Alabama, Fairhope (1)

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.

11 Responses to Alabama, Fairhope (1)

  1. Histscape says:

    Enjoyed this POST. Yes Angel and I experienced the southern hospitality and loved the way they talked there too. Keep the Posts coming. Love them. Looks like nice weather. Got cold her. 20’s in the interior of the Bay at night. Clear and sunny after some POWERFUL Winds for two days.

  2. jordan says:

    oxford, ms a place i’d recommend to you..never went..wanted to..a history filled–good and bad–town..supposed to be beautiful..college town..

  3. jordan says:

    ps–i’ve been to mobile..had lunch there..for some reason, when i was younger i equated mobile with the deepest of the deep south..it could be as simple as me reading it was where hank aaron and cleon jones–former met–grew up..i was there in 99 on my way to LA..the southern route..as many know, route 10 goes all the way to santa monica, california..

  4. karen wittgraf says:

    Always wondered about Alabama- and don’t expect I’ll get to see it, but feel I am missing something. We took a family road trip to Florida when the kids were little and found Georgia and Tennesee to be unfriendly to northern tourists, so have assumed that to be the case in the south- until New Orleans. Times does change things and it’s unfair to stereotype anything. I’m anxious to see more- thanks!

  5. Dave L says:

    My folks belonged to a group named “Armchair Travelers” out or Washington U in St.Louis. The idea was to tour, take photos, and present slides and talk for those who weren’t with you. Thousands of miles every month or so were colected on their odometer and as many slides, in the end, turned up in the basement. He, the “driver,” was almost the wanderer that you have become, and had the internet been around in the 40’s and 50’s he would have blogged in much the same way. Thanks for the memories, Al, as well as the new insightful experiences.

  6. I lived in Mobile at my grandmother’s house for 4 months, June-September, in 1946. and recall it was extremely hot and humid. Grandma kept chickens and a large garden that we had to weed. On Sundays she’d grab a big bird and hack off its head on an old tree stump. When it quit rolling, headless, around the yard she gutted it, plunged it into boiled water, plucked the feathers, and roasted dinner. Our area was made up of cottage-type houses raised 4 feet above ground on
    logs. We never wore shoes or socks that summer, so had to be treated for hookworms. We took the bus into town to see a movie, but got in trouble for sitting in the back with the Blacks. Rebellious at 13, I continued to sit in the back on each trip. Later, when I read To Kill A Mockingbird, it felt like home.

  7. Ed Kimmel says:

    Al –

    Your ol’ Swag often appears in your pictures and I am tickled to see it once again here.

    Ed

    • allevenson says:

      Ed,

      Ever since the first time you remarked about that, I took a fancy to the notion that by faithful chariot ought to sneak into the pix as an unobtrusive secondary subject. Not as subtle as Alfred Hitchcock would do in his movies but the Jolly Swag’s bulk is less subtle.

  8. Pat Bean says:

    Welcome to the south. Alabama has great state parks.

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