The Magic City

This is our second day living in Birmingham. I am writing this while sitting atop a mountain of cardboard boxes. And I can’t believe this town is officially home.


How bizarre. I keep having to retrain my brain to refer to Florida as “the place I used to live.” Which just sounds so weird. But it’s even weirder calling Birmingham “home.”

Currently, our house is filled with shipping crates. All I see are cartons in each direction. From wall to wall. It looks like I’m drowning in an Atlantic of corrugated cardboard.

Earlier, for example, an Amazon deliveryperson rang the doorbell, but I wasn’t able to answer the door, inasmuch as I was wading through shoulder-high mounds of boxes in my living room.

So I simply shouted, “Just leave it on the porch!” And the sound of my voice caused a massive cardboard avalanche. I was trapped beneath boxes for three hours without food or beer.

The thing about moving is, until recently, I did not realize how much crapola we owned. Judging by the amount of boxes within this house, I would estimate that we personally own approximately half the earth’s gravitational mass.

The worst part about unpacking all our wares is that I cannot decipher my own handwritten labels on many of the boxes. I have no idea what we were thinking when we tagged these crates with our runaway Sharpies. We must have been inhaling some major paint fumes because the labels are written in complete gibberish.

I am thinking here of one box in particular, which is marked: JAMIE’S PODE STOPES—NEW.

It is unclear what this label means. However, if we use our abilities as trained English majors, we can tell by the word sequence that this box contains a great many “stopes,” or more specifically, “pode stopes,” which evidently, according to the text, belong to “Jamie,” and are “new,” as opposed to outdated pode stopes which, everyone knows, simply don’t pode very well.

But anyway, Birmingham is a swell city. Today I ran some errands and met a few locals when I was out.

At Walmart I met an old man in the checkout line who looked like Methusala’s great uncle. He was leaning on a cane that was shaped like a University of Alabama elephant trunk. He was buying a box of absorbent underwear.

“They’re for my wife,” he said, patting the box.

I didn’t know how to respond to this remark, so I just asked how long they had been married.

“Sixty-nine years,” he said. “She’s on hospice care.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Hey,” he said with a shrug, “I wish I were half as brave as my wife is.”

When the cashier rang up the man, he tipped his cap to her in that old-world way men used to do. Then he shook my hand. I watched him hobble out to his car and I wondered if that man knew how equally brave he is.

Next, I went to the supermarket. When I was in the meat department, I saw three Latino young men standing before the meat cooler. The butcher placed a few whole chickens onto the counter and told the young men to take them, no charge.

At first they refused.

The butcher insisted. “I’m just gonna have to get rid of them,” he said. “The expiration date is tomorrow, but they’re still perfectly good.”

The young men were so grateful they God-blessed him profusely with thick accents. The butcher took his praise with a smile and said, “It’s just chicken, y’all.”

After my shopping, I got home and did some more unpacking. I was knee deep in cardboard when there was a knock at my door. It was one of our neighbors who had stopped by to introduce himself. In his hand was a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon.

“Brought you a gift,” he said, handing me the booze. “Welcome to Birmingham.”

Then he introduced me to his birddog, an American Labrador named Elizabeth who was incapable of sitting still for point-three nanoseconds.

So far, I’m happy to report that Birmingham is a great place, and full of nice people. Yes, I realize this city has its naysayers, and I’m not savvy enough to contradict them since I’ve only been living here for a grand total of 48 hours. But I like this town.

Although I guess I can’t call it a “town” anymore. I suppose, at some point, I will eventually have to get used to calling it home.

Especially since all our pode stopes are here.


  1. David P B Feder - March 9, 2022 6:52 am

    Having just gone through the same thing ourselves, right down to the shock of how much accumulates when you stay in one place for 20 years (the other half of the Earth’s gravitational mass) and the labels apparently written in Sumerian cuneiform, I can both sympathize and empathize. I’d love to tell you there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but for us it’s been 4 weeks and the light is being blocked by the 56* boxes we still have left to unpack.
    *that’s a real number, not a literary license number! Good luck, you guys — and hold on to that bourbon; you’re going to need it!

  2. Tisha S. - March 9, 2022 6:57 am

    Welcome to Birmingham! A great town with wonderful people!

