|Website management has requested that I explain, describe and otherwise define exactly who is Alice Lou Cornshucker, and how this great woman got involved in recreational tree climbing. Although there's a chance that this delectable, uh, lady might be part real and part fiction, it will be left to the imaginations of individual tree climbers to decide which is which! And, maybe to add a little bit to her story!
The (In) Compleat Alice
She has battled desperate Al-Qaida terrorists, wrestled the meanest wild boars and hauled bowls of hot buttered grits up the tallest volcanoes to rescue those climbers who have dared to explore that last frontier on earth - the forest canopy. There's no doubt that Alice Lou Cornshucker deserves her title as Quarter-Ton Patron Goddess of Adventure, Research and Educational Tree Climbers Everywhere.
But where did she come from? And how did she earn that elite honor?
It all started on a chilly, gray evening (or was it a dark and stormy night) in late winter of 1998, near the intersection of U.S. 441 and State Route 22 in the little antebellum college town of Milledgeville, Georgia. Three climbing instructors, led by none other than Abe Winters of Tree Climbing USA, had finished a tough day of teaching the basic DRT course to a small group of undergraduate students, and the instructors were looking for a place with hot showers and warm beds.
It was fateful that Abe decided to bypass such ratty dives as the Holiday Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and the Hilton. Instead, his tan Ford pickup truck made a hard right turn into the greasy, gravel-filled parking lot of an exclusive lodging facility with a flashing neon sign out front that identified it as the John Milledge Motor Court and Motel.
Abe parked beside a battered blue Kenworth pulpwood truck that was coated with three layers of Georgia dust and loaded with fence-post sized pine logs. It was backed up to a rusty chain link fence that surrounded a tiny motel swimming pool filled with strange reptiles and one of the world's great collections of exotic scum. Fellow instructors John Routon and Joe Maher waited patiently in the vehicle while Abe strode resolutely toward the single 15-watt incandescent light bulb that marked the entrance to the cluttered motel lobby.
The "moment" had arrived.
Behind the counter, enthroned on a spindly three-legged brown stool held together with gray duct tape and 10-penny nails, was a Sumo-sized lady who resembled a Chippendale bureau with the top drawer pulled out. She was dressed in skin-tight hot pink spandex, and her dyed blonde tresses were wrapped around pink dime-store curlers. She was bare-footed; her toes were tinted pink and they looked like raw Italian sausages that had just fallen off a shelf in the packaged meat section at the local supermarket. She squinted at Abe from over the top of a three-fold travel brochure that promoted the alleged delights of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Hi there, Hon. My name's Alice Lou and this here is my cousin's place, she explained. I'm a-watchin' it for a few moments while she jogs down the street for a fish'n'grits supper. Now you look sorta old for a college student, but the rates are still the same -- all rooms are three dollars an hour and clean sheets are fifty cents extra. My cousin don't allow no weird stuff, like what them hippy-dippy-commie-punks did last week when they came through here from Valdosta with their L.L. Bean zip-off pants and their giant, economy-sized boxes of raspberry Jell-O. Took her three days to chisel all that goop outa the bathtub.
"Speakin' of rooms, I bet you wanna see one". The giant named Alice Lou grabbed a key from a small cubbyhole, placed one hand on the counter and vaulted over it in a single bound. The building rocked when she landed, two plate-glass windows shattered, and the blinking yellow caution light at the intersection forty yards away turned a weird purple from the shock wave. C'mon Hon, follow me&!"
John Routon describes what happened next:
"She looked like one of those hippopotamus ballerinas from Fantasia, the animated Disney film, as she danced bare-footed across the gravel parking lot. She and Abe were giggling at each other like a couple of nine-year-olds who were trying to share a half-melted Snicker's bar, but then her loving gaze fell onto all the climbing gear in the back of Abe's truck. The harnesses, ropes, helmets, carabiners, foot loops and other equipment mesmerized her. She gushed, she oooh-ed and she awww-ed as her meaty paws carefully caressed each item; it was gear-lust at first sight."
But Alice Lou quickly recovered and led Abe and the others to a motel unit that was the epitome of redneck elegance. "We don't charge extra for them scarlet curtains, and the TV's only black-and-white but it'll work just fine if you slap it on the left side while turnin' that there channel-changin' knob," she explained. "But I gotta warn you, even though the phone don't work the all-night price is still fourteen dollars and we ain't gonna haggle over it. Pay up or hit the highway&!"
A few moments later Routon inspected the palatial 24-square-foot bathroom with its moldy, sea-green shower stall, but it was the mirror-fronted medicine cabinet over the turquoise sink that caught his eye. He opened the thing and found himself looking straight into the bathroom of the next motel unit. "The whole back of the medicine cabinet was rusted out," Routon said later. "I turned on the faucet and a two-inch-long scorpion crawled out, followed by a trickle of rust-colored water. That's when Joe and I decided to spend the night in the truck; I got the seat and he spread a sleeping bag on top of the gear in the back."
