Outside a country gas station, I stepped on half a discarded moon pie baking on the hot Georgia blacktop. A roadside BBQ smoker puffed away and two guys in a battered truck pulling a tractor on a flat-bed watched me try to scrape the mess off my sandal in the scrubby grass. One was tatted-up good, with a shaved head, and the other just looked generally evil, although it may have been too many movies. But inside the mini-mart I noticed the “Just Busted News” sitting on the counter, a regional paper with a tag line that read, “Keeping Eyes On The Your (sic) Neighborhood!”
“I want to see criminals!” Griffin said when I jumped back into the car with my prize featuring mug shots of everyone who’d been arrested in the six surrounding counties.
“That’s a newspaper your picture better never be in,” warned Daddy about this Southern version of shame punishment.
For the next two hours, emerald green forest lining the country roads that hook Atlanta, Georgia to Huntsville, Alabama, we perused “Just Busted”. Ashley Clay was the cover girl, a darling blonde smiling for her mug shot like it was her prom picture. Ashley was pulled over for failure to wear a seatbelt, then arrested for possession of paraphernalia and bouncing bad checks.
“This Week In the Drunk Tank” featured Argie Kirk who must have been really wasted because in addition to public intoxication, he was busted for obstructing a public highway, disorderly conduct, and something called RAOLP (which might have been RALPH spelled wrong).
A guy named Harris Pettigrew III was the “Just Busted Exclusive”, going down for attempted criminal simulation (whatever that is). Pettigrew was also charged with aggravated assault, evidence that not all legacies like Harry The Third are good boys. A woman named LeShawn Witherow, a domestic abuse arrest, looked like she had caught the wrong end of a right hook.
“Why does she have blood coming out of her nose?” Griffin asked, and while I believe traveling provides one of the best educations, I turned the page and deflected by pointing out a “Tornado Shelter” sign.
The only part of the “Just Busted News” that wasn’t at all funny was the section entitled “Sexual Offenders A-Z.”
Cynthia Powell, picked up for prostitution, was so meth-mouthed and haggard that we had to wonder how desperate for sex someone would have to be. Ado wanted to know the difference between jail and prison and I explained that people who do sort of bad things go to jail and those who do really bad things go to prison. He thought for a moment, perusing the faces of the folks staring out.
“And Mommy,” he added, “the willy, willy bad persons who do willy willy bad things go stwaight to hell, wight?”
We entered Huntsville in the late afternoon, thunderheads shadowing rolling hills and a Piggly Wiggly looking so wonderfully, beautifully Southern that I felt a surge of energy that always comes with a new and foreign experience. We had one more laugh about a badass Grandma busted for forgery, property theft and FUCC (um, no, I’m not sure what this is either) and an even worse Grandpa popped for arson and aggravated assault. Then we stopped to take a photo of the “Crazy Indian Fireworks” shack. I swear, I could live here—at least for a while.