Month: March 2013

A Story About Breakfast and Bail Bonds

He had not had breakfast.

He sat in a Waffle House booth on a Saturday morning, dressed in a white t-shirt under a denim jacket. He ordered an omelet with cheese, tomatoes and ham, a double order of hash browns, bacon (a little crispy), and two toasted slices of white bread.

The waitress forgot the tomatoes, and he told her so she would not charge him for them.

Breakfast is his favorite meal of the day. He is a diabetic, so he makes sure he eats.

“But not too healthy,” he laughed.

As he ate, he talked about his stubborn momma, and how he did not know what he would do without her. He talked about his grandmother, and relying on her recipes. He told of his daughter, how she made the honor roll last year, and when had she gotten so tall?

Reggie Davis was arrested two days later in his neighborhood in Autauga County for trafficking drugs. His bond was set to $45,000.

Davis had lost his job before Christmas, and his ex-wife wanted to know how he would buy the kids’ presents.

He was 45 years old, living with his mother, his youngest sister, and her four children.

“It hurts.”

He was desperate. He could not pay his bills, or his traffic tickets.

“I was in survival mode.”

Davis was indicted on a grand jury charge for being a middleman. He said he brought the two parties together, but did not touch any drugs or money.

“But I was there. I put it in motion,” Davis said.

He wanted to make sure his children had what they wanted, even if it was just a little bit.

Davis started with his omelet, and talked about being 16. He grew up in Prattville, Ala., with three younger sisters. His parents divorced when he was three, after a marriage of 15 years. He went to Prattville High School, and “played every sport.”

“I hung out with a lot of white people,” Davis laughed.

He graduated in 1986 and entered the military. He worked and traveled everywhere from California to Germany for 18 years. He married a woman who was also in the military, and the two lived in Germany. They had two children, and separated in 2004.

“She told me to move back to Alabama, and save us some money. I told her if I moved, we weren’t going to make it,” Davis said.

He moved back to Alabama. They were divorced in 2008, and he married a woman named Tamie, whom he had met when he was 16. But Davis was too settled for Tamie, and they filed for divorce in January.

He lives “from here to McDonald’s” next to Tamie. The Waffle House and the McDonald’s sit side by side.

Davis’s mother has lived in the same house since he was three, and he moved back in when he and Tamie separated. Davis said it isn’t so bad, but he and his sister argue a lot. She dropped out of high school and never moved out.

“That’s why I work so much. I’m trying to get something to get out,” Reggie said.

He salts his hash browns, and says being in Prattville has reminded him much of his past.

He recalls a bonfire with his friends when he was 18. He was the only black man there, a circle of teenagers on private property that was buried deep in the Autauga woods. They laughed and drank until the police showed up.

Two officers cornered Davis, and threatened to drag him into the pond.

“Do you have any parents?” the cops asked. “Do you even have parents?”

Davis had never met racial hostility so frankly before. His friends stood back with wide eyes, and tried to laugh it off once the officers left.

“I just told them to take me home,” Davis said. “I wasn’t in the mood after that.”

He has never told his mom of the night, even 27 years later.

He left many of those hometown friends as he traveled with the military.

Jackie was his best friend, and the two reconnected once he was back. She passed away in December after being diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy. He stops chewing his hash browns, and the look in his eyes shows his mind is not on the cooling breakfast in front of him, or where he will get the money for next month’s bills. It is in another time, one of memories.

“I don’t talk about her a lot,” Davis said.

He eyes a greasy slice of bacon and says he regrets leaving the military.

He works for Amcom Home Theatre L.L.C. in Wetumpka, Ala.  He gets up Monday through Friday and injects himself with a shot of insulin and arrives at work by 8:00. When he first started with Amcom, Davis made $350 a week. He makes a little more now that he installs three or four satellite dishes a day.

His pay scale has changed a lot since the military. He said it is hard to get a good paying job, and that he is always looking for better pay.

“I thought, ‘I’m finally going to get that job.’ I still haven’t gotten that job.”

The military had comforted him with security. He knew his bills would be paid whether he went to work or not.

Now, his electricity or hot water will get cut off.

“I live check to check. And it hurts.”

He said when his son Kimone came home from Auburn, Ala., last week he was able to give him $40.

“That felt good. But it didn’t feel good when I needed it the next week,” Davis said.

Kimone was an offensive lineman at Huntingdon for two years after high school graduation. He is 6’3” and 298 pounds. Davis thought his son would play professional football and take care of the family for the rest of their lives.

Davis said many people dream of being rich, but not him.

“I want something better,” Davis said. “I want to be able to pay my bills and live comfortably.”

He butters his toast, and covers the top with purple jelly.

On Saturdays, he cranks a white Ford-150 truck, turns left off Cosby Court, and heads towards Chip Cleveland’s farm. He does whatever the Clevelands need doing. He will wash cars, clean tractors, repair fence boards, or cut the grass when it is too tall.