  3. Kathleen Jun Magyar - March 9, 2022 7:47 am

    As a person who recently moved three pods of lord-knows-what from Dallas to South Bend, Indiana, and am still awaiting the construction of a backyard storage unit to move them to, I emphasize with you wholeheartedly. My guess is that we have several boxes of pode stopes too. Best of luck to you and live well in Birmingham.

  4. Hal Allred - March 9, 2022 7:59 am

    Alabama isn’t what most people think.

  5. Ruth Ash - March 9, 2022 8:22 am

    Welcome to Birmingham. Glad you are home here!

  6. Debbie - March 9, 2022 10:29 am

    Birmingham sounds like it has some fine people in it.

  7. Te - March 9, 2022 11:53 am

    What happened with the excavation/electrical/water disaster that was going on Yesterday? I moved a decade ago and, God willing and the creek don’t rise (you’re in ‘Bama now; people say stuff like that)(And are serious), I’ll never have to again. Not only did I have diverticulitis episode during the move, I had bought a house I had never been inside, and the ceilings turned out to be 7 ft 3 in instead of the usual 8 ft! (Any house that only cost $20K is gonna have issues.) It took months before I stopped feeling claustrophobic! I consulted every website known on “how to decorate a cave to make it look homey”! When I lamented to my brother about all the projects, he told me to not stress; owning a house was a lifelong project! It’s never finished. So enjoy the next few weeks/months it takes you to unpack. Your life will NEVER be this projectless!

  8. Michael Earl - March 9, 2022 11:55 am

    You mean, especially since all our *new pode stopes are here!

  9. Cheryl Newsome - March 9, 2022 12:26 pm

    Welcome to Birmingham! I’ve lived here all my life, and I can honestly say I could easily make you a list of many good and bad things about this city…but you have a knack for finding the good people, and I look forward to reading about them! Oh, and about moving–you will discover things you forgot you own and haven’t seen in 20 years–and you will manage to lose at least one thing you DEFINITELY remember packing. Somewhere, there’s a home relocation black hole that sucks this stuff in and never gives it back.

  10. lindawalco - March 9, 2022 12:28 pm

    I hope you did your homework and are happy where you landed. You were either born in Birmingham or you move here for work or health reasons. You live where you moved from for love, peace and sanity. Alabama is beautiful, Birmingham is only a small part of that. One thing that determines whether or not a place is a good place to live is if you are comfortable taking a night time walk in the neighborhood alone. So, would you let Jamie go for a walk alone at night in your new neighborhood?

    • Judy Jones - March 9, 2022 1:02 pm

      Good morning Linda! I read your comment with interest and it was ultimately instructive to me. I realize I did move here because of work. After 35+ years in the Magic City I do indeed now live here for love, peace and sanity. And friendship and community. And yes – our neighborhoods. I serve as secretary of mine, I am engaged in most things that occur in it and I can happily say I walk in mine at night – and a number of others I find myself in. Maybe it’s how long I’ve been here, my mother fears it’s my trusting nature. Maybe it’s a mixture of both. But whatever it is, community engagement begats comfort. I’m betting Sean and Jamie will soon be comfortable in their new surrounds because they ‘engage’. Thank you for this lovely reflection with my first coffee this morning!

    • Bonnie - March 9, 2022 1:30 pm

      You made me cry (again). No, not over the pod scopes. That made me laugh. But speaking of the gentleman who tiped his hat. You reminded me of my Southern Dad, who did all the Southern mannerisms that most boys today are not being taught. I miss my parents and their Southern ways. It’s good to know there are still some on this earth. And the pod scoped….at least they are new.

  11. Greyn - March 9, 2022 12:44 pm

    Native Alabamian here. First two decades in small town near B’ham. We have moved a lot over the ( many) intervening years and so I can tell you with some assurance, you reversed the label, which should read “stope podes “. They are now made in Auburn. The new ones rust easily.

  12. Grace Grits and Gardening - March 9, 2022 12:48 pm

    I recently (well, within the last decade) moved from Dallas to Fayetteville, Arkansas. It took me forever to unpack all the boxes. And I think I lost some of my pode stopes somewhere in the move. Maybe that’s one of the upsides of moving? We all have too many pode stopes, really.

  13. the1withwordskills - March 9, 2022 12:50 pm

    while this has almost nothing to do with this column, a burning question came to mind while I was reading: is it your default to refer to the place where you procure food as “the supermarket”? my sister and i were raised in IN, and there we grew up hearing it called “the grocery store” or “the grocery” or “the store” for short. just curious if this is regional or specific to our family.

