Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Last stop for ABEL RAISES CAIN in Birmingham, AL

LAST STOP, Birmingham, Alabama! Today I saw a sign that said "100% deer urine" and wondered what the hell that meant. My dad read aloud a billboard that he caught a glance of as we were passing, "Guns and Guts."
The South is a whole new world to us. Never have I seen a restaurant that touts their menu of Sharks, Chicken and Fish. Apparently, it's not usual to see alligator on the menu, either.

The hotel that the venue arranged for us was one fancy joint. We have a huge suite. What a grand finale way to end the tour - in total luxury. I liked the view out of our window.
I wish there was time for more photographs. I saw so many cool things on our way out of the city I wanted to capture, but there just wasn't any time.

The small but good-humored audience was having a fun time watching the film, it sounded like from the green room. I busied myself with playing catch-up in my journal.
My dad snuck into the theater to listen firsthand to the reactions. He's funny like that. He has seen the documentary probably a thousand times, but yet he still relishes every moment.
As I write, the clock on the wall is stuck and the second hand pulses. I find it distracting only because it reminds me of Groundhog Day with time repeating itself. Will the movie play forever? Throughout the end of time? Have I preserved my dad's legacy for future audiences to enjoy past my own lifetime? All existential babbling aside, now all I can hear is the noisy Diet Coke my dad left behind in the dressing room. The bubbling and fizzing is deafening!

As we were pulling out of Birmingham, on our way back to New York by plane, two guys on the back of a pick-up truck sat staring at us, smoking cigarettes. They didn't take their eyes off of us for a second. My dad and I looked at each other and knew it was time to go home.
We were total outsiders, Yankees, weirdos. We will at last bid farewell to the South that we got a delicious taste of for the past 2-1/2 weeks. I guess we would have made our escape a bit more stealthily had my dad not accidentally pocketed a butter knife from the restaurant that morning.
He set off all of the security alerts and a team of TSA officials were on the case immediately. Luckily, everybody had a good sense of humor about it. I mean, who else besides Alan Abel unknowingly steals silverware and carries it through security before boarding a plane? I turned to the TSA people and said, "I just can't take my dad anywhere." They laughed. And so did we.

Back to New York City without mishap, it was good to be home. But this trip will be one that we'll never forget.
Location:Birmingham, AL

Sunday, February 20, 2011

ABEL RAISES CAIN screens in Ocean Springs, MS

Our last stop in Mississippi - Ocean Springs, MS is a tiny gulf town where everybody knows everybody.
The hotel where we're staying used to be Elvis' summer home in the 50s. We're not in the fancy part, however.
Our room is part of the adjacent motel strip added on to the property twenty years after the "king" stayed here. But it's still nice to rock and relax and watch the golf carts drive by.
When we arrived, I was so hungry I could have eaten part of the bedspread. The problem was that EVERYTHING was CLOSED! There's a main drag where you can find a Waffle House and Applebee's, but I craved real local food. I finally found a bar in the little quaint downtown area that made pizzas. There's nothing like a pizza when you are starving. After gorging myself, I had to stop and grab a shot of the idyllic train station on my way back to the Elvis Hotel.

Our first night in Ocean Springs, we were free to do whatever we pleased. We took a walk under the moonlight and soaked in the delicious syrupy air and sound of the night critters.

The following morning, my dad and I spoke to a high school class. The kids were great! And the teacher was energetic and passionate about film. I played clips of my dad's pranks for them. Of course, the clip that received the most laughs was the one where my dad made me eat a 'hair sandwich' on camera. If it sounds strange, you'll have to see the film to understand, I guess.

