New In Town

Day Four. We have been living in Birmingham, Alabama, for four days and I am lost. Hopelessly lost. Right now I am in interstate traffic and I have no idea where in the Lord’s name I am.

Also, it’s colder than a witch’s jogbra in this city. The temperature last night was 37 degrees and I couldn’t feel my digits.

Before you accuse me of being a weather wimp, I must remind you that I come from the Panhandle, where the median temperature is 103, and our hurricane season lasts from June to the following June.

So I was not ready for the freezing temps a few nights ago. My entire little family slept in one bed to keep warm, and whenever it got cold, my wife threw on another dog.

But that’s what you get here in the foothills of the Appalachians. Because when I asked the guy at the hardware store if it would ever warm up, he explained the weather like this:

“This is Birmingham, dude. You git what you git, and you don’t pitch a fit.”

Which reminds me: I know all the hardware store employees on a first-name basis now. I’ve been spending a lot of time at Home Depot lately.

Since we are still busy moving into our house, my wife has been sending me on random hardware errands for items such as felt chair pads, shims, sink stoppers, and (Don’t ask) pitchforks.

I go to the hardware store four of five times per day, sometimes more. Sometimes I don’t even buy anything, I just wander the aisles wearing a helpless look, glancing at my wife’s list in a way that causes concerned employees to sidle up to me and ask if I need a chaplain.

Then an employee leads me to an aisle where my item is located and I am forced to choose between an infinity of options, colors, and denominations.

Do you want the one with the five-eighths angled grommet, or the eleven-sixteenths one with the reinforced brackets? Do you want galvanized or powder coated? Or would you like the three-quarter nodule with the all-weather defibrillator and the reverse coupling ribbed flange?

Nothing is easy in the hardware store anymore.

Take lightbulbs. Used to, buying light bulbs was a snap. Your mom bought them at the supermarket. She simply tossed a box of bulbs into her buggy with her non-smoking hand and kept on trucking.

Back then, you had three kinds of bulbs to choose from—which were all the same bulb, but different wattages. The whole process took maybe 4 seconds.

Today, however, the hardware store has a lightbulb aisle that’s roughly the size of Newark. There are bulbs with different “lumens,” “finishes,” “contours,” “hues,” and “shapes.”

You have incandescents, compact fluorescents, halogens, light emitting diodes, tubes, candles, angulars, globes, floodlights, spirals, Edisons, capsules, track lights, cool lights, white lights, warm lights, menthol lights, Miller Lites, etc.

And God help you if you buy the wrong bulb, because your wife will send you back to the hardware store. This is very embarrassing. When you re-enter through the pneumatic doors again, you immediately make eye contact with the same employees you saw a few minutes earlier, and you feel much like a neutered dog.

Then, one of the employees usually attempts to make you feel better by saying, “Listen, it’s not easy, shopping in this store, it’s overwhelming.”

Which makes you feel about as manly as a guy dressed in a Hello Kitty costume.

But hey, this is all part of the moving process. Moving means learning how to adjust to new situations, new experiences, and new highways.

Speaking of highways. I’m still driving, and I still have no earthly clue where I am.

So far, I’ve been learning how to navigate this foreign city with a sociopathic GPS that often tells me to “turn right here” while I am speeding over a bridge.

I’ve had to pull over and ask random pedestrians for directions three times this morning. Although, I have to admit, the residents in this city are extremely accommodating.

A few minutes ago, for example, I asked a guy for directions who I met in a parking lot near a Mexican restaurant. He was Latino, and more than happy to help.

This kindhearted man took nearly 15 minutes of his valuable time to tell me, in painstaking detail, exactly where I should go, where I should turn, and how long it would take me that get where I was going. At least I assume that’s what he was saying because he didn’t speak one lick of English.

In fact, the only English words he apparently knew were, “It is what it is, man.” He must have said this phrase 2,193 times.

“Thank you for your help,” I said as we shook hands and parted ways.

“It is what it is, man,” he answered.

Which, I suppose, roughly translates into, “You git what you git and you don’t pitch a fit.”


  1. Julie Patterson - March 11, 2022 7:47 am

    The hardware store in Birmingham (not far from the hospital) is a fond memory for me. My husband made the acquaintance of the owner while I spent the day in a federal training. Be sure to spend time at the Railroad Park, and bring the dogs. Birmingham is an exceptionally friendly place!

  2. Sandi. - March 11, 2022 8:09 am

    Oh, Sean, it won’t be too long before you’ve learned your way around Birmingham, and then you’ll be the one giving directions to other newcomers! Just don’t go pitching any fits.

