She came. She saw “women in frilly dresses” and historic houses. She ate seafood and learned about our obsession with MoonPies and Mardi Gras.
When Julie Zeveloff, an editor for an online business magazine out of NYC, penned an article back in March, saying a recent Gallup poll had designated us third on a list of the “11 Most Miserable Cities in America,” she probably knew her story would garner a good many clicks and a few angry emails from the “miserable” citizens on said list, as stories with headlines like that are designed to do — just ask our friends over at al.com about that methodology.
But she probably had no idea just how big the ant bed she was kicking in South Alabama was. In any other year, this probably would have been nothing more than a topic at Port City dinner tables and happy hour bars. “Did you see that study saying we were the third most miserable city in America?” we’d ask with an eyeroll, while shaking our heads. “Come to think of it, I am pretty miserable. Pour me another glass of Chardonnay and let me see if that will help,” we’d joke. “Bless those poor pollsters’ little hearts.”
And that would have been it. But this is an election year, and Mobile mayoral candidate Sandy Stimpson garnered a good amount of publicity by inviting Zeveloff down and footing the bill for her to see all the not-so-miserable things about our city. She penned a piece chronicling her journey once she got back to her home far above the Mason-Dixon line. Check it out at businessinsider.com. It was quite complimentary, but nothing we all didn’t already know, of course.
The Gallup study she cited in her original story, which was based on phone interviews with a random sample of adults, ranked “well-being by averaging scores in six categories: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities,” according to the Business Insider report.
I giggle every time I imagine any of our MawMaw’s houses being called “randomly” by these pollsters and the answers they must have gotten when they asked, “How is your health?”
“Well, honey, my bursitis is acting up again and my doctor says I may have to get this ol’ knee of mine replaced soon, and I’m probably going to have to have this bunion that’s been giving me fits removed, and you know I had the shingles last month, but I guess other than that, I’m doing OK.”
Those pollsters probably made MawMaw’s day!
I am sure the “science” behind Gallup’s survey was more complicated than the example I like to picture above, but so is trying to quantify any individual’s happiness or “misery,” much less a community’s — no matter where it falls on the map.
I lived in a city that often tops the lists of the Happiest/Coolest/Hippest cities in America, and I was never more miserable in my life. It had all the attributes that make cities top these lists — biking and jogging trails, great public transportation, cool festivals, independent stores of every kind and lots of health conscious, triathlon-ing vegetarians with tattoos. But there was such an influx of people from everywhere, it really felt kind of isolating and lonely to me — even though you were surrounded by a sea of poll-verified “cool” strangers.
And let me just tell you, the “cool” real estate was so “cool,” it would have been difficult for any normal person to purchase more than a 600-square-foot condo until they were 40, unless said person wanted to move an hour outside the city — not sure the bike trails extended out that far. And doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose?
And I know my experience could have been very different there — so much of your “index” of happiness (or misery) depends so much on timing and chance and your personal life and has nothing to do with the infrastructure surrounding you but rather the people. And I guess my timing just wasn’t right, and I got tired of waiting around for what might happen because I soon figured out just how happy I had been in Mobile — though I had to move away to come to that realization. In fact, at the time, I thought a change in address and area code was the answer to finding happiness, but I was wrong.
Mobile had already gotten into my bones and my blood and become part of my DNA.
I missed those old oak trees and houses on Government Street. I needed to be able to get to the beach in an hour and to the bay in an instant. I missed going to football parties with my friends, where people were discussing coaching changes and injuries and screaming “Roll Tide” (and even “War Eagle.” You forgot that one, Julie.) And yes, I missed my raw oysters, redfish and West Indies salad. I even missed those summer afternoon rain showers.
I didn’t miss Mardi Gras, because I came home for that, of course.
I missed all of the things Ms. Zeveloff discovered when she came for her red carpet visit to Mobile last week, but most of all I missed something she couldn’t have possibly have experienced on her “whirlwind” trip here, the sense of community Mobile has, the common language and experiences we share.
We all know exactly what “good beads” are and love to call up all of our friends before the parades roll and say, “Where are y’all watching the parade tonight?”
It’s knowing we can walk into our neighborhood or favorite grocery store/salon/restaurant/coffee shop/watering hole/retail store and see five people we know and chat about whatever crazy thing is happening at the time (or whatever crazy poll is ranking us as the worst of something).
It’s knowing our social season gets kicked off with the first college football game of the year and is highlighted by BayFest, then GreekFest, Thanksgiving, Christmas, MoonPie Drop, GoDaddyBowl, Senior Bowl, Mardi Gras, Chili Cook-off, St. Patrick’s Day and then 50 events crammed into April and May until we “hibernate” on the beach or in our air-conditioned “caves” June through August.
Obviously, there are parts of town with poverty and crime that need to be addressed where people are pretty miserable, but that is true with any city. We just have to make sure the leaders we choose make improving those areas a priority, instead of letting them languish.
And sure, we still need all those things that make cities “cool” and “happy” on those silly lists — like the bike trails and better maintained parks with new equipment. Our infrastructure certainly needs some attention, as do our waterways. And on and on and on. Absolutely, there are many things that need to be improved around here. Again, that comes with good leadership.
But I’m excited. We all know there are a lot of great things happening right now, and we just have to make sure we don’t let these opportunities slip away. I am confident we will not, and our city is finally on the verge of getting all those things we’ve talked about for so long. But still, somehow I feel like we will be able to retain our charming small town sense of pride and community — because that’s the heart of our soul.
And for those reasons, Mobile has always been and will continue to be #1 on my Most Amazing Places to Live, Love, Work, Play, Raise a Family, You Name It.
So sorry, but I really just don’t care what Gallup or Julie has to say about it.
Editor’s Note: This column was originally written and published in June 2013 in response to Mobile being named one of the “Most Miserable Cities in America.” As Ashley Trice recovers from one of the most “Miserable Colds She Has Ever Had in America,” she offers you this re-run.