We are three months into the Alabama experience and there are a few things that I have learned since I have been living in Huntsville.
Beer is a serious thing down here
I always thought that Buffalo was a big drinking town, and it certainly is as the last call is still at 4 am, but if you are looking for really excellent craft beers, Northern Alabama is a great place to be. Here in Huntsville, an old school was converted into a complex for several breweries to hone their crafts. Campus no. 805 houses multiple breweries, bars, restaurants, and other businesses on its 13-acre plot of land. Beer aficionados can purchase their beer in the local grocery store and, if they are in the mood for something other than beer, they can also buy wine in the same grocery store. This, again, is a difference from NYS where wine can only be purchased in the liquor store.
Speed limits are merely suggestions and tailgating is an art
A misconception that many Northerners have about the South is that the people are slow moving. Now, I have noticed some people walking slowly and they certainly take their time with the customer service, but once they get behind the wheel of a car holy crap are they ever in a hurry! It’s like they have to rush to get everywhere so that they can then take their time talking. I have never been tailgated as much as I have in the past 3 months of my life. At first, I thought it could be due to my bumper stickers. Perhaps they were mad at my liberal views and so they decided to make me feel uncomfortable, but I quickly realized that had nothing to do with it. They just like to drive fast. If the speed limit is 45 you can be sure that everyone around you will be driving a minimum of 60, if not faster. And nobody uses signals down here either, so you just have to guess if the person behind or in front of you is suddenly going to change lanes. Driving in Alabama is, to say the least, an experience.
Huntsville is a lot like Buffalo
My friends and family in Western New York will certainly think I am lying when I say this, but Buffalo and Huntsville are very similar. The people here LOVE football just as much as WNYers love watching the Bills. Saturdays are game days and you can see people wearing either Roll Tide or Tigers gear, EVERYWHERE. The funny thing about them rooting for the University of Alabama or Auburn is that both of these schools are a day trip away from Huntsville. UofA has a campus in Huntsville, but the campus where they play the games (the main campus) is in Tuscaloosa – 2 hours and 31 minutes away. Auburn is even farther at 3 hours and 44 minutes away, but anywhere you can buy clothes you can buy gear for both of these schools. Alabama A&M, which has a football team and is in Huntsville, only has one off-campus location where their gear is sold and people are not super into rooting for them.
Another way that Huntsville and Buffalo are similar is population-wise. Buffalo has a population of 258,612 (as of 2017), while Huntsville is at 194,585 and growing. Huntsville is laid out similar to Buffalo in that there is a downtown core with housing, the cultural district, the historic district, and an entertainment district and is surrounded by suburbs and rural areas further out. Sound familiar? Huntsville is also becoming more gentrified by the hipsters, which also falls in line with the Buffalo scene.
Huntsville has central industries that revolve around NASA, software, and missile defense. This means that there are many people who work in Huntsville that are not originally from the area. These people generally do not live in the city. In Buffalo, there is a similar theme, but the industries are different in that they revolve more around banking, start-ups, and the medical campus. A cool outcome of living in a city where NASA has a large presence is that our local television company provides the NASA channel for 24-hour viewing. The late-night broadcasting is especially soothing as they show images of earth from the space station with calming background music, providing a great way to relax and unwind before bed.
Severe weather exists in Huntsville, just as it does in Buffalo, but in the form of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. We are actually under a severe weather threat for this evening and I am super excited and scared for it. I know exactly what to do when a blizzard is coming, but preparing for a tornado is very different. Especially when it is forecasted to hit the area between 1 and 3 am. If we have to take shelter, we will be up all night. At least with a snowstorm, you can generally sleep through it and the morning is super annoying if there was not enough accumulation to warrant closed roads, forcing workers to clean off cars and drive to work in a few feet of snow. But at least snow melts. More updates on the severe weather in the Tennessee Valley to come…
Northern Alabama is not at all how I thought it would be
The biggest thing I have learned in the past 3 months is that Northern Alabama is not the stereotypical South that we think about being from the North. When I told people that I was moving to Alabama they had many reactions, but mostly they were fearful for my safety. They were nervous because I am a highly liberal, feminist, opinionated, woman and they assumed that was not going to be okay for the majority of my new neighbours. So far, that has not been my experience. I have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that the people of Huntsville are very much not the old Southerners that we expected them to be. They are a lot like us. They might not be as liberal and they are certainly a lot more into church (there is a church on every corner, for real, and some blocks have a church next to a church next to a church – to say the people are into church is actually an understatement) than Northerners, but they are also into science and art and having a good time. Bars and restaurants and cafes close early, but that is not a big deal to me anymore because I am WAY past the age of staying out until 4 am.
There are occasions when I am driving down University Drive (the main thoroughfare between where I live and downtown) and for a moment I forget that I am in Alabama. Last week I was driving through the country, trying to get the lay of the land near my apartment, and I suddenly came upon a field of cotton. That threw me for a loop. I was expecting to see corn and it was cotton. That was a reminder of where I am and of the history of this place. It made me want to start doing research into the history of Huntsville and Alabama as a whole. I have also learned that there are many mounds in Alabama that were built by my ancestors in the Muscogee (Creek) tribe and I am excited to look further into that. I am very happy that I made an effort to get my library card the first week I was here. My life would not be complete if I could not use the library for research.
Of course, there is a history of the Civil War down here that is quite opposite of what we discussed in Northern schools and this is something that I would also like to explore. There are old homes that were built before the war that are still standing in the old town area of Huntsville and I would like to know more about their history. I am highly interested in race, gender, class, and socioeconomic structures and living in the South will provide me with many ways in which I can further my research in these areas. Huntsville is home to 1 of the 21 HBCUs that is also a land-grant university in Alabama A&M. Alabama is the only State that has 2 HBCU/land-grant universities, Tuskeegee being the other. This is a great opportunity to do research on the history of these types of schools in America and how they contributed to the empowerment of people of color and helped those who had few skills expand their knowledge in order to improve their futures.
Although I had relatives from Alabama, I never truly knew what it was like to live down here. I still don’t. I am still looking for a job and this means that I spend my days working from home for the same company that I worked for in Buffalo and I only interact with locals through customer service. Once I start working with the people here I am certain that my opinions will change and my understanding of the South will broaden. For now, I feel like I have had some good experiences and I hope to have more. Only time will tell if Alabama is truly the place for us and I will be updating you on all the interesting things that happen along the way.
Thanks for reading and DON’T FORGET TO VOTE TOMORROW!!