Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

A local constant in the midst of destruction


The bridge is still there, but the rest is empty. There used to be a neighborhood, a lumber warehouse and Alberta Flea Market; now it’s just a field dotted with a few concrete slabs and one or two trees, stripped bare. All that’s left is the bridge and, of course, the man under it selling his vegetables.

But the bridge is all Woodie Sanders needs. He’s parked his truck where University Boulevard passes over Kicker Road season after season for 14 years, the bed brimming with watermelons and the hood covered in tomatoes and peas.

“I couldn’t find a better place,” Sanders says. “I don’t have to worry about rain.”

He has peaches, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers and every vegetable Alabama grows; but at the start, he sold just watermelons. His first customers were whoever happened to drive by. Soon, people began to seek him out from other neighborhoods, Northport, and even Moundville, and the watermelon man on Kicker Road became a small legend in Tuscaloosa.

Sanders doesn’t even really like watermelon.

“I sell a lot of it, but I don’t go for it.”

For most of Sanders’ customers, he’s just the man under the bridge. They know him by his maroon pickup and grubby baseball cap, some for years. But they’ve always been loyal.

“Once they come by here, that’s it. They come here from now on.

“These are new,” Sanders says as three girls approach the truck.

They’re from the Retreat and pass Sanders on the way to class. They’re looking for peaches, but the season is over. Sanders says the older folks buy his vegetables, but students go for the fruit.

“I don’t think many of ‘em know how to cook anything,” he says.

But everyone likes his watermelons. Sanders says they buy his produce because it’s fresh and locally grown, but James Jones, an Alberta native, has been coming to him for years, and he doesn’t care where it came from.

“That ain’t the good part. The good part is it’s good,” Jones says.

A friend drives up, and she and Sanders shoot the breeze, talking about that little house on 13th Street her uncle used to have, and if his boy still lives by the plumbing place in the big yellow house that used to be green. Her name is Jeannette Barnes; she says her father bought from Sanders before he passed away.

“The people that have been affected by the tornado, they still come by,” she says.

In fact, not much has happened for Sanders since he parked his truck under the bridge for the first time, even after the April 27 storm made the area a wasteland.

“Nothing changed. Everything went on as usual,” he says.

The season is winding down, and it’s already too late for watermelons. Sanders comes out just two days a week now to sell tomatoes and greens, and he’ll pack it in around Christmas.

He’ll be 80 years old when he comes back next June, but he hasn’t thought about quitting. The tornado transformed Alberta City, but under the bridge over Kicker Road, it’s just another season for the watermelon man.

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