Thursday, February 17, 2011

Auburn, Alabama

I'm not who I was.

I have worked in Auburn, Alabama for almost 10 years. Not only have I accepted Auburn as my home, I have felt a deep bond with the people here who took me in right away. Auburn is growing fast, and you don't have to look too hard to find people who feel that the expansion is much too fast  to keep things in line with what they remember from their childhood.

After living in Auburn for a few years, I had a distinct feeling that the current Auburn was more like my historical childhood Montgomery than is the current Montgomery. Today in Montgomery, things go well beyond the few minor growth pangs they have here. In Auburn things seem a lot more innocent and sweet. People are still friendly where ever you go. It was new to me when I moved here from Montgomery, but I had the same old feeling I remember from my childhood in Montgomery. In that sense, things have been nicely familiar.

About a year ago, I decided to see what was left of my old neighborhood in Montgomery. The apartment complex I grew up in had few buildings left and those were boarded up. My particular building was long gone. It really signified my final little goodbye to Montgomery as I looked at the crumbling foundation where our apartment had been. The neighborhood was now ghetto.

Nine years earlier I had felt the same kind of "so long to all that" moment when I left my job in Montgomery. I had notified them early because they were obligating themselves to pay for classes that I was soon scheduled to take. I wanted them to know sooner rather than later that I wouldn't be taking those classes. This backfired spectacularly as the vindictiveness of the people in charge set in. I had not had a vacation in years and years. This is another epic story, so I'll leave that until later. Suffice it to say that I had a vacation coming that had been on the books for a year. We had plans made, time was officially granted on the calendar at work, hotels reserved, for a nice vacation down in Walt Disney World. The vacation was immediately canceled by my boss while the cool breeze I met with in the director's office was distinct throughout my remaining time there. As with any job, when you leave, don't tell them until the very last minute. Of course it took at least a year to build up enough time in my new job to take a vacation. Now I take them twice a year, if possible.

When I moved to Auburn, things seemed so wonderfully casual. I found myself surrounded by smart people with views that were remarkably diverse. Strangely, sports wasn't even on the list as popular topics of conversation most of the time. The topic came up here and there (and certainly came up during this last year a bit) but overall I was among people who marveled at the oddity of sport's fans. We were people who warned each other "Watch out for that game traffic." Recently, where I work, all the "employees of the month" for the year were honored at a luncheon, and I was honored to be an employee of the month. I sat at a table and we mainly talked about sports. I honestly thought, "This is truly strange."  I hadn't had such an in depth discussison about sports since I got here.

Yet because of the composition of the members at my table and the exciting events of the moment, sports was the favorite topic. However, the topic took on a metaphysical bent. It wasn't sports itself that was being discussed but more about how sports related to the city. It was about hotels and merchants who had prospered because of Auburn's University's national football title. It was about how the icy weather had effected some events leaving some merchants with less than the full bag they expected. It was about other events that luckily happened and the merchants were blessed. It was about things that mattered as well as those that were just a little fun.

When I came here to Auburn, the city welcomed me with open arms just as my backside was still smarting from my exit from Montgomery. I grew to love the city. I now live in Opelika nearby, having sold my house in Auburn for a very nice profit, and live far enough away that we feel we live a slightly more peaceful existence. The quiet at home is better for old folks. :)

To me, sports are a tourist attraction, sports are Olympic athletes who train here and I converse with and then watch them in the Olympics, sports are the blimps that pass over our new house in Opelika (we seem to be fairly near their landing field and when they pass over the house, we know it because they are flying low), sports are the runners we see running down the road at all times of day to stay in shape. Whatever sports seem to be is definitely not hateful, at least in my limited view of things.

People here wear University of Alabama shirts in abundance, while not in the same numbers as Auburn University shirts, quite a few of them are around town, especially considering we're in a town named Auburn. They were particularly striking after the big rivalry game between Auburn University and the University of Alabama. Alabama lost and the Alabama shirts were just as well represented after the game as before. It's just part of the fun of living here. People are friendly.

As for people poisoning our trees and yelling "Roll Damn Tide" to brag to the world exactly who it was and what they had done, I'm not really there yet. I don't get you folks. I have to say, when we first went to the stadium to just walk around and watch the crowds, I remember telling my wife Wanda "I like it all, the crowd, the excitement, except for that 'War Damn Eagle' thing. They could skip that." We have been to a few games since we came here when the tickets were offered free. A stadium full of people at sunset is just an awesome sight. And those athletes are incredible.

I had been to Toomer's corner once a long time ago. It was in the early 70's that I visited a friend in Auburn more than a few times a year. He had been a good friend in Montgomery and had moved on to college at Auburn. Once after a football game he took a group of us a few blocks from his boarding house to Toomer's corner where this event happened that few people attended except mainly the students. They rolled the tree, and chanted cheers. The game was an away game so there was no huge crowd in town, just us. There were maybe 100 people I guess, certainly not the crowds of today, the tourists that are so important to our city.

I'm 53 now and I was probably 15 then. I have bonded with the city of Auburn throughout my lifetime without knowing it. As I have said before, one of the things people come to study here is agricultural, or horticultural in nature. They take this knowledge with them and grow food and do awesome things in the world. Talking to some of them makes me respect them all the more. The nicest guy, and certainly the most polite guy, I have ever met in my entire life, and I'm not exagerating, raises horses around here. We all agree, this is one great single young guy, girls. But apparently people like him are not as respected to some as the lawyers who advertise on television trying to get you to realize you really were physically hurt beyond measure by that little fender bender. Auburn is the "cow college." Hint to those who might be better grounded in the reality of our planet's current woes: it's a term of derision.

Poison the trees? Yes, I suppose you can do that to trees as well as grow them. Perhaps we could litigate if the more idiotic of Auburn U's own fans weren't the other half of the problem.

My faith in humanity has twilighted with the loss of the trees as I have found myself twilighting into my older years. Years of time have taught me other people's human values appear to be declining just as my own have grown. But I do know that tragedy often grows something good, despite it all. I hope that's true this time, because I love Auburn now and I never want to leave. Those trees actually meant a lot to me. They were kind of a symbol of the place I love, part of my first experiences here.