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Friday, May 23, 2008

Alabama: Love it or Leave it?

A reader left a comment a few weeks back, and it definitely made me stop and think.

The post was about the efforts of Shelby County sheriff's deputies to harass my wife and me over a writ of execution that clearly is invalid. Of course, since that post, the sheriff has gone ahead with an unlawful sheriff's sale of my house.

At that time, a reader wrote: "What keeps you in such a god awful place? The weather?"

I thought that was a darned good question, one I hadn't been asked before--at least not in quite that way. A number of people in the Birmingham area, upon hearing our tale of legal woe, have asked my wife or me, "Why don't you just move?" They were suggesting that we move to another house in this area, to get away from the troublesome neighbor, his corrupt lawyer, etc.

These folks mean well, but that question always tells me they probably never have faced a lawsuit themselves. Here's the reason I say that: When our neighbor first proved difficult, with the trespassing, sassing, etc., moving might have been an option. (Although with his fence taking up almost 400 square feet of our property, we couldn't have sold our house until that was resolved anyway. A survey would have shown an encumbrance, so we were heading for some sort of legal difficulties regardless.) But once someone files a lawsuit against you, moving isn't likely to solve anything. We could have moved to Alaska, and the lawsuit still would have followed us. It's like having a rash you can't get rid of.

The "why don't you just move" question always makes me think of my mother. She and my father were members of the same Presbyterian church in my native Missouri for more than 50 years. At one point, the church had a minister who was a perfectly fine fellow and a pretty good preacher as I recall, but he was not terribly friendly. This was a major flaw, in my mother's book. The fellow was from Pennsylvania, and my mother seemed to think that was the problem. "You know, people up there just aren't friendly," she would say.

Well, in my mom's value system, friendliness is next to Godliness. I suspect Charles Manson could have become minister of her church, and if he was friendly (and got a haircut and a shave), my mom probably would have thought he was A-OK.

One day, after listening to one of my mom's prolonged gripes about the minister (this was after I had moved to Alabama and was no longer a member of that church), I said, "Why don't you and dad move to a different church?"

She was having none of that. "We were there first," she said.

Well, maybe it's the stubborn, "Show Me" Missourian coming out in me, but that's how I feel when people suggest that my wife and I move because of this bad neighbor. "Hey," I want to say, "we were here first." My wife feels that way, too, and she's from Alabama, not Missouri.

But back to the reader's comment. Actually, this was not the first time someone had suggested that being in Alabama was the source of our problems. My best friend from high school, who lives in Missouri, had the same thought. "Don't you think it's time to get out of that state?" he said.

This all brings a couple of thoughts to mind:

* The problem of corruption in the justice system goes way beyond Alabama--Just consider the evolving Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) scandal. Brush fires connected to that have broken out in Alabama, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, California, New York, New Mexico, Washington . . . and well, I can't remember them all. On the subject of judicial corruption in state courts, my research has revealed cases from Washington to Florida, from California to New York, from Mississippi to Illinois, from Nevada to Pennsylvania. Evidence strongly suggests that the kind of problems I've encountered can hit you no matter where you live. And while almost all of the bad guys in my case have been Republicans, the problem is not limited to one party. It's not hard to find cases around the country involving judges who are Democrats. Perhaps the most egregious example I've come across involves family court in New York. One of my goals with this blog is to illustrate the pervasive nature of judicial corruption in the U.S. We will be discussing cases from all areas of the country and even look at the issue from an international perspective.

* I've perhaps given the impression that Alabama is a god awful place, all the way around--If I have, I feel bad about that because that certainly is not my intent. I grew up in the Midwest and have lived in Birmingham for almost 30 years. No one forced me to come here, and no one has forced me to stay, so obviously I must like the place. In spite of its horrible justice system, and its overall sorry government, Alabama in general--and Birmingham in particular--have quite a bit to recommend them. Here are a few of my favorite things about this place I now call home:

# From one end of the state to the other, Alabama is one of the prettiest places I've seen. We have beautiful mountains and lush forests to the north, with some of the world's nicest beaches to the south. Lakes, rivers, and wildlife are abundant.

# You can find some seriously good eatin' in Alabama. Birmingham alone has the best barbecue and some of the best seafood I've ever tasted. And the city has all kinds of excellent ethnic restaurants--Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, you name it. I'm not a big white-tablecloth kind of guy, but I'm told a number of our high-end establishments are superb. And if you really want to get down and dirty on Birmingham food, I would recommend Full Moon Barbecue and Milo's hamburgers.

# Birmingham has a rich cultural scene. It's no accident that our sons and daughters--Taylor Hicks, Bo Bice, Ruben Studdard, Diana DeGarmo--have done so well on American Idol. I'm hardly an expert on our music scene, but I hear we have a number of other promising musicians out there--Michael Warren, Moses Mayfield, Taylor Hollingsworth, Wild Sweet Orange, Vulture Whale, John P. Strohm, Dan Sartain, The Ackleys, and Ryan Kinder are a few who come to mind. A few weeks back, I read about a gifted young guitarist from our area named Todd Simpson. He fronts a band called Mojo Child and evidently is heavily into the blues. Birmingham has a most interesting musician named Walker Yancey. He's 11 years old, and a Birmingham News article said he looks like Buddy Holly and sings with the heart of Bob Dylan. Not a bad combination. You can read about Walker and hear a couple of his tunes here.

