Alabama the Beautiful

Lots of nature trails!

An American friend I knew in London who has lived a abroad for the last two decades took a quiz to determine in which state she should live. As a liberal cyclist who loves camping, probably she was thinking it would be Colorado, California or Washington, but her match was Alabama. She shared this result with me, in a How weird is that way. As the kids might still say, how random.

Lots of parking!

I had just told people I was moving here. I would be fulfilling her destiny. And she, a celebrant of Darwin’s birthday, was no doubt thinking better I than she. Or is it better me than her? Americans, even NPR reporters, mangle grammar, and thus meaning, with aplomb. With little grammar instruction over the course of my progressive education, I developed an ear and appreciation for language but have few actual rules upon which to rely. I worry that all this crazy talk will affect me, me and my words, my words and I.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s consider the meaning of words. A sea captain, not sure of the nationality but a native English speaker at any rate, said on the radio last night, “I surveilled the ship surreptitiously from a hiding place.” File under fitness instructors who tell you to lower your weights down or raise them up.

For all that I decry the vast tarmac parking lots that have laid waste to pastures, there is also a good supply of natural beauty. There are state parks, greenways and trails. We have been camping and hiking and, this weekend, boating. The air is fresh, the streets are clean, the fences along the parkway to Target painted.

I stopped myself from adding to the last paragraph, that we have convicts in orange day-glo jumpsuits to pick up trash on our state highways. Louisiana uses their incarcerated labor force to separate recycling from trash. “It’s a green policy.” my husband quips. But this is not just a regional source of shame. Prison labor is abused nationwide. According the to linked site in the last sentence, Oregon tried to entice Nike to move their production from Indonesia into Oregon prisons. … Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix explained … “We could offer [competitive] prison inmate labor” in Oregon. Italics, mine.

I should point out that this blog is not meant to be a screed on or a piss-take of Alabama, though Dale Petersen, propane amendments and marketing efforts of bail bondsmen provide irresistible material.

Much of what I find myself adjusting and reacting to is America in general, the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between here and the UK. London is not England in the way that NYC is not America. This is my first time living in real America as well as in a place that isn’t a defacto big deal in its own right. And while I miss being in a city, I would rather be pleasantly surprised by the perks of living here than spend time worrying or stating the obvious that we’re not in the bigtime pantheon of the world’s great cities.

And, remember, standard chat in NYC, at least it was in the 90s, maybe things have changed, was people talking about how they were so fed up with the city, the craziness, the rudeness, the cost, the dirty, smelly, expensive, blah, blah, blah. Everyone was one last straw away from a farm in Vermont. Some have actually made good on that. One is bound to be critical of some things, regardless of where one lives, unless one is a person of irritatingly upbeat, unremitting boosterism, and you’re not, are you. Not really. Actually, we were never really planning to leave NYC, just to move out to Brooklyn, which is where it’s all going on these days.

People comprehend a NYC-to-London or London-to-Cairo move in ways that they don’t London-to-Alabama, even to the Pays de Bama, where you can put your ancient castiron cornbread pans to regular use and go to the pool after work. One of my friends here moved from Abu Dhabi and when she starts her blog I’ll let you know.

It’s our first time in the suburbs and we feel like characters in a farce as we try to kill ivy or coil the hose, like the outside version of a fitted sheet only it lies there in a big incriminating tangle to the side of the house whereas the sheets can hide out in the linen cupboard. We consider the upkeep of outside surfaces. My husband is seriously considering buying a pressure washer.

We are bombarded by sales pitches, from the vet, from sales clerks offering store cards and loyalty points, via the multitude of offers and coupon books we receive. The MRI clinic next to Starbucks looks like a retail shop for exercise equipment. People take for granted a high level of medical care. On TV there are so many ads for prescription drugs for vague dis-ease, for sadness, for the inconvenience of a monthly period (don’t let it cramp your lifestyle, ha ha) followed by the casual rattling off of possible side effects, including death, so rare, my favorite of these being an erection that lasts more than four hours. Surely among these must be a pill to cure worldliness. There are schemes to consolidate your loans to pay for Direct TV (this is when you should say, Just network for me, thanks, then turn off the TV and sort yourself out.) Here in America, there is more optimism, there are more options, more bad decisions (guns as self-defense, Title Max, blue raspberry). More space, more stuff to fill it.

O, America! With your bigness. Your ice. Your Styrofoam to-go boxes. Your spawning subdivisions and 5,000 square foot houses. Your random grammar. What are you doing to yourself, to us?

My quiz-taking friend might have thought that she lost the state quiz, or that we were out of our minds to move here, but if you’re going to live in America, Alabama’s a good place to be.


2 Replies to “Alabama the Beautiful”

  1. yeah– after 18 years in the South (albeit Atlanta — “the Yankee outpost of the South” as a Kentuckian friend dubbed it), i am still struggling with the suburBANALITY of it. New York (London, Cairo, et al) ruin you for any place else. But life IS so much easier with a car (your very own giant purse with wheels!) and when you aren’t fighting the hoards for a spot on the subway, a reservation at that hot new boite, a place in the private school for your offspring, a breath of rarefied Hampton air. It is a trade-off. You too can be lulled into complacency by the soma of easy living (or the “easy button”), just give it a try, submit……


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