RIP “Walking Jon Da’Voe”

I first met Jon Da’Voe in a study room within the Alabama State University library. We were among the first to arrive at a meeting for activists and advocates seeking to make improvements to the City of Montgomery’s public transportation system.

Working on public transportation policy issues was one of my favorite parts of being a policy analyst for an anti-poverty grassroots advocacy nonprofit. Talking about Montgomery buses not only leveraged the legacy of Rosa Parks, but it also intersected with all of the other issues in the lives of public transit riders — people who often need the bus to get to health care, legal assistance, the grocery store, and just generally not be isolated from fellow human beings in a car-centric world.

At this meeting at ASU, I sat down across from Jon Da’Voe (whose real name I’d learn later actually was Devore Jones) and I introduced myself. We exchanged business cards, and he immediately launched into giving me unsolicited advice about how to get media attention for rallies and public events.

“What you’ve got to do, see, is put a big long subject line in there, and then you tell them about the event you’re wanting to publicize and then each time you have new information about the event, you send them another email, noting the time of day so that they know which version is the most current one.”

I remember furrowing my brow, but wanting to be polite. As a former journalist, I knew that this was terrible, terrible advice.

“Oh, and you should also copy as many people as you can. And important people too! That way the media can see that you sent a copy of that email to the Governor and stuff…”

I thought this was quirky and somewhat charming, and not entirely atypical of the kinds of experiences I’d had working with public transit riders. They were generally an idiosyncratic lot, difficult to organize — in part because they were always late to things due to inadequacies in the public transit system. They were often unemployed or underemployed and had a variety of health problems and disabilities, but as I began to see Jon Da’Voe at a number of similar meetings and rallies, he really stood out as someone who was organized and extremely passionate about being heard. He really wanted to make his community a better place.

Then I started getting his emails.

I didn’t know that when I gave him my business card, that I’d be added to Jon’s list of “important people” that he would email at all hours of the day. The emails would frequently show up in batches, sometimes as many as 10 or 15 of them, each in the group nearly identical except for a few minor changes, each noted with a timestamp, just as he’d advised.

On Sept. 9, 2014, I got an email from Jon titled “Fw: Internationally Admired and respected Recording Artists The Honorable Jon Da’Voe will minister in song and serve as a guest Soloist with the Mighty Men of Valor Men’s Choir at the Historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Missionary Baptist Church (The His.”

Yeah, it just ended like that. His subject lines would frequently terminate due to space constraints.

At the top of this email it said:

Corrected Copy/Most Current Copy # 10  This copy supersedes all other copies dated prior to it to include the copy dated Sunday 10 August 2014 @ 10:39 PM & Monday 11 August 2014 @ 4:25 AM, 6:17 AM, 3:45 PM & 4:11 PM, Thursday 14 August 2014 @ 8:28 PM, Monday 18 August 2014 @ 7:16 AM, 9:25 PM& 10:23 PM

To be clear, he was sending out the same email, sometimes dozens of times. It was clear he was sitting in front of these emails, sometimes for hours, noticing “errors” or opportunities for “improvement,” and then sending the slightly-amended thing to the same list. I considered unsubscribing, but I had never received a “press release” like this before, and I was fascinated. It began:

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT/PUBLIC NOTICE/PRESS RELEASE

TO:  To whom it may concern

FROM:  Jon Da’Voe formerly Devore Jones is a former candidate for the City Council of the City of Montgomery, AL, a former candidate for the City Council of Prattville, AL, a former candidate for Mayor of Prattville, AL and the 1st Black/American African from the West African nation of Benin and Native American of the Cherokee and Seminole Tribes to run for Mayor of the City of Prattville, AL in over 40 years.  Additionally, Jon Da’Voe is a Recording Artists & Minister (Retired/Emeritus), an Optimist and the Executive Director, Event Coordinator & Founder of The American Foundation for Voters Education and Registration, INC., Mr. Jon Da’Voe, Senior President, Jon Davoe Ministries INC. formerly Devore M. Jones Ministries, INC., Mr. Jon Da’Voe Senior Pastor (Retired/Emeritus), & Founder and Executive Director Emeritus, The Single Adults Support & Recreation Center Multi-Purpose and Multi-Cultural Fine Arts Center, In Historic Downtown Prattville, AL, The First Little House Advertising Agency & The First Little House Agency, President, CEO, Executive Director, Chairman &  General Manager, The Grand & The Great Mufti (Mufti means an interpreter of Islamic Spiritual Laws in the Arabic Language) & Emam/Imam (Emam/Imam means Spiritual Leader in the Arabic Language), His Eminence The Grand & The Great Ayatollah (the word Ayatollah is a high-ranking title given to Islamic clerics. Those who carry the title are experts in Islamic studies such as jurisprudence, ethics, morals, and philosophy and usually teach in Islamic seminaries) of American Africa/ American Africans/African Americans & Native Americans and American Natives of the Cherokee & Seminole Tribes of the United States of America (Retired/Emeritus), The Elder Bishop, The Chief Rabbi (Rabbi means Spiritual Teacher in the Hebrew Langauge) of American Africa/ American Africans/African Americans & Native Americans and American Natives of the Cherokee & Seminole Tribes of the United States of America (Retired/Emeritus), Chaplain, Patriarch, The Grand & the Great Worshipful Master (F&AM) (Retired/Emeritus with over 24 years of honorable service.) Dr. “Praise & Worship” Great Great Uncle “Walking” Jon Da’Voe”, His Imperial Highness, His Royal Highness, His Serene Highness, His Serene Excellency, His Serene Holiness, (I bear all other titles of equal stature past, present and future as well.  As did those in my family who came and were born before me.) The Institution & the organization of The Ancient of Days, The Executive Director of the Single Adults Support & Recreation Center Multi-Purpose and Multi-Cultural Fine Arts Center in Prattville, AL,& a Veteran of the United States Military & the 2011 – 2014 Event Coordinator for the Autauga County and Prattville Wide Annual Observance of World AIDS and HIV, Responsible Sex, Health, Wellness and Fitness Awareness Day Program, located @ 914 South Union St., Montgomery, AL  36104  Inc. L.L.C. 

This particular press release was about how Jon was going to “minister in song and serve as a guest Soloist with the Mighty Men of Valor Men’s Choir at the Historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Missionary Baptist Church.”

Not including the lengthy “legal disclaimer” at the bottom of the email (“The contents of this email are the property of The Honorable Jon Da’Voe Enterprises Inc. LLC. and Corporation. If it was not addressed to you, you have no legal right to read it.”), the email announcing the Jon Da’Voe was going to sing a song was over 6,000 words long.

Of course I forwarded it to my wife, and we joked about all of the various titles (which he bears in past, present and future), and I deleted these emails and just kept living. Because Jon was sending this individually to people he met (or had somehow acquired the business cards of), there was no “unsubscribe” button. If I wanted out of this torrent of emails, I’d have to write to him directly. And I thought it might hurt his feelings. He was an incredibly nice and extremely earnest man.

Subsequent emails seemed to indicate that Jon might be gay. He was very concerned about gay rights, and one said that “Jon Da’Voe is a Globally, Worldwide and Internationally admired and respected Inspirational Song and Poem Writer, Recording Artists, & Motivational, Inspirational & Words of Encouragement Public Speaker, Advisor, Counselor and Consultant as well as an Internationally admired and respected Human, Civil, Same-Sex, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgendered (LGBT), United States Constitutional, God-Given Rights, Social & Peace Activist & Leader, Businessman and an Internationally admired and respected Inspirational Recording Artist and Song & Poem Writer.

Jon liked capitalizing the first letter of a thing. He knew at his core that words have power. He also said that he served 10-plus years in the military, although I don’t know much else about his service. He was living the Patterson Court projects (near Alabama State) for a while, but then moved to Prattville at some point.

A number of his emails for a while were about how he was being prevented from buying and installing a freezer for his public housing unit. He went into great detail about how the unfair housing authority rules about standalone freezers made it difficult for him to procure and store sufficient quantities of food. He made some good points. People who don’t have a car can’t just scoot to the store whenever they need to stock up.

The months went by.

Subject: Fwd: I Walking Jon Da’Voe feel that it is just downright disrespectful of the people that live and work in City Council District 4 and at Maxwell Air Force Base which is the largest employer in the River Region and which is Represented by City Councilman David Burkette for the City of Montgomery, AL to be getting two new Wal-Mart’s one near the Bonnie Crest Country Club on Federal Drive and the other one near the Halcyon neighborhood next to Festival Plaza Shopping Center on the corner of Vaughn and Taylor Rd. and neither one of them is in Councilman David Burkette’s City Council District 4. Corrected Copy # 2

The emails were directed to me, an email address at the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the events planner at a local university, the Governor of Alabama, a number of employees at the Hilton chain of hotels, and who knows who else. Some emails went to five people, some may have gone to 50 or 100 email addresses.