And Birmingham culture goes way beyond rock and/or roll. A woman who worked for ABC and had lived in New York for years once told me that Birmingham has some of the finest church choirs she's seen anywhere. One of our best is at Independent Presbyterian Church. Birmingham has some stunning church architecture, and IPC is a prime example.

# Birmingham has lots of history. Arlington Antebellum Home provides a feel of the old South. Sloss Furnances is a landmark to the city's steel-making past. And the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a can't-miss destination, spotlighting the city's role in the nation's battle for equality.

# The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is one of the great success stories in higher education anywhere. It didn't become an autonomous campus until 1969, and yet it has a powerhouse medical center and an acclaimed undergraduate program. If you need world-class health care, Birmingham is one of the best places on the planet to live. Here's some trivia for you: What three universities in the South receive the most research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)? Answer: University of North Carolina, Duke University, UAB.

# I was talking one time to an optometrist who had grown up in Kansas, and the conversation turned to things we liked about Birmingham. Two of his favorites: architecture and cuisine. The second one, of course, referred to our many fine restaurants. But his first choice was particularly interesting. Whether they are residential, business, or sacred, Birmingham has some beautiful buildings. In fact, if you can afford them, we have some of the most gorgeous neighborhoods you'll see anywhere. Even a poor guy like me can live in a pretty neighborhood. One of my brothers and his wife were visiting one time, and they kept looking out our back window and saying, "Look at all the trees." Go out our front door, walk a few steps and look in one direction and you see the lovely Oak Mountain. And the entrance to Oak Mountain State Park is just a little ways down the road. For all the crap we've endured while trying to live peacefully in our own home, my wife and I try to be thankful every day for the beauty that is present all around us.

# If you like sports, Birmingham should be your kind of place. Of course, Alabama-Auburn is one of the great rivalries in college football. And Legion Field is one of the sport's most historic venues. Since I grew up in Missouri, I had no particular allegiance to Alabama or Auburn when I moved here. So I adopted the UAB Blazers, as my team. Gene Bartow left UCLA in 1977 to start UAB's athletics program from scratch, and the Blazers have been strong in hoops throughout their 30-year history. The school started a football program in the early 1990s, and it became Division I-A in 1995. We've had a couple of down years recently, but we once beat LSU and have turned out a number of NFL players, including Roddy White of the Atlanta Falcons and Bryan Thomas of the New York Jets. And I think new coach Neil Callaway has the Blazers back on the right track. Birmingham has been host to NCAA basketball regionals, Olympic soccer, major golf and tennis events, and much more. I'm not much of a motorsports guy, but I'm told the Barber Motorsports Park is one of the best facilities of its kind in the nation. And if you are a baseball fan, Birmingham has one of the sport's shrines, a place that is a must visit if you are ever in the area. Rickwood Field is the oldest ballpark in America that is still in use. Babe Ruth played there. Willie Mays played there. The place reeks of history, and a local organization known as the Friends of Rickwood has kept it in excellent shape. Here's what one minor-league baseball aficionado says about Rickwood.

# Birmingham has a nice zoo. I used to hear that it was considered the best zoo in the Deep South. Don't know if that still holds true, but it's a cool place. The zoo has a great sea lions exhibit, which has helped me determine that if I'm ever reincarnated, I want to come back as a sea lion. They eat, swim, play, chill, and make people laugh. Sounds like a pretty good gig. No wonder they appear to have smiles permanently affixed to their faces.

# Yes, the weather is nice. We do have a little winter, but not too much. If you don't mind the humidity in the summer, and the threat of tornadoes in March and November, I'd say the weather is just about right.

# And for you guys out there, I would say there are more good-looking women in Alabama per capita than anywhere on the planet. In fact, I have to give the entire South high marks in this category. A college buddy from Missouri still has whiplash, I think, from his efforts to take in all the sights on his first visit to Birmingham. In fact, he was so impressed that he left the Midwest and moved to South Carolina, where he has been happily ensconced for years.

# When you consider its location, Alabama should be one of the top 10 states in the country to live. Instead, for a lot of complicated historical and socioeconomic reasons, we rank near the bottom on many lists where you want to rank high and near the top on many lists where you want to rank low. But consider that we have Atlanta to the east, Nashville and Memphis to the north, New Orleans to the west, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Talk about the heart of the Sun Belt. I've often called Alabama "the most underachieving state" in the U.S. And in a backhanded sort of way, I mean that as a compliment because it speaks to our huge potential.

I could go on, but you get the idea . . . that Alabama, for all of its problems, has a lot going for it. One of the first steps toward reaching our potential is to clean up the justice system. We at Legal Schnauzer hope we can play a role in making that happen.

