By Cindy and Walt
Two days later I end the day in the small town of Mossberg Alabama. It was late because I had been touring river towns north of the Gulf of Mexico all day. The Alabama River was wide at that spot, but the town was small, less than 2,000 souls in the community. That was still larger than Farmer’s Grove, but smaller than Roaring Gap.
Mossberg had a diner on Main Street where I stopped for dinner. The food was good and I enjoyed the 1930 atmosphere. It wasn’t fake reproduction shit. The place hadn’t changed since the thirties.
When the waiter, who could have been an over the hill boxer, brought the check, I asked, “Is there a place around here where I can get a room for the night?”
“Got a bed a breakfast and a Guest House. Ain’t got no motels,” he said.
“So which do you recommend?” I asked.
“Quiet place with uppity guest is the Bed and Breakfast. Them people just want a place to sleep stay at the Guest House. Them be ones that come to fish in the river mostly,” he advised me.
“So can you tell me how to get to the Guest House?” I asked.
“Stay on Main Street till you get to the end, then you want to turn right and go down to the river turn out. The Guest House is about a mile past that on the right. They got a sign in the yard I reckon.”
I paid the bill and left a larger than normal tip. The information had some value to me. I had plenty of batteries left even, when I pulled into the Riverview Guest House and Fish Camp. There were three bedrooms available for fishermen looking to try their luck in the Alabama River.
The guy sitting on the porch reminded me of a fisherman for sure. There wasn’t any desk in the front room. Hell there wasn’t any front room. The place was just three bedrooms and a bath.
“Who do I see about getting a room?” I asked.
“You the police? You sure ain’t no fisherman,” he said.
“You are right about that. I ain’t no kind of man at all. I’m a real woman looking for a private room for the night,” I said.
“Got a room that sleeps three you can rent. It’s the cheapest thing I got. It’s also fifty dollars a night,” he said.
“Well I can do that okay. Has it got a private bath?” I asked.
“Nope you share. There is a couple down here cat fishing, but they seem like nice folks. They also got a son but he is just a kid. He shouldn’t bother you none,” he suggested.
“Okay, I’ll try it one night at least,” I suggested. There were electric lights, so they had wall plugs. I could charge my batteries and be gone first thing in the morning. Since I had showered that morning in Mobile, I decided I could wait. I really didn’t want to get walked in on while I was naked.
“You should go out and speak to the other guests,” Liam said.
“What, go talk to the catfish fishermen as if we had something in common? I’m no débutante, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly the cat fisherman type.”
“I noticed, but you never know when you might need a favor,” Liam replied.
“I better not need anything I can’t order on the Internet,” I suggested showing him my cell phone.
I slept well all things considered. The family, who planned to be up by dawn fishing in the Alabama River, was still inside when I pulled out headed for town. I rode the bike and pulled the trailer back to town. I was packed for the road. Two large black backpacks in the trailer and a smaller one in the trike’s basket.
I had only stopped because of a girl in a convenience store outside of Mobile, where I had stopped for coffee, told me she was from Mossberg. She further explained that it had about a half deserted downtown, but they seemed to have a plan to restore it. According to her I was seventy miles from Mobile to the center of Mossberg, give or take five miles. It took me four hours to ride it.
I had visited the town and found nothing for me. It was my plan to ride to the next town on the gulf coast that day. Of course, first I would have to make the four hour ride back to the coast. Instead of a plaza like there was near Farmer’s Grove, there was a small strip mall. On the corner out parcel sat a drive in restaurant. The name of it was Dairy Queen but the sign said burgers and fries and more. It was the breakfast hour, so I stopped into the Dairy Queen. The food was actually pretty good for a franchise fast food restaurant. I did object to the paper plates but I couldn’t fault the food. The sun had cleared the horizon an hour before, so I went through town on my way to the state maintained connector road back to the gulf coastal towns.
I found it rather ironic the first town in Mississippi I would be passing through was named Moss Point. I stopped in front of a vacant store building on the main street of Mossberg Alabama. The town did have three blocks of a downtown sprawl. It also had a few blocks with a business mixed in with residences.
That the clerk in Mobile had said a good 25% of the buildings in the downtown were empty. Some might find new life, but several were destined to become more and more run down. The building I noticed was a small shotgun type building. The downstairs had been something like a clothing store and the upstairs was a storage area. There was a sign in the window and a phone number. I was reminded of a famous saying. When you come to a fork in the road take it.
