Rick Bragg's Torn Lampshade
A famous Rick Bragg story from his early years at The Birmingham News
This is a truncated version.
A story was composed on a Friday afternoon for a Sunday edition that had no promising stories. It was written in a matter of hours. No sources were consulted. It became a touchstone for great writing that goes over the top ...
Night comes to Birmingham
(July 20, 1986)
</by>Rick BraggNews staff writer</1cr>¥¥Night comes to Birmingham like a thin, torn lampshade over a bright, hot bulb, unable to snuff the light out completely but enough to cast pockets of shadow here and there.
Five Points South, as usual, glimmers on through the night. Women wearing the latest Birmingham’s department stores have to offer sip aqua drinks and laugh. Men in light summer suits and paisley ties — work clothes on the Southside — talk assets and IRAs and laugh.
It is a constant, genteel laughter, the kind generated when people get together to eat, drink and have a good time at a place like Clyde Houston’s cafe. It’s the same way at Dugan’s, at the SouthPoint ... at a half-dozen festive watering holes in the city’s most festive neighborhood.
But Five Points South and the rest of the Southside have their shadows, too. And when the people leave the noise and light — the good, safe, friendly light — they now leave in twos, threes and sometimes whole herds. Women walk in pairs or with an escort who sees them safely to their cars.
Something terrible happened not far from here, to one of their own. And the people who live around or frequent the Southside are conscious — very conscious — that it could happen again. SouthPoint Cafe waitress Tracey Diane Schoettlin was found slain about 9:15 a.m. last Monday, her nearly nude body dumped from the River Run Drive bridge onto a bank of the Cahaba River just east of Mountain Brook.
She had been stabbed. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department investigators — six are working full time on the case — have refused to say how many times. They can’t or won’t talk about what they know or suspect about the killer. To people on the Southside and Birmingham as a whole, he — or she — is nameless and faceless.
“What does he look like?” said one Southside waitress whose parents — afraid for her — asked that her name not be used. “Doesn’t anybody know what he looks like?”