Before we go, let's spotlight my favorite of all Birmingham landmarks. The Alabama Theatre is a jewel from the 1920s, and a man named Cecil Whitmire led an effort to restore the theater. Mr. Whitmire deserves a special place in heaven because the Alabama is one of my favorite places on the planet to visit. Tours are available, and it's a gem that visitors to Birmingham absolutely should not miss. Be sure to check out the virtual tour that is available at the theatre's Web site. The wife and I got to see one of Taylor Hicks' two shows at the Alabama on his nationwide tour, and that was a real treat. He closed the show with an acoustic version of "My Home's in Alabama," and needless to say, that was a major hit. Here's a video of that performance.

While we're at it, let's include this video from Taylor Hicks' performance at the Alabama Theatre. It's "The Runaround," with assistance from the drumline at Homewood High School in Birmingham. Enjoy.


Joe Openshaw said...

What a great post. thank you for reminding those of us who live here, and at times question why, of just some of the many attributes our state and city has. I will add one more. You mentioned the beautiful women for the guys. Also some of the most beautiful men...for the gays!

juliegr said...

Thanks for the tour guide info -- wish I'd had it earlier when a friend was in AL for the rained out portion of the Regions Tournament and asked for some info on places to go and see.

I always enjoyed the fun opportunity afforded the high school band. Appreciate the reminder.

Love your columns and always look forward to reading them.

Kathy said...

Goodness! I posted a comment months ago (one of your columns about Taylor) saying that I love the way you write. I really do! And with this piece, you outdid yourself!

Of course, it doesn't hurt that you not only mentioned TH, but put up two of my favorite videos!

The fact is, though, that even if you hadn't mentioned him at all, I'd still be thinking about checking out the real estate in Alabama!

Thank you.

tishlp said...

I had the great fortune to recently visit Birmingham,AL. It was my first trip, but it won't be my last. Birmingham is a beautiful city but I didn't realize it has so many hills. The music scene is wonderful.

writechic said...

We don't call it Alabama the Beautiful for nothing! And you shouldn't have to leave. We fight and make it better.

Besides, all the evil people will be dead or relatively incapacitated within the next 60 or 70 years. :-)

Travis said...

Loved the article. I've lived in Birmingham for 27 years and I love this place. You're right on the money. I'm particularly involved in the music scene and it's the best now that it has EVER been.

Thanks for posting and good luck cleaning up the judicial system. Where there's a will there's a way. I mean that.

BuelahMan said...

A Great Post!

I am originally from the area ('61-'69), living in several places in and around B'Ham (childhood).

As I travel through there today, it brings back so many memories of beauty (amazingly beautiful area: not imagined by those who have never been) and "homecoming".

Other than I20 going east (which SUCKS to high heaven... or did a few months ago) the roads aren't bad, so I invite people to visit there.

Since I was raised there, Vincent, Harpersville, Sylacauga and Childersburg are worthy of the short drive.

Anonymous said...

You make some really compelling reasons to move to B'ham..or at least to visit there.
Even with being a TH fan, I hadn't thought about making the drive down to check out the town.
Maybe I should.

Number8gurl said...

This is a great post. I've lived in Alabama all my life and I now reside in Homewood just over Red Mountain. My daughter is in the Homewood Band (not in the drumline) so I've seen that video with Taylor many times. One thing that I would like to point out, in regards to Motorsports, you mentioned Barber Motorsports Park but did not mention Talladega Superspeedway. Talladega is the largest, fastest motorsports facility in the world. I'm a huge Nascar fan so of course I've been there many times but it is truly such a spectacular, amazing sight I would recommend it as a 'must see in Alabama' to anyone, racefan or not.

Rob Gray said...

Great article! I grew up around B'ham but moved to Mobile about 9 months ago (which is also a wonderful and underrated place). Birmingham, and Alabama in general, are wonderful places with a residual bad rap. Sure we have our problems, but they're not as bad as people think, and we have a lot of advantages over the Midwest (I also lived in Michigan for six years).

Now if we can just get through this election season where all of the campaigns live off of the stereotype that we are all a bunch of ignorant rednecks...

Anonymous said...

I have been following your dilemma for a while and I am cheering for you to stick it out and see the power structure there reminded of the rule of law. I live in Columbia MO and work at the University. My uncle lives in Tuscaloosa and he played basketball at Kirksville (NW-MO)years ago with Gene Bartow. I thought people from the bootheel in Missouri had an accent until I visited Tuscaloosa and heard a REAL southern accent.

Good luck with your legal battle.

PS - I am also a schnauzer fan, I had two of them at one point.

Duane Perry

legalschnauzer said...

Great to hear from a fellow Mizzou guy. If you can, please drop me a private e-mail at rshuler3156@gmail.com. I know Coach Bartow and his family well and would enjoy getting to visit with you more.


Mitchell Wolf said...

I often find myself in the same position -- wondering why I moved to the South. I usually end up with a similar list of great things about it here, reasons why I really love my city, but sometimes I wonder if I'm not simply justifying it after the fact. I hope it's the former and not the latter for you.

James Greek said...


I would love to move to the ham someday! Bham is my favorite Alabama city. But I would probably move to Trussvillebwhere I have distant relatives. I def. Won't live in Hellby County!

James Greek said...

Also, I agree about the women! "whistles"