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An Incredible Journey to the South - A Home away from Home

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To Lowe Mill

In time, my mom’s gold 1999 Ford Taurus pulled up in the parking lot. We walked out the door and prepared Andrew for the fact there would be a little, energetic, and shedding dog waiting for him in the back seat, as we couldn’t leave him alone at the hotel. We both got in the car as I introduced my mom to Andrew, who said hi to him, and he said hello back. I told him was my was pretty cool, so he needn’t be too nervous, but just then, when he seemed to have situated himself, the dog jumped on him, trying to say hello himself. He was always overly-affectionate, usually trying to lick people, but we had him refrain from doing that at least, he said it was alright if he sat on him, but said he drew the line when they try to lick his face.
After Andrew had texted Jake, asking for the address to Lowe Mill, he handed his phone to me, and I punched it in to the GPS; our projected time of arrival wasn’t for nearly a half hour. We shoved off as I prepared myself for sight-seeing. I presumed Andrew was texting whoever at the time, knowing where we were driving through was nothing new to him.
Again, we passed through the winding and essentially layered and latticed expressway roads—I felt the same uneasiness as I had felt yesterday, thinking about what Lowe Mill would be like.
The area we began passing through as we made it through the expressway was starting to resemble the city area of home … only it looked… unfinished, or slightly decayed. There were areas where I lived that were like this, but knowing there were more areas like this in Alabama already gave me a surreal feeling I wasn’t sure how to interpret.
The whole time Lola was instructing my mom on where to go and turn at, Andrew was also giving my mom directions, although he wasn’t quite as sure as Lola was; then again, Lola thought we got to the hotel earlier than we actually saw the sign and arrived, and hadn’t been updated since we “borrowed” it from my aunt. As we got closer, we turned Lola off and decided to follow Andrew’s directions, thinking his memory would be jogged – we were a bit wrong. Unsure when we were supposed to turn, Andrew said to keep going until the next possible turn, only to abruptly change his mind and say the previous turn was the right turn to make. We turned around and now made a left into a dirt road and were told to turn right shortly after, going back onto regular pavement. Soon enough, we were able to see a warehouse, surely so, but most of it was gated off and we couldn’t discern where the actual entrance was.
“You have to keep going left from here,” Andrew pointed.
Shortly, we found an opening in the gates, but Andrew signaled that it wasn’t the entrance, and only led to open land. As we passed it, surely enough he was right. The warehouse was getting farther away from us as we drove on, though, and we were approaching another main road.
As we got up to the stoplight at the road’s one intersection, Andrew suddenly burst out, “Wait, you had to go right from that one spot!” We sighed unnecessarily heavily but smiled after doing so. We pulled into the gas station and turned around and continued straightforward, noticing an opening in the late in the direction of the warehouse. We continued down the path until we reached what seemed to be Lowe Mill’s parking lot, which was just a gated-in, dirt square.
There was a slight dilemma we hadn’t realized earlier as we were about to get out of the car: the dog couldn’t go in with us, and if my mom were to drive back to the hotel with him, she’d likely have to turn around and come back to get us as soon as she got back, seeing as the party at Aaron’s was at 5:00, and it was about 3:30, meaning we had about an hour to look around; I suggested that she just venture around with him for some time so they could both get a little fresh air and exercise while we looked around. Andrew winced slightly and spoke up.
“I wouldn’t go too far, though. Some parts of this area are kind of shady,” he warned.
“Oh, great,” my mom said with exasperation. “You guys are gonna go shopping and I’m going to get mugged.” It was hard to tell if she was being facetious or not, but Andrew had told me stories about the shady parts of Alabama, which merited that he felt the need to have a pocket knife on him. (He also had a lighter with him that he bought around Christmas as his first 18+ activity; we planned on burning things for leisure since we both liked to do it, but that never ended up happening.)
My mom foraged around with the dog as we headed off in the other direction, with Andrew leading the way.