Dawn was breaking over the red-clay hills of middle Georgia the next morning when Abe yawned his way out of the rented room and tossed his 250-pound suitcase on top of Joe, who was still snoring softly in the back of the truck. A few minutes later they slipped into a parking space at a local greasy spoon breakfast joint two blocks north of the motel and on the same side of the highway. The third booth, the one just beyond the cash register and next to the unisex restroom, was empty. Their waitress, decked out in a grease-spattered white uniform and toting a steaming carafe of syrupy black coffee in each island-sized paw, was none other than Alice Lou herself.
"You boys ain't gonna believe this, but I went back to my cousin's mobile home and ordered me a whole bunch of that there climbin' gear," she said. "Had it shipped in overnight and it's ready for when you boys start your class this morning. I'm a-gonna learn this here tree climbin' stuff 'cause I like you boys and I just dearly love them trees. By the way, do any of you boys happen to be, uh, single?,"p>
The legend of Alice Lou Cornshucker had begun.
In the dozen or so years since that fateful night in Georgia, Alice Lou has managed to find enough time away from her jobs as a hugely successful business entrepreneur and a wildly popular spokesmodel for a delectable brand of breakfast grits to host children's climbs on nearly every continent. She has made unannounced appearances throughout Central and South America, the Asian subcontinent, Australia and the Pacific islands, four European nations (two of the four cancelled her visa shortly after the visits), and most of sub-Saharan Africa (where she was briefly worshipped as the princess deluxe and offered a sauna bath in the village cooking pot).
She has taught basic and advanced climbing classes to hundreds of participants, but it's her rescue training that has earned Alice Lou a worldwide reputation - particularly if there's a so-called "handsome hunk" up in the tree who desperately needs to be saved.
Her charitable contributions largely go to fund a series of homes for wayward college-aged boys who each get personalized hands-on climbing instructions from that great and noble lady.
Alice Lou is so famous in Costa Rica that a life-sized statue has been erected in her honor in the middle of Avenida Central in the downtown shopping district of San Jose. It stands exactly in front of the headquarters of Banco Nacionale de Costa Rica and across the street from the local Subway sandwich shop. Little kids run up to it all day long and slap Alice Lou's ample buttock.
Although she travels the globe to support her tree-climbing buddies and various business operations, Alice Lou is most comfortable back home in Hockalugie, Mississippi, where she was born about five minutes before midnight on a Hallowe'en long ago. She is the only child of Bubba Dean Cornshucker (Hockalugie's vice mayor and proprietor of Big Bubba's Feed & Seed) and Myopia Turnipseed Cornshucker (organist deluxe for the First Church of the Tree Climber Redeemed on North First Street).
Alice Lou's corporate headquarters is located in the front room of a palatial pink doublewide on West First Street and next to the Oyster River Bridge. From this office, which looks out over a crabgrass-infested lawn beneath the local bald cypress and tupelo trees, she rules an empire so vast that it almost defies imagination.
A partial list of her holdings includes: Alice Lou's Fine Breakfast Emporium and Chainsaw Repair Shoppe on the west bypass in Hockalugie; Madam Alice's School of Cordon Bleu Grits Cookin' on the east bypass in Hockalugie; Central Mississippi Tent & Awning Company (which designs her personal line of clothing); Big Alice's Burgers and Buns at four prime locations along the interstate highway north of Hockalugie; Oyster River Crawfish Company on South First Street in Hockalugie; and Hamhockers Bar & Grill just one block southeast of Hockalugie Tech on North First Street. Her international holdings include the Om Café on the waterfront in Bocas del Toro, Panama; and Canada's Moosehead Beer.
Her emerging real estate empire is anchored by Oyster River Plantation, with its 742 acres of hybrid grits trees. The plantation is also famous as the site of the World Naugahyde Roundup and Rodeo each September.
Alice Lou is the silent partner (with Jeff Swamp Fox Newman) in Steamers Coffee Company in Dawsonville, Georgia; Out On A Limb Tree Climbing Company (with Sam Oak Johnson) in Sonoma County, California; and (with David Icecream Man Myers) in The Pink Dipper Ice Cream Parlor in North Augusta, South Carolina.
She is also rumored to be the majority stockholder in Lockheed Martin Corporation (which furnished her custom-built C-130 aircraft in hot pink, of course), the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company -- "It was such a sad day when the dear boy passed," she said, "even though I tried to nurse him back to good health with my special grits d'bourbon." -- and, of course, the Waffle House Corporation.
Finally, there's an unconfirmed rumor going around that Alice Lou is trying a hostile takeover of the world recreational climbing community, just to get her paws on a trio of hunky tree climbers named J~bird, FatBoyRogue and Trailwatcher.
