Thursday, October 18, 2012

Driving in Alabama

Before moving down here, I assumed that driving was the same no matter where you went in the U.S. Traffic would change, but the act of driving should stay the same. You pay attention, give the driver in front of you plenty of space, used your turn signal, and just generally be aware of what is going on around you. Simple, right?

It is very different down here. For me, driving is a verb, an action. When I go someplace, I am driving. Driving should not be a byproduct of needing to go some place. It should not be something you do while drinking alcohol, eating, putting on make up, brushing your hair, or blogging. In Maine, I occasionally saw a woman putting lipstick on at a red light, and I often saw the same man drive by me while shaving when I was waiting for the bus. Down here, I once saw a man driving forward while rummaging around in his back seat.

The rules are different here. I took driver's education to get my permit, then drove with an adult over 25, usually my one of my parents. I had my permit for nearly 9 months before I received my license. Here, anyone can take the license test without any training, as long as they are at least 16. Most people don't take driver's education, so they have had no formal driver training. It really shows in the driving abilities of most people. Driving down here feels like I'm taking my life in my hands whenever I leave the house. Simple things like red lights, restraining lines, one way signs, and speed limits seem to be foreign concepts to many people here. I've never seen a local stop behind the restraining line. Even green lights seem to be a foreign concept. Often I'm stuck sitting behind some doofus at a green light for 3, 5, or even 10 seconds while he composes an opus on his cell phone. When I honk to prompt him to go, he often looks around like someone just called his name. It is so frustrating. This really also might just be an issue of not paying attention, which is a pandemic down here, too.

This lack of knowledge is absolutely visible on a specific road down here. That road is called 280. It's a U.S. route that's 6 to 8 lanes wide, 3 or 4 in either direction. It has traffic lights every few hundred yards and the speed limit is 55 mph. The road is so horrendous that it is frequently an election platform for the local politicians. I used to have to drive out it for work. It once took me an hour and a half to go 10 miles. There are dozens of accidents on 280 everyday, often with severe injury. This presents additional problems. Since most drivers were never taught how to drive, no one knows to pull to the right for emergency vehicles. It is nearly impossible to get an ambulance or fire truck to the scene of a really bad accident.

Although the lack of knowledge is a big problem, the biggest problem is inattention. No one down here pays attention to anything. Everyone just seems to be careening through life with their eyes fixed on some distant goal, instead of enjoying every day. I wonder if it has anything to do with their faith. To my understanding, a very large number of Alabamians are southern baptist. Everyone here seems to be fixated on heaven and the afterlife, and it seems like they forget to enjoy the beauty of each day. I'm not very good at living in the moment, myself, but I hardly think this is a dry run. Even if there is something after this, I hardly think we are supposed to waste this one fixated on something that may or may not happen. I know it's cliché, but remember to smells the roses, to watch the sun rise, and tell the people who matter to you that you love them. We've got this life now, let's make the most of it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Home can mean many things. Home may be where you sleep at night, where you feel the most comfortable, it may be where you live now, or where you are from. There's the old adage, home is where the heart is. That's definitely true for me. Home is absolutely where my husband is, since he has my heart, so right now home is in Alabama.

Home is also where I'm from, which is nearly 1500 miles away from here. It is sometimes very hard to be so far away from what is familiar, what is safe. However, it is probably the hardest to be away from the people I love. I've been down here for more than 2 years, but that doesn't seem to make it any easier. I can now go longer without that painful twinge of longing for my family and my friends, but often it's the little things that remind of them.

Sometimes the most random things remind me of home. The smell of baked potatoes remind me of my dad. A woman wearing a pair of cool earrings reminds me of my mom (she has a collection of earrings that would Imelda Marcos' shoe collection to shame). Seeing some cool new crunchy product for kids reminds me of my good friend. All of the Halloween decorations that are out remind me of my little sister. She always made Halloween fun. An adorable kitty in the neighbor's window reminds me of my aunt who LOVES cats. Watching the Big Bang Theory reminds me of my brother from another mother.

It's tough being so far away from home. I can't go to my parents house for dinner when we are almost out of food. I can't do my laundry at their house, either, though that's not as much of a problem anymore since I finally have my own washer and dryer (I really loathe the laundromat). We don't really have friends down here, so there aren't many people to hang out with, or to talk with. There is no one to have girl time with, or go for a walk with. I'm getting a lot better at being alone, but I still really don't like it.

