It's been a weird couple of days, to put it mildly. Having picked up my friend Pete, I am slowly making my way through the American Deep South on my alcoholic TV adventure, and it's starting to take its toll. Flying up from a Hemingway-style drinking marathon in Key West we landed in Atlanta, Georgia. Any hope of rest was soon quashed as we headed off to a bar called Hoedowns.
Hoedowns is the largest gay country and western bar in the US. It was also line-dancing night. After sampling various "gay" cocktails including the lethal "double cock-sucker", Pete and I were challenged to a game of pool by two very butch- looking cowboys. They insisted on helping us with our technique by leaning over us and guiding our strokes in a manner that left little room for dissent. Here's a tip: when in a gay cowboy bar, it's best not to stick your arse out as you bend over the pool table. Then came the finale: Pete and I trying to line-dance with 200 gay cowboys. As a one-off experience, this was right up there, although I ended up striking cod-John Travolta poses in the endless strobe lights.
I think that we're all starting to hanker for home slightly, but our itinerary shows us no mercy. Leaving Atlanta, we drove towards South Carolina and ended up deep in the Appalachian Mountains. We were off to see Barney, a legendary moonshiner who had originally offered to fly us to his place in a biplane. We'd seen a video of him back in London and, noting the constant presence of a jar of 'shine in his hand, had decided to pass on his kind offer.
Barney met us outside his shack in the middle of some very Blair Witch-like woods. He sure looked the part: dungarees, a foot-long white beard, wild crazy eyes and a pet possum called George Jones on his shoulder. He was like some hillbilly Charles Manson, and we were more than a tad worried as he led us off deep into the woods. We finally arrived at a clearing where about 10 enormous bearded hillbillies were seated around an enormous bonfire. Having seen the film Deliverance, I felt fairly sure that my time was up, and that I was soon to be made to squeal like a pig.
I couldn't have been more wrong. They were redneck charm itself (if a little incomprehensible) and couldn't have been more hospitable. They were all local moonshiners and they'd brought samples of their illegal wares for us to taste - like amateur wine-makers eager for approval. One after another we were handed jars of moonshine flavoured with pears, plums, cranberries - and in some cases, absolutely nothing (the legendary "white lightning" that tastes something like a mixture of petrol and meths). To prove the strength of their concoctions we were urged to spit some of it on the fire. I did so, and the flames roared up towards the clear moonlit moonshine sky. The hillbillies screamed with enthusiasm and we drank on... and on...
I can barely remember the rest of the evening. I dimly recall donning old dungarees and dancing by the fire with the possum. Barney is in a very respected bluegrass band called Plum Hollow, and our new friends all brought out their instruments and started playing round the fire. I think that I played the washboard. Certainly the tips of my right hand fingers are numb and raw this morning, but that might be something to do with the moonshine. The last thing that I remembered was the guns; somebody was shooting a machine gun at a tree and Pete was singing some Irish song as the hillbillies urged him on.
The hangover is like nothing else. It's almost a state of altered consciousness, but maybe I'm just still pissed. We're on the road again this morning, driving down to Alabama to meet a homophobic preacher who enters off-licences and harangues customers who buy alcohol. He's agreed to meet us and discuss his views, but I think it might be best that we don't mention Hoedowns or the hillbillies. Not until we've had a couple of drinks, anyway.