The ‘Ham

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—

KA-CRASH! KABOOM!

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.”

RUMMMMMBLE!

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.

KABOOM!!!

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…

CRASH! BOOM!

…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.

54 comments

  1. Diane Mark - March 8, 2022 6:53 am

    Welcome to Alabama 🥰WAR EAGLE ❤️❤️

    Reply
    • Cathy Gaines - March 12, 2022 3:30 am

      I don’t know if moving to a big city is good for you but you are a good husband to make this sacrifice. Praying for an adjustment.

      Reply
  2. Ed (Bear) - March 8, 2022 9:29 am

    “The things we do for love!”

    Reply
  3. Betty - March 8, 2022 10:48 am

    It’s quiet at our house Sean. I don’t think we’re too far away. You are welcome to “work” 😊 here. Just let me know. 👍🏻 and we have plenty of snacks.

    Reply
  4. Connie Shepherd - March 8, 2022 11:25 am

    Sounds like it is a great day in the Ham! 😍 So sorry about your truck! How are the pups handling the new noises? Pretty soon it will all be second nature. Meanwhile…bless your hearts! 😉😍

    Reply
  5. pumpkinandprose - March 8, 2022 11:26 am

    Loud noises are so hard for me, I hope all the construction is over soon. Also, I was sure you’d chosen The Who for the sound check bit because they were formed about 2 hours outside of Birmingham UK. Coincidence? Or no?

    Reply
  6. Wendy Johnson - March 8, 2022 12:03 pm

    My husband, who grew up in ‘ham, and I, are doing the reverse. We are in a very busy town outside of Charleston. And are moving to our retirement/forever home on 12 acres in a town of less than 1,000. We are with 10 mins of 15 grocery stores, 15 mins of 12 elementary schools. After our move, no grocery store in our town, only 1 elementary school. We are looking forward to the quiet! Love ya Sean, start each day reading you and that is one thing that wouldn’t change!

    Reply
  7. Anne Arthur - March 8, 2022 12:07 pm

    Oh dear.

    Reply
  8. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - March 8, 2022 12:09 pm

    You know, you don’t have to go very far outside of Birmingham to have a rural setting! I know this will get better. Might be good to invest in ear plugs!

    Reply
  9. Patricia Collins - March 8, 2022 12:18 pm

    Come on back to Alabama Sean!

    Reply
  10. Geri - March 8, 2022 12:19 pm

    …and we’re just so proud to have you!

    Reply
  11. Ellouise - March 8, 2022 1:01 pm

    Be happy they’re repairing something.

    Reply
  12. Sonya Tuttle - March 8, 2022 1:04 pm

    My sympathy. But your rural spot in Florida will soon sound like what is going on near you. Progress can be a dirty word. We left continuous traffic in Florida. Traded accidents and hurricanes, palmetto bugs and humidity for a quiet spot far from any town in North Mississippi. But we have a thirty minute drive past cows and forests and two lane roads to get to civilization. Interesting trade off!! Best wishes for the future.

    Reply
  13. Paul McCutchen - March 8, 2022 1:06 pm

    I live in Georgia. Where I live used to be considered country but since I have been here (22 years) and my wife has lived here (40 years), the country has been swallowed up by the city. We, along with a few neighbors, are on large lots, (ours is a little less than 4 acres). So we still are able to keep the other homes at bay. The subdivisions that are being built are lot lines that put the houses right together and all the houses are the same. I call them “doll Houses”. We have talked about moving but our age it would not be that easy. A friend told us “Why reshuffle the deck”, we have a pretty good hand just finish the game where we are.

    Reply
  14. T - March 8, 2022 1:11 pm

    It does make one wonder why you picked B’ham as the city to move to.

    Reply
    • David Brown - March 8, 2022 2:36 pm

      My thoughts exactly – “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot”

      Reply
  15. Vickie - March 8, 2022 1:30 pm

    If you have pictures on the wall, you’re settling in just fine. Sorry about the racket.

    Reply
  16. Gloria - March 8, 2022 1:34 pm

    Welcome to the Ham! My daughter lives in Birmingham and I love to visit. You will get used to the noise. I moved from Mobile to Zion Chapel 7 years ago. Ft. Rucker helicopters fly path was over our house. It kept me awake at night and my husband told me I would get used to it. I did get used to it and they have now changed fly paths and I actually miss them.