    • Linda - March 13, 2022 4:40 am

      Referred to as grocery store, food market or super market in Alabama.

  14. Dina - March 9, 2022 12:53 pm

    Ha! Made me laugh!!!!

  15. pdjpop - March 9, 2022 12:57 pm

    We just moved from St Louis to Fairhope. We are born and bred Alabamians… (Athens, AL)
    Anyway, we had a house built. You always find house you have built are never finished once have been there and have guests visit. And you have boxes you can’t get to for the boxes you are unpacking completely wear you out. In between your family guests and unpacking and scheduling the flow of repairmen and painters you find yourself drinking Wild Turkey.
    It’s gotta be a new Olympic sport in the next Olympics. I mean if they are going to have break dancing, might as well include whole life disruption as it is way more difficult than break dancing.
    Keep up the “stopes” and enjoy the Turkey.

  16. Nancy M - March 9, 2022 1:14 pm

    It takes awhile to think of a new place as home, and it will come subconsciously.
    Blessings to you and Jamie as you unpack and get settled.

  17. Myra Fabian - March 9, 2022 1:18 pm

    Welcome to the ‘Ham! I’ve *only* been here since ‘99 but have only recently started really loving it. We moved from the Land of Soccer Moms to Southside and realized we are city people and not suburban people. I hope to run into you at a local bar where I may or may not be in disco regalia with Magic City Disco – I’ll buy you a local brew!

  18. Joyce Anders - March 9, 2022 1:29 pm

    Congratulations, Saun &Jamie. You did it! God be with you.

  19. Sally Speaker - March 9, 2022 1:40 pm

    Take a short break from pode stokes and go over to the Crestwood shopping plaza to Thank You Books. You’ll forget all your troubles!

  20. Jan - March 9, 2022 1:51 pm

    Welcome Home!

  21. writetouchgirl - March 9, 2022 1:52 pm

    Did you remember to put a “sell by” date on the pole stopes? Can’t have them stinking’ up your new house!

    Btw, please write about Vulcan’s backside one day. There’s a fun female mystery writer from B’ham who writes about senior sleuths, some of which were offended by Vulcan showing his bare…well, you know. I would love to read your take on the fiery God’s derrière.

    Emily Walls Ray
    Former Tuscaloosa transplant in Richmond

    • writetouchgirl - March 9, 2022 2:13 pm

      I hate it when I don’t properly proofread! I meant pope stopes and lowercase g in god. I know who the Real One is! Emily

  22. jblackburn34 - March 9, 2022 2:00 pm

    One of the nice things about Birmingham is that even though its a city, mostly those who live there still have a “town” mentality except when they are driving on the interstates through town! Stay safe!

  23. Paul McCutchen - March 9, 2022 2:02 pm

    Since you are in Alabama and not Florida, you might check and see if pode stopes are legal in your new state. In some areas of the country you might have to dispose of them but in others, if they are cleaned correctly, they can be battered and deep fried. Enjoy.

  24. Cynthia Lynn Staton - March 9, 2022 2:13 pm

    Welcome to Alabama, the Beautiful!! We are very happy to have you here and you are most definitely HOME! And, as you said, the naysayers don’t know anything about Alabama or Birmingham except what they have heard from someone else who knows nothing about our great state. Just enjoy life here and let us love you and welcome you and Jamie.

  25. Jim Rives - March 9, 2022 2:19 pm

    Gonna need to know what was in the pode stopes box.

    • Debbie - March 9, 2022 7:17 pm

      I agree!!

  26. KATY 9.33 am - March 9, 2022 2:33 pm


  27. martha55rn - March 9, 2022 2:44 pm

    I am so glad the the move has been positive. We owned a house in Crestwood about 15 years ago when my son in law was in Grad school. It was on 49th street south. The neighborhood was great for them and the people were so friendly. I loved the houses in the neighborhood. They were so beautiful with their porches and hardwood floors!
    It isnt the beach but a lively place to call home!

  28. Brenda - March 9, 2022 3:03 pm

    Welcome to Birmingham! I moved here in the mid 80s and it’s been “home” for quite some time.
    I remember being greeted one time with Welcome to Alabama. Are you an Alabama or Auburn fan?”
    Ha! Little did I know that was ahead of me, being an NFL fan. Roll Tide!

