Sean of the South: Welcome to Birmingham

Sean of the South: Welcome to Birmingham

Words by Sean Dietrich

We left Italy before sunrise. Our plane touched down in Birmingham at 7:08 p.m. We had been in the air longer than it takes many people to complete a PhD.

Our seats were located beside the bathrooms. Midway through the flight, the bathroom door jammed. Passengers had no choice but to keep using the john with the door slung open.

By the time we landed, many of us were plugging our noses.

We deboarded, then got our bags from the luggage merry-go-round. Our friend Amy drove us home. We were jet-lagged zombies. Hungry. Barely coherent. I fumbled with my keys to open the front door. We collapsed in our bed fully clothed.

The next morning I awoke early, and had no idea where I was.

I stepped onto the porch and watched the sunrise over Magic City. The sky was pink and gold. The air was as crisp as supermarket lettuce. Birmingham was smiling back at me.

I checked my watch. I wasn’t quite sure what time it was. The jet lag was playing with my mind. My body said it was suppertime. The wristwatch said it was morning.

I watched the morning from my porch. The garbage truck came by. A lady was out walking her dog. A jogger was out for his pre-sunrise bout of masochism. A masochist is someone who likes a cold shower in the morning so he takes a hot one.

The jogger waved and said, “Welcome home. What’d you guys do in Italy?”

“Carbs,” I said.

I drove into town to buy a newspaper. You can’t just go buy newspapers anymore. You have to know where to find them. They’re getting more rare by the day.

So I walked into my usual gas station. The bell dinged. I purchased one paper and one cup of bathwater coffee. I sat in the parking lot sipping the world’s worst cup of Joe, wearing a smile.

Namely, because in Italy the coffee is all world-class. You walk into an Italian filling station and the coffee is a five-star cup. And I absolutely hated it.

Give me a cup of crappy American gas-station coffee any day.

Next, I went to the Piggly Wiggly to buy a few groceries. After several weeks in a foreign country, our fridge was about as populated as the Antarctic continent. I wandered the produce aisle. The employee stocking oranges smiled at me.

They don’t smile at you in Italy.

In the checkout lane, the gal behind the register also smiled. She asked whether I was having a good morning. I told her yes, I was. I said I had just gotten back from Italy.

She said she had gone to England with her church last summer. They spent two weeks there. Then she leaned forward and spoke in a hushed voice.

“You know the biggest thing I learned overseas is that there’s nothing quite like your own bathroom.”

On that note, I drove to the nearest Waffle House for breakfast. The server asked what I wanted to order. So I told her: Eggs, sunny side up, bacon, ham, white toast, hash browns (scattered, smothered, chopped, diced, and topped), a pecan waffle, orange juice, a bowl of Bert’s chili, and a partridge in a pear tree.

“Anything else?” the waitress asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I need a hammer and a few nails.”

She looked at me funny, then asked what the hammer was for.

Because, I explained. Now that I’m back in Birmingham, I want to nail my feet to the ground.