This time of year is the hardest. It starts with my sister's birthday in the beginning of October going all the way through to my mom's birthday in March, including all of the holidays. It is very difficult to be away from my family for the holidays. This will be my third set of holidays away from them. It's not easy for my husband either, but he just hides it better.

Alright, enough of me feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes it helps to just let it all out. I feel better now. Homesickness sucks.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Local News

I do not watch the local news. I actually don't watch any news anymore, since I moved to Birmingham. I know, it's terrible. I can't possibly be an engaged citizen if I don't know what is going on in the world. I do still read the news. I read national and global news on many different news sites, and I follow many different local news organizations on Twitter. I have found that 140 characters is the perfect amount of information to tell me what the hell is going on. If I'm really interested, I will click on the link and learn more. I don't do that all that often, but I have a general idea of what's going on.

Last night I saw a Tweet that I absolutely needed to know more about that didn't have a link to a full story. I still can't find a link to a text story, but here is the link to one of the local news stations video story. It's only a couple of minutes long and I feel that it is really important to be aware of this trend.

Birmingham, Alabama is using a citizens' patrol. They trained several citizen volunteers from a community that experiences a lot of crime for several weeks at the local police academy so they can help police officers stop crime. I understand that sounds like a pretty sweet idea, but I am very afraid of where this is headed. I may be a little alarmist, but this sounds very, very familiar to me, and not in a good way.

Now for the history lesson. If I remember correctly from high school and college history, there was a political regime that relied on everyday citizens to report crimes and suspicions to the local authorities. I'm sure it started out innocently enough, trying to protect their neighbors, but it pretty quickly escalated to finger pointing, beatings, and assumptions of guilt by the authorities. That regime was the Nazis in Germany. The citizen policing and the citizen spying sent thousands of people to Concentration camps and their deaths. Now I understand that Alabama isn't Nazi Germany, but this really scares me. Congress has been debating indefinite detention lately, and there is the PATRIOT Act. Nearly anything can be done in the name of National Security, including what the TSA does, which would be termed sexual assault if done by anyone else.

Birmingham is calling this a pilot program, and I'm hoping they very quickly realize that this is a very bad path to venture down. We'll have to see. I don't live in this particular community where this is being tested, and I am very grateful for that. All I can do is keep an eye on this news story and keep all of you posted.


P.S. - I realized after I posted this that it was a very one sided story. This particular community is frequently in the news for violent crimes, including murder. I'm sure the city of Birmingham and the residents of this community really just wanted to make it safer, and that is very admirable. This program, however, in my humble opinion, is absolutely not the way to go. The police down here already use anonymous tip lines, and most neighborhoods have a neighborhood watch. I think the problem really stems from people being afraid to get involved. These volunteers are taking a big risk by being part of this program. Who knows what kind of retaliation they could face when it becomes known that they helped the police arrest and convict someone. This was a big risk for them to take, and that is admirable. I'm just afraid that this power is going to eventually go to someone's head and it's going to become quite the mess. All we can do is wait and see.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I have come to the realization that I hate Halloween. I know, that seems so silly, why hate a holiday full of candy and little children in cute costumes, but I do. Halloween as a grown up is terrible.

When I was little, Halloween wasn't really scary. The haunted houses only had one or two surprises; the corn  mazes were just long enough to make you nervous just before you found your way out; and the adults in costumes identified themselves just before you got too scared. My little sister was the one who made Halloween awesome. She made her own costume every year since she was very little. It was always so much fun to watch it come together. One year, when she was young, she was the three headed dog from Harry Potter. She wore a homemade dog costume she sewed herself and used two of her stuffed animals to be the other two heads. It was fantastic! Halloween makes me really miss her.

As I got older, and I was a little to old to trick or treat, it was fun to watch the little kids come to the door and see what they had dressed up as. My dad and I would hand out candy to the kids from the neighborhood. I never really understood the concept of Halloween parties as a teenager or in college. Costumes were fun, but most of the time people would watch horror movies or go to actually scary adult haunted houses, or at least what I considered scary. So not my cup of tea.

I HATE being scared. I don't like people jumping out at me. I don't like horror movies, and I certainly do not like actually scary haunted houses. Apparently, this is a problem in Alabama. It seems like everyone here likes to be scared. There is this haunted house in Alabama that is supposedly the scariest in the south. I wouldn't know since I'm too scared to even look at the website, but the news stories say people come from all of the surrounding states to get scared witless. I saw the commercial one day and had nightmares that night. In thirty seconds, it became obvious that Halloween in the south was absolutely not for me.