Cleveland is a lawyer in Prattville, and met Davis the first time he was in jail for writing bad checks. Davis was part of a work release program on Saturdays at Cleveland’s farm. He has continued to work on Cleveland’s farm since leaving jail.

“I think Reggie has had a hard time,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland said the structured environment in the military suited him more. He thinks Davis is happier without the military’s control, but the financial means are not enough.

Cleveland bought Davis a truck when he watched him struggle to survive. He helps Davis because he knows Davis has a good heart.

“I trust him,” Cleveland said. “He puts his feet under my table and eats sitting next to me.”

But he said Davis must grow up. If Davis is convicted of his charges he’ll spend 10 to 20 years in prison.

“Our relationship will be severely strained if he is convicted, and greatly diminished,” Cleveland said.

If Davis is not convicted, he will still pay him to work on his farm, but he will have to wean Davis from his financial support.

“It is a fault of mine. I can’t keep doing this forever,” Cleveland said.

Reggie Davis had gone to reinstate his license on Monday morning when the DMV told him there was a warrant for him. He was arrested immediately.

He had not had breakfast.


Bo Hicks is Brewing Beer

It is the story of an argyle octopus.

Two Southern California dads created the Yo Gabba Gabba network, which features the clip. He is Argyle the Octopus, bullied by other sea goers because his skin is, well, argyle patterned. A toddler tells Argyle’s story, how a timid octopus shrouds himself in black ink to hide his skin, becoming a loner of the sea.

“Some say his color was a strange mistake, and others thought his skin looked really quite fake,” the child reads.

But Argyle realized he did not care what the other fish said; his skin was a present, from his mom and his dad.

It ends with Argyle swimming merrily in the blue water, comfortable in his unusual skin.

Bo Hicks is Tuscaloosa’s argyle octopus, swimming in a sea of Patagonia jackets, black leggings, and mediocre beer.

Except Hicks does not shroud himself in black ink. He has Argyle the Octopus tattooed on his left forearm.

He does not have eight arms either, but he works a myriad of jobs. He is a buyer for Manna Grocery and Deli, bartender at Egan’s bar on the strip, bar manager at The Bama theatre, founder of Well That’s Cool, and most recently, co-owner of the Druid City Brewing Company.

Rather than bully him, Tuscaloosa seems to favor its argyle octopus. Hicks was voted runner-up for the “best known person in Tuscaloosa.” Nick Saban was the winner. Yeah, that is one hell of an octopus.

Hicks was born in Birmingham, Ala., but grew up in Abernant, Al., a town of about 8,000 people. He lived on a stretch of road by a little league baseball field in a house with no television, a mom, a stepdad, and two stepsisters.

“I got really hungry for what I couldn’t get out there,” Hicks said.

So his mom would bring him to Vinyl Solutions in Tuscaloosa about once a month. That’s what he saved his money for. Initially, Hicks was hesitant to talk to the “demigods” who ran the record store.

“I knew just enough to think I didn’t know anything,” Hicks said.

The trips helped him get away from the pop country and rap that is all too familiar to rural Alabama residents. He remembers sitting on his mom’s porch listening to Smashing Pumpkin songs. Hicks said Pavement, an initially underground, indie-rock band hailing from California, probably influenced him the most. He was drawn to their silly quirkiness.

His first concert was New Kids on the Block when he was eight years old.

“I made up for it though.”

Nirvana was his second.

Hicks came to Egan’s bar 13 years later. When he was 25, working at 15th Street Diner, he applied to be a bartender at Egan’s. They hired someone else, but the other guy didn’t pan out, so Hicks landed the job.

“Egan’s was this bastion of non-cover bands, where the freaky, interesting people hung out,” Hicks said.

Eight years later, much has changed for Hicks. He sits on a stool at Egan’s, watching the Super Bowl pregame on ESPN while sipping a special batch of beer, Red Dust Rising from Druid City Brewing Company. He knows everyone in the bar, and buys two newcomers a beer.

His last eight years have had a lot of beginnings, and a few endings.

Working at Egan’s led Hicks to create something that would fill the void of Tuscaloosa’s redundant, mediocre nightlife. Bartending showed him what people craved. He founded Well That’s Cool, a community group dedicated to improving Tuscaloosa. The undertaking came to fruition about five years ago, when Hicks realized the entertainment life was lacking.

“There is no support of the artistic, intelligent community, which is why people move after they graduate,” Hick said.

Well That’s Cool promotes affairs in Tuscaloosa and directly sponsors a multitude of local events, ranging from a Southern beer fest to a chili cook-off.

Hicks said WTC’s crowning achievement was the Tuscaloosa Get Up! benefit concert, an event that fundraised for Habitat for Humanity in lieu of the April 27th tornadoes. Get Up showcased the Alabama Shakes, Tuscaloosa’s own The Dexateens, and Lee Baines III and the Glory Fires. The event raised $20,000 and helped a local family piece their disaster-stricken lives back together.

