The music is pounding, buffeting the thrashing bodies from every direction as lasers swirl overhead, first red, then green, then melting into a disorienting synesthesia. This is the hottest ticket in Birmingham right now – Tuesday nights at “The Basement.” It draws nearly 5,000 teenagers a week to dance, sing, and pray. That’s right. Pray.
Like all good cowboy stories, this one’s been told and retold, passed down and around, shaped and honed until it shimmers with firelight and the red-orange blaze of a thousand Oklahoma suns. It doesn’t matter if everyone in the room knows the ending. Tommy Morgan’s eyes are bright with merriment, and it’s clear he’s enjoying every minute of this.
“I was at the Tulsa Stockyards when I saw ’em, and my friend said ‘Let’s go over there and I’ll choke the – out of ’em,’ ” the rancher says, demonstrating what his irate buddy would have done to the two guys they suspected had stolen 12 saddles – $18,000 worth – from Mr. Morgan’s barn. “I was yelling, ‘I’ve got ’em, I’ve got ’em,’ flipping through the phone book tryin’ to find someone to call.”
It’s a tough crowd, this assembly of silver-haired Southern gentry. But David Pollick surveys his audience coolly, flashes a megawatt smile, and says something you might not expect to a room full of well-heeled college alums: “Anyone who would aspire to be a college president is a lunatic.” No doubt some have wondered about the sanity of Dr. Pollick, the 12th president of Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), who arrived at the school in 2004. Last year, he and the board of trustees decided sports had become too prominent at the private liberal arts college – a controversial stance in a state where people still revere Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary University of Alabama football coach, even though he died nearly a quarter century ago.
Great road trips, like great movies, require a certain suspension of disbelief, and for 24 hours everyone waited on the edge of their seats, enjoying the ride. By now, much of the world knows the spoiler – the starlet’s shine faded, her throaty purr fell silent, the good guys lost and the villain got the girl. It made no difference. For the people of Tulsa, the journey was the destination anyway, and some of the best parts ended up on the cutting-room floor.
The war in Iraq may be a half a world away, but in the age of the Internet it’s as close as the flip of a video switch – making it in many ways the most intimate war in history. Using video technology and the Worldwide Web, soldiers are tying into the most private moments back home – weddings, funerals, birthdays. Today’s soldier doesn’t have to wait for a box of brownies: He can see his 4-year-old proudly making them. Some innovative couples have used the technology to get married, renew vows, or choose an insurance carrier. A father saw his daughter learn to tie her shoes. A brother said goodbye to his dying sister. The age of the interlinked war is raising profound questions: Does it boost the morale of soldiers or add to longings for home and divert attention from the task at hand?
She says while she supports tonight’s event, it’s going to take a lot to heal race relations in Ashburn, a town where people still refer to the railroad tracks separating the white and black neighborhoods as “the line.” She points out that just last week, a group of white students held a private prom at a nearby marina, heedless of this week’s prom, which had been heavily announced and heralded by what the local weekly newspaper called a “media storm.”