The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Please Help My Brother Kirby: Strange and Savage Tales of ‘Backroads’ McCain

Posted on | July 2, 2018 | No Comments

Kirby as a senior at Douglas County (Ga.) High School, 1975.

My older brother Kirby is a legend to those who know him. Did I ever mention, for example, that he once dated Miss Teen Georgia?

Kirby was working at Six Flags Over Georgia, operating one of the trams that conveyed guests from the parking lot to the park entrance. In those days, there was a spiel that the operators delivered over the loudspeakers on the trams (“Welcome to Six Flags, ladies and gentlemen …”) and there must have been something about Kirby’s delivery, or perhaps it was his ice-blue eyes, that captured the attention of the beauty queen who was visiting Atlanta that day and the rest is, as they say, history.

Click here to donate to Kirby’s medical emergency fund.

Kirby is a proud man, a hard-working long-haul truck driver, and it has been difficult for him the past few weeks as he’s been caught in a nightmare of medical bureaucracy, a Catch-22 situation.

Ten years after he underwent bypass surgery, he was diagnosed with another problem and the doctor refused to certify him to keep driving. Kirby had to undergo some very expensive tests and treatment, and still the doctors wouldn’t sign off on letting him get back on the road. When this first happened in April, Kirby hoped he’d be back to driving — he routinely earned $800-$900 a week — within a couple of weeks, and he feels fully capable of doing it, but the doctors said no. Well, OK, so Kirby had insurance that included short-term medical disability coverage, and he asked the doctors to approve him for that. They said no!

This is insane — a total Catch-22. The same doctors who say Kirby is not healthy enough to return to work nevertheless won’t approve him for disability under an insurance plan he paid for?

Click here to donate to Kirby’s medical emergency fund.

Me (left) and Kirby as crew-cut boys in 1963.

Y’know, I hate the heck out of blegging. Rattling the tip-jar for my blog is just a necessary part of the business, but I regard that as honest capitalism, a fee-for-service arrangement with readers who enjoy the work I do. Rather than poor-mouthing hard-luck tales of self-pity — which I instinctively despise — my occasional direct appeals to the tip-jar hitters are always delivered with a Gonzo sensibility. So let me tell you about Kirby’s nickname, “Backroads” McCain . . .

Long before he imagined a future career as a long-haul trucker, Kirby’s driving skills were legendary. Several of his teenage companions were amateur drag racers in those early 1970s glory days of muscle cars. One of Kirby’s buddies had an orange Z-28 Chevy Camaro known as “The Great Pumpkin,” which was undefeated on the quarter-mile stretch of Lower River Road where good ol’ boys raced in those days. At 16, Kirby got a red 1964 Ford Mustang with a 289 under the hood and — zoom! — he was off and running. Our childhood neighbor Danny Holland nicknamed Kirby “Backroads” McCain because he would never take the highways (where The Law was usually on patrol) if he could reach his destination by some alternative route, and Kirby knew every inch of road in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Region. In 2006, when I went down home to cover Casey Cagle’s first campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia, I asked my brother to take photos for the story (Kirby is a highly skilled photographer) and I went to pick him up in Douglasville. My plan was to take the obvious route (I-20 East to I-285 to I-75 South) to reach Cagle’s campaign appearance down in Coweta County, but Kirby had other ideas. “No, the traffic on 285 is a mess,” he said. “Let me drive.”

Exactly how we got there, I can’t remember, but Kirby took us via a network of roads I didn’t even know existed and got us there on time.

Arguably his greatest vehicular exploit, however, was the time Kirby outran the Cobb County Police — allegedly, I hasten to add.

Remember, I’m an expert in libel law, and certainly no one could imagine that a Neutral Objective Journalist would accuse his own brother of multiple felonies. As far as anyone knows, this is all hearsay. Our legal department hasn’t had time to research the statute of limitations, but I know my constitutional rights, so if Cobb County’s still got a warrant out for an unknown suspect who evaded pursuit circa 1981, they can’t compel me to answer any questions. I not only have the First Amendment right to free speech, but also the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

The following story might be entirely fictional, right? Anyway . . .

In the 1980s, Kirby was driving a dark green Chevy SS that would flat-out run and, in the entrepreneurial spirit of free-market capitalism, he was making a little extra cash by running dope, allegedly. There was a major distributor who lived in Mableton, and Kirby was driving his SS when went to pick up five pounds of high-quality weed, allegedly. Now if you know anything about the dope business, you know that the two most dangerous aspects of the trade are (a) the point of purchase, and (b) transporting the load. Major dealers are always armed, and vigilant against any narcs or ripoffs, so when you go to exchange a large amount of cash for a felony-size quantity of dope, it is an inherently scary situation. Once you’ve made the buy, you face the next great challenge — the nerve-racking drive from the site of the deal back to wherever you’re going to cut up your felonious stash into retail-size misdemeanors. Getting busted with a half-ounce of fine imported sinsemilla would be a hassle and a bummer. Getting caught with five pounds? Buddy, you’re on your way to Reidsville. Or so it was circa 1981.