After the class lecture, we had a nice lunch and headed over to Biloxi to do a television interview on Channel 13.
Like New Orleans, Biloxi is still in the process of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, which is pretty depressing since it's been over six years ago.
Once we arrived at the TV studio, you wouldn't believe who we met in the Green Room! Yes, a Civil War reenactor with a very real gun. He kept 'playing' with the gun controls. Between that guy and the nearby studio access door that took about three minutes to creak to a complete close, I was feeling a bit on edge.
Unfortunately, my dad was like a cow on a conveyer belt on his way to becoming a hamburger during his interview segment. The host was nice and all, but they had him on and off camera so fast. He couldn't even get a soundbyte in. I guess it's karma from all of his fast-talking characters like Omar the Beggar who never let TV hosts get a word in edgewise.
The Mary C. Theater is gorgeous. I was eagerly anticipating our screening. It's too bad that I had a couple of panicked trips up to the projection room to adjust the picture and sound after the film was already rolling.
Note to all filmmakers, even when the projectionist says that he/she already did a tech check and it looked and sounded fine, insist on another tech check!

Eric was a gracious host. The backstage room was stocked with snacks and more beer than a whole fraternity house could ever consume in one night. During the screening, my dad sat backstage, loudly eating Fritos. Every time he fished around in that bag to get another Frito, it sounded like a thunder storm rolled into town. When I heard the echo throughout the theater of him cracking open a can of soda, that was the final straw!
The crowd was small but enthusiastic. It turned out to be a fun evening, however the reality of the daunting drive the following day to Birmingham crept up on us slowly but surely. There is nothing like rushing a 5-hour drive to get to the next screening. Talk about putting the pedal to the metal.
After breakfast, we'll say "Goodbye Mississippi." It was definitely an adventure!

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Leaving Columbus, Mississippi, my dad and I stopped to get directions at the gas station. I rolled down the window to get the attendant's attention just as soon as I hit the pedal to the metal. I realized the guy was pumping fuel into an elderly lady's car with a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth! With our limbs intact, we found our way to Meridian, MS at last. The Inn where we're staying is interesting indeed.
Called "The Lion and Harp," it's a pink victorian home perched atop a little knoll in a wooded area. On the interior, the original 1890 details of the house are gorgeous. A grand old staircase leads from the main entryway up to the guest rooms.
That night, we ate at the oldest restaurant in the state. The sad thing is, I was a bit fearful of ordering any fresh local seafood from the menu. All I could think of were images of oil-soaked birds and sea creatures devastated by the latest gulf spill. But again, I digress and fall prey to my Debbie Downer side.

On a more positive note, we enjoyed a lovely morning the next day relaxing on the porch after a filling and delicious breakfast in the stately dining room.
We watched two squirrels bouncing up and down, jumping from branch to branch on a nearby tree.
It's time to pack up and head out on the road again. It's sad that the tour is almost over! We're enjoying the nomadic lifestyle, meeting interesting folks and staying in cool little towns.

Friday, February 18, 2011

ABEL RAISES CAIN lands in Columbus, MS

Landing in Columbus, MS, this little town is another one that's frozen in time. I am obsessed with old signs and old trains.
I have a feeling this isn't the last of either I'll see. Is this train coming or going, nobody knows for sure.
The old theater on the main drag is something new now, but the old sign still stands proud.
My dad and I end up going to a firehouse-themed restaurant where the floors are sticky and the water runs sideways out of the faucet in the bathroom. On the way out of the ladies room, I notice a framed picture of a shirtless Chippendale's dancer above the door. We dined by a giant blown-up photograph of a bunch of buildings engulfed in flames. Weird.
When I stopped along the highway to take a picture of a "Got Jesus?" billboard, I heard gun shots from across the way. I hurried back to the car. I definitely didn't want to get caught in anyone's crossfire while on tour.
Sadness overwhelms me as we pass a series of clear cut forests and an endless slew of logging trucks filled with fresh timber. I love trees. I hate seeing them cut down, especially for profit. I guess that most folks find the log-filled 18-wheelers along the highway commonplace here. The timber industry is huge in the South and clear cutting is the way of the land, literally. But enough Debbie Downer commentary.
We made it to Backstrom's Bed and Breakfast, a lovely little place I found online. Betty Jo, the owner, claims to be in her 80s, but she looks much younger to me. What's funny is that Betty Jo has been the only person to EVER successfully guess my dad's real age.
He's been lying about how young he is ever since I've known him. I guess it takes one octogenarian to know another. Betty Jo sure had me fooled herself! She is funny and we hit it off immediately.