  3. oldlibrariansshelf - March 11, 2022 9:35 am

    The folks that deal in hardware are soft-hearted–especially the older ones. I’m glad to hear that you are making new friends in your new home city.

  4. Debbie - March 11, 2022 10:50 am

    I thought I was the only one that is in a jungle when attempting to pick lightbulbs! One of my front porch lights is out and I’ve been dreading climbing up there to pull down that bulb and start the hunt. Way to mention things to pick from in the lightbulb universe.

  5. Mike - March 11, 2022 11:44 am

    To help ease your hardware store stress keep
    this in kind. When neighbors ask if you are a
    Big Orange fan they mean Home Depot not
    Tennessee. If a Big Blue fan they mean Lowes
    not Kentucky. Helpful info to know and not embarrass
    yourself during March Madness.

  6. Te - March 11, 2022 12:15 pm

    I tried to warn you. I never went thru that town that I didn’t get lost. And GPS has always been schizoid. Once took me on a 5-mile detour only to end up where I started. I had a friend vacationing in the Georgia mountains with a new husband. Beautiful log cabin in the woods. They went to dinner and on the return, he used GPS. The instant he turned into a weedy, narrow lane, she told him it was wrong, but he, being a man who believed in electronics, insisted. Over a bridge that wasn’t supposed to be there and down a winding track –well, obviously the tumble-down shack wasn’t their lovely cottage! Next day they learned they were actually 200 ft from their cottage – straight up.

  7. Angel Alexander - March 11, 2022 12:22 pm

    Sean. I love the line. Throw on another dog!!

  8. Paul McCutchen - March 11, 2022 12:22 pm

    I was at my cousin’s house, in Hoover, a few months back and helped him with an old TV. He bought a new one and then he took the old one to the curb. I asked him if the garbage truck picked it up and he said no it would just disappear. A little while later I looked outside and it was gone. He calls them the “recycle fairies”. You might check with the neighbors and see if there are any in your neighborhood, they might come in handy.

  9. Joy Jacobs - March 11, 2022 12:45 pm

    We had to order light bulbs from the Home Depot warehouse and they delivered them. Sounds easy enough but first you need to know which ones you need…. not easy because of course the box is gone from the previous purchase. If hubby dies first, I’m moving. 🥴 BTW don’t ask me about the weather, we live in Missouri.

  10. Mac - March 11, 2022 1:05 pm

    Thank you Sean for my new go to phrase for my wife when she complains, “This is South Alabama! It shouldn’t be this cold!” We moved to Troy after 3 years in Germany where winter lasts as long as hurricane season in the panhandle. We lived in Dothan before that so Alabama winters are no mystery to us. She just can’t stand anything below 78 degrees.

  11. Debbie Schmidt - March 11, 2022 1:12 pm

    Is it possible for an individual to become internally/personally “gentrified”? If so, I sure hope you don’t succumb to this.
    Also, you are now much closer to Rick Braggs’ old stomping grounds. I would love to see my two favorite southern writers produce something together. I’d pay big bucks for that one.

  12. Charlotte Virginia McCraw - March 11, 2022 1:13 pm

    Boy, how I did need your humor this morning, and I got it in buckets. Yesterday, for me, was very stressful [a “discussion” with my sweet husband] – – so much so that my stomach was a bubbling cauldron this morning and my nerves were just a mess. As usual, I went to the kitchen for a cup of wake-up [although my stomach screamed, “I wouldn’t do that] before opening my computer to see what emails awaited me, informing me of the magic potions that I must buy or die. Then, there appeared in my inbox the words “Sean of the South.” Would I sound like too much of a nut to say that those words comforted me as I knew humor awaited me . . and the Lord knows I needed it. Once again, you absolutely, positively started off my day with smiles and chuckles . . and the stress melted away. Thank you, Sean.

  13. Brenda - March 11, 2022 1:15 pm

    I try to avoid big box stores if possible. Never fails I need to walk miles to the other side to hopefully find one small item. What a work out! I have learned before I go to google the store and it will bring up the item isle location and if I’m lucky it has not been moved 30 isles away!! A few years back I was in Roanoke Alabama for 3 months and I was so happy there was a mom and pop owned precious hardware and garden store I just loved. I drove one hour into Georgia once a week for four weeks to learn how to weave. That was 8 years ago snd I am still happily weaving in New Smyrna Beach, FL. You will find your comfort places and call it home soon. Can’t wait to read more of your adventures🤗

  14. Deborah - March 11, 2022 1:21 pm

    I “need” a pitch fork too! I want a used one for the garage to go with the rusty shovels!
    I’m lost in the 💡 department🤔

  15. Shelton A. - March 11, 2022 1:28 pm

    Yes, the joys of moving into a new house. From now on, take Jamie with you to Home Depot so she can choose the ‘right’ thing (and if it turns out to be wrong, she did it). I am sorry for your misfortune of being lost. Being lost stinks and it puts you at the mercy of strangers. It is what is, man. I am sorry to have laughed at your misfortune but the way the story was written, that’s what you wanted me to do. So, I did. God bless to you and Jaime. Take her with you!

