Dear Northport, It’s good to be home again!

Now, I admit things got off to an iffy start. Friday was my second day back in Tuscaloosa, and my tire was completely flat. Don’t you love coming out to your car and then you see that one of your tires is flat?

I wasn’t born in Northport, but I moved there in 1988 at the age of 14. My dad moved our family to Northport after being hired at Alabama Institutional Foods.

Life, for me, was just better in Northport. Maybe, it’s because I experienced so many “firsts” in Northport, Alabama.

MY FIRST REAL CHICKEN WING

I was a chicken wing virgin before my experience at Bob Baumhower’s restaurant. I was told he played football at the University of Alabama. How does that qualify you to make a good chicken wing? It doesn’t.

Baumhower also was a part of the killer bees defense in Miami for the legendary coach Don Shula. What does being able to sack the quarterback have to do with barbecue sauce? Nothing.

However, when I walked into Wings and Whiskers (the name in the 80s), I had no idea my life was about to change.

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Even though it was 1988, I can still smell that basket of wings, drenched in Bob’s wing sauce and served with curly fries. I asked for a side of BBQ sauce, and it was one of the best sauces I’ve ever tasted. The combination was the best I would ever have!

Of course, at the time, I had no idea that I would live in St Louis, Denver, New Orleans, plus travel all over the country and never find chicken wings like that! Not one wing I have tasted has ever come close to Baumhower’s.

I am 46 now, and I’ve been searching for a comparable wing and sauce for 32 years. In the words of Bono, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

HAPPY HIGH SCHOOL DAYS

Northport was also home to my first high school experience. 1989 was my sophomore year and my first at Tuscaloosa County High in Northport. It was my most terrifying and delightful year, all rolled into one.

I tried out for the Wildcat football team under Coach Jimmy Norrell. I made the team as a wide receiver due to my only strength: speed. Sometimes, I caught the balls thrown my way. Ok, rarely.

The 1988 team at County High won the Class 6A Region 12 Championship. They also went 10-0 during the regular season.

Yeah, I didn’t play on the ‘88 team. I played in 1989, and we didn’t win much of anything. I “retired” my football career right after losing to Central, 17-16 that year.

I would love to say something like, “it was because of the heartbreaking loss at the end of the year,” and that was the reason for my “retirement.” That would be a lie. It was because they put me on “Kickoff Coverage,” and I was through running FULL SPEED at guys that could have been playing for the Tide on Saturdays.

GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS

Football did, however, bring me my first serious girlfriend. Her first name was Tanya, and her dad was a preacher. He was not a big fan of mine.

She loved my County High football uniform. She was beautiful and a bit of a rebel, which meant she would bring me around just to upset him.

I lived with my parents at Northbrook Apartments in Northport. I learned everything about those apartment buildings, so I could sneak out and see her. It was fun and exciting.

Tanya’s dad WAS the father in “Footloose.” She was not allowed to watch TV, listen to music, or, you guessed it, dance. She was my first love, and you always have a special place in your heart for that first love. Right? We all do.

Her dad was oh-so-thrilled with my next first in Northport.

BREAKING INTO SHOW BIZ

My first real job, at a Top 40 secular rock station, WZBQ 102.5 FM. From the age of 5, I wanted to be on the radio. Now, I was about to be on the top station in the area, Z102.

Again, I was living the dream in Northport. Z102 was located out in a pasture…a cow pasture on Flatwoods Road. My girlfriend was now forbidden from seeing me because of my job on the radio.

Not to worry, I was about to experience a real spike in my love life thanks to my radio gig.

So many firsts, great memories, and I loved life in Northport, Alabama. I know it’s 2021, and things have changed in my beloved city. I’ve been told recently that I probably wouldn’t recognize it, but I would love to try because you always hold a special place for those “first loves” in your life.

It's great to be back in the city where I feel like it all began.

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