Alice Lou's lust for hunks started early. In the second grade she attempted a serious lip-lock with privileges on little Myrell O'Dell from the Adell community two miles south of Hockalugie. It scared little Myrell from Adell so bad that the desperate youth shimmied 82 feet up a slash pine just to get away from her passionate, slobbery embrace. Little Myrell from Adell is still clinging to the very same treetop approximately 35 years, five months, 18 days, nine hours and 47 minutes later.
In high school, Alice Lou successfully joined the Fightin' Oysters varsity football team just to spend time in the locker room with the local jocks. Every boy quit the team within 36 hours - the last was Leroy Bubba Bustermann, a second-string linebacker. He was incredibly nearsighted and didn't know she was there until Alice Lou trapped him in his locker and popped his jock strap - but it didn't matter. Alice the Galactic Gladiatrix became the entire defensive line and no opponent scored against her in three straight seasons. The team bus was replaced with a 12-cubic-yard dump truck in hot pink to haul her to away games, and she was the first teenager ever with a reserved parking space in the student lot; her custom 1958 propane-powered hot pink Case forklift occupied that spot during her junior and senior years.
Alice Lou's most famous teenaged moment, though, occurred while strolling though the crowd during the fall-harvest festival at the Hockalugie Fairgrounds and Exhibition Centre on South First Street. She spotted the afore-mentioned Leroy Bubba Bustermann and tried to holler his name while nibbling on a particularly sticky caramel-coated candy apple.
Unfortunately, Alice Lou was standing only 30 yards from the local 4-H club's swine exhibit. when she shouted something in Bustermann's direction that sounded like a half-submerged steamboat whistle on steroids. Her garbled screech echoed through the fairgrounds and reached the always-attentive ears of central Mississippi's champion boar hog, a particularly handsome porker named General Jubilation T. Porkchop.
General Porkchop apparently thought it was the mating call of a lovesick sow in desperate need of his affection. He reared up on his hind legs and used his 407 pounds to bust a four-foot-wide hole through the rear wall of his reinforced steel stall near the center of the flag-draped agriculture hall. Parents and children scattered like bowling pins as General Porkchop stormed through the crowd of terrified fair-goers, in search of his dream date.
The general skidded through a hard left turn near the homemade jelly exhibit and was charging full speed down the aisle toward Alice Lou when eight little girls from the Tiny Tot Cloggers Club unfortunately stomped their way into his path. Alice leapt to the rescue, straddled the raging boar and applied a sleeper hold around his thick neck that would have made even the meanest television 'rassler turn green with envy.
General Porkchop ended up on the fairground grill and Alice Lou was awarded the big blue ribbon as overall winner of the Pride of Hockalugie Hog Calling Contest. Her victory was bittersweet, though; an unsuspecting Leroy Bubba Bustermann soon strolled through the exhibition area with his arms wrapped tightly around skinny little Emma Sue Pokeberry, who was the previous spring's second runner-up for the title of Magnolia Queen.
Alice Lou was so despondent that she went home and chugged three 5-gallon pots of hot, buttered grits in a record time of seven minutes and 22 seconds, which added another 105 pounds to her less-than-delicate frame.
Despite her inability to develop a long-term love relationship - or any relationship, for that matter - Alice Lou excelled in the academic side of high school life. She was offered full scholarships to mundane institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Oxford, MIT, Cal Tech and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (which wanted her for an expanded program involving armored vehicles).
Instead, she chose Madam Betty Jean's College of Culinary Science and Fine Cajun Cookin' just across the Louisiana state line from Hockalugie. It was a wise choice; Alice Lou's 922-page master's thesis "Advanced Particle Physics Properties of Bacon-Enhanced Grits d'Biere as Applied to Gulf Coast Regional Appetites" has been cited by some of North America's great chefs as the final word on redneck dining and drinking habits. Her conclusion: Beer - it aint just for breakfast anymore!
Alice Lou is often sighted on her custom Harley Fat Boy in hot pink psychedelic trim, with its 96 cubic inches of raw power from a chrome-plated, air-cooled, twin cam engine. She travels the highways and byways of North America on this retro-hard tail bike to verify the quality of breakfast grits served at each Waffle House location. She's easy to spot in her hot pink Viking helmet, with the cheeks of her, uh, gluteus maximus dangling about 15 inches over each side of the black vinyl seat.
Despite her size, Alice Lou moves through the world of tree climbing with a grace that is rarely noticed.
The great lady was occupying the three coach-class seats over the port wing on a flight to Central America's Panama Canal and her rainforest climbing friends in Bocas del Toro Province when she noticed something strange that finally allowed her to use the fifth-degree black belt she'd earned a few years earlier in college.