There was a one square block park across from the town hall. I would have expected all the town’s money to have been used for better things, but they had built the fairly new park with money from somewhere. I parked on the side street then went to a bench to check out the town on line.
I couldn’t find Mossberg but I found the weather averages for Mobile which was only seventy miles south. The lowest overnight winter low temperature was 40 degrees. My last home had overnight lows well below twenty degrees. The same day with the low of less than twenty degrees would have a high of only twenty five or so.
Mobile would be sixty on those days, forty degree mornings. I figure the temperature would be much easier to deal with in Mobile, than in College Hill. I spent a couple of hours trying to decide what I would do to stay busy, if I stayed. I couldn’t do anything requiring any of my previous work skills. I didn’t want to turn to breaking the law. Especially since I didn’t need money.
I did notice that it was hot and muggy in October. The day’s high was supposed to be 80 degrees. Some folks might find that uncomfortable, but I appreciated it. I felt I could have handled the 90 degree days of the last two months just as well.
“So, have you talked yourself into settling here?” Liam asked.
“I don’t know. I would have to find something to do, if I settle here,” I suggested.
“You could get yourself a boat and fish,” he suggested.
“I can just see myself as a fisherman. Besides starving, I would stink all the time. I think I’ll just keep looking,” I suggested. I gave it a little more thought, then said, “I think I will stay another night though.”
I found a community bulletin board in Lucy Mae’s Cafe. It was like the one back home, so I checked it out. I noted that there was a dance in the Grange Hall located on a country road between four small communities. I wouldn’t dare take the trike to a dance. If I did that I would have to risk my life to get it back home. Even if I didn’t go, it was nice to know there was a dance every month.
I liked the downtown building and thought it would make a very nice little townhouse. The building was sixteen feet wide and thirty five feet long. I found that out when I called the number on the sign. The owner almost begged me to meet him for a look at it. Oh what the hell, I thought. I also agreed to meet him after lunch.
I had the lunch lady special for lunch. It consisted of vegetable soup and a pimento cheese sandwich just like grade school. It was easily ten times better than anything I ever had in school. It was no doubt where the term ‘lunch lady special’ came from I was sure. The combination was also known to every grown up who ever went to school in the south.
“Want to guess what it was originally?” Liam asked.
“If you mean the little building down the street, I know what it was. At least I know what it was somewhere along the line. There was a faded sign painted on the front window. It said fresh produce and fish. It had to have been some kind of market.”
“Well then that would make sense,” Liam agreed.
“I sure hope the fish smell is gone,” I said.
“So what will you do to stay sane,” Liam asked.
“I’m thinking about drawing,” I said it low enough that no one else in the diner could hear.
“Well, I know you wanted to draw, so that would make sense,” he agreed.
“I hadn’t given it much thought till today. I can live upstairs and have a little studio and retail shop here. It would be something to do, without drawing too much attention to myself. Do a strictly walk in business, so I wouldn’t be known to anyone outside of the county. Maybe I’ll run a gift shop of local arts and craft products,” I suggested.
“First you will have to get the building repaired, so that you can live and work inside,” Liam said.
“Yes, but a minimal renovation, I want to keep the character,” I said.
“Well isn’t it time you met with the owner?” he asked.
“Yes, let’s go do it,” I suggested.
I paid the bill and left the tip on the counter in cash. I walked out feeling that I had eaten a good meal for a change. I gathered, from looking at the menu, that Lucy Mae’s had a different menu each day. I looked forward to seeing what the lunch lady special was the next day.
The man was sitting in his car when I arrived. The car was parked front facing the sidewalk something I hadn’t seen in years. The traffic was so light that pull in parking was the way to go. They didn’t need parallel parking in Mossberg. When I arrived at 1 PM, he got out of his car, stepped up on the concrete sidewalk and said, “Ms Martin it is nice to meet you.”
“So you are the owner of this fish market?” I asked.
“I own the building, but it hasn’t been a fish market for years,” he said.
“How long has it been empty,” I asked.
“About ten years, nothing new has opened up downtown in the time to be honest,” he said.
“Well let’s take a look,” I suggested. The building had a little over 500 square feet on each floor. There was an almost hidden open stairway on the back wall leading straight upstairs. Otherwise it was just one big open room. There was one bathroom built under the stairs. It consisted of a toilet and pedestal sink in a giant wooden box. With just a little work it would do as a customer bath.