  16. Phil - March 11, 2022 1:34 pm

    Excellent! Welcome to the ‘Ham!

  17. Ellouise - March 11, 2022 1:35 pm

    One thing I learned about Birmingham: Get your bearings from Vulcan. You can see him anywhere and, if you’ve learned where you’re going (especially hone!) based on Vulcan, whether you need to head east, west, north or south, you’ll never be really lost

  18. Ellen Hunsucker - March 11, 2022 2:09 pm

    Laughed ‘til I cried! Thanks, I needed that!

  19. Jan - March 11, 2022 2:22 pm

    Made me laugh out loud and boy did I need that laugh!. Wishing you much joy in your new home!

  20. Betty Kemp - March 11, 2022 2:29 pm

    Sean, we are so excited to have a new “star” fall on Alabama! I would love to see you when you are out running errands – I get excited when I spot James Spann (another star in our wonderful state!). You need to write an article about the night that “Stars Fell on Alabama”! Google it, and you’ll find all about it. Lots of people have recorded the song, I sorta like Jimmy Buffet’s version! You will get used to the traffic! We have lots of great restaurants here! Be sure and go to the Bright Star in Bessemer – you can even request to sit in Coach Bryant’s booth, or Coach Saban! BettyK

  21. AlaRedClayGirl - March 11, 2022 4:06 pm

    Oh, Sean, thank you for this funny! Years ago when we were building our house, we made so many trips to Lowe’s that our young children would almost cry when one of us mentioned needing to go to Lowe’s. As for the cold temperatures, this weekend you may need another dog; I think it’s gonna be a “three dog night”.

  22. Peggy S Campbell - March 11, 2022 4:48 pm

    Regarding lightbulbs of today … AMEN!

  23. Jan Bruck - March 11, 2022 4:50 pm

    Physical limitations with horrible constant back pain that doctors won’t operate on has made it necessary for me to learn to shop online for almost everything. Either that, or a small store. As far as lightbulbs are concerned I have learned that if you take your bulbs to a Batteries Plus Bulbs store, you will almost certainly find someone very knowledgeable to help, and will not have to walk all over Guam to get what you need. I would be surprised if they didn’t have one of those stores in Birmingham. Also, if you need a battery for your watch they will sell you a lifetime battery, install it, and if/when it goes bad you can take it back to the store and get a new one for free. There is also an online bulbs store, (I think) is one I have successfully used. I love your heart, humor and gifted writing. I would not want to be without it! Thank you!

  24. Linda Moon - March 11, 2022 5:33 pm

    Felt chair pads are more important than you guys might think, especially if your house has hardwood floors. God helps My Guy in the hardwood store; I wouldn’t even try. I’m loving going along with you here in your new town — the one I was born and raised in with lots of good memories from those times. Welcome to our beautiful foothills!

  25. Jan Werbish - March 11, 2022 5:57 pm

    Skip the overwhelming big box stores. There must be a mom and pop hardware store in Birmingham. We have a small Ace hardware in our town, where clerks gladly help you and you buy one screw not 16 in a package. You’ll be glad you took the time to find one!!

  26. Judy Riley - March 11, 2022 6:52 pm

    I still don’t know why in tarnation you moved…..NORTH!?!

  27. oldandblessed - March 11, 2022 7:37 pm

    😂 ‘nough said.

  28. Jenny G. - March 11, 2022 8:10 pm

    Sean, I felt same way when I moved from Birmingham to Atlanta 19 years ago! I was lost for a month and I lived next to train tracks…so your noise could be worse 😉 Hang in there and look up one of Bham’s best kept secrets…”The Garage Cafe” located at 2304 10th Terrace S. I lived in Bham for 34 years before I discovered it. When weather is good go have a sandwich, beer/cocktail and enjoy the garden and a few cats roaming around 😉

  29. MAM - March 11, 2022 8:17 pm

    I enjoyed your experience with the Hispanic fellow and the translation you came up with. I think you nailed it perfectly! And as usual (how do you always do that?) tied up the top of the article with the bottom! You have a inborn skill in writing that definitely feeds your readers every day.

  30. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 11, 2022 10:17 pm

    You make me smile everyday with your adventures Sean!! I’m enjoying being along for the ride!! And your house with its flag and ferns looks beautiful. Hope they didn’t freeze last night!