  29. JonDragonfly - March 9, 2022 3:11 pm

    Outdated pode stopes don’t pode very well, but they do stope quite nicely.

  30. Dee Thompson - March 9, 2022 3:30 pm

    I just moved last year, from my home for more than 16 years. It was brutal. I have advice for you, Sean, because you are a novice at moving. Today, open and look in every box and decide: do I need this in the house right now? If the answer is yes, put it in one pile. If the answer is no, put it in the garage or on the porch, or someplace out of the way. That’s phase 1. Phase 2, open up all the boxes you deemed were needed right now, and put that stuff away — anywhere you and/or your wife decide, but put it away. You can change your minds later if necessary. In fact, you will likely change around your furniture placement several times over the first year or two and that’s okay. Phase 3, take 1 or 2 boxes out of the garage every day and look again and decide if it needs to be in the house or it needs to be stored — and if it is something you don’t need [like memorabilia] put it back in the garage. Phase 3 may take months. You might need to buy shelving or a filing cabinet. You might need to locate the nearest Goodwill or other charity, but it’s okay. Your house won’t be overrun with boxes. // Accept that there may be things that you won’t find for months, and make peace with that. If you and your wife and your animals are fine, everything else will get worked out eventually. Once you start to make happy memories in the new place it will start to feel like home, trust me. Homes are made by love, and I know y’all have that in abundance. Blessings!

  31. Suellen - March 9, 2022 3:34 pm

    I’ve mentioned before that we moved a year ago back home because my husband had a stroke. I’ve been feeling so blessed that my son-in-law built a house for us and brought us home to live near them. This column reminds me that I need to be thankful for other things. We lived 100 miles away at the time. My husband and I both being disabled were moving into a house sight unseen. We had a crew from our church there volunteer to show up and pack the U-Haul and church members drove it here. Friends drove our car down here. Our church here showed up and helped unload the U-Haul but you know what else they did? They stayed and unpacked all the boxes. By nightfall our kitchen was completely organized and the beds were made all I did that day was direct traffic. The only thing left for us to unpack was all of my husband’s books. It brings tears to my eyes to think about all those smiling faces and how they carried us through those days.

  32. AlaRedClayGirl - March 9, 2022 3:45 pm

    So glad you are enjoying Birmingham! I hope that once you unpack them, that you enjoy your new pode stopes too.

  33. Larry Ratliff - March 9, 2022 4:09 pm

    We still miss you here in Florida, we have lost a State Treasure when you left, I even had a little ceremony in my back yard to mourn your loss and buried a copy of one of your books to commemorate the loss (NOT).
    But we still think of you as a native son of the Sunshine State and still raise a frothy glass of OJ when we listen to you on your Podcast. We mourn our loss but give thanks that you didn’t move to somewhere like California or Canada. Live long and prosper some pointy eared fellow use to say.

    We miss you Sean but your never forgotten down here in the BIG city of Crestview Florida.

  34. Tammy M Carr - March 9, 2022 4:20 pm

    I’ve been in Missouri almost 12 years now and still refer to the panhandle of Florida as home. Ninety percent of my family is there so most of my heart is there too. But when I’m leaving Florida I’ll say I’m heading home. LOL I’m lucky to have two home states, but Florida will always be home.

  35. Larry Ratliff - March 9, 2022 4:37 pm

    We still miss you here in Florida, we have lost a State Treasure when you left, I even had a little ceremony in my back yard to mourn your loss and buried a copy of one of your books to commemorate the loss (NOT).
    But we still think of you as a native son of the Sunshine State and still raise a frothy glass of OJ when we listen to you on your Podcast. We mourn our loss but give thanks that you didn’t move to somewhere like California or Canada. Live long and prosper some pointy eared fellow use to say.

    We miss you Sean but your never forgotten down here in the BIG city of Crestview Florida

  36. Vince - March 9, 2022 4:49 pm

    If you like the Gobbler, try the American Honey version. Good for sipping and for making BBQ glazes.

  37. Andrew Leland Locke - March 9, 2022 4:52 pm

    My soon-to-be wife and I are in the midst of a move, as well. We live in Taylorsville, NC. Bringing a new home on to the farm property. I understand the cardboard madness.

    I really hope you and Ms Jamie enjoy Alabama. I have great memories of the people and places and past experiences I was blessed with there.

