Sunday, January 15, 2012

Return to Alabama

Last week I returned to Alabama for the first time since I left in August. I was there for a week and had a pretty good time.

Over the last five months, when I've told people that I lived in Alabama for the previous two years, they're quick to point out the obvious: "living in New York City must be a lot different than Alabama."

Well duh.

But the differences are not what people think.

The major difference between a small town and a big city is that in a small town almost everything shuts down by 10:00 PM. While there are still some places open past 11:00 PM and even as late as 2:00 AM, there are few late evening activities. Even if you're not going out much late at night, the fact that you cannot affects the feel of the whole town -- it feels more sedate.

The other major difference is that in places like Montgomery you cannot walk anywhere. Even a drug store you have to drive to. When you consider the fact that drug stores provide life saving medicine, it's pretty remarkable that in Montgomery you have to have a car to have access to this resource.

Another difference is that the cost of food, especially produce, is actually cheaper in New York and Philadelphia. At a place like West Side Market of Fairway, produce runs about 50% cheaper. Even Florida citrus is cheaper in New York.

Further, in Montgomery, the 10 percent sales tax applies to food. Having to pay not just tax on groceries, but 10 percent, is easily one of the top 3 craziest things about Alabama.

There were a few food products that seemed to be cheaper in Montgomery. One was wine -- prices were several dollars less than New York and Philly -- and Chobani yogurt, despite the fact that Chobani is made in upstate New York!

One thing New York and no other major west coast or northeast city has is Southern cooking. I did a lot of eating during my trip, and the highlight was my favorite restaurant: Red's Little School House. Their fried cornbread is amazing, as is the fried chicken livers and gizzards.

I also made it to another favorite restaurant -- Micheal's Table -- where the "WTFOMG Fillet of Beef" (five-year gouda grits, potato latke, bacon, olive oil poached egg, hollandaise sauce, garlic greens) was back on the menu after a year-long absence. Sadly, I only had time to swing by El Ray's for a margarita (which are better than most up north).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Parting Gift from the South

While living in the Deep South for the last two years I haven't come across too much blatant racism besides the Civil War deniers who claim that the War of Northern Aggression was fought purely over taxation.

The other day movers were at my house taking my stuff away, and one of them asked me if there had been any problems in the neighborhood. I said no and asked him why he was asking. He said he was wondering because he had seen a lot of "colored folks" around my street. I tried to ignore the comment and not engage in conversation.

My co-worker came up with what should have been my response: one of those colored folk is my mother.

And a few minutes later, I could hear the guy talking to another one of the movers saying "colored folk" over and over again.

I suppose it's a good think that this guy didn't realize that I was Jewish. I assume like everyone else down here, he thought I was Italian, and thus, connected.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Red's: The Final Meal

As my time in the south rapidly comes to an end, I put in my final meal at Red's -- my favorite southern comfort food restaurant.

Much of the fun of going to Red's is the drive there -- it's in the middle of no where: 20 miles down a state highway into farm country, then another 5 miles on county roads (so two lane roads, sometimes you go off the GPS map).

By far the best thing they make is their fried corn bread. I'm sure it's like 500 calories a piece, but it's amazing.

A friend bought me their cookbook so I could make the corn bread myself, and I was surprised to find that that secret ingredient is buttermilk, and apparently, buttermilk is used in everything, including fried chicken. Who knew? (everyone but me).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Women Shouldn't Vote

So the local conservative weekly rag, The Alabama Gazette, printed the below Op-Ed (it's a must read):

Here's my exchange with the paper about it:

Sent: Friday, July 15, 2011 4:27 PM
Subject: re: "The People's Voice: In God We Trust," July 8

To the editor:

You should be ashamed for publishing Ed Jone's misogynist diatribe ("In God We Trust," July 8). His claim that women are uninformed voters, that they are swayed by the looks of candidates and not their policies, that their votes have harmed our nation, and thus, giving women the right to vote was a mistake, is offense, unpatriotic, and anti-American.