After we settle in, I check out the place. The front room is filled with interesting goodies from yesteryear.
Just like an art gallery with cathedral ceilings and a mezzanine, the majority of the paintings were created by family members.
Her late husband, Bill, was a talented furniture maker, sculptor and stained glass creator. His work is prominently displayed throughout the house.
At breakfast, Betty Jo was amused by my dad's stories and we had a fun time laughing together. I think that my dad has a switch somewhere inside that goes to "funny mode." Sometimes it's hard to find the "off" switch! I am so happy that we found this little place and met Betty Jo. She's another memorable character on this journey.
I enjoy the backyard view. Even though we're on a busy road (Alabama State Rd. 182), the surrounding wooded area is pretty and filled with the sound of the birds.
Leaving the inn, we were like the Griswolds from Vacation. I forgot to pack the suitcases and left them sitting in the driveway. Fortunately, I stopped to take one last picture of the inn and realized my bimbo move. Good thing that I turned back. I honestly don't know how we would have ever gotten our suitcases back otherwise!

Location:Columbus, MS

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ABEL RAISES CAIN arrives in Tupelo, MS

Crossing the Mississippi border, it doesn't feel much different from Alabama. We're on mostly state highways as opposed to back roads. I click the radio on to NPR and the top of the hour headlines are about Justin Beiber and Ken winning Barbie back. I'm not sure if I've gone crazy or if the news is just plain crazy. My dad may be out of a job soon. How can you poke fun at a media that's already so absurd? And NPR no less! Maybe my dad is responsible for cultivating this ripe new media saturated with mind-numbing infotainment.
We finally made it to Tupelo and checked into our motel. The most giant gift basket I've ever seen was waiting to greet us in our room!
We felt like a pack of wild wolves as we gleefully hoarded the goodies inside. Thanks to the Tupelo Film Commission, Pat Rasberry and her crew. They must have all known that the Abels truly relish anything that's FREE!
Its funny, it seems that every time I sit down to write, I hear that distant train blaring its horn again. It serves as a backdrop to the sound of people ordering food from the Steak Escape drive-thru next door. The lady at the front desk with blue eye shadow says the food is really good there. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'm a vegetarian.

My dad is taking a nap and it's hard to concentrate. His snoring sounds like a brass and wind section. The tuba and trombone take turns dropping an accented bass note while the winds follow up with a low eery glissando phrase. It's reminiscent of the first track on Charles Mingus' "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" album.
I quietly get up and gather our stuff to take to the laundromat. While I'm there, four hunters in camouflage pull up in a giant white pick-up truck. I watch as another group of guys are getting rowdy, swizzling beer in the parking lot. I turn to meet the gaze of a pre-pubescent teen sitting next to me and staring at me creepily. It was Twilight Zone time. Even though our clothes weren't fully dry, I pulled them out of the dryer anyway. I had to get out of there. Nothing like doing laundry in a strange city on the outskirts of town.
The next morning, we have the pleasure of meeting Pat Rasberry, a beautiful woman with a warm heart, a sweet demeanor and a honey soft voice. She knows everybody in this town! She drove us over to WWMR 102.9 in downtown Tupelo, MS to do a radio show. My dad went on the air as Irwin Leba, founder of the organization to tax people according to their body weight. His slogan: "The more you weigh, the more you'll pay." The show is called "Delta Talk" and the host, Mike, has a great sense of humor. Of course we ran out of time, because my dad and I sure know how to fill up the segment with lots of babbling.
Usually, when I try to describe to others what my father does, I refer to him as a media satirist. But people don't really get it, though, without having seen the film. I'm either met with a quizzical stare or a lost gaze combined with a slow nod. Mike at the radio station got it without hesitation.