This wouldn't be a problem, except that hubby and I were invited to our first adult Halloween party this year.  I am starved for human contact down here, since I can't seem to make any friends, but I am so afraid to accept the invitation. What I consider to be scary doesn't seem to line up with what everyone else thinks is scary, so when they say it won't be scary, I am not exactly convinced to take them at their word. They are lovely people, but I really loathe to be frightened and I seem to frighten very easily. Let's put it this way. I went to see Zombieland with a dear friend one evening while it was still in theaters. That scared the crap out of me. I am still not entirely sure how I made it home in once piece after the movie. I didn't sleep that night and I twitched for the next week straight. My father thought it was hilarious! The slightest sound would make me jump out of my skin and make my heart literally skip a beat, and people were NOT trying to scare me. Needless to say I don't do scary well.

So far this Halloween season has been quite a challenge for me. They have been advertising horror movies all day for weeks now. I haven't had a good night sleep in almost a month because of those beastly commercials. I thought commercials aired during the day had to be rated for all audiences, but I must be mistaken. I understand different things can be aired in the evening, but to watch a terrifying commercial about an NC-17 horror movie at 3:30 in the afternoon while watching Jeopardy really ruins my day. That's pretty much the only thing I watch that isn't PBS or Netflix. I just don't understand why so many people like to be scared so much.

So the real question is, do I accept the invitation to Halloween party with cool people that isn't supposed to be scary and risk being scared?? Or do I hide in my home for yet another year and save myself the heartache and horror??


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Drive

The drive down to Birmingham was the most harrowing I have ever been a part of. It was nearly 1500 miles of nerve-racking, nail biting terror. My father and I planned the route together; we would go down through New England then go west through New York to Pennsylvania and then follow the spine of the Appalachian mountains. It was a beautiful route. What my father and I didn't plan for was all of the construction we encountered on the way down, especially in Pennsylvania. We went from the familiar, southern Maine, New Hampshire, wide around Boston, to the less familiar, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, to the altogether unknown, Virginia, Tennessee, and, finally, Alabama. My father would drive the moving truck and my husband would drive his car. My job was to navigate, to tell them when to turn, to find lunch, and to find a hotel when we were finally too tired to drive anymore. Sure, it sounds easy, but it turned out to be a lot harder when you have never been to where you are navigating.

We left early on Thursday. Way too early for my taste, but my father insisted, because leaving at the crack of dawn means we'll beat rush hour. My father led the way; the truck we rented had a governor on it and with him leading, we could figure out exactly where it shut off the accelerator. The biggest challenge we had until Connecticut was figuring out how to do the tolls and stay together, since the truck wasn't able to gun it. We figured that out while we were still in Maine, which meant no one was behind us honking. It was a pretty uneventful drive, until we reached Connecticut.

Connecticut was horrifying. Connecticut drivers are considered by many from New England to be the worst drivers in the country. I can now say with absolute certainty that they are NOT the worst drivers in the country, though they may still be the worst drivers in New England. Have any of you seen that M.C. Escher drawing that looks like stairs in 14 different dimensions?? Well, that's what the highway interchanges look like in Connecticut. I had to figure out where to go and what lane to be in when there are cars coming onto the highway from both side, beneath us, and above us and cars exiting in all of those directions, too. There are certain parts of the highway in Connecticut that are so bad they have car insurance vehicles stationed on the highway all the time. Trying to change lanes with just a car was incredibly difficult; it was nearly impossible to do so and make sure there was enough room for a 16 foot moving truck, too. Needless to say, we did not enjoy driving through Connecticut.

Once we got through Connecticut, we headed west over the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York. The view from the Tappan Zee is so beautiful. I always try to take a picture, if I'm not the one driving. We kept driving, stopping for gas and bathroom breaks as we needed. We stopped just past Harrisburg for dinner and for the night. My father thought that if we stopped early and went to bed early, we could get up early. Apparently the going to bed early part was important. I found a nice hotel just off the highway with a gas station right nearby and what looked like a couple of restaurants. We checked in and parked the car and the truck where we could see them from the rooms. Our entire life was in those two vehicles and it would have been a terrible bummer if anything was stolen. We brought in what we needed for the night, relaxed for a few minutes, then walked over to the restaurant in the adjacent parking lot. It turned out to be an amazing Japanese restaurant with fantastic sushi. Talk about serendipity! We had a lovely dinner, then went back to the hotel room to figure out the details of the next day, then off to sleep.

