Day One. My first 24 hours living in Birmingham. And in the words of my boyhood idol, Sarah Ophelia Cannon, I am just so proud to be here.
But it’s loud in this town.
I am in our new house, sitting in my new office, staring at a blank laptop screen. I should be doing actual work right now, but I can’t concentrate. The county is doing construction outside my window and—
Pardon the noise, that was the sound of a backhoe plowing into my truck. My truck was parked on the street, but it has now been converted into a steel pancake. Also, because of road construction, we’re without running water.
“Could be worse,” says the construction guy, driving the backhoe. “At least you’re not without power.”
Thank God for little blessings.
Currently, it’s a perfect day in the ‘Ham. Overcast, with touches of sunlight peeking through the clouds. There are birds singing. There are white and pink camellia trees swaying in the central Alabamian breeze—
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
Construction Guy has just rapped on our door to inform me that our water is going to be off for several more presidential administrations. I ask him how long, exactly, he’s thinking we’ll be without water.
The man takes a long draw on his Camel and gazes into the distance through hardened eyes. Then he sums up every bureaucracy in a few words: “We’re looking into it.”
I look out the window to see more heavy equipment and more workmen. There are more 16-metric-ton excavators rattling the ground so violently that my coffee has vibrated off my desk.
I’m afraid all these earthquakes are going to turn this house into a pile of rubble.
Our house is no spring zucchini. The structure was built in 1923, shortly after the birth of Cher, and believe me, it’s in fantastic shape. But it’s an old house, and you never know what’s going to break on an old house.
I base this statement on the fact that my friend recently purchased a 110-year-old house in Birmingham. Only minutes after he signed the deed, all his appliances quit working, his dishwasher caught fire, and the toilet in his master bath regurgitated sewage that predated the Punic Wars.
I’m sorry. I keep losing my train of thought. It’s difficult to concentrate on finishing a paragraph between all the—
BANG! SHATTER! BOOM!
Still, despite all the noise, I’m excited to be living in this house. And I’m thrilled to be in Birmingham. This is the first big city I’ve ever lived in.
I’m a rural guy. Until now I’ve always lived in an itty bitty place where people in the supermarket know your middle name and all your family’s private business.
Today, however, I walked through the supermarket in Crestwood and not a single human being asked how my mama was doing. It was weird.
Also, in our new house I have an actual office, and I’ve never had a true office before. In the past, my home office has always consisted of a single ergonomic chair shoved inside a water heater closet.
Over the years I wrote thousands of columns, and multiple books, while tucked away in a vault of hanging clothes, reams of wrapping paper, broken vacuum cleaners, and a disco ball my wife used for the annual Baptist fundraiser, “Saturday Night Fervor.”
But now I have a bona fide office with gracious five-foot windows, hardwood floors, a ceiling fan, and…
…I have an unobstructed view of Jefferson County’s fleet of hydraulic mining shovels.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
A young man with the road crew, dressed in hunter’s camouflage, is standing outside my office, flagging down a dump truck that is about the size of the Lincoln Memorial, which is rolling in reverse. The dump truck is making a shrill noise.
One thing I am learning about city life: It’s louder than a soundcheck at a Who concert.
On cue, I hear a distant jackhammer. Followed by a police siren. Then a few ambulances. Tires squealing in the far off. A UPS delivery truck blares its horn at a motorist. Then a firetruck. Dogs howling. A distant train whistle sounds, and the Kansas City Southern makes its way through the Magic City.
Someone’s boombox is thumping out indiscriminate rap music, which repeats a particular swear word beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet. Another jackhammer rattles. A picture falls off my wall. More sirens. More trains. More booms. More heavy equipment.
“Welcome to Birmingham,” says the construction guy, lighting another cigarette. “We’re turning off your power now.”
Believe me when I say it, I really am proud to be here.