We're hopeful that morning commuters are swayed to come on over to the screening and blow off the city-wide furniture convention and another popular event, called 'Taste of Tupelo.' I cross my fingers that we get some actual bodies into the screenings. But not just any bodies, ones with a sense of humor!

We went over to the theater to check it out. The Link Centre is a converted church that is now a community gathering place for film, music and other family activities.
It turns out it was a packed house! Pat Rasberry and Melanie Deas went out of their way to publicize the screening. And their hard work paid off. The audience seemed thoroughly entertained, particularly the group of older ladies in the front row. They hooted and hollered throughout! I found out that they hadn't been to the Link Centre in twenty years, when it was still a church.
Later that night, I had strange dreams about a squirrel making pancakes, driving through a city filled with blinking neon lights, and going to see a Brad Pitt play, but nobody was in the audience. When I woke up, I thought that an exotic bird was singing outside.

But, in fact, upon closer listen through my earplugs, it was my dad snoring. This is the view out of our motel room window at sunrise. A pretty furry-looking bunch of trees, if you ask me.

Goodbye, Tupelo. Onto our next two stops in Mississippi...

Location:Tupelo, MS

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

ABEL RAISES CAIN's Alabama adventure (cont'd)

My dad and I had no idea that we were about to discover paradise just a few short miles from the Piggly Wiggly. It was our second free day while on tour and so I had booked us a room at a bed and breakfast I found online. I knew right away that I had picked a gem as soon as we drove down the windy road to the Quaint on Brooklyn Bed & Breakfast.
Taking in the sight of this idyllic inn perched on a hilltop overlooking a beautiful farm, we were greeted by a funny little dog, named Burt, followed by his owner, Don.
Well, Burt was just the opening number as we would soon meet the rest of the animal cast, consisting of peacocks, bunnies, horses, and ducks. It was magical. When I described the place to my friends, they thought that I was either severely dehydrated and lacking fluids or hallucinating.
From the front porch the following morning, I watched the sunrise and soaked in the sight and sounds of the farm animals waking up. The haunting cry of peacocks rose above the clucking hens and muted clamor of the ducks while Burt barked at the resident horses.
Now I've never been a horse person. But on that particular morning, with the mist rising, all alone on the farm with just the animals and me, I felt like I was dreaming when I wandered over to an open grassy area in my pajamas and two beautiful honey-colored horses galloped toward me. Startled at first because there was no fence separating us, my instinct was to "play dead." And so I stood still as they took turns sniffing me, their giant fluttering nostrils tickling my hands. I soon relaxed into the newfound friendship with a giddy glee. The sense of trust was mutual. And from that moment on, my life would never be the same.
On the road again, it was hard to leave paradise. My dad and I were already reminiscing about the delicious home-cooked dinner Don and Carmen made for us the night before. What memorable folks, and what a cool place. Definitely worth a return trip to Alabama!
Although we were on a tight time crunch, this didn't stop me from pulling over to snap a photo of an old cafe sign, rusting but still standing proud along the desolate Alabama state road.

My dad was watching the clock and getting nervous. We didn't want to keep the crowd at the Jules Collins Smith Museum waiting.
It turned out to be a fun screening, attended by students and older folks alike. Special thanks to Scott Bishop and Debbie for hosting us. And to the eager and inquisitive bunch of students I had the pleasure of meeting afterwards, you guys were an inspiration and truly made my night!
Waking up the next morning, I peered out the window through blurry eyes. The view from our hotel room of the Auburn University campus was a continuation of the dreamlike experience I seemed to be having while exploring the South. In my half-sleep state, all I could see was a beckoning castle amidst the clouds at dawn.
Tupelo, MS was our next stop, marking the halfway point of the tour. Was Mississippi ready for the weird world of Alan Abel and the man himself? We would soon find out.

Location:Auburn, AL

[The above entry was originally posted on the Southern Circuit - Tour of Independent Filmmakers blog on 2/15/11]