I’m still not sure why Jon thought the Rainbow Push Coalition needed to know about the construction of a new Wal-Mart in Montgomery, but I enjoyed imagining other people reading Jon’s emails with the same amusement that I did. Or maybe they just blocked and deleted them.

In addition to the local TV station, folks from FEMA and the U.S. Air Force and I got an email from Jon on Oct. 28, 2015:

Subject: Fwd: Cosmic rays to unravel Egypt’s secrets: Advanced imaging may discover Queen Nefertiti’s tomb and finally reveal how the pyramids of Giza were built. Some people believe that the Pyramids of Giza were built by using a process of Levitation and Telepathy to raise or lift and lay the stones into place Corrected Copy/Most Current Copy # 3

The email was built around an article from The Daily Mail about scans of the pyramids, but Jon had supplemented this info with his own research about the Suez Canal and various facts about Egyptian politics.

I continued to see Jon around town, and he’d always come over to me and speak. He was glad to have the audience, especially if I had on a suit and tie, and even more so once I mentioned that I’m an attorney. His emails got longer and more complicated. In January of 2016, his list of honorifics and titles had grown to 900 words long:

FROM:  Internationally and locally admired and respected Inspirational Recording Artists, Song and Poem Writer and Motivational and Inspirational Public Speaker, American African, African, Native American, Civil Rights and Human Rights Lay Historian, The Spiritual Grandson of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Spiritual Son of Dr. Thomas E. Jordan, His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Professor Rev. Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones, The Ancient of Days, Son of Amun, Amon Amen and Mut of Ancient, Modern and Current American Africa, African America & Africa, King and President and Chief of Upper, Middle and Lower American Africa, African America and Africa, Former Montgomery, AL Mayoral Candidate, 2015, Former Prattville, AL Mayoral Candidate, 2012, & the 1st American African to run for Mayor of Prattville, AL in over 40 years, Former Prattville, AL City Council Candidate, 2008, Former Montgomery, AL City Council Candidate, 1999, An Advisor, Family Member and Friend to many people on all levels and from all walks of life in Religion, Politics and Business, His Majesty His Excellency Jon Da’Voe, Tribal Chair/CEO, of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America, The Grand and the Great Civil, Human, Same Sex, Constitutional& God-Given Rights Activist, Historian, Emam/Imam Mufti Caliph Elder Bishop & Patriarch of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America and all of the United States of America Chief Rabbi of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America and all of the United States of America Chaplain Worshipful Master Emperor Caesar/Czar/Kaiser Khan/Kagan Pharaoh Sheikh High Priest and King Sultan Emir and President of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America and all of the United States of America, His Imperial and Royal Highness (HIH) (HRH) His Majesty (HM) His Holiness (HH) His Excellency (HE) The Honorable Dr. Devore “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones (I bear all other Honorable Titles of equal stature past, present and future as did those who came before me) (Retired Emeritus with over 25 years of Honorable Service), His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones , of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America.  His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones , of American Africans and of the Cherokee and Seminole Native American Tribes of the United States of America is the Spiritual Grandson of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Spiritual Son in the Ministry of Dr. Thomas E. Jordan, the Senior Pastor of the Lilly Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL and the biological Grandson and Great Grandson of Ministers.  Dr. Thomas E. Jordan, the Senior Pastor of the Lilly Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, is the Spiritual son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the only Senior Pastor in the Universe that can say that he was baptized and ordained by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the Senior Pastor of Dexter Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. (Rev. Dr. Cromwell Handy is the current Pastor in succession from Pastor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Dr. Vernon Johns of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.  Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL is the only church in the Universe where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served as Senior Pastor and is one of only three Predominantly American African Churches in the United States of America where activist planned demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement to be nominated for The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site designation.) and His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones is also a Lay and Oral History Historian meaning that a lot of the information that His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones has received has been passed along to him from one generation to the next orally or by word of mouth by those who actually experienced the events and were actually there at the time of the events.   His Majesty His Excellency Tribal Chair/CEO Devore The Honorable Dr. “Walking Jon Da’Voe” Jones is an Internationally/Worldwide, Nationally and locally admired and respected Recording Artist, Song Writer, Motivational, Inspirational and Public, Speaker, Advisor, Counselor and Consultant in his own right Retired/Emeritus with over 25 years of Honorable Service, Jon Da’Voe is the Founder, 1st President, 1st Chief Executive Officer (CEO), 1st Executive Director & Executive Director Emeritus of the First Little House Single Adults Support and Recreation Center Multi-Purpose and Multi-Cultural Fine Arts Center in Prattville, AL  from 2006-2014, Internationally admired and respected Inspirational and Motivational  Recording Artists and Public Speaker & a Veteran of the United States Military with over 10 ½ years of Honorable Service, my most important Title of all of my official Titles is that of Great Great Uncle and Chief, Age 47.

Then we learned that Jon was running for Mayor. And that his legal name was Devore Jones.

He did not succeed — but he also was not a complete embarrassment in the debates. I remember him being late to one because of the inadequacies of the city bus system in meeting the needs of people like Jon De’Voe.

In 2018, he launched a write-in campaign for state House of Representatives. A news story from that time explained that he wanted people to write in his full name as Devore “Walking John Da’Voe Malone” Jones.”

I never got to hear Jon De’Voe sing. He was murdered on a Sunday morning in March of 2021. According to the news article about his stabbing, he was currently running for City Council, and the article says he was currently popularly known as “Walking” Jon Da’Voe-Shelby.

I have no idea what would cause someone to want to kill Walking Jon Da’Voe, but every time I interacted with him, he was exceedingly kind and gentle. He was earnest about wanting to make the world a better place, even if it seemed like he would probably benefit from some mental health care. I wonder what his family thinks.

I really hope that his sexual identity didn’t play into his killing, but anything seems possible for someone whose life seemed to be so tenuously balanced. It’s a violent world.

There should be a place in our public life for people like Jon Da’Voe. Many cities have those off-kilter “perennial candidates,” who are always running for something or other. They run the gamut. People like Leslie Cochran and Vermin Supreme and any number of other activist/artist/crank types add real value to the civic stew. Even if they have no shot to win, they show how the system works (or doesn’t work), and sometimes their ideas have merit, even if they are often delivered in a somewhat “bizarre” or “off-putting” manner. It’s good to have people who want to shine a spotlight into the corners that a lot of people prefer to ignore.

Jon knew that identities are fluid. Like David Bowie. And he knew that people who have impressive titles are often in charge of deciding whether his housing project unit was approved for a standalone freezer. So he lavished titles upon himself, and adhered to a rigorous set of protocols around emails. A friend once told me that Jon was a frequent visitor around the halls of power in the Alabama political world, often trying to hand out cookies that he had procured somewhere. He may not have had much to give, but even “Walking” Jon Da’Voe knew that gifts and goodwill are vital to bending the political machine.

It sucks that someone stabbed Jon Da’Voe to death. RIP Devore Jones.

COVID Field Trip #2: McIntosh Reserve

This time of year in the South, we’re reminded why we live here. Our friends in Chicagoland and parts north tell us of dressing in many layers and braving snow, but this past Sunday we dressed in short sleeves to sit in the sun in Georgia and felt lucky for the sun’s rays behind our closed eyes.

We spent the better part of the day, after a 110-mile drive, in and around a log cabin in the McIntosh reserve in Carroll County near Newnam and Whitesburg, Georgia. A little far from our original mission of taking pictures of courthouses, but still a great trip for taking the dog. One of us had a professional engagement there – at appropriate social distancing. The other got to wander with the dog.

Have you been to Horseshoe Bend? If not, you should go. It’s a haunted place, still reeking with treachery and concomitant massacre these many years later. It’s where, after a long trek from Tennessee, the monstrous Andrew Jackson cornered the last major resistance to his campaign agains Indigenous people in the Southeast. There Jackson’s troops – working with a faction of Creek and other Indigenous forces – cornered the Red Sticks – led by William Weatherford – at the river’s sharp curve.

Weatherford’s people had secured canoes on the other side of the river for their escape. But Jackson’s Native allies went to the other side and unmoored the Red Stick boats, so that when the end came there was only a sad, hopeless end to what had been (for all of its faults) an important mission to preserve self-determination in the face of a relentless empire.

