I was reading my fourth "Dave Robicheaux" novel in a row when I came upon the city name. Dave is the police officer character that James Lee Burke writes about in all of his novels. One of the things I really enjoy about these books is the way Burke describes the settings in Louisiana--the smells, the sound, the water. This book had my hero, Dave, discussing an earlier time in his life when he was in Opa-Locka, Florida. I studied the name and let it transport me to a place with a similar name--Opelika, Alabama.
When I was a child, about ten I guess, my father went down to Opelika to do some work. I asked him about the circumstances around that after I read about Dave going to Opa-Locka, the words having triggered my memories. My Dad explained that the company he was working for at the time, May Electric, had a job doing electrical wiring for some rock quarries in Opelika. So he went on down there. It was over a seven hour drive--nearly 450 miles from our home. The electricians stayed in a motel--quite a big deal for them. The thought of it now sounds novel. Why in the world would the place hire an electric company that was that far away? Were there really none closer or was Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia in the 60's bereft of electricians?
The work went on for months during the summer and since we were out of school my family planned a trip down for a visit. My sister and I told our friends that we were going to Alabama. "Oh, where at in Alabama?" they asked--"Birmingham? Huntsville?" "No, Opelika," we proudly answered as if it was just as well known as those other places. As we rarely traveled anywhere, this was a big deal for us.
I have only very spotty memory of this trip. I vaguely remember the long car ride and the heat. I vaguely remember the motel. It had an elevator and a black doorman ran the elevator up and down all day--there were only three floors. We would ring the elevator bell and then get tired of waiting on him and go down the stairs. Sometimes we would ring the elevator bell just for the heck of it and go back to our room. My mom had five of us to keep track of and so she didn't know we were doing this. I think the doorman was glad when we were gone.
At the end of our time, we headed back to Owensboro, Kentucky and filed away the city of Opelika in our memory banks.