If there is anyone who is an uniformed fool, it's Jones. In his column he repeatedly says that The Twentieth Amendment established womens suffrage. The Twentieth Amendment is the "lame duck" amendment. The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.

The "Gazette" owes its readers an apology.



On Fri, Jul 15, 2011 at 5:35 PM, Loretta Grant <> wrote:

Thank you for your response! Response is what I want from our readers!
'This is a "think" for yourself publication. If only we would all stand up
for our beliefs and issues that just "make up mad".
We are the "People's Voice" and YOU are a thinking reader.

I am a woman. I read this, and knowing Ed as I do, I know he simply thinks
men and women are just made different. I agree! We do think about issues
differently. I am a free thinking woman or I would not own this newspaper.
This did not offend me. I did not completely agree with his slant on the
women voting issues, but it does make us examine ourselves to
find out what makes us vote for a particular person. Most people go to the
polls and "don't have a clue", or are told how to vote! Think...think...think.
Be more informed! That's the point!

Thank you again. Please keep reading The Alabama Gazette and feel free
to comment at any time!
Loretta Grant
Publisher/Managing Editor

To: Loretta Grant <>
Sent: Monday, July 18, 2011 9:34 AM
Subject: Re: "The People's Voice: In God We Trust," REPLY
- Hide quoted text -

Mrs. Grant:

You may know Ed, but I'm guessing most of your readers, including me, don't. All we have to go by is his printed word, and that tells a very different story than the man you may know personally.

I'm also curious that you have no comment on the fact that he repeatedly named the wrong amendment (and that fact checkers did not pick this up).




I will print this email out for him. He does not personally operate a computer.
Thanks for your comments!

Loretta Grant

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Seaside, FL

This past weekend I went to Seaside, FL where The Truman Show was filmed.

Seaside is a master-planned community designed to be an idealized 1950s beech community.

Despite the extremely high level of kitsch, the town is pretty cool -- I'd vacation there.

Seaside is quite compact (there's very little space between homes), it's modeled to be a garden city with trees and brush all over the place, the architecture is diverse and interesting, and it's all very self-contained with lots of retail and restaurants in the town center.

With the exception of going to the supermarket, while there you could park your car and never have to drive -- everything you would need is in walking distance.

(Sand paths like this cut through the blocks so that people can walk from their homes to the beach in bare feet.)

There is one major flaw with the design of the town. Virtually none of the homes have parking on the property line (e.g. a garage or parking space). As a result, all of the streets are lined with cars, and they screw up the picturesque look of the town.

It's either a major oversight, or they grossly underestimated how many cars per home there would be. This website implies that the on-street parking provides a buffer between the street and sidewalk. While this is done in places like NYC -- it goes sidewalk, bike lane, parking, traffic lane, so that the parked cars protect the bike lane from traffic -- unlike NYC, people aren't zooming down the streets of Seaside at 40 mph. Most people were driving slower than I walk.

One other planning mistake was that they didn't put in bike lanes -- and lots of people bike around town.

More pictures:

On the way to Seaside I drove by this mega condo, Emerald Grande:

It's an interesting contrast to Seaside. Both have the same goal of being a self-contained vacation community -- it has its own mall, restaurants, marina -- but its design philosophy is part of our mall culture -- the building is pretty much a stationary cruise ship.

I can understand why some people will like that, but its huge size means it's always going to be congested with people.

The biggest difference between it and Seaside is that there is no where to walk -- walking is a major component of Seaside experience.

I also think buying a unit in a condo like this is a bad investment. Eventually someone is going to build a newer, glitzy condo tower, and next thing you know, you own a unit in a second rate building.

Finally, I spotted this disaster waiting to happen:

This putz is going to get someone killed. What does he think those clam shell type looking things everyone has on their car roofs is for?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

36 Hours in Central Alabama

A friend was in Alabama for a day and a half, so in the spirit of the New York Times travel section's “36 hours in…,” here’s an accounting of our whirlwind day and a half.