“The first place we’ll probably hit that I actually want to visit for something is Vertical House Records. I wanted to get Aaron a really crappy record of something he probably doesn’t like,” Andrew said, somewhat directing me to it with his tone. We practically swaggered up the stone stairs as we continued walking across a narrow stone footpath. Andrew stopped at the first door we came to that was on our right. He let me go in first, even though I had no idea where I was going or what to expect.
While I’d never really been to an actual record store, it looked like what I’d expect a record store to look like, I suppose – it was rectangular on the inside with an annex by the back wall, off to the right—up against the walls on tables were boxes of records, as well as in a rectangle in the middle of the store; there were even records hung above the boxes of records on the walls. I let Andrew lead the way again and go ahead of me as I nonchalantly browsed some of the records, although both Aaron and Andrew owned a record player and I did not.
I wasn’t really paying attention to how the records were organized or what genre they really were at first, I was mostly waiting for Andrew to find a record for himself and Aaron. As lost as I felt, I tried not to follow Andrew around and make him feel uncomfortable, and managed to do my own looking; though, again, I wasn’t able to really sensibly buy anything from there. After we’d both done some browsing and convened toward the center of the shop, Andrew asked who sang the song “Y.M.C.A.” I looked it up on my phone to find out it was [the] Village People. While I’d known of the song, this was news to me. We weren’t sure if it’d fall under the T or V records in the section where they were alphabetized, so I looked for them in the T’s, and Andrew rummaged through the V’s. As time went on we worked our way closer to one another, searching the boxes until I passed all the “The”s. Surely enough, in due time, Andrew had procured a record that read “Village People” (no “the,” apparently), that had all of its members on the cover case.
“This should be crappy enough for him,” Andrew said, satisfied with his choice. He continued to look around for himself as I followed, looking around with a more discerning eye than earlier.
Just a few minutes later, Andrew had picked out a record by The Black Keys, a band I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with, but had never really listened to. He did a little more looking, but only for a few seconds before he decided to head to the register. He put his records in his backpack and we left the record store and worked our way into the actual warehouse part of Lowe Mill.
The one entrance looked like it was formerly a fire exit, as there were stairs leading to the upper floors of it and there was a red door just ahead of us.
We were greeted by a white-walled corridor and slate floors, the walls were adorned with art as we rounded the corner and started seeing some shops whose entrances jutted into the walls of the building; at first we only window shopped; most of what was being sold were various and rather exquisite works of art and crafts: ranging from paintings, drawings, caricatures of customers and patrons, jewelry, vases, and even hand-made instruments. Andrew went in the store with instruments everywhere as I followed.
Some people were playing some of the instruments—mostly guitar—and who appeared to be the shop owner attentively watched and listened to his customers play, having a look of gratification and enjoyment about him. I think we’d both heard better, but they weren’t too bad. It turned out that this store also sold records, so Andrew pulled his out to show he was interested, likely asking for suggestions based on what he already had. Then, the shop owner asked him if he played anything. Thinking for a quick second, Andrew replied by saying, “Uh, I play the dulcimer, but it’s been forever.”
“Well, that’s alright,” the shop owner said with a warm smile. He went delved into a corner and brought out a board-like instrument, lined with strings. “I’ve got a board dulcimer, here.” Andrew nervously smiled and took it from him, planting himself down on a roomy chair in the shop—he took a deep breath as he tried to play “Amazing Grace;” everyone else in the store stopped what they were doing to pay attention to him, likely adding to the pressure placed on him, but he was meticulously looking and playing the strings; in the end, until what he mentioned he tried to play, I didn’t recognize it, but I gave him a quiet hand of applause as the shop owner extolled him. Andrew gave it back and we looked around some more and left.
After window-shopping through a few more stores, Andrew said he noticed his backpack felt a little lighter, he looked inside and realized his records were gone; suddenly, I pictured two records being placed up on one of the shelves as Andrew was handed the dulcimer and forgot to put them back in his backpack—I told him to wait where he was and I rushed back to the store we’d came from, found the records exactly where I had envisioned them, grabbed them, and extraneously ran, couriering them back to Andrew.
