If you leave I-10 at Mobile, AL, and drive south along the scenic route 98 down Mobile Bay for ten miles, you’ll see the sign, “Entering Fairhope.” A mile later you’ll cross Fairhope Avenue with McDonald’s on the right and Ruby Tuesday on the left, and for the next half-mile, shopping malls with many marquees of national franchises line the highway.
You could believe you’d passed through a small town undistinguished from a thousand others that serve the country. But if you do pass by, you will miss this sweet town with the charming name of Fairhope.
My pal, Patty from Pensacola, had already described Fairhope as Sausalito with a retirement and snowbird population. So I knew to make a right turn at Fairhope Avenue and drive the two miles past pleasant, well-coiffed and manicured homes to the business district. Here I found the upscale shops, galleries, restaurants, and boutiques awaiting affluent tourists.
In Alabama I noticed something about the people I’d first noticed in Louisiana–something I was unused to anywhere between California and the coastal midwest. Something, in fact, I was unused to in any of the urban areas I’d called home for the last 50 years. People on the street look you in the eye, smile, and ask, “How are you?”
I know this is a perfunctory, if polite, question that triggers an automatic response. Mine is, “I’m doing great. How ‘bout you.” And their smile stretches on through another cordial response as they walk on.
I try to engage local people, I am self-conscious that I wear my Jersey/California accent as though I carry an alien flag. I hear my bi-coastal I’s enunciated back to me as “ah’s.”
I experienced this in New Orleans as well. It seems to me the Southern tradition of hospitality and welcome is alive, thriving, and ingrained.
I found the library where a half-dozen people occupied the periodicals area. I observed several small groups using private study rooms. I happened upon the non-fiction book club meeting and was invited to sit in.
In the library I picked up a 12-page bulletin/schedule of events at the senior center and noticed there was a duplicate bridge game three afternoons weekly. I called and asked if they could find a partner for me for the following day. This is something I do every month or two in towns large and small as I travel, and I am always greeted with enthusiasm.
The senior center is one of the most elegant and multi-activitied of any I’ve seen. The bridge game is so popular that several people drive from Pensacola, FL., fifty miles away, to play the three-hour session.
People of Fairhope don’t display their trash. Trash is collected at 3 a.m. on trash day by invisible trucks.
If you only walk the shopping streets and enjoy what they have to offer, you miss Fairhope’s jewel: the waterfront park/marina/fishing pier/beach.
Next post. The Park by Day.