  31. Lynn poling - March 12, 2022 12:50 am

    Enjoy your new adventure!!! Happy wife happy life! Warm weather is a coming! I grew up in Alabama, now I’m in Savannah and I miss sweet home Alabama!

  32. shirley c hill - March 12, 2022 2:47 am

    So happy I found you – don’t know how I could not have known about you sooner considering the fact that I am a Southerner by grace and a more than avid reader of Southern writers. Beginning back in my twenties (which I don’t remember much of today as I am now moving up on 75) it became apparent to me that Southern writers were without a doubt the very best of all time and I began to seek them out. Your writings remind me happily of Lewis Grizzard the long time writer for the AJC which I began reading in my late teens growing up in Atlanta. Even though he started out as a sportswriter I knew he had great talent and to this day will never forget his relationship with Kathy Sue Loudermilk. My list of Southern writers has grown exponentially over the years and I am grateful to be able to add you to my list. I have already purchased a couple of your books for my Amazon Kindle and look forward to getting to them once I finish the one I’m currently reading by a gifted young woman writer from Kingsport TN about her search for her family’s ancestry especially their relationship with the Melungeons. It has been quite a read and I feel almost as though I have been reading a college text with a good story attached. Southerners amaze me with being able to make a story from just about anything and you have proven to me that the spirit lives on. Thank you, I look forward to every day’s blog.

  33. Slimpicker - March 12, 2022 3:18 am

    Sean, is the picture that accompanied this story a self portrait?

  34. Nancy M - March 12, 2022 6:25 am

    There’s an old fashioned hardware store in Five Points South, I think it’s Five Points Hardware. On 20th Street South (Dint get your South and North confused in B’ham. It really matters!
    Also look up the Facebook group You Know You Grew Up in Birmingham Alabama If. You don’t have to have grown up in B’ham to join. They’re very welcoming and you can learn a lot about the city and area. Also the website is an excellent resource for most anything you’d want to know about Jefferson County.

  35. Betty Kemp - March 12, 2022 4:05 pm

    Sean, there’s a small hardware store in Mountain Brook that you need to find, called the Little Hardware! It’s in English Village just past the Birmingham Zoo and Botanical Gardens! Wishing you and Jamie lots of blessings in your new home!!

  36. Holly Loper - March 13, 2022 7:29 pm

    Except for the high murder rate, (Kinda kidding) I love It in Birmingham. Everyone is usually nice and friendly. Its been my home for over 25 years. Originally from Mobile.

  37. Su Attenberger - March 14, 2022 5:42 am

    That had to be one of your best. You had me laughing repeatedly. The chaplain and the neutered dog!!

  38. Polly - March 15, 2022 3:11 am

    What? You found an employee at Home Depot? It must be across the street from Lowes.

  39. Christa - March 15, 2022 4:37 am

    It’s rather simple as you are almost In the center and you have soooooo many backroads you can use. I’ve lived here my entire 58 years and there’s not a back road I can’t navigate to get around the city. I seldom use the interstate or Red Mtn X. That HD you are frequenting was my go to when my daughter bought her home in your area. Nice people! Happy to help anytime!

  40. Sheryl - March 15, 2022 8:34 am

    Oh Sean, I’m so glad you didn’t turn while you were on that bridge! Thank God for small miracles.

    I so enjoyed this article. Literally, I laughed out loud a few times. So, as others have mentioned, find your nearest Ace Hardware, and yes, we do have a Batteries Plus Bulbs store. The hardest thing about Birmingham for me was learning how to navigate the one-way streets downtown. Once I mastered that task I knew me and Birmingham would be just fine.

  41. Anne Godwin - March 15, 2022 4:01 pm

    It’s been cold in L.A. Mobile had 29’ this week. We spent the night in a tent, in our backyard, with three grandchildren recently. It got down to 39’. BBBRRRRR Guess it’s part of global warming. 😉

  42. Vince - March 18, 2022 5:12 pm

    Ah. The joys of GPS. Took a trip back home and knew where to turn.. but the GPS disagreed. So ‘we’ listened to the GPS. Seems the folks we were going to see lived in the middle of a cornfield that had grown to about half height. Two dimensional GPS for me please. You know, a map.

  43. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 27, 2022 5:34 am

  44. Jim McGurk - March 27, 2022 11:52 pm

    I will add on comments later. Son, we are in a different world up heaar. I’m gonna be a full 87 years old next Month on April 7, and on April 8, I will start my first day of 88 every day for a whole year. Just moved heaar this past Jan from Merritt Island Fl, Fl boy fo 50 and 2 years. Will send more ltr.


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