Goodbye, Part I: Stuff I’ll Miss

Opening my latest water and sewer bill and seeing a $65.00 sewer fee (that’s for the sewer ALONE; it doesn’t include the water) almost made we write a post about stuff I won’t miss. But I’ve already griped plenty enough. So here are some of the things I really loved about Alabama in general and B’ham in particular.

I just returned from lunch at T-bones, my favorite lunch place, so I’ll start with the eats. I know it’s not a B’ham native, but for breakfast the Original Pancake House in five points is our favorite. (Hmmm, peach pancakes with whipped cream, hmmmm). V-Richards is a close second, though. (Hmmm, Greek Omelette and cheese grits, hmmm). For dinner, if we want to eat outside, it’s either Rojo, the Grill, or Mellow Mushroom. We really aren’t cool enough for Rojo, and the Grill ain’t the Mill, so usually it ends up being Mellow Mushroom. Like the Pancake House, it’s not a B’ham native, but the pizza is good and they have a great selection of draft beer. For Mexican, it’s El Cazador on Montclair. Alfredo’s has the best pizza in town. Never heard of it? That’s probably because they are hidden back by the Burlington’s in the rear corner of the festival center on Crestwood Blvd (US 78) and they don’t deliver. I could go on and on, (Fish Market, Silvertron, DaVinci’s, Crestline Bagel) as B’ham has plenty of good food.

I like to eat, so I need to exercise, and another thing I’ll miss is the great riding and running opportunities. The Mercedes Marathon is a great event. I was in my third year of law school when I ran it for the first time. The feeling upon completing the marathon – my first – was infinitely better than what I felt when I finished law school. If you want something shorter, the Vulcan Run has all the community spirit, but only a quarter of the distance. For cycling, granted, it doesn’t start in Alabama, but the 3-state 3-moutnain challenge – my all time favorite bike ride – does go over Alabama’s Sand Mountain on it’s way through Alabama and Georgia back to the starting place of Chattanooga. Locally the best ride is the weekly Tuesday Night World’s, starting from Homewood Cycles at around 5:00. It’s thirty miles of race-intensity action.  

I don’t need organized events, though. I have plenty of my own running and riding routes, all of which start from my front door in Crestwood. My favorite running route is an eight mile run going from my house over to Highland Ave and then up to Key Circle before hitting Altamont and then snaking back down through Forrest Park and South Avondale to my house. As for the bike, I don’t know. Turkey Creek, Brookside, Bessemer: Each is great in its own way. Then there’s the PTA ride, which takes me by various roads (Essex, Stone River, Karl Daly, AL 25) up and over Red Mountain, Shades Mountain, Oak Mountain, and Coosa Mountain, and then back the exact same way. PTA stands for Pain, Torture, and Agony. For off road rides (and runs) my trail of choice is the JCC. Being able to ride your bike to a trail is a rare treat.

O.k., now I’ll just list random stuff.

1) Do Dah Day. In Shreveport, or any other decent sized city, I’ll still be able to do stuff like everything else on this list. But Do Dah Day is sui generis.

2) The Sipsey Wilderness. Every time I go, I look forward to the decent from the rolling hill tops down into those amazingly beautiful, cool, moss covered, water-fall filled canyons.

3) The Alabama Theatre. It doesn’t matter what’s playing, the Showplace of the South is a treat by itself.  It makes a fantastic show – for instance the Nickel Creek concert we saw there a few years ago – even better, and a painful one – I first saw Gone with the Wind at the Alabama – endurable.

4) WorkPlay. Another outstanding venue. Among other great show we’ve seen there are Josh Ritter, HEM, the Damnwells and Catlin Cary.  

5) Laser’s Edge. All the attributes of a local music shop with none of the Jack Black in High Fidelity attitude. I’m a dork, yet they always talk to me when I go in there.

6) Continuing the music theme, Reg’s Coffee House. “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakie. It’s time once again for Reg’s Coffee house, your weekly trip into the world of the singer song writer.”

7) The Black & White and the B’ham Weekly. It’s always been my blogger’s dream to one day be popular enough that I could get someone like Courtney Haden or Kyle Whitmire to guest post.

8. The woodpeckers who live in the little stand of trees across the street from my house. Really cool birds, except when one of them decided to announce his presence by banging on the downspout next to our bedroom window at 5:30 in the morning.

9) The trees. Redbuds, Tulip Trees, Dogwoods, Cherries, Bradfords, Magnolias, I’ve never lived anywhere with as many beautiful flowering trees. I love riding my bike in the spring when the dogwoods and cherries are blooming. There’s parts of Mountain Brook and Redmont that look like it’s snowing when the wind blows through those things. The fall ain’t bad around here, either.