9 a.m.
1) Selma

First stop was the tiny but historic city of Selma. We did the usual – walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, went to Brown Chapel and strolled by the homes in the historic neighborhood – and as a first for me, went to Live Oak Cemetery which is a picturesque southern Gothic cemetery overflowing with Spanish Moss.

12:45 p.m.
2) Mobile

Our pursuit of authentic southern food led us to The Brick Pit. It was simply the best Bar-B-Que I’ve ever had. The ribs melted in my mouth.

According to the menu: "We Smoke our chickens for 6 to 8 hours, our ribs for 12 hours and our pulled pork for up to 30 hours all over a blend of Hickory and Pecan."

2:00 p.m.
3) Dauphin Island

On impulse we decided to drive as far South as you can get – Dauphin Island. I’ve been before, but a first for me was going into Fort Gaines. If you’ve seen one Civil War fort you’ve pretty much seen them all, but the exhibits there depicted its role in the Battle of Mobile Bay, and the Fort’s latrine used the tides in a pretty clever way to remove waste.

Here's a fun little plaque about the cause of the Civil War.

Last time I was at Dauphin Island I noted how many oil rigs you could see. This time not only could I see more, but they appeared to be even closer to the island – only a mile or so away.

4 p.m.
4) Mobile.

Back in Mobile we walked around Dauphin St.

6 p.m.
5) Monroeville

For the second year in a row I attend Monroeville’s community product of To Kill a Mockingbird. Last year I sat in the balcony during the courtroom scene (which is staged in the Monroeville courtroom); this year I sat on the main level. While I wanted to go back to the balcony, because it filled up fast so I was forced to sit down stairs. However, I felt it was a more involving experience sitting in the main level. At times it felt like I was watching an actual trial unfolding in front of me.


9 a.m.
6) Montgomery

In the morning we hit the highlights of Montgomery: Civil Rights Memorial, Dexter King Memorial Baptist Church (where MLK was pastor and organized the bus boycott), Court Square (site of the city’s slave market), Capitol Building steps where Jefferson Davis was sworn in, and Hank Williams’ grave.

11 a.m.
7) Red’s Little School House

For an early lunch we went to Red’s where I got in my once a month serving of fried chicken, fried corn bread, fried livers and fried gizzards.

1:30 p.m.
8) Downtown Birmingham

On the way to the airport we swung through downtown Birmingham. As always, I was impressed with its many well preserved turn of the century buildings. If there is any Alabama city that could have a vibrant downtown comparable to a northern city, it’s Birmingham. The infrastructure is there, but people and businesses just need to relocate downtown.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Alabama has a cockfighting lobby?

Sometimes Alabama lives up to its reputation and there is no way to defend the state:

Cockfighting lobby likely to derail bill that would stiffen penalties for crime

Published: Friday, April 15, 2011, 8:00 AM
By George Altman

Alabama's cockfighting lobby appears to be on the verge of blocking yet another bill that would impose stiffer penalties for the crime, the bill's sponsor said.

State Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, said that while House Bill 74, which would elevate the offense from parking-ticket levels to hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars in fines and potential jail time, has passed through committee, it probably won't be considered by the full House.

"The sentiment of the House - particularly a lot of the northern Alabama representatives - (is that they) do not want to deal with it," Barton said. "I think there's been a lot of pressure on those guys."

The pressure, according to Barton, has come from the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association, which has helped derail similar bills in recent years.

"Alabama has more important things to worry about than cockfighting," said D'Renda Lewis, the association's secretary.

Not only are the $20 to $50 maximum fines for cockfighting currently on the books sufficient, they shouldn't even apply to most cockfights in Alabama, which are not held in public places and are, therefore, legal, according to Lewis.

"The majority of people who participate in cockfighting in Alabama are not doing anything against the law," Lewis said. [more]