While nearly all the passengers and crew were focused on the antics of a honeymoon couple in the first-class cabin who were dressed like Elvis and Michael Jackson, Alice Lou was studying the two skinny, dirty boys - young men, really - who were seated two rows ahead and across the aisle. Their eyes were tightly shut in what appeared to be pious devotion. They'd been that way for almost 20 minutes, ever since the big Boeing 737 streaked down the Miami runway, floated up into the pinkish dawn sky and banked south toward the blue Caribbean and points beyond.
At 41,000 feet over Key West the aircraft leveled and the seatbelt light went off. Two desperate passengers rushed for the rear restrooms to get rid of breakfast coffee, and a few more twisted sleepily in their seats. The incredibly fat lady in the hot pink spandex was the only one who noticed that the two skinny dirt-bags were now holding hands. One had scraggly dark fuzz that marked the beginnings of a beard; the other was clean shaved. Both wore cheap, crumpled clothes that looked like they hadn't been changed in about a week. They looked scared - terrified even.
A chirpy flight attendant, brown ponytail flapping against the collar of her blue uniform, strolled from the front of the cabin and beamed at the passengers with her most professional smile. She made the customary announcement that the flight was on schedule. Coffee, juice and snacks would be available in just a few minutes. Any passengers who needed assistance could ring for her at any time. Thank you, and we hope you have a comfortable flight and blah, blah&. She turned back toward the front of the cabin, took one short step, and was jerked off her feet.
"-He's got a knife!"
Passengers stared in stunned silence as the dirty youth with the scraggly beard gripped the flight attendant tightly around her chest with his left arm. The blade in his right hand looked razor sharp, and it was pressed hard against her slender neck. The second dirty youth stood guard with another knife to make sure the sleepy passengers stayed in their seats.
"-They'll kill all of us!"
The second youth lunged past the first hijacker and swung his knife at the hysterical passenger. The incredibly fat lady in the hot pink spandex was ready.
The second hijacker's blade was a half-inch from the terrified passenger's Adams apple when a pair of giant, meaty paws shot out from nowhere. The right meaty paw grabbed the youth around his neck and jerked him unceremoniously downward; his nose made a loud snap when his face slammed into the cabin deck. The left meaty paw clamped down on the other youth's knife hand and bent it backwards, forcing the twentyish boy into an agonizing scream. His weapon fell harmlessly under the seat directly across the narrow aisle. An X-ray would later show that almost every bone in his hand had been crushed.
"My name is Alice Lou Cornshucker from Hockalugie, Mississippi in the good ol' USA", boomed the incredibly fat lady in the hot pink spandex, "and you Al-Qaida pukes ain't gonna mess up my tree climbin' vacation to the jungles of Panama."
The airline industry was immensely grateful for her deft resolution of an apparent hijacking crisis, but officials were also concerned for the safety of other passengers. Alice Lou weighed so much, they pointed out, that the balance and trim of almost any passenger jet could be jeopardized if she decided to get out of her seat and roam the cabin.
Alice Lou's return flight three weeks later was aboard her custom-designed C-130 cargo aircraft that was a gift from five of North America's top airlines and the Lockheed Martin Aircraft Corporation. It featured hot-pink wingtips, and the interior was a perfect replica of her breakfast restaurant back home in Hockalugie, including five naugahyde-covered stools at the ceramic lunch counter.
Between the two flights, though, Alice Lou suddenly realized that a favorite climbing buddy, ol' Joe of the Jungle, had failed to return to base camp with a group of college researchers after what was supposed to be a routine climb on the slopes of the famed but isolated Baru Volcano, one of Central America's tallest peaks. She realized the little expedition had no food or overnight supplies, so she headed up hill at a jog with 30 quarts of hot, buttered grits in her custom-made, insulated green, REI-brand, 7,500 cubic inch backpack.
The great lady's motherly instinct was on track and she found the group wandering aimlessly about 1,000 feet below the windswept summit just as the last rays of daylight faded into the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, a mere 40 kilometers west of the gigantic volcano. She hauled out the desperate students - and Joe, of course - in groups of two on each shoulder until everybody was safe in the tiny mountain hamlet of Boquete. The only one who actually suffered from the experience was Joe, and that was only because Alice Lou tried to smother her dear and darling friend against her way-too-ample bosom. Joe still gags from time to time, whenever he recalls that special affection.
Since those days, Alice Lou has reportedly been sighted at odd moments in the vicinity of Waffle Houses and supermarkets throughout North America - any place where grits is served or sold. She was recently spotted twice at Wal-marts near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, and again over by the tractor-trailer parking area of a North Carolina truck stop.
But her most famous recent sighting was at the world's largest Waffle House in Columbus, Ohio, where she lingered lovingly over Jim K's table and re-filled his white coffee cup after every sip.
Keep your eyes open for Alice Lou - she could turn up almost anywhere on earth at any moment. Every tree climber needs to be vigilant, otherwise the great lady just might have herself a new boyfriend&!