I woke up late this morning. Outside my bedroom window, I could see the red sun had already come up and streaked the clouds a fiery salmon. I got up and looked down on my garden and thought what a long way this is from Petain Street, the red-dirt street in Prichard, a paper mill town in Mobile County where I grew up. As far back as I can remember, my one goal, pushed by my Daddy, was to get off Petain Street, to get out of Prichard.

Petain Street today. My house was where the black mailbox stands.

Petain Street looks much the same -- except it was paved with Alabama red clay when I was a child

Correspondingly, my biggest fear was that I would not get off of Petain Street or out of Prichard.

That’s the kind of fear that makes for success. It drives you to keep going, milestone after milestone, because you can never get far enough away. It’s one of the themes of the book I’d get published if I could write a query letter.

A while back I had a dream that took me back to blue-collar Prichard and into the middle of the life I’d been afraid could happen to me. It was a dream I couldn’t go back to sleep and forget. I had to write about it.

In my dream,

I’m sitting at a truck stop counter, smiling

I have one leggy leg crossed over the other

swinging a come-on

to men on the road,

men far from wives and girlfriends,

men who know how to rotate tires on 18 wheelers,

how to tighten breaks,

and pull carburetors,

their wrenches crusty with grease.

A waitress laughs at a bearded man’s joke

and her Marlboro bobs between sugar-pink lips.

The bobbing cigarette stirs me to flop about on the bed

trying to wake myself up, to escape.

Suddenly the truck stop is gone.

I’m back in Alabama, in Prichard.

I’m taking in the action

at The Three Pig’s Bar B Q

that used to stand on the corner

where Craft Highway meets Paper Mill Road.

Men from the paper mill, their shifts just over,

sit at linoleum topped tables,

sticky with hot sauce and old grease.

The light is yellow from the jukebox and the Jacks Beer clock

that hangs on the back wall

over a door with a picture of a winking pig in a cowgirl skirt.

Two good ol’ boys stand near me.

I think I remember them from junior high school

One man leans on the bar, grinning at me blurry-eyed,

As he takes a slug of his Jacks beer,

tanking up before he heads home

to see about the wife.