We eventually advanced our way up to the second floor to discover what looked like an indoor street market, again strewn with crafts and art—this time there were books and posters and products of yarn-work, too. It was mostly one strip of a central aisle that had stores branching into the main aisle’s walls. As we proceeded through the right side of the aisle from where we emerged from the red door, there was a woman performing with hula hoops, managing multiple ones with ease, whilst even doing some mildly impressive and entertaining tricks with them. She stood on one foot with several hoops around one of her arms and another around her leg that was off the ground, able to keep them all going around her. We stopped to watch her for a few moments until she finished – her spectators and we all gave her a short round of applause. We continued down the aisle, poking into a few shops until we noticed there was something of a hullabaloo/hoedown happening ahead of us; people were playing music and others were dancing right in the middle of the procession. We cautiously approached it as a banjo player greeted us and told us this: “If you wanna pass, you gotta dance your way through, folks.” Andrew and I looked at each other than incredulously looked at him, but we shrugged our shoulders and improvised—Andrew cracked the same awkward but sincere enough smile as he somewhat robotically danced his way through the crowd; I did a very poor rendition of the Irish jig, as it was the first thing that came to mind to do. The instrument players all gave us a hand as we each broke out beaming at each other, realizing that was a thing we actually had to do and just did. (In this moment, things had felt like they were at their zenith—for once in what felt like forever since depression swallowed my happiness with worries and despair, I felt vindicated all of the burdens and fears that ailed me; I felt like the me I had dreamed about being ever since I realized what I thought was happiness before was just blissful ignorance throughout my youth and until my mid adolescence: a me that knew how the world worked, but knew he couldn’t work the world, and had come to terms with that, moving on with his life.)
We browsed a poster shop past the all the raucous commotion that were of various video games: Legend of Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Pokemon, and many more. They had a striking resemblance to their original artwork, and were very impressive in their detail and quality. Andrew looked over and grabbed a flyer from a little table among the posters; I decided to grab one, too. There was no one actually tending to the shop, which was a shame—we’d have had some nice things to converse about.
We were nearing the end of the right side of the aisle, so I was about to turn around, but Andrew kept going toward the right-hand corner of the floor – I followed. Turns out that there was another vacant room filled with what appeared to be stored artwork, ranging from the same things sold on the first floor. It was quiet and drafty in there, Andrew seemed like he knew what he was looking for—it was exceedingly quiet yet creaky with each step we took. Our eyes seemed sharper than earlier when looking around, perhaps because there was no one else around us looking at the same things we were. After a few minutes we left and decided to visit the other end of the aisle; but not without having to boogie our way through the musical impasse we faced once again. There was nothing special or out of the ordinary on the left side of the aisle, until we came to what looked like a little library, filled with older women who appeared to be spinning yarn. Andrew gave me an uneasy look that I wasn’t sure how to interpret as we decided to not go in and investigate. We meandered our way past another corner to reveal what appeared to be an outdated elevator and another red door that surely led to another flight of stairs, both going up and down. We made our ascent to the third floor and opened another big red door.
A fair few parts of the third floor were either vacant or occupied by random clutter and debris, and there wasn’t much of significance to see, either. I checked the time to see that it was going on a quarter after 4:00, so we decided we’d best make our way back down to the car.
Thankfully we didn’t have to dance our way down Lowe Mill as we took one last ephemeral look at everything, taking a slightly different route, passing a club/lounge called The Flying Monkey. Sadly, neither of us got a chance to sing there, seeing as we already got to dance; in fact, we’re so hilarious we could have even done standup.
Andrew had finally realized that he and my mom both had the same kind of car essentially—hers being a few years newer, but nameless. He had named his car “Maureen,” after the author Maureen Johnson, somebody we both followed on Twitter.
I’d called my mom when we were on the third floor before we made our way back down, so she was already waiting in the car … the dog too.
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