10) Here’s a list of stuff I already miss, these things having gone the way of the buffalo: Highland Coffee Company, La Reunion (I know it’s still there, but in name only), the movie theater in the festival plaza, the bookstore in forest park (Bought my first Wendell Berry book there, yet I’ve already forgoten the name).

11) The Iron Man. I know he’s also a symbol of federal pork, but hey, you gotta love Vulcan.

12) Local television loonies: Suzuki Man, James Spann (well, pretty much all the weather guys), and the endless parade of Reverend Apostle Bishop Doctor Blowhards on the public access channel.

13) St. Paul’s Cathedral. That’s where we joined the church and where our kids were baptized. Fr. Donahoe gives religion a good name. It’s a beautiful building, too. What I’ll always remember is that during the spring, and again in the fall, there’s a moment or two in the Saturday Evening mass when the sun shines through one of the stained glass windows so brightly that you can’t even look at it. You have to sit in the southeast corner (that’s rear right, if facing front) to see it. The window is in the northwest corner (front left, if facing front). The window is red surrounding a gold grail. The sun at that time of day and that time of the year also sets in a reddish gold color, hence the spectacular results when the sun crosses in front of the grail. Beautiful.

14) Walking. Thanks to geography, racism, balkanization and non-existant planning, the metro area is seriously car dependant. However, our little corner of the world, featuring sidewalks and interconnected neighborhoods, is pedestrian friendly, if you don’t mind a few hills. Most Sunday afternoons, we load the kids in the jogger, grab the dog and head off to explore. The route will usually involve some combination of Crestwood, Avondale and Forest Park. Occasionally we make it all the way to Highland. No matter where we go, though, the old homes, carefully maintained gardens, and picturesque views make for a great trip.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten things, but this is what comes to mind when I think about leaving. What about you? What do you like about Alabama?

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10 Comments on “Goodbye, Part I: Stuff I’ll Miss”

  1. Dan Says:


    I had no idea that Highland Coffee and the Festival theater were gone.

  2. wheeler Says:

    highland coffee on highland is gone, but they still exist as the crestwood coffe co. in the shops at the corner of 56th and crestwood blvd. good, but not the same.

    as for the festival theater, it’s greatness – a first rate movie theater that no-one went to – was it’s demise.

  3. bamalaw Says:

    I would miss O’Carrs in Homewood

  4. Dystopos Says:

    The bookstore in Forest Park was Smith & Hardwick.

  5. wheeler Says:

    yes! thank you.

  6. Frank Says:

    I left Birmingham twenty years ago, so many of my memories no longer exist. I loved living on Southside and walking along Highland Avenue, the Alabama, concerts at Sloss, DaVinci’s Pizza . . . so many great memories.

    Your blog reminded me of the things of Birmingham I loved. I still don’t know how I found it, but it was a great day.

    I will miss it. But I still think your decision to move back to Louisiana so your kids could know their family is a great one. I hope they appreciate what you are doing for them.

  7. sailer Says:

    Sipsey Wilderness,Wheeler Wildlife refuge and the Warrior river. Wheeler lake is good too. My biggest surprise was finding alligators on the Tennessee river. We’ve seen several while kayaking and walking at the refuge. The Warrior river is dirty with a lot of old tires and assorted trash but I’ve also seen otters and beavers while kayaking. The Sipsey Wilderness is so different from the mountains that I’m used to hiking. All the little waterfalls and overhangs. I’m thinking about moving north to be closer to these attractions. Too bad Alabama is so trashy!!! With all of the natural attractions the natives should be more respectful. The other day on the Warrior there was a dirty diaper floating by the boat ramp…I ‘ve also seen dead dogs and deer thrown into the river. But if you ignore the trash it is a beautiful place. It is weird to see baby alligators swimming beside old washing machines and other assorted trash. Broken beer bottles where people swim is a bigger problem,I wear my shoes but my poor dog has cut his feet.

  8. wheeler Says:

    i love finding non-park areas in which to play. alas, as you say, trash is always a problem.

  9. Midwesterner Says:

    Perhaps Birmingham is different from Northern Alabama.

    I’ve been living in the “Shoals Area” for approximately 18 months. I hate it here…

    I have never been treated so badly by people. The locals appear to be still fighting the civil war. This area is very much like a bad Southern movie-or like a good one: “Deliverance.”

    I am serious. I am a kayaker and have had some VERY bad encounters with the rednecks here, potentially violent encounters.

    The people here are backwards; there is simply no other way to put it. I moved here expecting the “New South.” I expected to meet civilized, intelligent people-Southern gentlemen, gentile ladies, and a younger generation who had cast off many of the attitudes and prejudices of their parents.

