Nails on a chalkboard. That’s what it’s like each time someone says this town sucks and there’s nothing to do here. It’s like goddamn nails on a chalkboard. It’s a tired, broken record and I’m really done with defending my appreciation for this town. So what if I didn’t grow up here? How much credibility does that take away from me, honestly? Does my six years of residency here really mean nothing?
I beg to differ.
Montgomery is a blossoming and busy city. Things are happening and no, it isn’t shit. We are each faced with a choice with how to address the new developments: embrace them, or get out. There is no more complaining allowed about how lousy it is here.
This isn’t the same Montgomery I moved to. And if it’s changed that much in my tenure, I can’t imagine how much it’s changed for someone who grew up here. Things are headed in the right direction and yes, there is still so, so much work to do. Our public education sucks and there’s an embarrassing number of residents who support school vouchers, to begin with. And don’t get me started on our weak brunch scene. But! That doesn’t change the fact that things are changing for the better and anyone who can’t acknowledge that has their head intentionally shoved far into the sand.
I chose to celebrate Montgomery. The Civil Rights Movement kicked off right here and Hank Williams Senior wrote “Hey Good Lookin” at Chris’s Hot Dogs. Beyond this city, the whole state of Alabama rejected the movement towards racism and assholeishness the current presidency has fostered by loudly electing Doug Jones over some creep riding on the coattails of entitlement. When a scathing report came out last year that our schools were on the brink of failure, we booted our school board members. My roommate dragged me to the elections and their subsequent runoffs.
Montgomery has amazing local food, beer, music, coffee, and museums. At a hair over 200,000 people, it naturally won’t feel as large as some of those other cool places you’ve been. Birmingham, Austin, and Atlanta each boast over a million people in their metropolitan areas and it’s time to stop comparing us to them. We are small, but we are mighty.
Context is everything in understanding Montgomery. To say we’re backwards is to reject the efficacy of the brave civil rights protestors of sixty years ago. It’s rejecting the music and food that comes from here. It’s rejecting the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose headquarters is here. It’s rejecting Maxwell Airforce Base. It’s rejecting meat-and-threes. It’s rejecting Cloverdale’s Concert in the Park series. I could go on.
Each time someone looks me dead in the eye and tells me they hate this place, I can’t help but wonder what they could possibly be missing. I think people are falling for the terrible idea that the South is somehow wrong. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles and has lived all over the country and the world, I refuse to fall for that idea. If anything, my experience outside of Montgomery gives me a clearer perspective on what it has to offer. I commuted an hour and a half each way when I lived in Los Angeles. I walk to work here.
Most people, I think, get it. Loads of people understand that Montgomery isn’t the dumpster fire the grump buckets accuse it of being. Their memories seem to work a little better than the pessimists. Loads of people I know refuse to spend their money in the downtown bars that are too relaxed at IDing people. There are plenty who go out of their way to buy a chai at Prevail instead of Starbucks on Ann Street. And, perhaps most importantly, there are plenty of people who say “you should see what this place was like five years go. It’s really changed.”
I want to document that change. I want to share what’s happening with you and discover new Montgomery treasures along the way. I have a bucket list. For as much as I’ve discovered, there’s still so much more to try out. I want you to share your ideas with me and correct me when I forget something on one of these articles.
Because Montgomery is nothing if not loud, opinionated, and a little drunk.