Friday became a day of the unfamiliar. However we started the day with something quite familiar, a traffic jam. They were doing construction on the highway where is went over the mountains in southern Pennsylvania. It felt like we were stuck in traffic forever, but I think it was only an hour or two. We made it just through Roanoke before stopping for lunch. We had a delicious lunch at a quaint little Mexican restaurant. We wanted to press through to Birmingham, but we lost a bit of time in the construction in Pennsylvania, so we decided we were going to stop just after Knoxville.

But of course we reached Knoxville at rush hour on a Friday. That was not the smartest thing we had ever done. Now I thought Connecticut was scary, but it doesn't even hold a candle to Knoxville at rush hour on a Friday. I have never feared for my life as I did on the highway in Knoxville. My dad and my husband are both excellent drivers, but I was absolutely sure we were never going to make it Birmingham. Cars would enter the highway at no less than 110 miles an hour and would immediately move all the way to the left lane across four lanes of traffic without looking or without caring, just careening through space. Cars would cut across in front of the moving van without enough space to put a piece of paper. We were only on the highway in Knoxville for a little while, but it felt like a lifetime. We finally stopped for the night just after Knoxville, and once the adrenaline was out of our systems, we slept like the dead.

While we were afraid for our lives, my mother was flying down to Birmingham to meet us Saturday when we arrived. She was going to purchase cleaning supplies and get the rental car. We finally met her early in the afternoon on Saturday in Birmingham. Our harrowing drive was finally over. Nearly 1500 miles and more than 24 hours of actual drive time later, and we had finally made it to our new city. Now for a much deserved rest, at least until we signed the lease and started moving into our new place. Our new apartment was actually rather pretty. There were bunch of windows in the living room and a window over the kitchen sink. The bedrooms were really large and the BOTH and WALK IN CLOSETS. I have since learned that many homes and apartments in the south have walk in closets. Score 1 for the south. You are lucky to even have an itty bitty closet in every bedroom back home. I LOVE my walk in closet.

Needless to say, we moved in without too much of a hitch, my parents left, and we started our life nearly 1500 miles away from our friends, loved ones, and family and the support network. We only had each other to lean on, and that might have been the scariest part of being so far away from everyone we have ever known. This was going to be the ultimate test of our relationship. If we could navigate this, then we could do anything as a couple. So far so good.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I realize I probably should have introduced myself first before my last post. First and foremost, I am from Maine. Until I moved to Alabama, I had no idea how important that was to me or how much it shaped me as a person. I've spent nearly my entire life within 30 minutes of the ocean. I love the ocean, and everything that comes out of it. I love lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, Striper (oh how I love Striper), haddock, you name it. I love the smell of the ocean; I even like the smell of rotting seaweed. These last two years in Alabama have been hard since the closest ocean is more than 4 hours away.

I picked the name of the blog for a very specific reason. Growing up, the term "Yankee" meant someone who played for the Yankees, the sworn enemies of the Red Sox (GO RED SOX!!). I knew it had other meanings, but that is the only one that mattered to me. Down here, "Yankee" means someone from the North. Many people down here still aren't very fond of people from the North. After I moved down here and got a job at a small electronics store, people would ask where I was from. When I told them I was from Maine, many would tell me the following joke:
Customer: "Do you know the difference between a Yankee and a damn Yankee??"
Me: "No. What is the difference?"
Customer: "The damn Yankee stays!!"
After this exchange, the customer would have a good a laugh, and needless to say, I did not feel very welcome at all.

Now on to the reasons.

I'm writing this blog for 2 reasons. The first reason is that I am a scientist. I want to record my experiences in Alabama. It is so incredibly different down here. I know I'm still in the same country, but sometimes it really doesn't feel like it. The language is different. The attitudes, the beliefs, the driving, the way everyday life is approached is so dissimilar from what I'm used to, what I grew up with, that sometimes I feel like I'm half way around the world, and not just half way across the same country. There will be a lot about this in coming posts.