Click here to donate to Kirby’s medical emergency fund.

 

Kirby has a tattoo on his bicep of the Grim Reaper smoking a hash pipe. He got that tattoo after finishing airborne training at Fort Benning, and later served in a mortar crew of the 101st Airborne. While I’ve always personally disapproved of tattoos, Kirby’s seemed to express the idea of cheating death, and so I suppose it was appropriate to the night he outran the Cobb County Police, allegedly. Unbeknownst to my brother, you see, the major distributor in Mableton had already attracted the attention of the law-enforcement community, and was under surveillance the night Kirby went to pick up that five-pound load, allegedly.

With this felony-weight payload in the trunk of his SS Chevy, Kirby was scrupulously obeying the traffic laws, as one does in such circumstances, while he made his way south on Gordon Road (Ga. Route 139, since renamed Mableton Parkway) when he noticed in the rearview mirror that a Cobb County Police cruiser was tailing him. There was enough distance between them that the cop couldn’t yet read Kirby’s tag number — this was years before the advent of dashcams — but as soon as he realized that this Cobb County cruiser’s presence behind him wasn’t just a random coincidence, he made a split-second decision.

VRRROOOOMM!

Kirby punched that accelerator and the four-barrel carburetor roared wide open on that mighty V-8 engine, and the race was on, with the blue lights of that Cobb County Police cruiser now in hot pursuit.

“You can’t outrun a Motorola,” as they say — the police radio summons assistance to the officer, and the minute you decide to run from the law, you know there’s a BOLO alert bringing every cop car within range joining the effort to bring you to justice. But the cops were after “Backroads” McCain, and it wasn’t going to be a matter of mere speed.

Kirby hooked a right at Old Alabama Road, heading west. Three decades of taxpayer-funded improvements have probably made that a much more easily navigated thoroughfare, but in 1981, Old Alabama Road was a twisting two-lane through those red-clay Georgia hills. Kirby knew every curve like the back of his hand, and he knew where every road branching off of it led, too. If you examine a map, you’ll find that from the moment Kirby began his run, he was about four miles from the Douglas County line by the most direct route, and from there another 15 miles or so to the bridge where U.S. 92 crosses the Chattahoochee River into south Fulton County. More than speed was necessary for Kirby to elude pursuit that night, because the police cars were fast, too. What was required was skill, experience and knowledge of the road network, because the cops couldn’t predict which side-road that SS Chevy would take next.

The Fifth Amendment would prevent my brother from being compelled to testify about the route he allegedly took through the southwest corner of Cobb County, and I’ve long since forgotten (as this tale may be a clever work of fiction), but he came out on Lower River Road, where he’d run a few drag races back in the day. It’s now called Riverside Parkway and all built up, but Lower River Road was undeveloped back then and Kirby ran it westbound at top speed, praying the whole time that he wouldn’t find a Douglas County Sheriff’s roadblock waiting for him when he got to U.S. 92. While I’m not sure if the Almighty heeds the prayers of dope runners, Kirby was lucky and he cut south on 92 and made it safely five miles to Cambellton on the far side of the Chattahoochee. From there, as I recall the rest of the (perhaps entirely fictional) story, Kirby traveled south on Ga. 70 toward Newnan, and then crossed back west across the river near Whitesburg, finally making it back to Douglasville about midnight.

He parked the SS Chevy at a friend’s house until the heat cooled off and his paranoia subsided, and made a point of staying out of Cobb County for the next few weeks. Allegedly, I hasten to add.

Kirby McCain was born to drive, I tell you, and you might not believe the legendary tales of his prowess anymore than you would believe he once dated Miss Teen Georgia, but that’s OK. Far be it from me expect you to take my word for all this, after I have repeatedly told you these are just unverified allegations, and it is my responsibility as a Neutral Objective Journalist not to claim factual knowledge of such events.

What I can tell you, as a fact, is that my legendary brother is now in an awful Catch-22 predicament. The doctors won’t clear him to go back on the road, but they won’t approve him for disability, either, and he’s stressed out about paying the rent and eating day-to-day. Even if you don’t have any charity in your heart, isn’t the 1,500-word story about how he (allegedly) outran the Cobb County Police is worth something?

C’mon, folks — $5 or $10 or $20 to help keep a living legend alive.

Thanks in advance for your generosity.

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