Hicks was aging out of bands he played in, and found Well That’s Cool as a way to stay connected to Tuscaloosa.

He was not done yet. Hicks then led a crusade that took what Tuscaloosa thought was local and turned it on its ear. He created the Druid City Brewing Company, Tuscaloosa’s first brewery since Barrett’s Brewpub closed in 1999. For Hicks, the brewery was more than just beer.

“Making the beer is a lot like making music. When I see someone enjoying a beer, it’s like seeing them enjoy your music.”

Hicks was introduced to his business partner, Elliot Roberts, by Adam Klein, the assistant brewmaster at Good People Brewing Company in Birmingham, Ala. Hicks feared that if he and Roberts did not open a brewery, someone would move in and capitalize on it.

“We are confirmed locals,” Hicks said.

Hicks and Roberts visited Blue Pants Brewery and Straight to Ale in Huntsville, Ala. Hicks said they realized it would be a lot of work, but it could also be something they could do for a living, something they could stand up and be proud of—something tangible.

“It’s something you can hold in your hands, but hopefully it’s gone soon,” Hicks laughed.

There were a lot of unexpected aspects that came with the brewery, like buying a $14,000 piece of equipment, and then realizing it also needs an air compressor or water separator—or having consistency issues with a 180-gallon batch of beer. Hicks said he would do-over some structural aspects, like floor drains, but for the most part, they got lucky.

Tuscaloosa was not prepared for the Druid City Brewing Company. There was no zoning or tax plan for a brewery, and the council had to approve it as they went along. But the brewery finally found its home in Parkview Center, across from the parking lot of Oz Music.

Tuscaloosa proved it had been thirsting for something local—a thirst waiting to be quenched.

Hicks squints one eye and counts on his hands as he tries to remember all the places DCBC provides beer. He makes it to sixteen or so when he settles on a definitive number.

“A lot.”

Hicks said pale ale sells the most, but the vanilla bourbon brew is the most asked about. Today, Hicks drinks the Red Dust Rising brew, named after The Dexateens’ best album. The naming is no accident—The Dexateens are a great local band that can succeed, and Red Dust Rising is a local beer that can do the same.

The toughest demographic for DCBC to reach has been the older crowd; those that have drank the same beer for 30 years. Hicks said people are becoming adventurous with their beer selection, and mentioned how a few fraternity men asked him about the pale ale because they tried it recently. Hicks said he aims to appeal to everybody with his beer.

His dad taught him how to drink beer, but Klein taught him how to brew it.

Hicks said they brew whenever they can find time. Sometimes he gets off work at Manna Grocery and Deli and brews until midnight, or he’ll go in on weekends at 7 in the morning and brew all day.

Hicks said the brewery’s time commitment surprised him. The guy has a lot that must be done now, immediately, yesterday. But his wife, Becky, works with him at Manna Grocery and Deli, and he wakes up and snuggles with his three and a half year old daughter.

Becky Hicks knows that DCBC is a time investment. They met when Hicks was working at 15th Street Diner, and his coworker was her roommate. She said she noticed Hicks was someone who could strike up a conversation with anyone, and they all liked him instantly.

Hicks was scared to pull the trigger.

“We were playing the juke box at the Back Porch, and she just laid one on me,” Hicks said.

They were married eight years later.

The newlyweds had a short wedding in the courthouse, followed by a long party at The Lodge on Bee Branch Road, an old hangout for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tallulah Bankhead, Hudson Strode and Johnny Mack Brown. The big lodge burnt down in 1988 because of a lack of rain that is characteristic of Alabama summers, but owners Lynn and Tommy Stevenson still use it as a pavilion to host parties. Becky said they asked friends in local bands Sweetdog Experience and the Grenadines to come play, bought a few kegs, and invited everyone they knew.

“Becky got chiggers, and I had moonshine on my shirt. It was an awesome wedding,” Hicks said.

Becky said she loves how the brewery combines what Hicks is passionate about—the creative science that is brewing, meeting people, and doing something positive for Tuscaloosa.

“Being a taste tester isn’t so bad, either,” Becky said.

Audrey Tallulah Hicks is three and half years old. She goes by Pistol.

Her nickname was not planned. Becky said Hicks’s mom kept asking what her name would be, so Hicks blurted out “Pistol”. His mom took it seriously. Soon they received monogrammed bibs and towels, and the name stuck.

It fits. Pistol is opinionated.

“She wants to wear the stuff that doesn’t match, but I think if you believe enough it goes back to matching,” Hicks said.

About six months after she was born, Hicks and his wife got matching green water pistol tattoos.

Beneath the pistol tattoo is an argyle octopus.

It’s the octopus with skin that doesn’t quite match; skin that is a present from his mom and his dad. He could have hidden it in a cloud of ink. Instead, he’s brewing beer and making waves in Tuscaloosa.