McIntosh was part of the Native factions hoping to find an edge by allying with Jackson and the new nation. He went on to cede, in increments, all of the Creek land remaining in Georgia and millions of acres in Alabama. He made money from this, thought historians disagree about whether the money was the purpose of his actions, or just an ancillary benefit. The Creek National Council does not seem to have quibbled about motives. They condemned everyone who signed the final 1825 treaty to death and sent their “Law Menders” to carry out the sentence. Arriving at McIntosh’s house, they set the place on fire. They dragged him out of the house, stabbed him in the heart, and shot him dozens of times.

His lands later became a preserve of exceptional beauty. McIntosh is buried along a park road with a small marble marker that recognizes his service in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The DAR placed that stone many years after his death, when he was supposedly thrown naked into this unmarked grave. There’s a fence around it, some fake flowers and a tiny American flag.

As for the 1825 treaty, the Creek Nation got the US government to render it void, acceding instead to an 1826 treaty that gave the Creeks land in Georgia and money. The state of Georgia refused to recognize this agreement and persecuted the Creeks until Removal. Weatherford, by this time, was also dead.

These days the preserve is part of a system of parks operated by Carroll County – the first time we’d ever seen a county with its own park system. Parking for the day is $5, and there are ample hills for walking and horseback riding within. There’s a lovely bend of the Chattahoochee River that crosses the territory, and several campgrounds – including prized spots right up next to the river.

There’s a log cabin across from McIntosh’s grave – not the original house, which was burned, but a replacement of more recent vintage trucked in from Alabama. It’s a two story structure with nice porches on the front and back of the house.

I had more than an hour to explore the place, and walked with the dog down to the river. The mid-winter calm was lovely, with dense trees waving around us and a still-golden carpet of leaves crunching underfoot. The river was clear and cold, and the noise of roving ATVs in the background didn’t do too much to break the spell. I imagined McIntosh, having spent his whole life bridging worlds, landing here. Surely he thought that he was doing the best for his nation. In my experience, people rarely see themselves as agents of pure malevolence. I wonder if McIntosh came down to the river. If he did, did he think of that other river where the hopes for Creek self-determination in the lands that are now Georgia died? Did he climb the nearby hill to sit and think on the matter of these radical compromises, of the weight of his decisions?

I wonder what it was like to sign away the lands where his people had lived long before Europeans even took to the ocean, to make his bed with Jackson.

I do not wonder at how much Weatherford must have despised him.

COVID Field Trip #1 – Chambers County

As the new year rolled over, we made a simple resolution – to get out of the house. We love our old home, and we’re lucky to have spent the last ten months or so quarantining inside, but still – it’s important to get out, even if just for a drive, to see the world. And there’s so much to see, even just in a socially distanced day trip. Plus, I got a cool new camera for Christmas. So we’ve decided to visit Alabama courthouses and take pictures. A modest goal. 2020’s taught us lots of things, but one big one is humility. And we’ve long loved the kind of granular travel experience that comes from really looking closely at the people, places and things which surround us – that’s pretty much how Lost in Montgomery got started.

I’m not sure why we chose Chambers County as our first destination, but it seemed approachable and was someplace we’d never been before, so we packed up the dog on a nice Sunday afternoon and went exploring. As we often do, we brought our trusty 1930s WPA Guide to Alabama along for the ride. It’s a great way to get some history of the places we pass through as we drive around, even if it’s not terribly up to date.

It’s just an hour and fifteen minutes from Montgomery to LaFayette, Alabama – the Chambers County seat. Lafayette (original spelling) was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, whose visit through Alabama is still venerated down at Old Alabama Town. It’s now spelled LaFayette, and it’s pronounced “la-Fay-et.” But why, other than the general tendency of Americans to butcher words from other languages (see also: Ay-rab, Alabama and Ponce de LEON) is it spelled and pronounced differently now? On our trip we learned about Johnson J. Hooper, a new-to-us but supposedly famous humorist and legendary newspaperman who invented a character named Captain Simon Suggs. Suggs (who Wikipedia describes as a “backwoods Southerner”) pronounced the town name like “LaFait,” and it stuck. Hooper’s work may have inspired Mark Twain, so that’s cool, but also he was deep into the Confederacy, so there’s that. In any case, it’s LaFayette now.

The drive to Chambers County is quite lovely. You go through some of Auburn in passing, and we were surprised to see how far the Auburn-proximate sprawl of unattractive mini-mansions spread up to the Lee County edge. Then it’s a nice country road, basically empty the day we drove it, past beautiful rolling hay fields bordered by the ubiquitous Southern combination of very expensive houses and small places considerably worse for wear.

Chambers County itself is named for Henry H. Chambers, who never actually lived there. Chambers was a surgeon in Andrew Jackson’s army during what Wikipedia describes as the “Indian Wars.” He lived in Huntsville, ran for governor twice (losing both races), represented Alabama in the Senate for a year until he died in office. The guy who replaced him, Israel Pickens, had beaten Chambers twice to win the governor’s office. Must have been quite a rivalry.

The courthouse square is charming, if largely abandoned. Since it was a Sunday, everything was closed, but we saw a yarn shop and a couple of bail bonds places. The buildings had nice bones – the shell of a long-abandoned department-style shop practically begged for refinishing, and there was a beautiful old theater fronted by turquoise tiles. We wondered what movie last graced its screen.

The book Historic Alabama Courthouses is pretty snarky when it describes the current Chambers County Courthouse (built in 1900 and restored in 2003). Author Delos Hughes has this to say:

“Looking closely at both Chambers County courthouses pictured here and supra [that would be the previous courthouse] should be sufficient warning against reading too much about the distinctive qualities of communities from characteristics of their public buildings. If the 1837 courthouse is a near duplicate of the Troup County building (and perhaps other courthouses as well), the 1900 courthouse is at least a close cousin of the Calhoun County courthouse of 1902, unsurprising as both were designed by James W. Golucke. To appear progressive by adopting a fashionable style and hiring a popular architect was apparently more important to some Alabama counties than was expressing in their public architecture anything unique about themselves.”

Sick architecture burn, right?

The courthouse is pretty nice, if not especially overwhelming in any way. It’s an imposing brick structure with a pretty cool dome and nice details around the windows. When we were there, the grounds boasted a wealth of winter-white camellias.

As we walked around, we noted a number of details that signified a little disrepair around the edges – the front had a weird murder basement type service entrance below ground, and up close the windows were a little patched and worn.

The murder basement

Water drainage was staining the bricks in places. But still, it had the feel of something the town could be proud of. By far the best part was a statue of Joe Louis, who was from Chambers County.

Afterward, we looked to no avail for something to eat, settling on gas station snacks, and decided to drive home. But first, we saw two cool solar installations – one test site for the city of LaFayette, and another gigantic utility-scale one that’s used by Wal-Mart. On the way back, we stopped at the lovely Kreher Nature Preserve – an unexpected delight just north of Auburn, with a network of trails and a number of cool places to see birds. We will definitely go back there. It was a lovely place to spend an Alabama winter afternoon.

Dead Lizard 2020

We’re all cooped up together, isolated.

The COVID-19 quarantine is long enough underway that people are becoming more crazy, backlashing against safety, demanding that the economy “restart.” People are wasting time in grandiose gestures of  futility, in tiny mundane surrenders. The microbes are among us.

I’m spending time in the yard, a luxury of being able to take phone calls while pulling weeds, kicking at tufts of rotted leaves left from the autumn. I envision the yard in an “optimal” state, like the meticulously manicured gardens we saw in Japan. I envision it in another “optimal” state, overrun with verdant tendrils and complete luxurious chaos.

The neighborhood kids run in a pack, mostly three houses worth, with assorted cameos from visitors — fewer of those in the pandemic. I enjoy hearing them laugh while I pick at my tiny square of property, remembering what it was like to be that age. I like watching their pecking order and their reckless abandon and squealing. A few of them helped me learn how to fly my drone once. They’re nice kids.

They also do the same dumb shit I used to do when I was that age — a little reckless with BB guns, probably a secret stash of fireworks somewhere, experiments with nature.

The other day, I saw that one had hopped the chain link fence and was walking around in our back yard. I went out to investigate this heinous trespassing, and discovered that he had captured a tiny bird in the kind of small animal trap designed for catching feral cats (or possums or ferrets or whatever else you might be hunting, I guess).

He said he had been able to scoop up the bird because it had an injured wing, and I wished him well with whatever he planned to do with it. Kids and their parents can figure out what to do with an injured bird without the neighbor offering advice. And what do I know about bird wings? The last thing I wanted to do was to suggest a veterinarian and have the parents overrule that merciful suggestion because of quarantine or money.

