Rick Bragg, The Decatur Book Festival, and the Road That Goes On Forever

The AJC Decatur Book Festival has grown to become the largest independent book festival in the country. It began in 2006 and you can read about it here (https://www.decaturbookfestival.com/).

Today is the third day of the four day event. I attended many of the festivals but cannot recall the exact number. There is one in particular I do recall, though…

In 2002 a conversion van was purchased in order to make a trip around the country to play in Chess tournaments, and to visit with many people scattered over the country, some involved with research into the JFK assassination. One of the stops was in Rolla, Missouri, where the Missouri State Chess Championship was held. The Rolla public library contained one of a very limited number of the many volume “official” US Government Warren Commission Report. Every report ever released can still be obtained from the government of the US except the Warren Report. Think about that for a moment…

Sometime during the week before the tournament I learned the author Rick Bragg

would be signing books at the Left Bank bookstore in St. Louis (https://www.left-bank.com/).

I had read his first book, All Over But the Shoutin′

and liked it so much I read each of his following books, including Ava’s Man,

which brought tears to my eyes. Rick, like me, was born Southern “by the grace of God,” as the saying goes…Rick is from the Great neighboring State of Alabama. His words struck a chord and hit home because we came from a similar background. He could have been writing about my family, which is, I suppose, why he became such a popular author.

I had plans to play in the Indiana state championship the following weekend so had time to attend the event. By the time I arrived almost all the seats had been taken. Taking the last available seat put me in the back row. The younger woman in the seat to my right was very pretty. She had her long brown hair put up, which I’ve always found attractive, brown eyes, and a smile which caused my heart to flutter while wishing I was at least ten years younger…

Rick was introduced and began to speak. He asked a question of the audience and no one spoke, so I spoke. Everyone turned around to look. It was an extremely quiet audience so I continued to speak during the event. Although I cannot recall much of what was said between us that night I do recall Rick talking about eating at the Krystal.

It seems he had a fondness for the “pups,”

blaming much of his extended belly on his fondness for them, and other Krystal “delicacies.”

As soon as he ended I went to the men’s room. As I walked back into the room where Rick was signing books a nice lady stopped me and said, “I sure did enjoy your conversation with Mr. Bragg tonight.” I smiled and thanked her for saying something so nice. The brown-eyed woman who had caused my heart to throb said, “Me too,” and then immediately dropped her eyes as if she could not believe she had spoken. I thought maybe she was the shy type…She had the look of a librarian.

The publicist who was with Rick noticed me heading toward the door and stopped me, asking if I were leaving. “No ma’am, I am headed to the van to grab a cassette tape I want to give Rick.”

“Is it a book?” she inquired. “No ma’am, it’s music. I just thought Rick would appreciate it.”

“Oh that’s great,” she said, “Rick wants to meet you.”

After nabbing the tape I stepped in at the end of the line behind, you guessed it, the lady with the brown hair and eyes. She had two of his books to be signed. I learned she had not read them, but intended on doing so. We were in the central west end, later to be home of the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

I asked her if she would like to get something to eat and she said, “That would be lovely.” This caused a heart palpitation!

She made it to the table, Rick signed her book after doing a double take which caused me to understand I was not the only man who found her attractive. She moved to the side as I walked up and he looked at her and said, “You with him?” She nodded, said “Yes,” and I’m certain my chest puffed out several inches. Rick looked at me and said, “You lucky dog.” Then he shook my hand and we talked for a little while, with him relating something about there always being one guy from similar circumstances in the crowd saying, “And tonight you were it.”

I handed the tape to Rick, telling him I had made about a dozen copies and given away most of them to friendly truckers while on the road like the one who asked, “You need a shower?” as he slipped me his pass. Rick got a kick outta that! I asked him if they would like to grab a bite to eat with us, but his publicist said they did not have the time.

Fast forward to 2008. I was working at the Atlanta Chess Center and had taken the day off so as to attend the Decatur Book Festival where Rick Bragg would be presenting and autographing his new book, The Prince of Frogtown.

His lecture was to take place in a church. It was standing room only and during the presentation Rick used the word “fuck,” which is the only time I have ever heard the word uttered in a church. He was reading from the book, but still…I remember thinking no one made a sound when he spoke the word. Back in the day little old Southern ladies would have swooned, and possibly fainted, after hearing such a word spoken in a “house of the Lord.”

I was in the balcony. By the time I made it outside there was a very long line of people waiting to have their book signed, but no Rick, so I hit the head. I walked back outside, went around to the rear of the tent, stepped across a line that could not be crossed, came up behind Rick, just as some festival gentleman with a badge grabbed me by the arm, and said to Rick “The road goes on forever…”

The official began pulling my arm just as Rick turned to look. Seeing it was me he completed the line, saying, “And the party never ends!” Then he asked “What are you doing here?” The festival official was attempting to drag me away as I said, “I live here Rick. Decatur is the city of my birth.” Rick looked at the official and yelled, “Unhand that man!” Then he looked at me and said, “I can’t believe it…after all these years…I LOVED that tape! I wore it out and had to get a new one. Now I’ve got everything Joe Ely has done!” Naturally, this made me smile.

“So you liked Love and Danger, huh?”

“Liked it? Hell no, I LOVED it!”

The people in line were getting restless, so Rick said, “You gonna be around a while.”

“I can be,” I said.

“Wanna grab a beer and maybe something to eat?” he asked.

“I don’t think they serve beer at Krystal, Rick,” was my response. He laughed out loud as he stuck out his hand and said, “I don’t even remember your name.”

“Michael Bacon,” I said.

“Yeah, that Bacon part rings a bell…”

“Must be something to do with food, huh?”

“You got that right!” Rick said.

I stepped back to wait. The official came over and apologized, saying something like, “Sorry. I did not know you were friends.”

“That’s OK, sir. I know you were only doing you job.” He smiled.

After the last book had been signed we walked to the Brick Store pub.

After we ordered Rick looked at me and asked, “I seem to recall you were with a beautiful woman that night.”

“Yeah, I met her at the signing.”

“No shit?” he said, “What happened with her?”

“Gentlemen never tell, Rick,” I said as he broke into a big, wide grin.

Rick’s latest book is:

I have yet to read it, but there is no doubt it will be read soon.

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