I hadn’t seen William Hinge VanAnterse III — Trey to his friends — for some time, and he was as grouchy as ever when I walked into the bar and settled in beside him.
“Give me another Fat Tire,” he said loudly to the bartender. From the looks of it, he’d already had at least a few more fats before I arrived.
“I see you’re into Mobile’s trendiest beer,” I said. “I’ve never seen any beer suddenly become everyone’s favorite so fast, at least since Abita Strawberry a few years ago. People acted like they’d been in Amsterdam or something when they could go to another state and have one.”
“Well for your information I’ve been drinking it for a while at the family hunting camp. It’s close enough to Georgia that we would drive over there, get it and bring it back. So I’m ahead of all the hipsters,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure that’s something akin to bootlegging, Trey. Lucky y’all didn’t get caught,” I said jokingly.
He looked at me, laughed and said, “My relatives pretty much put the sheriff in office up there. If anything he’d come over and drink it with us. Might even give us an escort back to the camp.”
“You’re probably right,” I said, motioning for my own Fat Tire so I wouldn’t feel uncool. “We are in Alabama.”
Trey’s back stiffened. “What’s that supposed to mean? I find it hard to believe a guy who grew up dating his sister in Mississippi is actually going to have the nerve to cast aspersions upon the great state of Alabama!” At that he reflexively yelled “Roll Tide Roll!” and received several RTRs from around the bar in response — somewhat like people saying “God bless you” to a sneeze.
“Alabama’s not exactly known for its pristine politics. It seems like at least half of the people in public office around here think their salaries were set at ‘as much as you can grab.’ I kind of think of it as a more redneck Louisiana,” I said.
“And it’s better in Mississippi?” he asked calmly, bringing his beer up for a sip with the sheer confidence all Alabamians have that things are better and people are less inbred on this side of the state line.
“Actually I think it is,” I said. “When I was a reporter in Mississippi, if you uncovered some real malfeasance it was very likely the DA or Attorney General would jump on it, launch an investigation and toss somebody in the slammer. There’s a big investigation over on the Gulf Coast right now involving their marine resources department and some pretty bizarre spending. They also just convicted the Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd for intimidating a witness and got his butt out of office quickly. I’d be amazed if either of those things would have happened in Alabama.
“Years ago they even sent my old boss U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s brother-in-law Dickie Scruggs to jail for trying to bribe a judge. A guy with that kind of stroke in Alabama would be as bulletproof as J. Edgar Hoover’s bra.”
“That’s just the way it works,” Trey said. “What good is having power if it doesn’t keep you out of trouble? The people running Alabama know how to grease the wheel, which is why we’re waaaay ahead of Mississippi in terms of getting companies to come here. You’ve just got some kind of reporter’s Boy Scout attitude about the way things are accomplished. But just for the sake of argument, you are aware the Attorney General’s Office is investigating members of the Alabama state legislature right now, aren’t you newsboy?”
“Yes, I’m aware of the investigation going on, but even so I wonder how much is going to come of it. I mean the investigation started with the AG — Big Luther Strange — recusing himself and not telling anyone why,” I said.
“Who cares about that?” Trey asked, then slammed down the rest of his Fat Tire and ordered another. “Big Luther’s got his reasons I’m sure.”
“Just seems to me that Big Luther hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot since he’s been in office and the first time he gets into some tall weeds, so to speak, he recuses himself. Makes me wonder why. Is he too hooked into the machine to do his job?” I said. “It also reminds me greatly of when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Mobile suddenly recused itself from the Judge Herman Thomas investigation the day after the new presidential administration took office and sent them a letter to stop prosecuting him. They never told us why and still won’t. It feels like I’ve seen this movie before.”
“Look man, you’re always bringing that up that Herman mess as if it proves everyone’s crooked around here. But look right now the feds are investigating all that mess with the Mobile Police Department’s Explorers program. How can you say no one’s looking into these things?” he asked, smiling like he had a good point.
“Well, that would be a good point except for one thing. The FBI does the investigating, but it’s the U.S. Attorney’s Office that does the prosecuting. That’s where it became political with Herman. Hopefully it won’t stop there with the Explorers investigation, but I have my concerns,” I said. “We’ll watch and see what they do.”
“Man you just have that newspaperman attitude that everyone ought to be under investigation if they take an extra box of paper clips,” Trey said.
“I don’t care about paper clips, but when someone takes an entire backhoe for personal use and then leaves it out to rust for five years, like what happened at the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection District, you’d imagine there might at least be some kind of investigation,” I said. “They were doing all kinds of goofy things out there and it doesn’t seem like anyone in law enforcement cares.”
“Well that one’s easy to figure out,” Trey said. “There are some politically connected people on that water board,” he said. “Nobody’s going to mess with them.”
“I think that’s what I was trying to say,” I said.
“Well you’re welcome,” he said. “Now get us two more Fat Tires, it’s your turn.”