We have the road to thank. Literally. Pierre, one of the project photograhers, and I were driving on Route 43, and we said, "Let's make something happen. Let's see if we can do Verse 43 starting here on Route 43." Usually I'll try to get to know people and spend some time with them beforehand. But in this case, we said, "Let's just drive and see what happens..."
Billy Wayne Corkerin - Fayette
Pierre and I were driving along when we passed Billy Wayne sitting on his porch with his wife Lucy and their dog. I said, “We should turn around and talk to them!”
At first when we asked Billy Wayne if he'd be up for reading some poetry he was like, "Nope, not gonna happen." Pierre was almost ready to turn the camera off. But then Billy Wayne said yes.
Next time you watch, take a look. It's a split second, the minute that Billy Wayne says, "Well let me look at it [the poem]." Lucy, his wife, looks stunned, like, "This is going to take a real turn for the different." We hadn't notice that reveal until many viewings into our editing. We enjoy finding those throughout the project.
There were some things in the passage, religious overtones, and when Pierre and I chatted with Billy Wayne after his read, he said, "I don't know if I agree with that stuff." He didn't agree with the phrase, "honoring the Gods." Plural.
I asked, "Well then why did you say yes and read for us, Billy Wayne?"
He said, "Because you asked me to."
That hit me right in the gut for so many reasons. How generous is it to put yourself out there for someone like that? And for someone you just met? A million times thank you Billy Wayne.
Cindy Middleton - HIGHWAY 110
Pierre spotted some trees filled with white birds, cattle egrets. They would sit, then take flight en mass and land on different trees. So we stopped nearby and ate lunch on the side of the road. It was so so hot that day. In the background of some of the shots, you can see, we lifted the trunk of my car to try to create some shade.
While we were eating, Cindy pulled her car over approached us. She was even more willing to talk to strangers than we were! She asked us if we were from the Audubon Society. Were we there to take note of this anomaly she had previously discovered? The white hawk.
Apparently white hawks don't exist, or are rare, but one lives along that stretch of Highway 110 in Alabama.
We asked her if she wanted to read for the project, and I remember she said her son was in some kind of a pickle. I think he had a flat tire or something and was waiting for her on the side of the road somewhere. Cindy said she’d read for us but we were concerned about holding her up from helping her son. She said, "He can wait. He needs to learn a lesson."
I know they can't possibly be white hawks, but I love seeing those two white birds fly behind Cindy's head when she finishes her read.
And a tip we learned from Cindy: When it's super hot out there like it was that day, and you're gonna be outside working, wet a bandana and wear it around your neck. Pierre bought a bandana the next day.
Cindy's son wasn't the only person hanging out on the side of a road who learned a lesson that day.
Kaitlin Watson and Shelby Carr - Newton
We saw this drive-in movie theater. How often do you, or at least we, see one of those? We had to check it out. If for nothing else, to catch a movie after a long, hot day.
We were looking around when these two young women drove up to us in a golf cart, and they were like, "What's your deal?" But way more polite than that. We were kind of trespassing, and we were caught off guard.
So I explained the project, and they seemed pretty interested, but only if Chase, their boss and the owner of the drive-in, gave permission.
When we were filming, Kaitlin kept tripping over one word. "Winders."
She was trying and trying, then finally she nailed it. That's why Shelby and Kaitlin fist bump at the end.
But probably my favorite detail is the look on Shelby’s face when Kaitlin nails it. A subtle look of pride for her colleague and nod to the fact that Kaitlin rocked it. They both did.
And Chase, if you see this, thank you for saying yes!! We know they were supposed to be working!
Anthony Williams - Headed to Montgomery
How many miles had we driven and how many cars had we seen pulled over on the side of the road. And hadn't stopped to help. I started to say I wanted to film someone who was having trouble on the side of the road. And then we saw someone!
Pierre jumped out of the car and walked towards Anthony, and Anthony said something like, "Man! Thanks for stopping! I've been here 30 minutes and nobody's stopped to help!" And Pierre said something like, "Yessssss, we'll help...BUT...we were actually hoping you'd read some poetry for us?"