    Reply
  17. Jan - March 8, 2022 1:35 pm

    Sorry that your welcoming committee got a little bit out of control! Hope it calms down soon …

    Reply
  18. Shirlea - March 8, 2022 2:07 pm

    …..Shane, …..Shane……😢

    Reply
  19. Nell Thomas - March 8, 2022 2:15 pm

    Sounds like an ample supply of writing material.

    Reply
  20. Shelton A. - March 8, 2022 2:15 pm

    Ahh, yes, the joys of city life. Praying your water and power will be restored soon. Welcome to Birmingham! I enjoy city noises every day and night. You begin to filter it out over time. The construction on your street…there is no filter for that, I’m afraid. God bless you and Jaime, plus the pups.

    Reply
  21. Betty - March 8, 2022 2:20 pm

    You should’ve come a little farther north Sean to the serenity of Smith Lake but it will give you plenty to write about down there. I could write a book every time I drive down to the doctor. Seriously, best of luck to you and Jamie in your new home.

    Reply
  22. Judy - March 8, 2022 2:35 pm

    Welcome to the Ham Sean! I predict it won’t be long until you settle into a wonderful, albeit urban, version of what you have known as ‘rural community’! Birmingham neighborhoods are fantastic! Good luck!

    Reply
  23. Kathy Wolfe - March 8, 2022 2:35 pm

    I live about an hour north of you. So glad you are in Alabama. Looking forward to your writings about our state.

    Reply
  24. Susie - March 8, 2022 2:49 pm

    Sorry. Get more rural, Sean. You’ll be happier.

    Reply
  25. AlaRedClayGirl - March 8, 2022 3:18 pm

    And we Alabamians are really proud to have you here! Thankfully, you still had internet service so we could read about your adventure.

    Reply
  26. Pingback: Sean of the South: The ‘Ham | The Trussville Tribune

  27. Pat - March 8, 2022 3:51 pm

    Bless your heart, can’t say I envy you. I like smaller towns, close to bigger towns (if you need them)!

    Reply
  28. Sally Speaker - March 8, 2022 4:05 pm

    My husband grew up in Crestwood. He still holds his hand over his heart when we drive past! Hope things calm down for you soon.

    Reply
  29. Kathy Smith - March 8, 2022 4:21 pm

    I live in a small town in Illinois in the same neighborhood that I grew up in! My town has grown from 1426 residents when I was born in 1946 to 16,534 now. We still have a couple of brick paved streets in town and a town square. All my cousins & their families still live here. Love it!! I know what you are going through. My home was built in 1949 and it sits on a corner lot. The town replaced the sewer system, sidewalks and rebuilt the road on the side street. They said the sewer system was over 100 years old and needed to be replaced. Not to mention the $5000 each homeowner had to pay to help with the cost of the project! The town was good enough to just add it to our real estate taxes over a 10-year period. Thank you, town administrator!! My whole house shook when they were rebuilding the road! I honestly would check all the plaster walls to make sure they didn’t have cracks at the end of each day. It took 2 years to complete. That being said, I wouldn’t want to live in a large city! Love small town living!

    Reply
  30. Martha Black - March 8, 2022 4:22 pm

    Sorry about the racket. Hope it doesnt last too “awful” long. Just tell yourself, it could be worse……… You could be living in…….. “New York City!”, like another writer of word, Garrison Keillor, who’s edndured the pandemic there. We’d rather keep you down in the South with us, being a “Son of the South”. Im so happy the dawgs are settling in well in their nice big yard. Just keep singing “Sweet Home Alabama” and you’ll come out alright……
    And now when you have to roam & venture out away from home, on you’re way home, you can now sing with great heart, “Big Daddy’s Alabamy Bound”!

    Reply
  31. Phyllis - March 8, 2022 4:34 pm

    I think you would benefit from purchasing a ‘white noise’ machine! Maybe pick a model that has the sound of rain or the ocean! Good luck adjusting to your new surroundings!

    Reply
  32. Connie Williams - March 8, 2022 4:38 pm

    3 words: Noise Canceling Headphones

    Reply
  33. Kenny Barnes - March 8, 2022 4:43 pm

    Kansas City Southern does not run through Birmingham. Probably KCS engine on a Norfolk Southern Train.

