Anyone living in any city is only there for a snippet of that city’s civic life. And I guess that can be extrapolated out to the fact that we are only on Earth for a certain number of years anyway, whether you are living in a city or not. But that’s just a poorly-worded way of saying that I have been reflecting on what it means to live in Montgomery at this particular moment.
The white population of the city continues to flee, building big box stores and chains on the east side of town, stretching out past the city limits towards Atlanta. The mayor has been elected to Congress and the scramble is on to replace him. His legacy appears to be some degree of “downtown redevelopment,” which is labeled a big success by some, but doesn’t appear to have stopped the capital flight out of the city to places like Prattville and Millbrook.
One place that can be seen as a marker for Montgomery’s change is a restaurant called The Sahara. It’s closed now, but for 40 years was a high class dining establishment, where legislators would dine. In high school, I dated a Montgomery girl from a reasonably wealthy family and I’ll always remember having my first dinner with her parents at that restaurant. I think I was in a coat and tie, trying to make a good impression on her hard-ass dad. I ordered in my most grown-up voice and used my finest manners while my girlfriend ordered a “virgin Shirley Temple.”
The Sahara was empty when we moved to Montgomery, closed sometime after that formative early ’90s dinner with the girlfriend’s parents. Some have said that the owners opened a new place out east, where the grotesque shoppes now exist. The old Sahara building was purchased a few months back and is now something called “Dreamz,” which, from what I understand, is a for-rent banquet hall that will attempt to cater to high schoolers and “Sweet 16” parties. It is worth mentioning that the “r” in the “Dreamz” sign is painted backwards, thus ensuring that no white people will ever have an event there.
I certainly hope that their business will succeed. Anything is better than an empty building. Yet, I’m skeptical that this is a recipe for financial success. Attempts to re-develop that stretch of Norman Bridge Road have been less-than-inspiring thus far. Time has not been kind to that part of town in the years since it once was home to a bustling Loveman’s department store in the 1950s.
This is Montgomery as it now stands, with old stalwarts like The Capri movie theater and Capitol Book and News hanging on against the flow of capital flight. The window of time in which we live in Montgomery is unique. And yet, it is also what we make of it. Here’s hoping that future snapshots of the present era reflect more kindly on us than our glances backwards do on the people responsible for Montgomery’s current struggles.