I could have a wall built from side to side cutting the room in half. That would give me a showroom in front and a working studio in the rear. It would be tight, but I even liked that about it. I walked up to the stairs and tested them. Someone had kept the building free from the elements it seemed. I had seen plenty that were not secured, and were a total wreck.
Well I like the downstairs fine. Is it alright to look upstairs?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.
When I reached the upstairs I found water damage from small roof leaks. He obviously knew I wasn’t happy because he said, “It looks worse than it really is. I had the roof patched, but it needs to be resurfaced completely. The rest is just cosmetic,” he said.
I stepped up on a box and ran my finger in the soft plaster. “So there is no water and sewer facilities upstairs?” I asked.
“This was always a storeroom, nothing more,” he said.
“Yes I can see that,” I replied. “There is no water up here at all is there?”
“No, it’s just what you see,” he said.
“How about heat and air conditioning?” I asked.
“There is a unit on the roof but it hasn’t been serviced in years. I doubt that it works at all,” he replied.
“So this building is attached to a larger building on one side and there is an alley on the other, is that correct?” I asked.
“Yes there is also an alley in the rear. The trash is collected there,” he said.
I made some quick calculations in my head. I figured $30,000 bare minimum for renovations. That was just utilities and a roof. Sure it was a guess, but I expected it to be a pretty good one. I figured about $20,000 just to get it repaired enough to pass building inspections.
“So what kind of price are we talking here,” I asked.
“For a free and clear deed I need $50,000.” he said with a straight face.
I didn’t laugh, but I did smile. “Sorry, the place might be worth that in Mobile or even Selma, but here you are way over priced. At least for me it is.” With that I turned to the door.
“So what do you think it is worth?” he said.
“Let’s say when it is repaired, not even renovated, just repairs so that it passes code, and minimum standards of occupancy it might be worth 50K in a better location,” I said.
“You do all that and it will be worth 100K,” he said.
“I would think maybe 75K, but there has to be some incentive to take the risk,” I said. “Like I said the location isn’t good either.”
“What risk?” the owner asked.
“The risk that the business will fail and I’ll be left holding the bag for ten or more years,” I suggested.
“Okay thirty grand,” he said trying to sound all gangster on me.
Let me check with city hall and find a lawyer then if it all checks out I’ll do the 30K. It might take a week to get the money to your lawyer for the escrow account.
I rode the trike out to the fish camp and made arrangements to stay a week or more. The deal he wanted me to make was to pay $200 for the week. “Come on one little room for 200 a week, that’s robbery,” I suggested.
“So what are you thinking?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable at anything over a hundred and fifty for a seven day week. For that I would expect clean sheets,” I said.
“Alright I will have the woman come in and change the bed today and again on Monday,” he said. It was only four days on the sheets so I agreed.
I didn’t have time to return for a talk with the town’s building code enforcement officer, so I phoned for an appointment the next morning. He even agreed to meet me at the building. I immediately called to alert the owner, who also agreed to meet with me.
I could charge my batteries, but I couldn’t get onto the Internet. I had found one hot spot in the area. It was a McDonald’s located in a town only ten miles away. Thirty minutes and I could make a banking move. I wasn’t ready to send for the money, so I didn’t make the trip. I played MP3 music and tried not to take an ax to the fisher family who shared the Guest House. Their vacation was scheduled to end one day after I expected to go postal on them and their teenaged son.
Why you might ask? I would counter with did you ever spend two nights sleeping in a room adjacent to that of a couple with a smart ass teenager. The number of times his father told him, in a raised voice, to do something was equal to the three times the number of times that he answered his father with ‘whatever’. You can imagine the conversations which followed ‘whatever’.
His dad didn’t beat the shit out of the kid, but I was close to doing it for him. Even the threat of a child abuse charge was beginning to seem a fair price to pay for some peace and quiet.
I began that Thursday morning back at the Dairy Queen restaurant. I didn’t go to Lucy Mae’s, because I didn’t want to wind up eating all my meals there. Also Mr. and Mrs. fisherman ate breakfast there now and then, so lunch was the safest meal to eat at Lucy Mae’s.
I arranged it so I could have breakfast at the Dairy Queen and arrive at the building with a fresh cup of coffee slightly before the inspector. Of course it didn’t work that way. I had to wait a half hour for him. He was on a different side of the county and got held up. At least that was his story. So from 9 AM till 9:30 AM I sat on my trike. I had a feeling, since the owner and inspector arrived at the same time, there might have been a free breakfast for someone involved in the delay. It was too late to offer him a blowjob for a favorable report, I supposed.