Right away he was like, "Alright!" Like, "Let's get this done." Pierre explained the project a little, it didn't even seem necessary. Anthony was just immediately cool with it. But he also needed to get his tire changed and get to work.
So this all went down on the edge of the highway, and it was dangerous. Cars were zooming by, it was windy! And Anthony was great. What presence. When he said the lines, "like a man," it was a shot to your soul. In the best way.
Who reads poetry for a couple of strangers while late for work and changing their flat tire?
Anthony Stewart - Union Springs
We were driving through Union Springs and saw a bunch of kids looking under the hood of a car. Like a scene out of the 1950s. We asked them if they would read for us and they scattered. But Anthony was sitting in a chair under a tree nearby and when he saw all this go down he invited us over to talk.
After a bit we asked him if he'd read for us. He told me he had a hard time reading, so I hid behind a tree and fed him the lines.
Somehow Anthony managed to get through our awkward arrangement without complaint or losing composure. He stumbled a bit, but I eventually came to understand how impossible those lines are to repeat.
After meeting Anthony I asked Pierre to feed me the same ones so I could repeat them out loud as Anthony did. I stumbled, tried again, got frustrated, then embarrassed, and gave up.
How the flukes splash!
How they contort rapid as lightning, with spasms and spouts of blood!
Be at peace bloody flukes of doubters and sullen mopers.
And then Anthony sang. His song is such a gift to this project.
We were still filming when it started to storm and had to take cover and leave.
Maria Bradley - Route 43 near Grove Hill
Who doesn't appreciate a sno-cone when it's 105 degrees in summer? I think this was the first section of the verse we filmed.
Maria was really nice. It didn't take a lot of convincing to get her to read. She was pretty nonchalant about it. I liked that.
I recall that Maria was very proud of being half Spanish. Her father, from Seattle, met her mother, from Valencia, Spain, while they were both living in London. Her father was American military, her mother was working as an au pair. Maria's been living in Alabama forever now, but you can tell the first 13 years of her life, spent in Spain, still tug on her. In the section of the verse she's reading, the narrator mentions "the little child that peep’d in at the door" and I thought, Hmmm we're at a sno-cone stand. What's the chance a child is going to peep his head through the door? And then one did. Okay, so it was a window.
The thing about people like Maria, it's not just that they're giving you their time to read. She's in the midst of working. She's shaving ice! It's hot and sticky out. And she's reading poetry, poetry she was shown only moments before. She just let us invade her space.
I think that's one of the things I've learned from doing this project: an "uncommon generosity" is more common than we think.
Diana Behringer - Ozark
Pierre and I were at the Baymont Inn & Suites not to far from Dothan, packing our bags to hit the road. And then we crossed paths with Diana.
Here's this young woman, getting ready to go behind us and clean up all of our mess. We didn't know anything about her, but she might learn a thing or two about us, based on what we'd leave behind.
I started thinking, Why do we have to get in the car and go anywhere? This is what this project is all about. People around us. People we don't always take the time to get to know or notice. Maybe she'd read for us?
Pierre was skeptical, "She looks like she's going to be really uninterested in doing this."
But when Diana started to read, Pierre and I were captivated. Pierre particularly. He was blown away. She imbued that passage with extra meaning. I remember her saying something like, "I did a lot of theater in high school."
When we were filming, she looked a little hot. It was morning but already approaching 100 degrees. She had been working hard, at her real job, and for us. At the time we were oblivious to signs that showed she might have been physically uncomfortable. She made no mention that she couldn't keep going.
Diana was about to pass out, and there she is, helping us do our jobs before turning back to do her own.
At first we were going to edit out Diana nearly fainting. But we decided to leave it in. Those kinds of details help you interpret something about the people and the moment they were in together.
by filmmaker Jenn Crandall and Pierre Kattar as told to writer Liz Hildreth