The Return of the Small Town: Boom Days 2010 in Fort Payne, AL

A glimpse at the culture of Fort Payne, Alabama.

It can be common for people who grow up in a small town to want to move away as soon they graduate high school, as was the case for myself.  Since I graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1999, I have lived in Florida, Virginia, and for the last five years, Nashville.  That means for over 11 years, I have pretty much lived away from the hometown that molded me.  Now, I realize that a lot of this could be that I am married now and have a baby on the way, but I must admit, my old hometown suddenly seems really cool again.  Maybe it’s because the pace of my life is slowing down, compared to my single days and even my married-with-no-children days, and is now starting to match the speed of a small town and no longer a big city.  But I still think something special is happening in this small town, apart from my interference or commentary.

This past weekend my wife and I spent the weekend there with my parents, sister, and her husband.  My sister Dana had mentioned to me that there was this thing going on called “Boom Days” on Saturday in the city park.  She heard something about free pancakes and people dressed up like “old times”.  That’s all she knew.  I was way too curious about this possible Lord of the Rings picnic not to go.  So I went.

Turns out the pancakes weren’t free, but instead they were part of an all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet for just five bucks, and the people dressed up were Civil War reenacters, not from Medieval times.  There was also a llama, a clown, a car show, a guy on a unicycle, horses, cool crafts exhibits, three concert stages, (four if you count two guys playing bluegrass on the sidewalk), a BBQ competition, and even a dog show.  I had originally only planned to check it out for a little while to say that I went, then leave.  But instead, I was there for over two and half hours and left with a slight sunburn.

In other words, I had a whole lot of fun.  It was a reunion of sorts: I caught up with some childhood classmates like Alex Igou and Tiffanie Baker Vincent, as well as our legendary elementary school librarian, Mrs. Jane Mauldin.  Boom Days 2010 was truly the kind of city wide event that had something for everybody.  I predict that like the days of June Jam (1982-1997), Boom Days will similarly help the culture of the town to resurface.

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started bringing friends home for the weekend that I realized that Fort Payne supersedes commercialized stereotypes of what a small Southern town is supposed to be like.  Fort Payne is not simply Country music, cows, and tractors- which are all good and necessary.  Being that when I was growing up I was constantly in plays and musicals, most of them written and directed by native Eddie McPherson, I was always aware of Fort Payne’s love of the arts.  It has to mean something when there are two theatres in downtown, on the same street, a block away from each other.

Fort Payne is also set apart from many towns in that half of the city is on a mountain and the other half is in a valley.  I grew up on the mountain side, sandwiched in between Little River Canyon, Little River Falls, De Soto State Park, and the artistic town of Mentone.  So while the valley half is where I learned to be social and outgoing, at school and at church, it was the outdoorsy mountain half that catered to my introspective and artistic side.  Simply put, Fort Payne is the perfect environment to yield well-rounded and level-headed people.

It takes a village.  Mine was Fort Payne.

All of the scenic route snapshots  used in this post were taken during Boom Days 2010, courtesy of Nick Shell.


Adventures in Thailand: Live Monkey Show

Everybody’s got something to hide, except me and my monkey.

After our curiosity was peaked from seeing several signs for “live monkey shows” while driving motorcycles through the mountain city of Chiang Mai, Thailand (during the summer of 2004), my college roommate Josh and I decided to drive further up the mountain to put ourselves in a vulnerable situation: to venture into whatever a live monkey show was, up in an isolated village where we were indeed the only “white people”  (or “farang”, as the Thai natives called us, which simply translates “foreigner”) for possibly hundreds of miles.

The anticipation rose in my mind like the dust on the unpaved road leading the site, having just turned at a hand-painted wooden sign with a picture of a monkey putting his hand in a jar with the words “LIVE MONKEY SHOW”.  I imagined a sort of a toned-down Floridian Sea World time of venue, with possibly even a hundred people in the audience with us, as was the case with the live elephant show we saw (where the elephants played soccer and painted pictures).

We cautiously marched up to the front window.  With the ticket girl basically speaking no English whatsoever, she called out the manager to help answer the question, “How much does this cost?”  We were expecting around $5 per person, based on the elephant show price we paid earlier.  Instead, he grunts to us, “Ten dollars per person”.  While that may not seem like a lot in America, that’s more like fifty dollars in the U.S.