    Reply
  34. L G ARNOLD - March 8, 2022 5:23 pm

    Better you than me!!! I’ve lived in my woods on the lake for too many decades. The most frequent irritating noise we have to put up with is when the bass tournaments start in a couple months and all those bass boats come tearing across the lake to go up the Chattahoochee … at 6:00 or 7:00 AM on otherwise blissful spring mornings. Yes, the tournaments continue into the summer months, but by then the A/C is on and it muffles the sound. Nope! No big city for me! I’ll stay in my woods and feed the deer and the birds!

    Reply
  35. Cathy M - March 8, 2022 5:39 pm

    Give it a month and you will be smiling. Promise. Crestwood is very pretty and you chose a great neighborhood. Just wait till things start blooming. ❤️🌷🦋💐

    Reply
  36. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 8, 2022 5:59 pm

    What is it they say? It can only get better from here then right? Hang in there. Eventually you won’t notice the noise so much. Or maybe we become older and more hard of hearing. I dunno but I’m being hopeful. I’m just along for the ride and enjoying your new journey. I hope you are too!

    Reply
  37. Linda Moon - March 8, 2022 6:46 pm

    Day one! There’s not much better than a first day…of marriage, a baby, new kittens, and a new home in a new town. Welcome to the town I grew up in and loved every minute of it! So, how’s your Mama doing?

    Reply
  38. Patricia Gibson - March 8, 2022 7:00 pm

    Sounds wonderful!

    Reply
  39. Ann - March 8, 2022 7:09 pm

    I think I know where you live!

    Reply
  40. Maria Elliott - March 8, 2022 7:37 pm

    In the immortal words of Minnie Pearl… HOWDEEE!! Welcome Sean! So sorry about your truck! So thankful that they’re working on your street! We’re neighbors! Hoping that we see you in the Pig. If we do, I might ask you how you and your family are doing. Chin up. It’s a great place to live.

    Reply
  41. Suellen - March 8, 2022 8:21 pm

    We lived for 20 years in the flight path of the Indianapolis Airport. When we first moved there we went about 3 nights staring at the ceiling unable to sleep but after a while you get used to the noise and it all becomes part of the background. Welcome to your new home.

    Reply
  42. Kathy - March 8, 2022 9:54 pm

    I’m glad you like your house. Just takes some getting used to the city.

    Reply
  43. Lisa Williams - March 8, 2022 10:05 pm

    I’ll meet you at Crestwood Coffee, Big Spoon, Melt, The Filling Station, Urban Suburban Antiques or Thank You Books…

    Reply
  44. Rhonda - March 8, 2022 10:59 pm

    WELCOME!! It can only get better from here on!
    ( can’t it ?)

    Reply
  45. MAM - March 9, 2022 12:08 am

    I’m sorry, Sean, that you left rural peace… and water. The ‘Ham is a long way from the ocean. We love our rural area, especially after having lived in several cities. Quiet, except for hoot owls, coyotes, foxes and early morning birds, makes for perfect sleeping.

    Reply
  46. Judy Riley - March 10, 2022 8:44 pm

    I guess I missed the column where you explained exactly why you moved to Alabamer….maybe you will explain in another column….I really need to know…….just sayin’……

    Reply
  47. Lloyd Gallman - March 12, 2022 4:41 am

    I went the reverse way. I’ve lived in cities all my life. Now I’m in a place I didn’t know existed, truly the middle of nowhere! It is waaaay quite! Fields out front, forest out back. I’m the new guy at church. Everybody else knows everyone’s parents and grandparents!

    Reply
    • Sandra J Lake - March 12, 2022 4:55 pm

      Two words: Box Fan. Yep, even in the winter. Course that’s no bueno if you’ve lost power.

      Reply
  48. Ken Bacchus - March 12, 2022 3:18 pm

    My daughter lives close to you, Highlands area. See you at the PIG where there are 5 aisles of wines/fancy beers, 2 aisles of fruits and veggies, 2 aisles of Mexican food, then only 2 aisles of can goods. Definitely not a regular store but a Yuppie Pig. Enjoy your new life.

    Reply
  49. David Reynolds - March 12, 2022 4:05 pm

    I immensely enjoy your written words…….

    Reply
  50. Kathy Cross - March 18, 2022 10:39 pm

    🤣👍

    Reply
  51. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 25, 2022 10:40 pm

    Reply

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