Remind me never to stay in this dump again.
No, I don’t mean Huntsville – I’m enjoying Huntsville. I mean the “Quality” Inn to which I retire each night at the end of my meetings. I’m being harsh, sure, because there’s nothing really wrong with it, except the burn holes in the sheets and the clothes-iron scorch marks on the floors and the way the AC/heater is competing with the headboard to see which can pull away from the wall fastest and the odor that you just can’t quite place and the stains of dubious provenance in the bathroom and the lack of insulation under the door and the drawer handles that pull away in your hand and the three mismatched chairs that have forgotten the meaning of comfort and of which exactly none fit under either the desk or the table. Also, there’s a phone in the bathroom, over the shitter, presumably in case you drop The Big One and want to call the Guinness Book of World Records people. Why that bothers me more than the rest, I couldn’t tell you.
I’ve tried twice to tip the service folks who clean the room. The first day I left two singles on the side table by the bed, since I’ve been told that leaving money on the pillow is a no-no these days as it could imply that you think they’re hookers or something. When I returned, the money was still there so, in the name of scientific discovery, the next day I left it on the pillows, to make sure they understood that I hadn’t just accidently left two singles on the side table, despite the fact that no one had slept with me. When I returned, the money was still there. Either there’s a policy here about not taking money the guests leave or they just feel unworthy, which, working here, I would completely understand.
But we’re not here to talk about the hotel, we’re here to eat! Thomas Pit remains the best pulled pig BBQ I’ve ever had, even if their cole slaw and potato salad look like they went through the same ricer. Tasty, but an odd texture for things to do to a potato. I dragged my cohorts to Thomas Pit within 45 minutes of landing in town. Wheels down, grab your bags, rent a car and drive to lunch.
Next stop, following meetings, was Dreamland – Ain’t Nothin Like ‘Em Nowhere. And it’s good. It’s very good. I had pulled pig at Dreamland for dinner. And lunch the next day. For dinner the next night – whoops, the cohorts wanted to go to Dreamland, where I decided that one must leave one’s comfort zone in the name of scientific discovery, and I had the ribs. The ribs are good, but not great. Since my cohorts (most of them) had been to Dreamland before, the consensus was that they were uncharacteristically off their game that night. Also, we were travelling with one of the team who is currently on a strict health diet regime and was running somewhere between “high-maintenance” and “fussy eater.” Since she could only eat vegetables and meat cooked without most of the things you’ll find meat cooked with at a BBQ joint, she eventually consumed 17 pounds of raw broccoli and a busboy, before she could be restrained and reminded that she wasn’t in Arizona, where I guess that kind of thing is still legal. Presumably insurance will cover notifying his family, but it was still a hell of a dinner bill.
To make certain that I did not become too homesick in between meetings and eatings, I talked to the three lunatic children every day. Talking to Number One Son on the phone is an exercise in brevity. “Hi Dad!” “Hi Big Man!” “Bye Dad.” “Oh, uh, bye!” He’s a man of few words. Plus, to ensure I had all the trappings and cheerful reminders of home, SOBUMD called me as I was going to sleep so that I, too, could hear the damn cat cleaning his testicles as loudly as he possibly could. “Thwoock. Thwoock. Thwoock. Thwoock.” She had shooed him off the bed into the hallway, and we could still hear the furry little pervert.
I’ll tell you, there are days when I find myself in Huntsville Alabama in meetings discussing types of lubricants for air compressor maintenance, periodicity of how often those lubricants are utilized for their intended purpose, and the role of the person administering the lubricant in capturing the data concerning just how many thumbfuls of grease he or she has just applied to that air compressor, and I wonder where my life went wrong.
But then I remember I’m here for the food, and it’s all good again. Driving back from my most recent meeting, I saw – and you cannot imagine my surprise – a BBQ joint. And not just any BBQ joint, but a member of the Gibson family! (Devout readers will recall the pilgrimage I made to Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur last time I was here.) This was a shotgun shack just outside the gate from Redstone Arsenal called “David Gibson Bar-B-Q” and looking about as much like a restaurant as my old gym locker. The sign was small, the place was tiny – a BBQ joint of dubious provenance if ever there was one. I remembered the need to throw myself into adventure – in the name of scientific discovery – and turned hard right into the path of least resistance, and pig.
It’s good pig. It doesn’t don’t look like much, but they put the cole slaw on their pulled pig sandwich, and they have nice thick-tangy-spicy barbeque sauce, and they have white sauce, and they have a very nice vinegar hot sauce, and their slaw is what slaw next to pig ought to be. I asked the lady behind the counter if the David Gibson was in fact related to the Big Bob Gibson’s that I’d – and she pointed to the sign explaining their history before I could finish my question. I guess they get that a lot. It’s run by Harold David Gibson, son of David S. Gibson and grandson of Big Bob. The place has been on that spot since 1960, and still uses hickory wood in man-made pits, just as the Gibsons have for the last 82 years. You can tell – this is BBQ made with smoke, time, and love.
For dinner, which was not too far behind, and why should it be since we’re here to eat, we mixed it up a bit. Huntsville has a long German tradition, being as how when it was Rocket City we “imported” quite a few German rocket scientists here to help us get to space – on my way to several meetings, I passed the Wernher Von Braun center going up and coming down. We went to a place called the “Ol’ Heidelberg” which lived up to its name by hanging multiple pictures of the bridge over the Rhine showing the ruins of the old Heidelberg castle in the background. The décor looked less like a German restaurant and more like an American restaurant trying hard to look German, and succeeding pretty damn well. The desserts in front were tempting, but our mouths didn’t really start to water until the waitress – in full biergarten regalia – rattled off the beers on draft and mentioned Spaten Optimator. My cohort whispered, “Optimator!” I looked at her and said, “Optimator!” and we high-fived. If you’ve only had it in bottles, it’s to die for on draft. The rouladen was fantastic, served with cucumber salad, red cabbage, and spetzele – it was the best German meal in a restaurant I’ve had since I left Germany. (My mother-in-law is German, and both she and her daughter SOBUMD can cook circles around my local fare.) A fantastic meal.
Tomorrow, we fly home, preceded if I am lucky by one last stop at Thomas Pit – a pilgrimage to touch the primal pig before I return to the antiseptic skies of the Greater Metro DC area, the industrial homogenous pig that is Red Hot and Blue, and my wonderful SOBUMD, and the three lunatic children, and the noisy ball-licking cat.
It’ll be good to be home!