Thursday, June 13, 2013

Spectre, AL.

     The date is 06/07/13. Seven years and one day earlier, I was watching Nine Inch Nails at Oak mountain Amphitheater. I remember the date well and with good reason: 06/06/06. Is it a small coincidence that yesterday tracks from their new album were leaked onto the internet? Yes...but this morning, it is sticking with me and it isn't the only thing that is a little creepy.
     The sky is overcast with a thick, thick fog. As I power away from the gas station and down the streets of Bluff Park, wisps of the stuff pass by me seemingly moving against me. I stop at Tip Top. I'm early and I spend the time looking at the view that has become non-existent, obscured by the wall of dense mist that would feel right at home in a passage from a Stephen King novel.
    How fitting. Today, Don and I are making the ride to Millbrook in hopes of seeing what remains of the Town of Spectre, Alabama. Though this doesn't fit the true definition of an Alabama Ghost Town, it is most likely a rarity so unique in this state that I dare say it is one of a kind. We are visiting the remains of a movie set from Tim Burton's 2003 motion picture "Big Fish."
     In case you aren't aware, "Big Fish" was filmed entirely in Montgomery, Wetumpka and surrounding areas and generated millions for the local economies. It was a big deal at the time and brought a lot of attention to the state. I remember the Birmingham News had an article about star Ewan McGregor being in Wetumpka that was titled something like "A Jedi Goes to Walmart." It is funny, the things you can remember sometimes.
     Unlike most of the sets that were real world parts of the filming locations, Spectre is a facade of homes and businesses that was constructed specifically for the film. I had read online that a lot of the sets were being deconstructed and burned so I figured it was high time that I make my way down there before it would all be gone. As a huge movie buff, I was stoked to get on the road and get down there. It was an ominous morning with strong chances of rain which Don reminded me of before we left. My rain gear was in my back pocket so I was ready to go.
    It is chilly, not quite cold, and still overcast. I haven't been on a good, long ride in quite some time and I am feeling renewed and alive inside barely noticing the lack of warmth. Our first stop was for gas outside of Montevallo. We selected the same cheap bottled water and I ate some Boston Baked Beans candy. We marveled at the huge candy display and the older of us talked about how he used to eat that brand of sweets and how much smaller the selection used to be. Outside I lamented over an oil leak and we heard the screaming of a small child or animal in the distance. The fog was burning off but the kudzu seemed to be inching in on the spots where we stood so we elected to move on.
     We arrive at our destination to find a locked automatic gate with a pay box. The sign advises that the property is private and for members only and even with a membership there is a fee and you need the gate code. For motorcycles, entry around the gate would be easy and Don and I debate the virtues and drawbacks of forcing our way in or looking for ways to do the right thing. About this time, we notice we are being watched by a man on his front porch about 100 yards away from the gate. Don convinces me that a little research on the front end is worth it to avoid the business end of a shot gun on the back end. It is good on days like this that I have someone to be the voice of reason.
    We approach the man on his porch and find out his family owns the land and he is happy to let us in. The downside is that membership is $1000 a head. Don and I share a quick moment looking at each other before our host can't take it any more and laughs, telling us that for $6 and our signatures on a waiver, he'd be happy to let us in. We quiz him for a moment. Much to my dismay, the foam forest has recently been dismantled and the retail section of the town has been torn down and burned. He explains that while real homes have a code, these are shells made to look like homes and aren't up to any code. They aren't maintained in any way and when they start to get dangerous he tears them down. His manor and ways seem to suggest that it won't be long before all of it is gone. He talks about the trouble with the foam and how he can't really get rid of it. He is nice enough talking to us but refuses to appear on camera and once it is brought up, he is quick about getting us through the gate and moving on his way.
      The set is on a small island and the ride in does a good job building up the excitement. Once you get in, you actually pull onto the end of the street that most of the shots were focused on. The focal point of the town is its church and that is just where we turn in. The most famous shot is of the shoes hanging across a line on main street and those poles are still intact. Don and I dismount and immediately we've realized that making this ride today was the best thing we could have done with an empty Friday. We spend the next couple hours walking amidst fake home fronts and giant pieces of foam.
     Though most of it has worn off, there is still a little bit of movie magic left in the sets. You can feel it as you walk the street and when you step on the porches and through the doorways. These structures are well built but time has not been kind. You wonder if the creaks you hear are the sign of a step poorly placed or if the next one will be the one that swallows your leg. It doesn't stop us and we end up spending twice as much time as I thought we needed walking and riding around the set. It has been some time since I saw the film and I try and place items that are discarded here and there: a porch swing or a wicker rocking chair. I remember that there is a return to the town and we see evidence of this in original paint masked by faux antiquing. Both coats are peeling off of the untreated wood used for construction.
      We make our way down the road to Wetumpka proper, reflecting on how close we've come to Hollywood despite our glaring lack of proximity. Icing on the cake comes in the form of Smokin' S BBQ. I stumbled onto this small  restaurant years ago and anytime I am close I make it a point to go back. The highlight is fried corn on the cob and the caramel pie isn't bad either. We talk about the sets, life and our luck in that we came in dry and we are now watching the sky dump buckets and cool off our bikes.
    We leave and I hope for the same luck for the rest of the trip and come up empty handed. We hit enough rain to get good and wet. It doesn't stop us from giving our bikes Hell on the roads to Rockford. Again, it has been way too long for me and the needle on the speedo is running parallel to the needle inside me that gauges my personal happiness and satisfaction. We stop for gas. I fill up and tie my rain gear around my face and we hit the interstate. Bombing down the super slab, the stray rain drop lances my skin and I barely notice. Today has been good medicine and I'm still high on the dose.


  1. Thanks buddy. Words can't do justice to how cool this place is.

  2. Is there any way I could contact you on the actual whereabouts of Spectre? I'm from Montgomery and have loved the movie since it came out, but am never put in the right direction to find it. Any help would be appreciated!

  3. I won't give you the exact address BUT all the pieces you need are in this post and a very small amount of google detective work and you'll find it. Please be respectful, this is private property.


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