“Well Ms Martin are you ready for your walk through?” he asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I suggested.
“Well then lets take a look at your fuse box,” he suggested. He walked to the rear wall where the stairs were located. The present owner showed him the location of the fuse box. “Well it’s a 60 amp fusetron box. That is approved for a building with no more electric drain than you have here.”
“I have a question, what size box do I need if I’m going to have air conditioning and a heat pump?” I asked.
“200 amp with a circuit breakers would be enough to be safe,” the inspector said.
“Okay,” I replied.
“Now for the plumbing, it appears to be satisfactory for now. If you add any more plumbing you will have to increase the drains and the size of the line coming into the building,” he said.
“A plumber would know the requirements?” I asked.
“A licensed plumber yes,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
“Those stairs are not up to code they need a handrail. The plaster appears to be loose that needs to be repaired. Obviously the roof has leaked at some time. I need to inspect that,” he said. After he went onto the roof through the trap door he added it to the list of repairs. “If I were you I would start with the Electrical, so you can get power on in the building. After that you can work on it in any order you want.”
“Fair enough,” I replied. It was at that point when I stood waiting for them to tell me we were through. Well I really expected him to recommend someone from whom he would get a kickback. I was actually surprised when it didn’t happen.
I was able to walk the few yards to Lucy Mae’s. Inside I stood staring at the bulletin board.
“What you lookin’ for honey,” the waitress asked.
“Need to get an estimate on some electrical work,” I suggested.
“I know an electrician, if you like I can give him a call for you,” she said.
“That would be wonderful,” I replied.
An hour later back at the building I met an older black man. “Hi there,” the older man said. “I’m Levi my grand daughter said you needed some work done.”
“Yes sir, I can’t get into the building but I can tell you what it needs. If you can give me a ballpark price, I would appreciate it,” I said.
“I can try but without seeing it, I can’t guarantee the price,” he said.
“I know I just need your best guess for now. So I am going to have to put in some heat and air conditioning. Since it doesn’t get too cold here I didn’t figure I need to much heat but Air Conditioning might be a problem.”
Yeah I don’t do HVAC, but I know you gonna need 200 amps for an electric furnace. If you go with gas you could do it with 150 if you want to modernize the circuitry. You know water heater and all that, but no heating but that would handle central AC.”
“How about if I went with gas heaters and water heater. I would want a couple of 22O lines for through the wall installation of a self contained unit air conditioner,” I said.
“You could get away with a 150 amp service but the difference between that and 200 amp service is only about 50 bucks. Labor ain’t no more,” he said.
“Well I’m going to want some of those industrial conduits with plugs every few feet. I want the factory look,” I said.
“Tell you what me and the kids could probably do it for $500 bucks,” he said.
“That sounds fair, I will call you when I own it,” I said. I meant it when I said it. Someone would have to approach me with an offer a hundred dollars less before I would consider flipping.
So I had time to ride to the neighboring town which had the McDonald’s. The McDonald’s had a WiFi which I used to transfer $35,000 to a local bank account in the same town. I opened it just before I entered the restaurant. It was tricky, but I got it all done in one day. That was because I had nothing else to do. I realized that I had no life.
Too bad the building’s owner had a life. It took him four days to accomplish anything at all. When his attorney called to tell me we had a contract and the sale would be signed, sealed, and the key delivered the next day.
I allowed the building’s owner to drive me to the lawyer’s office in his car. I handed him a certified check from the bank down the street from the McDonald’s restaurant. I was happy to have the deed going to the courthouse for registering, even if I did have to pay to have it done.
When I got back to Mossberg, I had dinner at Lucy Mae’s to celebrate. The retired boxer brought my dinner. I smiled and told him I had been staying at the Guest House for almost a week. He just smiled.
I managed to make it back to the Guest House before the sun went down. There were two men staying in the bedroom across the hall. So I was glad to be home well after they had a chance to shower. Stinky fisherman wasn’t my favorite essence.
“Why don’t you come outside and let’s have a drink?” the one with red hair and full gray beard asked.
“You realize you are old enough to be my father,” I replied. It was true they were most likely retired.
“What’s your point,” the totally gray man beside him asked.
“Yeah, what’s your point,” Liam asked. “You some kind of age Nazi?”
I laughed and not even I know why.