The next day, I saw the kids and asked after the bird, and they said that they let it go. It hadn’t been all that injured anyway. We both shrugged. Nature. Whadda’ ya’ gonna’ do?

A day after that, I saw a small, similar looking bird become startled by my appearance in the back yard and attempt to take flight. It smacked into the side of the garden shed. Dazed by this miscalculation, it then did make a second effort and landing on a tree branch. I wondered if it was the same bird, slowly recovering from whatever allowed the kids to catch it.

Today, I saw two other similar looking birds, both grounded, both struggling to fly, and the story I’ve now told myself is that our backyard is home to some baby birds that are, in the immoral words of Tom Petty, learning to fly.

It was in this bucolic mindset that I looked across the fence and saw the neighborhood kids drowning lizards.

Before I elaborate, allow me a brief disquisition on our neighborhood lizards.

We think they are Carolina Anoles (anolis carolinensis), often called confused with chameleons because they do seem to change color. They are a beloved sign of spring, and we notice them when they are small and translucent (you can see their organs inside them) and we honor their dinosaur ancestors when we see them fully grown, usually basking in the sun, slowly inflating a bright red fan of skin under their chins. They are wonders of nature — windows into the past, and mosquito-eating friends of our neighborhood ecosystem.

That said, I was recently in the back yard putting around with my various decomposing piles and doing a bit of digging. I overheard the neighborhood kids doing their usual squealing and one of them kept saying, “Oh, the humanity!” And while I was wondering about what form of media content brought them in contact with some twice-removed cultural reference to the Hindenberg tragedy, and whether these children would ever learn about that actual historic event, I overheard one talk about killing something. So I wandered a bit closer to the fenceline.

Three or four children were staring into some kind of plastic container, while the one on the swing explained that death was the penalty for trying to escape. I then realized that they had captured a lizard and were trying to drown it in some kind of weird ritual of childhood experimentation and boundary-setting.

It was partly amazing to witness something so intimate, since my childhood memories of killing a lizard by throwing it in a fire ant bed remain vivid proof of my own potential for blurring curiosity into cruelty. But it was also amazing to see the extent to which the child on the swing had become the lizard’s judge, pronouncing the capital sentence, while the other children were slated to carry out the deed.

As she yelled at them to “hurry up and kill it” and urged them not to “let it get away,” I could see that some of the kids were uncomfortable with being instructed to kill the living creature that was no doubt scrambling to get out of the water. And in that moment, all of the social baggage of our American capital punishment system came crashing into the sunlight spring day — the way that we subjugate the world around us, the way we solidify our pecking order through obedience and obliteration, the way we absorb these lessons about our capacities to kill or heal from our earliest unsupervised adventures.

 

Dead Dog 2020

Let’s establish a few things up front:

1) We have different standards for pet care than many people.

I was raised out in the country, where it was not wholly uncommon to see people chain a dog in the yard, perhaps tethered to a wire run between two trees, giving it a single “run,” where the ground was worn down from the back and forth pacing of the dog. We, on the other hand, have pet insurance for our dog and frequently pay hundreds of dollars in hotel pet deposits so that she can travel with us around the country. This observation alone could be productive fodder for a discussion about how class privilege shapes ethics, but that’s not why we’re here today.

2) We are sensitive to people who are poverty voyeurs, including those who visit Alabama’s Black Belt and bemoan the rural living conditions for various self-aggrandizing purposes. This kind of “visiting the wrong side of the tracks” by people who don’t have to spend the night in those areas, well, there’s a long and unsavory history there.

Those things said, this blog has a history of grappling with the ongoing collapse of this city, starting the year we moved to town and saw a corpse at what we forever thereafter called the Murder Exxon. We traced the economic decay of the East-South Boulevard and talked about what it’s like to constantly hear gunshots from the comfort of our bedroom.

Talking about this kind of crushing poverty isn’t easy. Most of the time, when people do talk about it, it’s with cringeworthy stereotypes and, judging from the comments posted in Facebook forums and on Nextdoor.com, programmatic solutions that (usually) stop short of ethnic cleansing.

This week, I wasn’t looking for a large-scale government program, but just something as simple as a functioning 311 city service working with an active sanitation department.

The Rotting Dog

I have been trying to ride my bike more often, just to get off the couch and away from the laptop screen. In service of this goal, I have found myself regularly peddling the flat and generally uncrowded streets of the neighborhoods adjoining my own. These neighborhoods have fancy-sounding names like Ridgecrest and Edgewood, but I’m not sure if anyone really uses those names. I don’t know anyone who lives in these neighborhoods, but I always nod or wave as I peddle by, politely acknowledging that I’m just passing through.

There are houses in these neighborhoods that look like they need to be torn down. Some houses only have plywood boards over all the windows. A few houses look like they may have been constructed out of found materials, like the kind of thing you might see in Central America. A decent number of the houses have something illegible spray-painted on the front.

But a number of these houses are modest ranch homes built in the 1950s. Some have owners who are lovingly maintaining the yards. Some people are sitting outside, just watching the world go by. If the weather is half-decent, there are usually kids everywhere.

A week ago I saw this dead dog lying in front of one of the houses, pretty close to the curb. As noted above, we love our dog, and seeing any dead dog makes me sad. Was this big dog someone’s pet? Was it a stray? Did it die, well-loved, and the family didn’t know how to dispose of it? Did a would-be burglar shoot it? Did someone leave it in front of the house to send a message to the occupants? image0

I called 311 to report the dead dog, and without diverting this post into a whole “Why is it so hard to use 311” type of post, let me just say that it’s not easy to report an issue. After longer than I would have liked, the person on the other end agreed to dispatch some kind of sanitation team.

A week later, I went by the house. It’s on Princeton Road, between Patton Avenue and Lynnwood Drive. The dog corpse was still there, flies gathering around it.

How could this be? It’s not just amazing that the city hadn’t gone by and none of the sanitation workers on the street had dealt with it. Even giving the home owners the benefit of the doubt (maybe they were out of town), did none of the neighbors call to report this mouldering corpse? At this point there was a cloud of flies around the dog. It was a public health issue. Imagine if this had been June and not February.

Our national political scene is a cesspool, each atrocity leading us to believe that our republic’s best days are long behind it. Our state is marching aggressively into the past, focused on abortion and pornography as the schools fail. Only our local government gives a tiny modicum of hope that decentralized control might represent a glimmer of potentially functional government that meets the needs of its citizens.

Instead, we have a neighborhood where the names of streets call to mind America’s great institutions of higher education: Cambridge Road, running parallel to Berkley Drive. And there, behind the collapsing empty eyesore of the Normandale Mall, a dog still is rotting in the front yard of a house on Princeton Road.

Filling Our Boxes

There are certain stereotypes about Southern electoral politics. From the valorization of the James Carville types (“the Ragin’ Cajun!”) to Huey Long worship, the machine makes many flavors. One item on the “need to win the election” menu, especially among the Dirty Tricks consultants, is the Two-Sided Color Flyer™ which is also a variant of the “Klansman with access to a photocopier at his office” variant of dropping stuff under the folks’ windshields during church.

In the world of the fairly expensive kinds of mailers, you’ve got to at least ask the question of whether it has the good ol’ “Presorted Standard US Postage Paid” rectangle, and then there’s the matter of if it says who it’s from. Were these things in our mailbox from David Woods, who is running at the moment to be the mayor of our city? Or were these things from some big fans of David Woods, who claim to be the Jobs & Progress Fund, which is something in a Post Office Box in Arlington, Virginia, wherever that is.

So let’s take a look at how this man, who has proclaimed himself to be a Christian every time I have heard him speak in public, is handling his efforts to persuade our city how to vote on October 8.

This first one is from the Jobs & Progress Fund — and let me just say here, so that I am in no way misunderstood, I am a fan of both jobs and progress. Those are two of our society’s great accomplishments, Jobs and Progress, so I am certain to be a supporter of any fund that upholds those two great ideals.

But why is this fund making it look like someone is going to damage the front lawn of my McMansion with the giant sloping yard and large full-bloom camellia bush? Will someone come and write something in salt on my precious lawn if I don’t help this TV-station-owning millionaire become some kind of civic leader? I really hope not. That red arrow is screaming at me, and the headline reminding me that “VOTING IS PUBLIC RECORD” seems to insinuate that if I don’t go vote, the POLICE DEPARTMENT will show up at my house in TACTICAL VESTS and the GLOCK 22 WITH YELLOW BLADE-TECH TRAINING BARRELS and maybe a few DANIEL DEFENSE DDM4V9 SERIES CARBINES.

