Montgomery, Alabama

The Gump


What's it like to live in Montgomery

I’m moving to Montgomery, Alabama for a year from Sweden. Anything I should know?

It's going to be a culture shock coming from Sweden. BIG difference. I'm actually wondering if you'd be ahead compared to other students your age. Have the school do a placement test to make sure they put you where you'd be most comfortable.

Some ideas on things to do, depending on your budget/ability…

Attend the Iron Bowl. Stephen Fry's reaction to it has stuck with me, and I feel like those not from the US would really be in awe of it.

Make sure you get in a trip to the beach at some point. Alabama has gorgeous beaches. Huntsville's Space and Rocket Center, Birmingham's multicultural scene and Civil Rights museum, and Mobile's Mardi Gras are all worth checking out.

Surrounding states aren't a bad drive away. Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia have a lot of things to explore. With you being this close to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, it's worth it to take the opportunity if you can afford it. (I don't know what your budget allows.)

Flora… Poison ivy/oak are the two big ones to avoid. It's not a huge issue if you're in a suburban area, but if you go into the woods, be aware.

Fauna… Lots of deer in the right areas. Raccoons and armadillos. Large birds of prey. Frogs. Turtles. They'll leave most humans alone, but watch out when driving at night. Watch out for snakes when in any tall grass or near water.

Love bugs are a twice a year thing and annoying but harmless. Gnats (fruit flies) are also annoying. Avoid leaving out fruit and potatoes, as those will attract them indoors.

Mosquitos, ticks, and fire ants are the biggest issue here. Don't leave standing water sitting out, to avoid mosquitos breeding. Wear insect repellant when going outside. For ticks, make sure you're as covered as possible when in long grass or a heavily wooded area, and be sure to check yourself and have someone else check you when you're done. Fire ants are nasty buggers who build mounds all over. Just look out for ants. You'll know if you're bitten by one. It's right in the name.

Heat… That's going to take some getting used to, for someone from a much cooler climate. Most homes here have air conditioning, so take advantage. If you must go outside, early mornings and evenings are of course the coolest. Sunscreen is a must to prevent sunburn, but that is pretty universal. Light fabrics are good. Sundresses and shorts are popular during summer months for a reason. Carry water around with you and stay hydrated. A pocket fan/mister is also nice. We have a lot of popular cold foods and drinks down here, too.

Tornado season… I can't stress enough how important it is to read up on tornado safety and to be prepared. This is typically March through May, but we have the occasional outlier.

What do people not like about living in Montgomery, Alabama?

You know, it’s interesting. I grew up in Montgomery, and the people that I knew that didn’t like living there resented it because they felt stuck there. I never disliked it, but I moved because there wasn’t a job for me. I also recognize that having the privilege of my parents’ support improved my overall experience.

A few things that come to mind:

It’s cliquey. A combination of its size and the families that have been there a long time mean that they already have their friends. Given that so much of social activities happen in people’s homes, it makes it a hard place to feel like you belong.

Accordingly, people always go to the same places. There are parts of town they won’t go. Their friends likely live in the same neighborhood; their children go to the same school; they go to the same church. It gets monotonous despite the options that are available.

It’s likely big enough to support more arts/music/etc., but when I was there the arts seem to have the support of the city, and in some cases, had opposition of the city. Depending exclusively on private individuals mean that even the cool things Montgomery had could end at any point.

For the bitter “stuck there” folks (anecdotally of course):

When I was a high schooler, the friends that disliked Montgomery did because there aren’t any things to do without spending money. You have to have a car, and then money for gas, and then money for whatever it is that you want to do. If your parents aren’t funding that, then you have to get a job.

Some of them got jobs and prioritized them over studying — either because they didn’t need to because of the quality of education, or because they didn’t care. That means they either didn’t have the college advising staff to help them find the right scholarships (again with school quality), or they didn’t have the grades to earn them. That makes college more difficult to attend, so whether it’s taking out student loans or waiting to attend later… so you are stuck in the same job, or one that’s the same but in a new city, waiting for your life to improve. Or trying to support yourself as you go through college, and trying to make grades to finish on time so you don’t pay even more. So they’re either stuck there and resenting it or feeling like if they don’t succeed that failure means moving back.

Why have you chosen to live in Montgomery, Alabama?

