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Adventures in Alabama (Part One): Alabama, the land of the... Camel?

By Philip Anselmo

South Alabama is parked on a fine stretch of Route 63 bordered on either side by green flat land, trees, homes and ditches that stretch out in every other direction. There's a quaint old town hall not much more than a stone's throw from Route 77, which, north, takes you to the marsh and woodlands of the wildlife refuge—more on that later—and, south, into the rolling hills of Indian Falls—and I know that because I got lost down there for a little while after I missed a turn. No matter. It was a nice drive.

Anyhow, back to Alabama. My first stop was the town hall, which I later found out used to be an old schoolhouse. It was closed. Another fellow who had stopped by and found that out told me so. He also said, when I asked what there was to see in Alabama, that I should check out the meat market where folks come from all around to pick up a hock or a flank and the Alabama Hotel, which is no longer a hotel, only a restaurant that serves a good fish fry on Friday evenings, he's been told, and both places are on the same corner, acorss the street from each other, where Route 63 and Route 77 meet up for the second time at the flashing red light. Other than that, he said, there's not much else to see.

Most other folks that I saw said much the same.

Driving down Lewiston Road, after a stop at the wildlife refuge—more on that later—and after I stuffed myself full of a half-pound of seasoned ground beef and fresh-cut fries at the Alabama Hotel—oh so good—I nearly drove off the road and into a tree after I thought I saw... was pretty darned sure I saw: a camel. A dromedary, if I wasn't mistaken, just hanging out in a little dirt hole in the ground (literally) chewing cud.

You'll have to excuse me. Camels are a rare sight for me. I was giddy like a kid at the zoo for the first time when I saw it. Have you seen this camel before? Does anyone know his (or her) story? No one seemed to be around to tell me about it.

So, after the camel experience, I kept on down Lewiston Road until I spotted a sign for maple syrup. Now, for those who don't know, there's a rare delicacy known to a certain circle of bootlegger syrup makers and their fans as 'Grade B' maple syrup. This is the dark stuff, often black as molasses, that tastes like liquid maple sugar candy and makes your eyelids twitch. Unfortunately, it is kind of illegal, so you won't find it very often, unless you know where to look or happen upon a clever purveyor of the stuff who knows the tricks of the trade, so to speak.

This fellow didn't have that stuff, which is probably safer for him and me anyway, but he had crates full of quart jars of the fancy maple syrup for only $12 a jar. Just look for the sign on Lewiston Road if you're interested. Don't be intimidated by the sign on the door that reads: "Open Door and Yell." It means what it says, and it got me inside. Too bad that syruper Ken Howard wasn't up for a video interview today. At least he was kind enough to invite me to a tap run in the spring.

Tune in later this afternoon for part two of my adventures in Alabama.

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