When Sandy Stimpson first announced his intention to run for mayor nearly a decade ago, he vowed to make Mobile “the safest, most business- and family-friendly city in America by 2020.”
Those were — and still are — lofty goals, and ones all cities should aspire to.
In 2022, I think we can safely say things have definitely improved under his tenure, but we certainly couldn’t claim we accomplished what he had hoped.
But when I was thinking about this, it made me start wondering what if the mayor’s campaign promise had come true? Like, beyond all of our wildest dreams?
I know you are thinking, “Well, it would be fantastic, Ashley.” And of course, it would be wonderful if we could claim to be the safest city in America and we hadn’t lost a single life to gun violence this year. I am not talking about that, of course, but what if everything else about our city was seemingly “perfect?
Would we still love Mobile if it didn’t have some grit?
I am beginning to believe it may not be as magnificent as we might think it would be.
This thought first crossed my mind back in early December. My husband and I were out in the front yard of our Midtown home putting up Christmas decorations when one of our former neighbors pulled up.
We were surprised to see him because he had moved to a land far, far away. Well, not really, just Fairhope. But when any of our friends make the big announcement that they are moving across the bay, we say things like, “Nice knowing you. You might as well be moving to Atlanta because we will never see you again.” And that usually is the case.
We asked our former neighbor what he was doing back in our hood, and he said he was looking for houses because he wanted to move back to Mobile.
“From Fairhope?!?!” we joked, feigning shock. “What? Are there too many flowers downtown? Did the trees not get lit properly?”
He replied, “I grew up over there, and it is very nice. It’s just a little too nice, if you know what I mean. A little sleepy. I miss Mobile.”
I didn’t really think much more about his statement at the time. But I was reminded of just how “nice” it was again last weekend. My daughter and I picked up a piece of furniture in Fairhope for her room and we had plans to do a little DIY project, so we decided to swing by the Lowe’s in Daphne to pick up some supplies.
When I have a home improvement need, I tend to head to the Mobile Lowe’s on the Beltline, passing all of the litter, sketchy motels and panhandlers along the way.
But this Daphne Lowe’s was fancy. Too fancy, for my taste. I had just thrown my greasy hair up in a ponytail and had on no makeup. For a Saturday morning, everyone in the Eastern Shore Lowe’s looked very put together. So much so, I felt a little embarrassed about my appearance. And strangely, there were cute dogs everywhere. I saw at least two Goldendoodles and one man was walking around with some tiny poodle mix on his shoulder as if it were a parrot or something. In Mobile, there would be like a pack of wild dogs with mange running around with at least one female who was very obviously nursing puppies somewhere close by.
As we were standing in line to get paint, a cute couple was arguing over which shade of gray-green to go with. The wife was frustrated because the husband thought they all looked the same. It was beyond precious. (They ended up going with Sea Salt!)
In contrast, I had to go back the following day to get something at my good ol’ Beltine Lowe’s and there was a man walking around wearing a wife-beater with gray jogging pants stuffed down into cowboy boots. He was carrying two pieces of very skinny PVC pipe in his hands that had to be 10 feet long and a huge roll of duct tape. I have no idea what he was going to do with any of that, but I am sure it was not going anywhere near a room painted in Sea Salt.
But I felt way more at home.
And the Eastern Shore is really not even all that fancy. I mean, it’s definitely fancy like Applebee’s on a date night, but it pales in comparison to the place my family spent a few days between Christmas and New Year’s.
Once Santa had come and gone, we headed to Grayton Beach, Fla., for a few days of R&R. It is lovely and we love it. Maybe because it purports itself to be the least snooty of the beach towns on 30A. Don’t get me wrong, there are still multimillion-dollar houses there, but at least there are some cute old-school shacks thrown in the mix for good measure. But to get to Grayton, we went through the planned community of Watercolor.
Watercolor is a community full of $4 million to $5 million houses — most of which are not even on the water but they are painted in shades of watercolors (maybe even Sea Salt) — but I would venture to guess it is as close to the “safest and most family-friendly” community you can get in America… and maybe the entire world.
And it is kind of terrifying.
When we were driving through there, there must have been hundreds of people jogging or biking or on their way to the tennis courts. I could almost taste the kale smoothies that certainly awaited them once they were done. Between all of the pedestrians and golf carts, it was hard to even navigate through there.
But all of the people looked exactly the same. Women with overpriced workout clothes and vests on, caps and sunglasses and even their perfect ponytails seemed to all be affixed at the exact same position on their heads. There were so many of them, it seriously almost looked like it was a mandatory uniform. It felt very modern-day Stepford, and it made me itchy. I wanted out of there.
“I wonder what kinds of problems these people have,” I said to Frank.
“Oh, I am sure they have invented some,” Frank assured.
I giggled as I thought about what some of those may be.
My neighbor’s barking Bernedoodles are causing anxiety in my Bichon Frise. Muffy is very sensitive, you know.
COVID has delayed my facelift again and now I am not going to be able to get it before we go to St. Barts. It’s just ridiculous!
Stuff like that. Stupid problems, as we like to call them.
Pleasantville is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
I’ll take Mobile all day long. Maybe perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
We all want to see our city improve in every way possible and prosper. But a little crazy here and there is what gives a city its soul. And Mobile has plenty of crazy. And to me, that’s what has always made it the greatest city in America to call home. Hands down.
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