I was driving east on the familiar stretch of I-20 between Pell City and Leeds the other day, heading back to Birmingham with a friend when we passed what is now the Moody 147 exit. For those of us who remember just a few years back this sign used to say Brompton. A decision left the fate of the Brompton sign to a landfill or steel factory - wherever government issue signs go when they’re retired. My friend, not being from Pell City, thought nothing of it.
I felt he should know.
“That sign used to say Brompton. It was changed a year or two ago,” I told him, extending my index finger towards the truck-stop filled exit.
“Really?” he asked, genuinely inquisitive.
I told him about how it was covered up for awhile, taken down, and then the new, shorter, less assuming sign was put in Brompton’s place. About how there was backlash and confusion over the whole thing.
Officially, Brompton is an unincorporated district that’s governed by Moody. So, technically, the exit is the city of Moody. But the people who live in the area, as many of us remember, didn’t agree to the changing sign.
People, as a whole, don’t generally like change.
I felt a tinge of nostalgia when I drove by the sign. It’s been a minute since I remembered that the sign had changed - I just drive by it without thinking about it more often than not. But with a new person in the car, someone who doesn’t drive this stretch of I-20 on a regular basis, it reoccurred in my memory.
For him, it was just another Moody exit. The vestige of Brompton is fading already, the Moody truck stop, Exit 147, quickly taking its place: a normalcy in the minds of anyone who doesn’t know the history.
But around here, I still hear people calling it “the Brompton exit.” We don’t know any better, as people, or as Alabamians. Landmarks stay the same for generations.
We tell each other to turn left at the old shack that’s been abandoned and dilapidated for years.
With the advent of Google Maps, this may fade away. Siri has no propensity for nostalgic landmarks and historic markers. She knows exit numbers and street names.
People have an innate desire to remember the past and to share it. It’s why I told my friend about Brompton that day in the car. I wanted him to know the history of a piece of the place I consider home. It added richness to our ride - he started asking questions about why it was changed and who got upset.
On the surface, it’s a silly road sign. But the nuance is deeper than that: it’s about community and remembrance.
Things change but not always.
In my house, we call it Brompton.
The Exit Formerly Known as Brompton
It was there for years, forever as far as I knew,
long before I moved to Alabama.
I remember exiting at the Love’s
back when I was a truck driver.
I never did actually figure out
where the heck Brompton might be,
in relation to the exit, but it
nonetheless remained a familiar comfort.
Until late one night, someone,
some force unknown to me,
erased Brompton from the exit map
with what appeared to be black plastic bags,
taped over the name, each time it appeared.
The name was covered for several days,
but then, Brompton gloriously returned –
I imagined partisans of the tiny town,
yelling “straight outta Brompton” and
attacking in the night, removing the bags,
revealing the name to which they remained devoted.
Alas, the upstarts could not defeat the Highway Department,
which eventually came back and replaced
the name of Brompton with that
of a larger nearby town. It’s a bland suburb;
no one would have fought for its inclusion
on the highway map of history.
Brompton’s sign is gone but not forgotten,
for I, who have never (to my knowledge)
even been there, remember it each time I pass.