As of today, I’ve been a Tuscaloosa resident for one whole week. I’ve spent most of it underneath a mountain of moving boxes, but already in seven days I’ve noticed seven quirky things about my new hometown.
1. Humans are vastly outnumbered … by bugs
My backyard sounds just like this. It’s SO LOUD!
I’m not a squeamish person, but daily battles with sizable enemies that fly and sting can wear a girl down. Wisconsin has this thing called winter, which keeps the creepy-crawly hordes fairly in check. And Austria is a land of mountains; there are so few critters that no one even bothers to install screens on their windows or doors. No. One. But already here in Tuscaloosa, I’ve had to defend my territory (i.e. my living room) from a pack of mud daubers, a really stupid moth, a persistent grasshopper, and some sort of buzzy red beetle.
And yes, I know the real horrors are probably hiding in the dark corners of my kitchen, but I’m not ready. I’M NOT READY.
2. The. Stadium.
In Europe, most cities boast a medieval cathedral or a castle or two. Other U.S. cities have skyscrapers. Tuscaloosa has … a big football stadium. Really big. Bigger than Wisconsin’s Lambeau Field or Camp Randall Stadium. Bigger than most European soccer stadiums.
Anyway, it’s big, and it’s already become my primary landmark for navigating the UA campus and downtown Tuscaloosa more generally. You can’t escape its shadow, which I’m taking as an early sign of how truly dominant football culture is here. Heck, who needs the moon to block out the sun when you’ve got a stadium this big?
3. Y’all breathe soup, not air
I have nothing more to say about this.
4. Left-turners have lost their damn minds
Can’t. Stop. Watching.
This is a thing. Right-turn-on-red is a well-established driving practice all across America. But left-turn-WHENEVER is a uniquely Alabama one. I’ve already learned to hesitate before hitting the gas when a stoplight turns green, because there’s a good chance that a left turner from the other direction is going to swing across my lane just for the thrill of it. How did anyone survive to adulthood here??
5. I feel old
Average age in Tuscaloosa. Photo from Etsy.
I love college towns, and I love college students, I truly do. But I’ve never lived in a town as small as Tuscaloosa (population 99,500) that’s also home to a student body as large as UA’s (37,600). It’s not a bad thing, but it is a little disconcerting. For example, we wandered into Taco Mama for dinner last night, and we were at least ten years older than all of the other patrons. More generally, I’m getting called “ma’am” a lot … I’M THIRTY.
6. Nightlife? More like night night …
Despite the young population, things close pretty early in Tuscaloosa. Most restaurants wrap up by 9:00 p.m., if not a little earlier. Sure, the host won’t turn you away if you stroll up at 8:45, but we tried that trick our first night in town and got the hint when the staff started piling chairs on empty tables and mopping the floor at 9:15. And if you’re not up for an after-hours college bar along “The Strip” (see item #5), there really isn’t much on offer for the post-graduate set after the sun goes down.
Guess I’m just going to have to practice my porch sittin’ … and learn to overcome item #1 in order to do so.
7. Friendly folk
Every waiter in Tuscaloosa.
All week, this more than anything else has really stood out to us. Europeans like to accuse Americans of “faking it,” but sometimes it’s nice to just have someone … be nice. Tuscaloosans greet and interact with strangers, and they’ll go well beyond idle chit-chat if you let them. I’ve already gotten the life stories of two Internet installation techs, along with the general biographies of most of our apartment maintenance men.
But I’m most enjoying the friendly culture in restaurants. Waiters smile, check back constantly, and fess up when they goof. (A small example: we ordered two different wine at Depalma’s, and the waitress gave us a sheepish smile as she approached with one in each hand and admitted she couldn’t remember which was which. We all laughed.) This is a pretty radical upgrade from Vienna, where grumpy waiters actively avoid patrons at every stage of the meal and often criticize foreigners who don’t understand the “rules.”
Now, if we could just convince these perfect Tuscaloosa waiters to work a little later in the evening …