I began walking away, only half-way caring about seeing the show, partly out of the mindset: “What are we getting ourselves into, anyway?”  Josh stayed behind as the Thai man was eager to negotiate a better price.  It worked.  We got in for $4 per person.

We hesitantly paid our dues and asked if we were late or early for the next show.  The man’s response: “On time.  Show begin soon.”  He smiled.  We walk in.

Cement bleachers.  Enough seating for about 5o people.  And there was only one other person sitting there with us in the audience.  A Thai guy.

We looked around for signs of activity.  About twenty feet in front of us (we were setting about halfway towards the back of the venue) was the flat cement “stage” and a Thai girl standing, happy to be there, looking at us.  By the time I had the chance to say to Josh, “So we must be pretty early, huh?”, the other audience member began walking up to the stage.

The Thai girl simply said, “Welcome… to live monkey show.”  Then the Thai guy who was just moments ago a fellow audience member, was indeed the show’s leader.  He brought out a monkey.  An impressively trained monkey, who did push-ups, sit-ups, could find the hidden key in one of five cups turned upside down and rearranged, and who dove off a small diving board into a miniature pool of water to find a coin, sometimes while blind-folded.

Of course, to make sure it would become a memory we would not forget, we both had the chance to become “volunteers” to help in the act.  It’s the only time I’ve ever had a monkey in my lap.  Fortunately, he didn’t bite me.

After forty-five minutes of live monkey antics, the show was over.  We knew this when the Thai girl walked back up to the stage and said, “Thank you” and did her Thai bow to us.  Then she walked back to the ticket booth, returning to her other job.

So that’s a Thai live monkey show.  The Thai guy who runs the place serves as an audience member and ring leader, and the Thai girl is the ticket booth operator and announcer.  And a trained monkey with a metal shackle on his foot is the star of the show.  And evidently, two white guys sitting in the bleachers constitutes as a full audience.

When does the live monkey show begin?

As soon as you show up.


Adventures in Thailand: Man Cave Time Machine

What’s the difference between 1) our memories of actually events and 2) our memories of old dreams?  In theory, not a lot.

The events that have taken place in real life can actually change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs such as photographs which can be taken to prove them in the future, whereas the events that occur in a dream do not really have the ability to do those things (though sometimes dreams do predict the future or inspire a person to “be a better person”).

Whether it’s a remembered actual event or a remembered dream, either way, it’s in the past now and it’s just a memory.

If we could take away the two exceptions, that actual events change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs whereas dreams don’t, how is a six year-old memory different than a six year-old dream?

In the summer of 2004, my friend Josh and I rode “motorcycles” (they were more like mopeds) 40 miles outside of the mountain city of Chiang Mai in Thailand, in order to find an ancient cave where few tourists ever bothered to visit.  There were no signs in English once we got there.  No English-speaking guides.  All we knew it that it cost non-Thai people $4 to go into the cave and another dollar for a lantern to actually see around inside the place.

As we got to the back of the cave, our guide pointed behind him to what appeared to be a bottomless pit.  I picked up a rock on the cave floor and tossed it into the abyss and finally after about ten seconds, I faintly heard it hit the bottom.  I immediately imagined that centuries ago, prisoners were thrown down to the bottom only to be met by hungry lions.

There’s no doubt, Josh and I are some of the few American people to have visited the forsaken Chiang Dao Cave in Thailand.  Let’s assume that I don’t embed pictures of that event into this post and that nothing happened that day that changed the course of history (and it in deed, didn’t).

In theory, the events I told about in that Thai cave memory only actually happened because I said they did, a theory that I brought to life in Snail Trails.  Especially if Josh forgot about us going to that cave.  No souvenirs.  No life-changing actions.

So what if I only dreamed that event happened?  What if while I stayed in Chiang Mai I only drove by the signs for Chiang Dao Cave, but never took the time to visit it?  What if all I did was just dream that Josh and I actually went there?

How would that dream be any different than it really happening?

For another related post, here’s The Interstate to Memory Lane

my roommate Josh from Liberty University

the 2004 version of me either trapped in the actual Chiang Dao Cave or in a dream