- By Michael!
Between the two of us, Joanie and I have lived in a huge variety of places. Just since we’ve been married, we’ve lived in four states (probably four-and-a-half, thanks Oklahoma!) and moved six times. Before getting married, we both did a lot of traveling, much of it of the multi-week variety, wherein you actually get to know the place you’re crashing instead of just the hotel room or couch you happen to be infesting at the moment.
And one thing that I have noticed is that everybody is convinced that wherever they are is just the worst about something.
These “somethings” vary somewhat, but usually fall into some pretty predictable categories: crime, weather, and traffic.
And, at the risk of sounding a little bit mean, shut up.
It’s not as bad as you think it is. I promise.
This strange form of inverted pride has struck me as funny for years, and I can say with certainty that my experience has led me to believe that, for the most part, nowhere I’ve lived was all that bad.
Let’s start with crime. True, Waco was the murder capital of Texas during my three years in residence, but other than a few irate motorist incidents, we never witnessed or were victims of any crime, even when we left the safety of the Baylor Bubble. Nor did any of our nearest and dearest.
There were honestly people who expressed concern about Joanie and I living in my grandmother’s vacant (and palatial) condo in Homewood, Alabama. The one on the top of Red Mountain, with a full-time (and very, very officious) security guard.
Because there was so much crime among the retirees and med students that made up our community.
But my favorite was Wichita, where people often reacted in horror when we told them that we were living… *gasp* … downtown!
Now, to be clear, the worst part of Wichita that I personally ever saw was about as threatening as a Thomas Kinkade painting: not terribly attractive, and definitely nothing you would really want to have to look at every day, but not so much “bad” as “relatively distasteful.” Compared to Waco, the levels of violent crime in the Aviation Capital Of The World were just slightly above “hahahahahahahaha what?” The cops were so bored that they were known to pull people over and issue citations for (I kid you not) pulling into the incorrect lane when turning.
You had to turn into the lane closest your street of origination, then leave the blinker on for five clicks before changing lanes in order to go into the left-hand lane after making a right-hand turn.
Or you would get a traffic ticket.
This is how little the police had to do with their time.
And downtown? It’s lovely. It’s clean, with attractive urban-renewal-type lofts and boutiques sprouting at every turn, very pedestrian-friendly, and above all, exceedingly well lit.
But we really should be careful, walking around down-town Wichita! Because you just never know!
The weather is another thing we hear about a lot. And, unlike the crime, it often is truly horrible, but it’s usually horrible in similar fashions no matter where we find ourselves. Or at least to comparable degrees. Whether it’s baking, freezing, soaking, sere, humid, dry, or stormy, it’s all been honestly about equal in terms of overall weather unpleasantness. Which is to say that, for about two months out of the year, it’s stunningly beautiful, and the rest of the time is varying degrees of hell.
It’s simply that the two months of awesome are in late spring in Wichita , and in Mobile they’re in late autumn.
Now, the “extreme/dangerous weather” in each area has been noticeably and categorically different. In central Texas in the spring, flash floods are terrifying. The summer months breed tornadoes in batches in Kansas. And hurricanes pound the Gulf with crippling ferocity for several months each year. That’s not even counting severe winter weather, which we’ve almost never had to deal with as a married couple.
But even these are all pretty much equal, in my mind. It may be naïve to say this, given I’ve not lived through any serious hurricaning yet in Mobile, but I’d rather face them than the other forms simply due to their visibility.
This is less a meteorological phenomenon than a marketing one.
If two rainclouds bump noggins in the Gulf any time after the Ides of March in any given year, we here in the coastal region are bombarded with an almost constant stream of Red Alert Super Important Weather All The Time Updates delivered by newscasters who have to be at least a little embarrassed at the fact that they’re using their well-honed “The President Is Dead” somber faces to describe a gentle shower an hour and a half south of the coastline.
We know about every tropical-storm-that-could-be-the-next-Katrina weeks before it’s actually relevant, if it ever is, and thus live in a state of perpetual hyper-alertness about potential hurricanes that just can’t be matched with the speedier forms of Nature’s Wrath we experienced out West.
So, we head to the stores with a sigh and stock up on bottled water, aspirin, and canned beans. Again. Because maybe, just maybe, it might actually happen this time.
But at least we’re warned.
One subset of the “our-weather-is-the-worst” phenomenon is allergies. I don’t think that I have ever lived in a community in the United States that did not claim to be the allergy capital of said States. Or the world. Or, perhaps, in the known universe, depending on the amount of Claritin© ingested that morning by that person.
Now, I’ll admit that I was never conscious of having allergies before moving to Waco, so I fell for it there. For a while. Then I moved to Kansas and they were still there, still having a party every time the weather turned around, so I thought it was just living west of the Mississippi that was doing it, that my body was rebelling against the Heartland itself. And then I moved back East, and am still downing various antihistamines by the nose-load and using my Netti-Pot (also ©) for about a third of the year, so I have to figure at this point that my body has just realized that it hates me and doesn’t want me to breathe anymore, wherever I’m living.
And then there’s traffic.
I’m going to go on record as saying that I have never lived anywhere with truly bad traffic. When I was in high school, I would have sworn that Birmingham’s was epic, and it’s still one of the worst out of places I’ve lived, but nobody who has ever driven in Atlanta, or in Baltimore/DC, or (from all accounts, though I’ve not been there myself) the seething wormpile that is Los Angeles can honestly think that their traffic is truly bad.
This doesn’t mean that the drivers are necessarily good drivers, mind you. I tend to think that changing lanes without a turn signal should be punishable by a night in the stocks, and people who come to a complete stop in order to make an unimpeded right-hand turn make me want to claw my eyes out. Most of all I can’t stand driving around people who act as though they really don’t have anywhere better to be, and drift into and out of their lanes in lackadaisical fashion while those of us who may want to actually, you know, get somewhere languish behind them in consternation.
But “having bad drivers” and “having bad traffic” are two different things, and it still makes me smile a bit to remember people complaining about “all the traffic” when I lived in Waco. And again in Wichita. And yet again in Mobile.
These are just three variations of this idea, this “reverse pride” that I’ve noticed so many people taking in the perceived foibles of their hometowns. Mostly it’s just letting off steam, of course, and I totally get that. It just strikes me as a little bit funny to hear the same things, wherever I go, and know that I can probably expect to hear variations on these themes wherever I am next.
But for now, you’ll have to excuse me as I wrap this up and head back inside. The mosquitos in Mobile are absolutely the worst in the world, and they’re out in force tonight.