    I have met many of the following: rednecks, white trash, and “hip hop” types. I thought rednecks kept all their rusty clutter in the back yards, not the front…

    I was previously an electrician in a large midwestern city. My coworkers would occasionally travel to other areas to assit with storm/disaster recovery efforts. After my colleagues travelled to MS, LA, and AL after Katrina, I frequently heard the following comment about southern electricians; “I don’t know how they keep the lights on down there.”

    I know how. The people here understand EACH OTHER. They can communicate effectively amongst themselves. They are largely unable to communicate effectively using a common technical vocabulary that every other electrician-from Oregon to Michigan to New York.

    Final example: I recently went to the local Lowe’s store to purchase some 2×3 lumber. Not only did the store not carry it, no one at the store had even heard of 2x3s. To add insult to injury, I heard the staff discussing me from the next aisle’ “Who is that know it all yankee?!”

    So nice. I politely ask for a product I’ve used for years only to be talked about badly. Is that the legendary southern hospitality?

    I can’t wait to leave this place.

  10. Midwesterner Says:

    RE: Sailer’s Comments

    Sailer, I’m curious how you, as a kayaker, can speak positively about Lake Wheeler.

    I am also a kayaker. I avoid large waterways whenever possible. I am endangered everytime I am on the water with powerboats or jetsksis. No exaggeration-every time. And, of course, the water is filthy.

    When you complain to the marine police, the typical response is: “If I see it, I’ll ticket them or arrest them.” Uh, well, gee officer, idiot powerboaters and jetskiers aren’t going to behave that way when your clearly marked police boat is nearby. Maybe using an unmarked boat or watching with binoculars would work.

    Of course, when you suggest this, the officers become hostile as you are “telling them how to do their job.”

    Where do you put in when you kayak? Surely you don’t use the dangerous boat ramps. Perhaps you proceed as I do-taking time and effort to find a sloped shore with no glass, broken concrete with rebar protruding, etc.

    Ever wait 10-30 minutes to put in or take out because of the waves caused by powerboats/jetskis at the ramp? This is common for me.

    Alabama parks and resources are unbelievably trashy. The parks here are worse than in Chicago. Worse than St. Louis, worse than Kansas City, worse than Chicago.

    Sipsey Wilderness…. ….hmmm. It really should be called the Sipsey Scar. That isn’t a wilderness. It is what has managed to live after the land was r_ped. When you can be in the Sipsey/BNF, of course. “When” because AL (as well as other states) allows hunting on public lands. It isn’t a good idea to be in the woods during hunting season and public campgrounds frequently do NOT allow camping or warn against it duing the hunting season.

    Does no one else see the problem with this? The authorities allow an activity-hunting-that is so dangerous they either prohibit campers from being present at that time or strongly warn against it.

    The BNF and Sipsey are, like the other public areas here not dedicated to nature. There is much development on the shores. I have never been in a public park area in other states which allowed so much development on the shore.

    Alabama leaders should be ashamed about what they’ve allowed to happen to the state’s land and waterways. The clearcutting and chemical pollution are abominable. Even if one tries to focus on the present and future rather than the past, it is a depressing situation.

    AL is in a five year drought. A drought categorized as “emergency” by officials. Yet in the Shoals area where I live there is no watering/carwashing ban.

    Have you ever been to a gas station North of Tennessee? The fuel pumps have “vapor recovery nozzles.” The VRNs use a simple rubber boot to capture vapors that would have escaped into the atmosphere. Other states have mandated the use of VRNs.

    Watering bans, VRNs, an ENFORCED “no tolerance” policy on loud stereos…. …these are all laws/policies implemented by other states. AL simply needs to follow the example of those states. The research has been done, all AL has to do is implement these policies-the difficult task of figuring out what to do has been performed by others.

    Many of these policies would be implemented at the municipal level rather than the state level. The lack of such policies is indicitave of the mindset in the state. The areas of AL that I’ve seen are unbelievably backwards. The situation here is, as I’ve previously mentioned, like that depicted in movies.

    Do you think the people here could possibly speak correctly? I’m not referring to accents, but to mispronunciations. The word “on” rhymes with “fawn” not with “cone.” I’m a carpenter. I need to here “to the left 1/8″ inch” or “right 1/4″” not “back over yonder ways a might.”

    “Back over yonder ways a might.”

    Do Southerners really wonder why so many people have a negative perspective about them?

    As I said, I can’t wait to leave this place. I will, upon departing, scrape the soles of my boots just as I do after stepping in dog excrement.

    To all those who think I am overly cynical: I know my comments won’t be well received. Prove me wrong-I challenge you. Rebut my negative commentary point-by-point. I challenge you.

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