I moved to Montgomery, Alabama 5 years ago, never having even visited the city before. I relocated here to live with my new husband who makes his home here. Now that I’m here, I appreciate many things about the city. 1`) The weather is moderate and mostly pleasant. Mongomery seems to be in a “sweet spot” that seldom gets hit with hurricanes or major storms. The summers can be very hot for a few weeks, but the rest of the year, especially the winter, is quite comfortable. There is a lot of greenery year-round, especially trees and bushes. 2) People are relaxed and friendly and, for the most part, different races (a high concentration of Koreans make their home here) work and live together amicably. For newcomers, it’s not so easy to make good friends, though, as the locals are often locked into their church/work/activity circles. 3) Because there is a major Air Force Base here, the military is appreciated and patriotism is high. Also, Maxwell and Gunter Bases attract an international population, though many only on a temporary basis during training. 4) Montgomery is an unashamed Christian town where public events include prayers and displays of faith. A wide-range of churches is represented from small, store-front assemblies to large mainstream denominational congregations meeting in campus-like imposing structures. Many churches grace the landscape and some neighborhoods feature church bells and carillons on Sunday and at certain hours. 5) The city boasts an excellent art museum, Shakespeare theater, an excellent Cancer Center and hospitals, a zoo, several universities, a much-loved minor baseball team, Hank Williams Museum and several Civil Rights Movement museums/sites.

WHAT MONTGOMERY IS MISSING: GOOD SCHOOLS, new business investment, neighborhood renewal, an independent bookstore (new or used), and a lively arts scene There are several deserted malls that are awaiting revival or repurposing and too many empty, run-down homes dragging down neighborhoods and inviting crime.

What is your favorite neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama?

It would probably be “Old Cloverdale.” This beautiful neighborhood is still the quaint enclave generally described as nestled between Normanbridge Road and Narrowlane Road. Old oak trees line many of the streets that are replete with many Tudor and Craftsman style homes that still appear as they did back in the ‘day.’

Quiet and well maintained streets are home to many professionals, students and educators from area colleges, and many that are renovating and returning their homes to the style they enjoyed during the roaring twenties that have become so popular. Many restaurants and attractions are within walking distance to the neighborhood. While not the only historic neighborhood in Montgomery, it is clearly the most famous as the area is host to a Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Museum. In addition to a newly opened Civil Rights exhibit that illustrates the plight of many in the civil rights struggle, work continues on the Greyhound bus station and a club that hosted many famous and rising stars. Montgomery musical ‘alumni’ include Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, Clarence Carter and many others. In addition, the proximity to Maxwell Air Force base ensures there are many services and support entities in the area. Montgomery is generally a peaceful town with no more criminal activity noted that any city of this size might exhibit. The populace is generally friendly, helpful and supportive of non-natives and many would say the ‘old-south hospitality’ is in evidence on a daily basis.

I have lived here since the early 70’s and I must admit it is certainly a “family friendly” place to raise a family. The cost of living is very reasonable as compared to similar cities of this size and might even pleasantly surprise many that come from larger, more metropolitan cities in the country. While racism is insidious and sometimes difficult to expose, Montgomery has a proud heritage of its civil rights struggle and the inroads that have been made. It would be disingenuous to infer that racism is absent in Montgomery…it is most certainly not. But the majority of citizens one might interact with will be friendly, helpful and supportive to others. One can find racism anywhere if one looks hard enough, but I maintain that you would find no more obvious racism than any other area of the country. The ‘new south’ as it has been called has been taken to heart by many Alabamians who are actively trying to project a more progressive and civilized city and state for all to see.

It's a quiet revolution that has been gaining acceptance by many of the “old guard” citizens in the area, and reinforced by the culture of the town. Recent additions and improvements to the world famous Alabama Shakespeare Theatre have lent a strong air of sophistication and progress with regularly scheduled world-class plays and dramatic productions. In addition, downtown Montgomery continues to enjoy a renaissance of sorts in the renovation of its downtown area with many clubs, restaurants and night spots opening around the large and vastly popular “Brew Pub” and its craft beer production. Montgomery has some outstanding restaurants and Cloverdale is convenient to most all of them including bar-b-que and dozens of fine ethnic and specialty food establishments in evidence throughout the city. Cloverdale has several restaurants that represent old south charm and hospitality so variety will never be a problem. In addition, Cloverdale is served by several good schools from ‘k-through-12’ that make the neighborhood even more inviting to home buyers coming to the area. I invite anyone looking for a quiet, established neighborhood with a sublime history to visit Montgomery and the area known as “old Cloverdale.” It truly is a great place to ‘call home.’