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Oh wait a minute, let me turn this over and, wait, there is our probate judge crudely Photoshopped into some kind of scene with rain and a good bit of wind and maybe a pillowcase or trash bag full of hundred dollar bills all flyin’ away all haphazardlike! There’s a lot going on here.

I get that in nonpartisan mayoral elections, it helps uninformed voters if one guy says that the other guy has “liberal allies” and just kind of assume that this phrase constitutes a damning slur and there ya’ go, no further questions need be asked. But when you go negative, go negative, and like Ororo Munroe, just cast the storm clouds (so many storm clouds!) of fewer job opportunities and rising crime and a failing education system. You don’t need polling to know that those are issues that our city is thinking and talking a lot about.

But what the actual hell is going on this photo? Is this trying to conjure Katrina looting? Did Steven Reed steal that bag full of cash? Is running through that field in the storm, wind blowing, fear racing through his veins? Are there barking dogs chasing him?

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But here (below) is another one, smaller, glossy, mentioning the “may have missed previous elections” angle, to build off of the “hey dummy don’t forget the election is coming up” vibe of its cousin. The address side here is just a picture of some dim bulb watching TV, but the back has Steven Reed and … is that a real picture of him and his dad at his graduation? Or did they have to Photoshop Joe Reed into a picture with his son?

Anyway, not being a Reed family historian, I also have wondered about whether his son has a lot in common with the man who is currently asphyxiating one of the state’s political parties. Oh, OK, I guess they must be the same man, is what this flyer is telling me. These two peas in a pod are going to take away my guns, perhaps including my RRA LAR-PDS Carbine with Aluminum Tri-Rail Handguard. Didn’t know the mayor could overturn the 2nd Amendment, but okay cool.

IMG_5915One fun part about this is the footnotes on the weird bullet points. They footnote to nothing! It’s all note, no foot! Set aside that I laughed out loud at the leap to Obamacare, but I guess you just say “abortion” and “gay stuff” and you don’t ask that many questions about whether they did or did not (they almost certainly did) weirdly darken Joe Reed’s face so that it seems like he is fading away into the shadowy night. And we know about the history of darkening the faces of black people to increase the menace. Time Magazine knows about it.

Well, here’s another one, with Woods on one side, looking well feathered, like kind of a “Sliver Fox Rick Perry” type of thing, and he’s a businessman and, yes, yes, safe, good government, make better new direction, and then you flip it over and it’s like BAM!

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What’s going on with that shirt, and is his arm a woman’s arm? Is this some kind of in-joke between the kind of for-sale sleaze that produce this pollution? Steven Reed has “girl arms” or something like that? And what’s in the suitcase? He’s taking MY damn money to go on some kinda vacation for work?!? Why I ain’t get to go to damn professional development damn opportunities in damn Vail, Colorado, and learn how to do a damn job but probably skip one or two of the sessions because small groups are a huge waste of time doing breakout sessions when we could be networking!

So at least there are footnotes. And if Steven Reed went to Vail on the public dime for some conference thing in 2014, I don’t totally need to see his receipts from the restaurant in order to choose between two seemingly pretty different types of guy to be my mayor.

Are you freaking kidding me? How much money did this guy spend on mailers? This beast is a FULL giant page, color on all sides, which is important when your shirt and hair are both the most blinding shade of ghostly snow. We get it, you know the guy who runs the print shop. He probably gets a new boat at Lake Martin or whatever out of this bill. It’s just so much paper! And the chemicals that go into showing Steven Reed, clumsily edited into a photo of him popping his collar (LIKE THOSE RAPPERS DO). According to this bedsheet-sized monstrosity, Steven Reed has “turned his back on us.”

Wait a minute, this thing looks like a file folder! It has a paper clip on it, and something stamped like in the Mission Impossible where they have the fat folder and then they have photos and stuff all paper-clipped in there perfectly so they don’t slide around, and then sometimes you gotta’ stamp right there on the folder and THREATEN THE PERSON THAT YOU KNOW THAT THEY MISSED AN ELECTION IN THE PAST.

You open it and there’s Woods, laughing at a super funny joke, and Reed’s photo on the other side is black-and-white because, sure. He’s so bad we won’t even colorize his photo! Why you want everything colorized! You’re the real racist!

This is insane. The Jobs & Progress Fund should be ashamed of themselves, but we all know that people who make these things are constitutionally incapable of shame.

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And here’s his positive mailers. you’ve got a small one, saying he’s going to “attack” the “drug trade” and “dealer network” that “feeds” our crime problem. Oh, okay dude. Glad nobody had thought about doing some kind of War on Drugs before. Let’s arrest everybody.

Do people really think the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police is a super meaningful endorsement? Woods does. It’s on his mailers and he mentioned it in the WSFA debate on Sept. 26.

And here’s the last one. The clip art people. But also the zip code that tells you where it was mailed from. And the permit number. And it was paid for by the campaign. On Vaughn Lane. So David Woods can say that this is his mailer. He highlights smiling people thinking happy thoughts about Montgomery’s public schools. He can distance himself from the Jobs & Progress fund.

The election is soon. I’m writing this with at least the possibility that Woods could win. By the time you read this, we will know what happens. Does Montgomery embrace the bad old style of its negative, racist, extremely embarrassing past? Do the campaigns of the future play these cards, hire these kinds of people, make these kinds of appeals?

Or do we try something else?

The New Whitewater Park

We’ve all seen the headlines about the new $50 million “whitewater park” that is expected to open in spring of 2022. It’s the centerpiece of the single largest economic development project in our city in recent memory. It’s headline news.

Charlotte has one, we are told. Videos like this one are circulating to get people excited.

If at some point, that link ends up disconnected, the idea is this: You build a fake river next to a real river, and people pay to paddle around in it. Like the North Carolina one, our “whitewater center” is predicted to include retail, restaurants, hotels, concert venues and event facilities. Unlike the Charlotte one, which covers 1,300 acres, ours is going to be a bit smaller. Ours will be one-tenth the size, covering 125 acres and focused on a 25-acre whitewater course. In addition to paddling down a fake river, there’ll be restaurants, shops, a beer garden, an outdoor concert venue and a hotel with a conference center. It will have a climbing tower, zip lines, mountain biking trails and rope courses.

Let’s talk more about this, Lost in Montgomery style:

Where is this?

Odds are very, very good that unless  you’re in the Air Force, you don’t spend a lot of time in this part of Montgomery. The site is going to be on Maxwell Boulevard, west of I-65, towards the Air Force Base. The historic Chappell House, an 1854 cottage that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, will sit smack in the middle of the two entrances for the place.

What is the Chappell House?

According to the sign out front, the Chappell House was built around 1850 and is one of our city’s last known standing pre-Civil War cottages. It occupies the site of General John Scott’s pioneer settlement from 1817, the creatively-named “Alabama Town.” In some ways, it’s the foundational site of our city. Chappell House has columns on the entrance stoop, showing how Greek Revival architecture influenced styles at the time. John Figh, who was involved in building our state capitol building, likely helped to lay the walls. In 1975, the United States government purchased and restored the house, intending it to serve as the Central Office for the adjacent Riverside Heights housing project, one of Alabama’s earliest great examples of deliberate historic preservation through adaptive use.

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When we went to the Chappell House, there were about ten homeless people hanging around there, some sleeping on the porch. It’s an area that radiates need. It’s a quick walk to the Nellie Burge Community Center, Family Promise of Montgomery, and the Faith Rescue Mission.

According to the website, Exploring Montgomery:

The ground around the Chappell House . . . at 1020 Maxwell Boulevard (nee Bell Street) is more interesting than the structure itself. An Alabama Indian town existed on this site as late as 1775. In 1819 this dirt was part of the Alabama Town which joined New Philadelphia to become the Town of Montgomery, but activity soon shifted to the East and the this area became vacant. The land was then acquired by planter/brick-maker James Chappell, who in 1845 built this rather undistinguished 1-story house. In the late 1930s the Chappell Plantation was used to accommodate the large emergency housing development built to support the adjacent Maxwell Field and its buildup for WWII. The Montgomery Housing Authority grew out of that development, and it used this old house as its offices for fifty years. The only redeeming feature of the building seems to be its age and the small Greek Revival front porch, but even those attributes are nullified by the mismatched-brick addition along the West (left) side, placed there by the Housing Authority. So now, as a final blow, the conversion of Bell Street into Maxwell Boulevard has taken what little was left of a front setback, and made poor Chappell House curbside. Such is progress.

