice and so fast that you have no hope of catching what he says. It's necessary, because they don't want you to comprehend, for example, that to get those fabulous deals you have to sign over your first born.
Just kidding. Your second born.
No, no, no! Just kidding. Really. But now the evolution. One such ad didn't rest on the laurels of details read quiet and fast. None of that wimpy stuff. The fellows who made it actually sped up the voice rattling off the details. So this time, it sounded like a totally drunk chipmunk squeaking for fifteen seconds, only less comprehensible.
In Walnut Hill, Alabama, a store called "Jelly Beans" needs "a working partner". If that interests you, let me know. I'll pass on the number. Give me some jelly beans for my pains, OK?
Need help making up your mind? This may just do it. On a scenic overlook only a few dozen miles from there, these lines are scrawled in huge letters across the pavement: "OMAR AND GAB! LOVE FOREVER".
Or maybe this will help. Also not very far, but in the other direction, is Toby's Grab Bag Art Gallery. I slow down to look. The most obvious bit of "art" at Toby's is a huge yellow sign purloined from the highway. It says: "LANE ENDS MERGE LEFT".