    Keep up the good work. And God bless.

  38. Jesse - March 9, 2022 5:26 pm

    In mining. Stope is a place that a miner or group of miners work. So maybe, you have some mining paraphernalia? js

  39. Susie Flick - March 9, 2022 5:27 pm

    Moving – adventure – challenge – change – faith. When I moved 90 miles south in 2006 from where I grew up and lived for most of my life….leaving behind my childhood haunts, friends and family, to be within 10 minutes of my daughter and family – those words are appropriate. This was the biggest move ever for me and my girlfriends helped me pack boxes and lableled them….”Are you there yet?” “What’s in this box?” etc…!

    Home is what you make it…..I am very blessed to be part of my two granddaughters lives for all of their lives so far….they are now 14 & 17. I have made a lot of wonderful friends I cherish – I have found several “tribes” of friends that I enjoy different things with i.e. art, music, taiji, yoga(got to get back into that) , neighbors, etc.

    Enjoy your new home and settling in.
    Moving can be rewarding!

  40. Judy Broussard - March 9, 2022 6:08 pm

    You seem to be adjusting well to your move. Let us know what your pose stopes box yielded. Happy

  41. Vickie - March 9, 2022 6:37 pm

    It’s nice to have you in Birmingham! Welcome to the Magic City!

  42. Linda Moon - March 9, 2022 8:36 pm

    Day two –time flies! I understand your reaction to “home”. And I’m proud you phonetically sort-of translated labels from gibberish to English. Yesterday, I was wondering when you’d meet some “new” locals, chat them up, and then write us a story about it. And, don’t misplace any of those pode stopes. You never know when you might need them. But, if you do lose yours, I betcha My Guy has some you could borrow. He’s got everything known to man from the beginning of time until now down there in his Cave. So again, welcome to my childhood hometown! We’re just up the road from it.

  43. Ruth Ann - March 9, 2022 9:19 pm

    Are you just going to leave us hanging here? I won’t sleep til Jamie let’s us know what pose stopes are.

  44. Rebecca Nieto - March 10, 2022 2:03 am

    When we moved from Slidell, LA to Fairhope, my husband went to the liquor store almost every day for a month to get boxes. He probably had about 100 boxes labeled “garage”. That was not helpful 😎

  45. Tracy - March 10, 2022 2:19 am

    Now this made me laugh out loud!!😆😆😆

  46. Rosemarie Livings - March 10, 2022 3:05 am

    Sean, l just have to tell you that my “yawl” has a useful tool embedded within it. Your y’all is a bit bland……..

  47. marilyn Youngkin - March 10, 2022 6:56 am

    Wishing you and Jamie a very happy life in Alabama! Is your Mother ok with your move? I know she will miss you. I think of her so much’

  48. Patricia Gibson - March 10, 2022 3:39 pm

    You made me laugh. I totally get the labeling thing. I have moved three times in three years. Called myself being so organized and I can’t tell you how many times I looked at a label and thought, What does that mean? 🤣🤣

  49. Barbara Wallace - March 11, 2022 5:47 am

    Sean, one of my favorite book series is the Southern Sisters Mysteries by Anne George…the first one being Murder on the Girls’ Night Out. These were my introduction to Birmingham. Because of these books I love Birmingham…even though I will probably never get to visit. I hope you will read one or two as an introduction to your new home!!

  50. Gablesgirl - March 13, 2022 1:01 pm

    My husband and I are moving to the Ham once he retires in a few years. I’m a fourth generation Floridian. I know I’ll miss some things here but am looking forward to new adventures. Roll Tide!

  51. Nivada Spurlock - March 14, 2022 2:06 pm

    I walked up to a guy at the YMCA where I teach indoor cycling last week. He was working out really hard but I decided to interrupt him anyway b/c I thought it was YOU! He smiled and said, “Nope, my name is Bo.” Really nice guy though. Thanks for helping me meet another Birminghamian.

  52. L. C. Nichols - March 15, 2022 9:58 pm

    Just moved to a much smaller new house next door. I can’t believe how much stuff I have. I’m downsizing and have called an estate auction company to come get all the stuff I don’t need anymore and auction it off. It’s about half of what I brought over to the new place. I will try real hard not to buy more stuff. I am retired and don’t need anything but groceries and basic necessities. Stuff just seems to pile up over the years. Whew!

  53. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 25, 2022 10:46 pm


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