A Landmarks Foundation site described it as, “the only tangible reminder of an enlightened government reuse decision and of one of the New Deal era’s boldest public betterment programs.” When the Junior League of Montgomery published its Guide to the City of Montgomery in 1969, the Chappell House was singled out as one of a dozen structures representing the city’s architectural heritage.

Krista Johnson, a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, went out to the Chappell House in July of 2018 and talked to some of the homeless people and wrote a weird first-person story from the perspective of the building.

Okay, that’s enough about Chappell House. Clearly that building should be preserved and made beautiful. Hopefully it won’t be torn down or turned into some kind of souvenir shop slash ticket booth for the water park. But what, again, is the deal with this water park?

The creators of the one in Charlotte were inspired by the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, an Australian thing built for the 2000 Olympics. The Charlotte one (let’s call it the USNWC) boasts the world’s largest and most complex recirculating artificial whitewater river. Theirs cost $38 million to build, and allegedly costs $6.8 million per year to operate.

It’s doubtlessly got to be great for a city to have an official Olympic training center for whitewater slalom racing, which is what they do at the USNWC. Did you know that kayak racing is an Olympic sport? You can learn more about that here. Now is the part where you chant U-S-A and hope that our American men and women will train really hard at paddling so that we can defeat kayaker Jiri Prskavec of the Czech Republic. His father, Jiri, was a two-time Olympian and the younger Prskavec pulled in a respectable bronze in Rio. Really scintillating stuff for you to read about the Czech competitive canoe team, I know.

When it’s not training American canoeists, the USNWC evidently makes $22 million dollars a year.

Who gives a crap about Charlotte? What’s our park going to do?

According to Keivan Deravi, a local economist type who is president of Economic Research Services, our economic impact will be $40 million dollars a year. The folks behind building this thing said the attraction should draw about 300,000 visitors to Montgomery each year, with ongoing operations expected to generate more than $35 million.

So our water park is one-tenth the size of Charlotte’s but is going to make double the money?

I guess. Maybe the numbers are wrong. Math is weird. It’s hard to guess things that haven’t happened yet. We’ve got Air Force folks who like to do outdoor fitness stuff. And maybe some of the EJI memorial/museum tourists will want to careen down a fake river, plus, maybe, um, some team-building exercises from corporations?

Let’s remember that the USNWC opened in 2006, and as of 2013, only had an operating profit of $4 million, according to “the nonprofit’s annual financial report filed with Mecklenburg County.” And that was with seven years of overt government subsidies. Oh, and banks wrote off $26 million of the $38 million owed by the center for construction costs.

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Wait, it’s a non-profit?

Yeah, evidently, in this free market economy, the site is owned by Mecklenburg County, N.C., with the property leased to the nonprofit USNWC.

As a result, they’ve got “the largest and most profitable pumped whitewater park of its kind in the world, with design features tailored to maximize commercial rafting revenue and other high-demand recreational attractions.”

Yeah but how is the USNWC grossing more than $22 million a year with “700,000 user days/activities served,” which has over 200,000 folks annually rafting its whitewater channel, but our economist says we’re going to do $35 million to $40 million in economic impact based on forecasts of only 64,000 out-of-town visitors a year?

Well, don’t glaze over this part, but other places cite Deravi’s study as showing an annual impact of $6 million, which is lower than in Charlotte, but still pretty solid. According to a visitor profile study conducted by Longwoods International for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (PDF), Charlotte had 28.3 million visitors in 2017, 12.2 million of which spent the night. Of those, 2.4 percent, or 680,000 people, indicated that the U.S. National Whitewater Center was a motivator to travel to Charlotte, and 73,200 said that they did attend the USNWC as part of their trip to Charlotte.

Deravi estimates 64,000 out-of-town visitors a year, which is roughly the point needed for the park to break even. Deravi said those figures don’t include use by what he calls “hardcore” whitewater enthusiasts, or anyone who lives close enough to drive here. “Then you get into incidental tourists. That’s where the money is,” he said. It’s worth noting that while his study doesn’t seem to be available online, there’s a video of his presentation here. And here’s the key slide:

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Two percent of cars stopping. That seems like a small amount, but really, it’s not. That’s 2,000 cars per day stopping because they want to pay $60-ish per person in the car for this “whitewater” experience, plus presumably a hotel and meals and such.

Is that a reasonable expectation?

The Montgomery Zoo allegedly draws about 200,000 visitors a year. but a lot of those are repeated customers. They’re locals and families with season passes. The ballpark estimate for the Equal Justice Initiative’s memorial and museum was around 400,000 to 500,000 folks at the one year mark. Some whitewater park backers estimate total annual attendance at almost 300,000, and the projected impact would obviously skyrocket if it approaches that level of activity. Some people in the “greater river region” are already counting their money from the “ripples” (note: hilarious whitewater economic reference).

Is there at least a budget?

A special “cooperative district” has been created, controlled by the county, which is pumping about $35 million into the project. The city is evidently contributing about $16 million worth of land. The city bought the last handful of homes on the site over the last few years, and the last resident was expected to leave by Sept. 1.

Yeah, but why are we doing this now?

All of the talk about the current mayoral election has been about how the new mayor is going to be able to write Montgomery’s next chapter. Evidently, the authors of the previous chapters want to put their fingerprints on the coming years too. That’d be County Commissioner Elton Dean, who received 4 percent of the vote in the mayoral election, who has been front and center of the whitewater park announcement rollout.

This story from the Montgomery Advertiser is a must-read, It’s about a local mom, Megan McKenzie, who, evidently was disappointed that Montgomery didn’t land some brewery’s “new East Coast taproom,” and put together a self-described “shabby PowerPoint” presentation about the USNWC and pitched a Montgomery version to city development officials Mac McLeod, Lois Cortell and Galen Thackston. Evidently, those folks dug it, and sent her to the County Commission, then to the mayor’s office and eventually to Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner.

What do Steven Reed and David Woods think about this idea?

No idea, but one of them is going to be the mayor soon. The Montgomery Advertiser’s coverage of the idea has been fawning, and relies heavily on quotes from people like Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Corporate Development Ellen McNair (reassuring us that evil eminent domain was not used to acquire the properties) and Montgomery County Commission Vice-Chair Ronda Walker (“This facility is going to be bigger and better than anything folks around here have ever seen.”) Oh, and for all you “folks around here,” who’ve never seen anything, by the way, Ellen McNair is the mother of Megan McKenzie, which probably makes it a lot easier to get your economic development idea in front of the right people.

The “president of the Montgomery Advertiser” (not to be confused with the editor or publisher) seems to be a big fan of the idea, penning this opinion piece calling the project “a game changer” that will reverse our city’s brain drain. No pressure or anything.

Are you hating on this idea?

No!

Look, we are a little skeptical of the amount that local media is telling us that people are excited about this idea:

David Sadler took a detour on his trip to Atlanta to share a piece of his mind with the people behind a $50 million Montgomery whitewater park. He stood in the back of a crowd of dozens at a Tuesday night town hall and listened to the presentation, ready to criticize the plan.

When the time finally came for questions and comments, he raised his hand. “I don’t even have a question anymore. It’s just a cheer,” said Sadler, who runs a downtown concierge service. “I’m stoked.

“Now that we have it, we’ve got to make the most out of it.”

But whether we are personally excited to raft in a fake river, we hope the idea is a success — as long as it is done in an environmentally and fiscally responsible way. In Charlotte, the prices to enjoy the facility are:

Day Pass: $59; Two-Day Pass: $109; Annual Pass: $219, and single-activity passes which ranging between $30 and $90.

Are people in Montgomery going to pay that to canoe a fake river and do a ropes course? Maybe.

We’ve also heard of these big projects being sketchy before: Anyone remember what was involved in Birmingham creating Dreamland? What about the $3.5 billion DreamVision theme park that was going to happen near the Shoals? That one involved a ten-year prison sentence and an astonishing fraud that exploited over 40 Alabama investors. And don’t forget the long-ago proposed “west side water park” for Gateway Park.

But there are Olympic-level canoeists who’ll use their competitive amateur luster to shine an economic development dollar. And a lot of people can get wealthy from building an economic engine on land where this is currently happening.

So, let’s grab our rafts and grab our paddles! It’s time to whitewater!

Free Magazine Review: AL Metro 360

What’s in a lifestyle?

