Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson sent a letter out earlier this week outlining both the city’s and the administration’s major accomplishments of 2015 and his goals for 2016.
Last year was a “landmark year” for the city, he wrote. “Together, we welcomed back Carnival Cruise Lines, participated in the inauguration of the Airbus final assembly line, opened GulfQuest and became the first city in Alabama to offer Uber as a service to our citizens.”
It was indeed an uber-exciting year to be a Mobilian. (That was uber-cheesy, I know. Sorry!)
This year, Stimpson says he aims to focus on capital improvement projects — working on streets, parks and sidewalks that have been in disrepair for years. He also hopes to upgrade our community centers and transform Water Street into the “gateway to Mobile” by making it more pedestrian- and biker-friendly, while also seeing the completion of the first phase of the Three Mile Creek watercourse. Maximizing tourism possibilities and giving employees pay raises as well as the resources they need to provide top-notch services are some of his other goals. And, of course, he promises to work toward fulfilling his campaign pledge of improving the quality of life for all Mobilians by creating “One Mobile.”
In this message, he also challenged Mobilians to “fall back in love with our great city.”
That line really struck me, because when it comes to happiness, choosing the right “where” to spend your life is almost as important as finding the right “who” to spend it with.
When I first moved to Mobile in 1995 to attend the University of South Alabama, I didn’t really think I would be in a long-term relationship with this city, and I treated her as such. I used her for what she could give me, complained about what she couldn’t and bemoaned that I would be breaking up with her as soon as something better came along.
I grew up in the outer outskirts of Mobile and had never lived anywhere else, so I think it was a perfectly natural feeling to have. While I know some folks fall in love and marry the first person they ever kiss and remain blissfully happy until they die old and wrinkly in each other’s arms, most of us want to test the waters a little and “find ourselves” before making such a commitment.
Even though sometimes heartbreaking and unpleasant, bad relationships and breakups teach us what characteristics we don’t want in another potential mate. Dating around or playing the field (or whatever it is called these days) eventually leads us to our soul mate, and it is much the same with finding our “soul place.”
I moved from Mobile to one of the hottest, shiniest, hippest cities in the country and while it did have many amazing attributes — the ones we all say we want — I was miserable.
It was like being with one of those guys you date who your friends all love and who “looks great on paper,” but no matter how hard you try you just can’t bring yourself to love him for some reason. That was me and Austin, Texas.
Sure, he had this awesome lake in the middle of the city with a walking and biking trail and canoe and kayak launches, a cuisine identity of his own, an amazing arts community, one of the largest college campuses in the country packed to the gills with smart, young creative people and, of course, a phenomenal downtown and music scene, which helped him lay claim to being the “Live Music Capital of the World” and hosting one of the biggest festivals in the world, South by Southwest.
But still, I just wasn’t that into him.
And I tried. I really did. Because everyone told me he was so cool and great. But the heart wants what it wants. And I wanted Mobile. Believe me, I was surprised by it, too.
(I am not sure why Mobile is a girl city and Austin is a boy city, but those are the gender roles I have assigned to them for the sake of this column, so just go with it, please. It’s a bi-civic column. It’s 2016! Get with the times, people!)
But I am certain if I had never left and fooled around with Austin for a bit, I would have always wondered if there was a better place out there for me, and I would have daydreamed about some Xanadu that would have made me happier but didn’t really exist.
Living elsewhere made me realize there was no place on Earth that would make me as happy as Mobile because I had already unwittingly fallen in love with her.
All of the things she couldn’t offer that Austin (or anywhere else) could didn’t matter — no, she didn’t have awesome bike trails or nice parks or sidewalks so smooth they were practically guaranteed not to break your ankles (boring!). Downtown was just a shadow of what it is today and sure, she didn’t exactly make it easy to find a job, but still she had so much more to offer.
The water and the oak trees and the architecture and a “laissez les bon temps rouler” attitude that lasted long after the last parade rolled on Fat Tuesday. I mean really, do the good times ever stop rolling in Mobile? There is a reason people from Birmingham think we are all crazy.
But the thing I missed the most about her was the feeling of community. I liked walking in the grocery store and seeing 10 people I knew (20 if I looked like total ass — that’s some sort of law of nature) and knowing I’d run into those same 20 people and more at all of our favorite events from the First Light Marathon to the MoonPie Drop. And I missed the feeling that we were all in this together, fighting to make her better.
Sure, we still complain about things we wish were different or wished she had. We are allowed to do that, but I pity the outside fool who talks trash about her.
When I moved back, I knew I was here for the long haul and I committed to her for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part (probably).
Just a decade or so ago, when people moved back here it almost seemed like it was an admission of failure, a place to regroup until you found somewhere or something better. A “shack job” between long-term relationships.
But not anymore.
More and more people have fallen in love with Mobile over the years — even when she wasn’t at her best – and have now made that same commitment to her. And the same people who would have just sat around and complained about what all was wrong with her 20 years ago don’t do that so much anymore, they just get up and go fix what’s broken or start whatever it is she’s missing – from the simplest of projects to the grandest. And all of those actions are finally starting to pay off and she is beginning to get all of those fancy, schmancy things she deserves.
I would have loved her without all of her new bling, but I can’t wait to walk down the Three Mile Creek trail, while gazing at an Airbus plane flying by the RSA Tower and mentally packing for my next Carnival Cruise. (OK, I’ll admit. I didn’t take one the first go around, as being on a boat with no way to escape scares me, but I am going to do it this time as part of my civic duty.)
Mayor, I don’t have to fall back in love with her because I never stopped. But, I imagine there are some folks reading this now who may have felt like I did a couple of decades ago. I encourage you to go forth and shack up with whatever hot city you think will bring you happiness. And if you find it there, great. But I have a feeling you may just find Mobile has already stolen your heart. You just don’t know it yet.