The second reason I wanted to write this blog is because the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement is next year. Birmingham, and all of Alabama, really, are preparing an enormous celebration for it. People who talk about the celebration on television and the local news talk about how far Alabama has come since 1963. They talk about how there is so much less hatred and division and racial tension. If this is less hatred, then I would not have wanted to Birmingham in 1963! I will be talking about what I see and hear about race and hatred in this blog. I grew up in Maine, very insulated from the race issues that I see plaguing Alabama. Moving to Alabama has really opened up my eyes to the enormous issues this country still faces in terms of race and hatred.

Since I'm about 2 years late starting this blog, I'll be writing both about present and past events. I'll be sharing stories about things that have happened over the past 2 years. Mixed in with those stories will be events as they happen, things that have happened today or over the last week. I have so many stories and I really want to get them all out of my head. They've been taking up a lot of space lately, so I guess it's time to start sharing them. Here goes...


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Planning the Move

About 2 and a half years ago, my husband (who at the time was my fiance) and I decided we were going to move to Alabama from New England. He wanted to finish his bachelor's degree and the closest school that handled his program was in Birmingham. So after I graduated in May of 2010, we visited Birmingham for Orientation at the school. It was hot, really hot, like flip flops, shorts, and tank tops and air conditioning hot. It usually isn't that hot in Maine until the last two weeks in August. Nobody in Maine even puts their air conditioning in the window until July at the earliest, but in Alabama the buildings are built with air conditioning. That should have been a warning, but of course I didn't listen. Listening to subtle messages/hints has never been a strong suit of mine.

We arrived late in the evening. The ride in the taxi from the airport to the hotel was frightening, like terrifying. Little did I know that was going to be a theme of all the driving we would do down here. The taxi driver was very nice. The hotel employees were very nice. Everyone was very nice. People smiled at you in the street when you walked past them. It was so different from New England. When you walk past someone in Portland, or Boston, or Burlington, people didn't look at you or acknowledge you unless you were about to run into them; everyone really minds their own business and has their own personal space. It's what I grew up with, what I was used to, and what I liked. It was so strange to experience southern hospitality.

Over the weekend, we went to the school's orientation. It was a pretty standard orientation. I learned pretty quickly that the school was not set up for non-traditional students. The orientation parts I attended were designed for parents whose children were going to school. The people from the school told the parents that even though the parents may be paying for school, the students were the only people the school could talk to about grades, tuition, classes, et cetera. The parents were all upset that the school wouldn't disclose that information to them. I remember wondering how these kids were ever going to grow up if their parents wanted to micromanage every aspect of their lives forever. After the orientation, we needed to find someplace to eat. There was a Greek restaurant about two blocks away from the hotel, the perfect walking distance. The food was AMAZING! It was a cross between the traditional Greek food and cooking styles I had grown up with, and southern food and southern cooking style, which was completely new to me. I had hush puppies for the first time. They were absolutely delicious! I also discovered crawfish, mudbugs as the locals call them. They tasted like a lobster and a shrimp made babies. Oh so sweet and tasty!! They were grilled with olive oil, Greek spices, and hot sauce; a combination I could not have ever imagined, but oh so delicious.

Now hold the phone. I made an enormous discovery while we were visiting for orientation. I discovered sweet tea. Not that crap that you can get at McDonalds in Maine for a dollar, but real, delicious, Southern Sweet Tea. It's very strongly brewed tea with enough sugar to induce diabetes in one sip. It's why the south is heavier and has more people with diabetes, but it is a nearly spiritual experience when it is made correctly. I love sweet tea. I still don't know how to make it, which is probably for the better, since I'm sure I would weigh a great deal more than I already do.

After our visit to Birmingham, we went home. We talked about moving some more and decided once and for all that we would give it a try. We went about telling our friends what we are going to do and everyone asked, "Why Birmingham? Why the South??" We are stilling trying to answer them.

So at the end of July, we packed up all our things from our respective parents' houses. My aunt gave us an amazing living room set. Everything fit into a 16 foot moving truck and my husband's car (My father was going to drive my car down in a few weeks). It was rather disheartening to see 5 years of our life together crammed into a single truck. Everything from our first date, to the dorms, to our first apartment, and our engagement thus far fit in to a 16 by 8 by 8 foot truck with room to spare. My father was going to drive the moving truck for us, and my husband and I would ride down in his car. I bought walkie talkies so we could communicate about gas and bathroom breaks. On Wednesday we said our final goodbyes to our loved ones in Maine. Thursday morning, way way way to early in the morning for my taste, we started driving towards our future.