It’s how you live your life. It’s not the ends of that life, which is fleetingly short when considered in geologic time — or even in the span of modern human history. You may ask yourself, on occasion, when thinking on your own mortality, what your life is for and whether and for what reason you might be remembered when you’re gone. The answer, perhaps sadly, is: probably nothing. Your life is for no reason at all. Live a great life, get an obit in the New York Times if you are exceedingly “important” and lucky, and then get forgotten in the relentless march of human history. This kind of thinking has driven folks to great ends, or to madness, or to suicide, or its various slow-motion cousins like addiction.

We recently adopted a kitten who, I am pretty sure, believes that she will live forever, or at least doesn’t seem to sweat the question of her eventual death. Maybe some day she will see the Death of Cats. But we humans know that the clock is ticking, and we organize our lives around ways to ignore, postpone, rationalize, or bargain with the eventual end of life. At some point, we’ll enter (with foresight or unexpectedly) a sleep without waking. Your heart, whose beating noise was probably once a source of abject elation to your expecting mother, will stop. Maybe this will be abrupt. Maybe it will be slow. But someday you’ll be cold to the touch, and all of your hopes will be dissolved like so much dust in the air, and your grandest aspirations will be remembered, if at all, in a memorial that may end in cake, or whiskey, or lemonade and people in surprising hats. And the world will go about living an assortment of similarly short lives plagued with the usual thoughts of parking tickets, skin abrasions, sporting events, and the perennial longing to belong.

Which brings us back to lifestyle. Life ends. But a lifestyle is, on purpose, not about teleology. To paraphrase Coach Saban, it’s about the process — not what you live for, but how you proceed toward the end. It’s who you know, what you do, and (most importantly for the modern lifestyle industry) it’s what you buy. The style of life is something that you can embrace while you plug your ears to mortality’s persistent whisper. A well-cut dress shows off your curves to the glances of potential suitors at the bar. Tasteful paint on a wall tells house guests that you are attuned to the latest thinking on generating peaceful moods. Bright throw pillows make any space more welcoming.

And all of these things will decay and find their resting place in the ash heap of history. Nevertheless we pursue the endlessly accelerated carrot that is lifestyle, which has become conflated somewhat recently with the Instagram idea of our “best life.”

Before this inevitable passage into the infinite beyond, you may happen to read the new free magazine titled AL Metro 360. When you do this, you could be passing time at a doctor’s office bracing to hear the news about your new and mysterious mole. Or you might be at the salon burning your follicles with a chemical color to cover your grey. Or standing awkwardly at the bar hoping for a table at your favorite restaurant. The key here is that you are waiting. You are ticking away the moments before you draw that last breath, before you see the moon one more time, before you can’t even summon the strength to say goodbye to those you love.

But there is good news. With AL Metro 360, there is a kind of hospice care for the living. The magazine advertises itself as “The Premier Lifestyle Magazine for the Heart of Alabama,” and as you flip through its glossy pages, you may feel enervated by the way that lifestyle can fill the void of purposelessness. Gwyneth Paltrow has made an unseemly amount of money selling the style of life, and here we Metro Region residents have a chance to aspire to a lifestyle ourselves. And, better yet, you can consume this while waiting for your oil to be changed as you listen to the malnourished ghouls of Good Morning America yammer along. Bonus points if you are drinking a paper cup full of coffee that tastes like regret seasoned with pesticide-flavored creamer.

You don’t need to think obsessively on your own mortality. There are ways to put such thoughts off until your last moments with a breathing tube and a humiliating hospital gown. AL Metro 360’s advertorials offer the following strategies:

  • Drink “Gem-Water.” Harness the power of gemstones to transform your everyday water. The purveyor is humble: “While the metaphysical scope of their power may be open to interpretation, the fact is that tasting is believing.” As I know from sitting through classes on the Greeks, the fact is that the long tradition of speculation about metaphysics does not offer specific guidance on the usage of semi-precious rocks to purify water. So that claim holds up. Pay money to Bella, in the Peppertree Shopping Center, to hold off death’s cold grip with the healing power of water infused by shiny stones.
  • Eat cake. AL Metro 360 acknowledges its precarious hold with an article titled: “Life is Short – Eat the Cake,” wherein a confection-selling bakery in Union Springs is lovingly profiled. Hopefully author Traci V. Davis, who also took the photographs, availed herself of enough bakery treats to make herself feel better about a career spent writing puff pieces about local businesses that, while probably tasty, contribute to Alabama’s obesity epidemic. The high that sugar provides can help us make it to an evening’s rest. As you lay down afterwards, consider that half of your life is spent in unconsciousness, and its end is an unending dreamlessness.
  • Stay fit. As you seek advice, AL Metro 360 offers a guide to staying fit at “any stage in life.” This guide terminates at the 70s, so if you live beyond that you are, evidently, out of luck. Why not eat some cake?
  • Plan your own funeral. All of that cake is going to have consequences. Fortunately, Ross-Clayton Funeral Home is there for you. AL Metro 360 profiles the family-owned business, which is turning 100. They seem like they are probably very good at a difficult job. There is no accompanying discussion of the incredible disrepair that the city allowed the Lincoln Cemetery to reach before intervention was finally leveraged. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned here from ten years reviewing free magazines, there’s no room for bad news.

Why do we spend our precious time on this earth writing about the glossy-papered trash that infests our shops and salons? At base, it’s because nobody talks about this stuff. These miserable bindings of ink and pulp are taken for granted as part of the background noise of our lives, like coupons, billboards or online advertising. They are “magazines” in the same sense that Krystal is “food.” Reading them is mastication in the service of rank consumerism. They are vehicles for persuasion — for plastic surgery, white flight custom homes, clever handbags stitched by tiny fingers, discerning private schools, local events designed to make you feel cultured, and ways to feel “Fabulous for Fall” (hint: booties and “statement pieces”). Somewhere someone is making an actual living purveying all this. Maybe it’s editor Jodi Hatley, who we’re pretty sure used to be the “editor” of River Region Living, which was once known as Montgomery Living.

Rebranding is a powerful thing. Altria used to be noted death merchant Phillip Morris. But you can still get a nice case of lung cancer from them for around $6 a pack if you live in a low tax state like Alabama. KFC used to be Kentucky Fried Chicken before they decided that nobody wanted to be reminded of the “fried” part of their unhealthy Confederate nostalgia machine. Pabst Blue Ribbon, once the cheapest beer imaginable, became the hipster drink of choice and now costs $44 per bottle in China because, well, globalization and its discontents.

So we can’t blame AL Metro 360 for its move to stay relevant. They’ve expanded their scope – no longer about the River Region, they’ve got the whole state in their name now. The “Metro” part is meant to make us feel like we’re part of a forward thinking urban community. Nobody’s publishing a magazine called AL Rural 360. Most of Alabama is too busy preventing those people from voting or getting health care to entertain them with fall fashion projections. The 360 part is a little bit of panoramic mystery. We do live in a time when entertainment vehicles try to wrap around our lives more than ever before. There’s a booth in the mall that offers a “5D” experience, which we assume involves having the smell of progress blasted in your face along with water vapor.

Life’s ultimate terminus in sight, we have a full wraparound view courtesy of this humble publication. Those who feel unrepresented by AL Metro 360 might want to read again the various profiles of aging white community fixtures and meditate on the ways that their identity is in fact subsumed therein. Before the unity of the grave, don’t you want to be a team player?

The editor kicks commences this issue of AL Metro 360 with an editor’s note saying that, “Aging is a fact of life and it affects all families.” She’s so right. You grow older each minute. Your lifespan is but a microsecond compared to those of our mountains’ great glaciers, which we all are helping to destroy. But maybe the pablum here gives you hope for another day. In which case, all we can offer is that timeless classic from occasions both happy and horrifying: Bless your heart.

Free Magazine Review: Anniston/Gadsden Christian Family

Where did it come from? A loved one recently went on a work trip to Gadsden and brought this back as a souvenir. He knows I love a good free magazine. And because Gadsden just finished its star turn in the national media thanks to senatorial candidate/noted moralist/Tiger Beat enthusiast Roy Moore’s supposed lifetime ban from the Gadsden Mall, I wanted to know more about life up there.

Who publishes it? Anniston/Gadsden Christian Family is put out by Carlton Publishing, Inc. They are based in Gadsden and not to be confused with Carlton Publishing Group, which is a real thing. It’s a larger format publication that seems like it might come out every month. Unlike a lot of free magazines, this one has a mission statement. It says, in part, that the magazine “exists to provide Christians and the community at large with ways to grow and develop as part of Alabama’s Christian Family. The local publication is designed to promote positive living by sharing with readers the latest news on entertainment, healthy living, parenting and inspirational literature as well as what individuals and organizations are doing to try to address the needs of the family.” That’s a lot to get through in 35 pages.

Who’s on the cover? In July, it’s Miss Alabama Callie Walker, shown making a grateful pageant face while another woman places the winning tiara on Walker’s head. The cover story takes up the magazine’s two middle pages and is printed on a distracting color background of roses. The headline is “Taking the Stage with Faithful Confidence,” which made me curious about what unfaithful confidence might look like. The story itself is broken up into “Art Facts,” Faith Facts,” and “Trash Talk.” I did not know this about the job of being Miss Alabama, but evidently one part of it is having a “platform,” like a political candidate. Walker’s seems to be recycling, which the story’s author, Camille Smith Platt, describes as “sustainability.” Walker wants schools across Alabama to adopt recycling programs to preserve the earth, which she says was given to us by the Lord.

Recycling, as it happens, is a particularly touchy topic here in Montgomery, where we’ve recently been told that our local recycling plant – the one that shut down, leaving the city to pay the tab for a giant unused facility that did not expect that people would try to throw dirty diapers in the trash – will be reopened by a new contractor with a plan to use the plant to recycle while turning excess trash into fuel. Yes, that seems like it will totally work.

Meanwhile, the evidence is accumulating that consumer recycling is kind of a scam. China’s not accepting recyclable materials much any more, so there’s nowhere to put stuff, and it’s mostly going into the landfill. Read this article about it if you’ve got some doubts. But having kids recycle has some obvious appeal as a lasting solution to the many problems facing Alabama, so it’s pretty clear why this was a winning issue for Miss Alabama.

According to http://www.winningthroughpageantry.com. a good pageant platform offers a specific solution to a cause that you are particularly passionate about. The author includes a list of causes from recent Miss America pageants to give ideas. These include “Global Awareness” (presumably a rebuke to the Flat-Earthers) and “Internet/Social Media Safety” (Be Best, y’all). You can also pay the site’s administrator money to receive their advice for winning at pageants. As an aside, the pageant Internet is pretty intense – there’s a whole economy of pageant consultants lobbying for money from tiara-seekers. Everything I personally know about beauty pageants I learned from watching The Simpsons, so all of this was new to me.

What else is in the magazine? A number of what seem to be regular features (“Humor in Holy Places,” “An Encouraging Word,” “Kids Korner”) whose pictured authors all seem to be white women. Many of their biographies emphasize the writer’s availability for speaking engagements. My favorite column was “Legal Matters,” whose name makes it seem like you might be getting an update on the law somehow. This month, authors Myron Allenstein and Rose Allenstein, have chosen to cite scripture extensively (including several block quotes) to support their contention that freedom comes from God. They do not mention all of the slavery in the Old Testament. The column itself has a little bit of a Fourth of July theme, but it’s very unclear what this has to do with the law.

Several columns appear on the same page as an advertisement for the author’s local business. This is true for “Healthy Living,” written by the owners of Apple a Day Health World. This column, which offers extremely specific advice about the exact amounts of at least 15 vitamins and nutrients, features a footer that informs the reader that “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.” Evidently the magazine’s commitment to “positive living” does not extend to “scientific living.”

The end of the magazine features a July calendar of events and homemade ads for works by local writers, including for a self-published thriller whose blurb promises that “the details of Pastor Jack Pate’s fall from his lofty pedestal to the depths of sin’s depravity mesmerize readers throughout this suspenseful novel.” Ripped from the headlines.

Who is reading this? Christian families, presumably. And people looking for a coupon for Stevi B’s Ultimate Pizza Buffet. By branding itself as “Your source for GOOD news!” it’s maybe for readers who find the Anniston Star or the Daily Mountain Eagle too gloomy, who want to peruse an endless series of full-color ads for local businesses punctuated by parfait recipes, tips for diabetic foot care, and tips for those with breathing problems. The core audience probably overlaps a lot with the people who enjoy receiving those coupons in their postal box (“It’s like getting money in the mail!”) and who clip and save advice columns to mail, in a passive aggressive fashion, to relatives that they secretly dislike.

Sometimes a free magazine teaches you a lot about a place, or at least about the editor’s vision of a place. Sometimes it gives you a few chuckles while you wait to get your oil changed. And then sometimes it just leaves you feeling a little closer to death, having spent time within its pages. Anniston/Gadsden Christian Family is closest to the latter. Mostly recommended for lining guinea pig confines and lining raised garden beds.

 

Montgomery Wal-Mart and Guns

I was the guy clutching the six-pack of Haynes all-white cotton athletic socks, a four-pack of vegetarian Italian sausages, a box of LED light bulbs, and the August 2018 issue of Guns and Ammo, that self-describedpreeminent and most-respected magazine in the firearms field, featuring reviews, news, and articles about firearms,” (italics theirs).

I’d picked the black-and-gray cover (Masuser M18: Boom! Shuck! Boom!) from a colorful rack near the car magazines, just near less preeminent and most-respected periodicals touting HEAVY BORE AR-15 PLATFORMS and Buffalo Heavy .44 Mags, designed for super deep penetration on large game, in fonts similar to those in porn mags.

And much ink has already been spilled comparing those two genres, the gun mags and the nudie books, but Wal-Mart sells the one, and not the other, and today I was in Wal-Mart having my masculinity constructed towards violence, and not lust. Besides, Wal-Mart sells the accoutrements for the gun mags too.

Big news in February was that Wal-Mart would no longer sell guns and ammo to people under the age of 21. Three years ago, Walmart ended its sales of modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15. But they still sell guns. And bullets. Bunches of ’em. And a whole bunch of magazines about guns (and toy guns, and movies with guns, and those aren’t what I’m talking about here).

Just like Guns and Ammo is framed as the centrist most-respected part of the gun world conversation, Wal-Mart is seen as the clean retail version of the gun-selling universe of the online world. The digital conversation about guns makes Guns and Ammo look like Mother Jones and the people that are buying assault rifles in parking lots and at gun shows (no background check!) are likely contemptuous of the low-magazine capacities of whatever Wal-Mart is pushing. But Wal-Mart makes them easy to find, just like the socks and vegetarian Italian sausages I was holding.

This isn’t a screed about the public health crisis that we’re obviously undergoing with the ridiculous saturation of guns across our culture. If you want to check out what Moms Demand Action are doing, the link is here, and they’re in the trenches at state capitols across the nation, trying to turn some common sense into law.

I own guns. More than two. And we can debate the merits of that decision just like we can debate whether it’s ethical to even be shopping at Wal-Mart in the first place.

But the thing about gun enthusiasts, paging through the monthly offerings of Guns and Ammo, is that they are under the impression that they are merely looking for a less obtrusive hip holster, or a device suitable for assassinating South Pacific mountain goats (horns that span as much as 60 inches across). The dude in front of you in the Wal-Mart check-out line buying an unusual array of canned catfood and nearly-identical looking tinned salmon and tuna? He may be thinking about a shotgun that can hold an entire box of 2.75″ shells so that he doesn’t have to stop to reload when he goes to kill all of his coworkers tomorrow.

These matters, we are led to believe, are the purview of the police and the security budgets of the private establishments where we shop. The police officer I saw on this trip to Wal-Mart was texting as she and her partner walked languidly towards to electronics department to sniff around someone who was getting a little too familiar with the DVDs and video games. The security guard enjoyed asking random people to produce their receipts as they left the store, as if an allegation of theft was a suitable excuse for detaining people attempting to leave the premises with their own property.

If we think metal detectors and pervasive security guards at every store, movie theater and public event are a) sufficient sacrifices of liberties and b) likely to succeed at stopping mass murders, we may wish to yet further reflect on whether the 24-hour establishment selling us eggs and floor polish and reloadable prepaid credit cards ought to also be selling us guns, as well as the periodicals that let us know about Kel-Tec’s important safety recall on its Sub-2000 rifles due to a heat treatment that could cause the barrel to rupture when a cartridge is fired, causing serious personal injury.

We don’t like to think much about the people that are reading an article encouraging people to buy a magazine-fed shotgun that the author claims saved his live “many times” during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Need a magazine that carries 20 shotgun rounds at once? The Mossburg makes them, and the shooter has a “distinct advantage when changing out loads to meet the need.” What need requires a shooter to maintain an advantage when changing out one 20-round batch of shotgun shells for another? That’s the business of Freedom Loving Patriots™ and likely none of yours.

Gun people have their own magazines, their own websites, their own television shows, and their own political candidates. And those candidates are the ones that currently make the laws. And the people for whom that is immensely frustrating? Those people have likely never spent much time lingering around the gun magazines and ammo aisles at their local Wal-Mart.