I filled out Grandma Advertiser’s 2010 “Reader’s Choice Awards” form. It took an excruciatingly long time – some kind of paleo-Internet form software that required you to write in nominees in dozens of categories – as if everyone who lived here would have an opinion on everything from the best nursing home, church, or wine shop. I gritted my teeth and clicked through page after page of stupid categories, but I did it. Despite my professional training, I believe that there’s something to value in democracy, in the expression of the voice of the populace.
You have not disappointed me, Montgomery. I know now that there is something to the process, and that something is revealed in your horrifyingly bad taste. There. I said it. I have defended you against all comers, against the people who moved away; against the people who are scared to walk your streets during the day, much less at night; against the Homewood snobs, Wiregrass purists, Tuscaloosa hipsters, the South Alabama gin-and-sun crowd. I once cornered an unfortunate lawyer on a cross-country flight and berated him about his decision to move his family to Auburn because your “schools were bad” – I simply observed that the flight of people like him were why the Montgomery schools were bad and waited for his half-assed and quasi-racist response.
I have staked my good name on your gentle charms, Montgomery. I have talked up your surprisingly good taste, your aspirational spirits. And how did you repay me? You have declared the Olive Garden to be the town’s best Italian food, Montgomery, and Books A Million the number one bookstore, and Hardee’s the best milkshake. That’s right, Grandma Advertiser has again come out with her annual Readers’ Choice awards (When you are thankful they got the apostrophe in the place, you know your standards have been irreducibly lowered). And if you can make it through their 1995-era Internet display function you’ll be able to discern the “tastes” of your fellow citizens.
Hardee’s? No wonder you are fat. Is this a cause or effect of your overmedication? What else could explain your persistent love for a milkshake with a flavor profile somewhere between Bhopal and BP? What explains your preference for Italian food notable for its abundance of salt, or for a bookstore that reliably stocks all the latest Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen but whose fiction begins with Grisham, dallies at Meyer and ends with King?
I did consider that perhaps your metrics were off, Montgomery. That maybe you found Olive Garden to be more reliable than Sa Za (fair enough), Books A Million more wide-ranging than Capitol Books and News (sure, if a fully articulated selection of self-help minutiae is your idea of a sufficiently wide range), that Hardee’s … well, nothing justifies Hardee’s, Montgomery. And as for the others, if those are your metrics, you are obviously doing it wrong.
Look, we won’t hassle you about saying Ixtapa offers the town’s best Mexican food. Sure, we thought it was basically a terrible grease pool papered over with bad margaritas, but it has its charms. Why bother you about that choice when we can be positively apoplectic about your decision to declare Papa John’s to be Montgomery’s best pizza? Honestly, in a town where we are hard pressed to choose between Tomatino’s, Sa Za and Sal’s, the idea that we would even discuss the home of “garlic sauce” and the specific ennui engendered by a lone symbolic pepperoncini rattling against a cheese-rinded cardboard box makes me want to vomit. In terror. Which deserves a name of its own and will be henceforth called “feargurgitation.”
Yes, we get it. We’re transplanted big city outsiders unfamiliar with your simple middle American ways. Except, um, that we aren’t. One of us is from an Alabama town that makes Montgomery seem like Manhattan, and the other of us hails from a state where people count themselves lucky to be in the same area code as a Domino’s Pizza (the state has one area code). We were also raised in families that valued the local and unique, among people who thought that handmade was good. Which is not to say that we didn’t eat plenty of bad food. Hell, just tonight we ate at Ming’s Garden. On your recommendation, Montgomery (much good that did us when we ate at East China and regretted it for days afterward – word to the wise trying to follow this year’s awards’ multiple inexplicable East China recommendations). Thanks a lot; no telling how much hot yoga it will take to make ourselves feel better after eating all that “brown sauce.”
Not that we weren’t prepared. Like all self-respecting digital literati, we get Netflix. Which means we can see what you rent. The Montgomery Favorites section, full of Tyler Perry and prominently pimping Aloha, Scooby-Doo!, set the stage for the larger curtain-pull on your profoundly bad taste. But still, we’d hoped for better. Despite our more cynical natures, we’d hoped to see you repping the Tomatino’s incomparable crust, Martin’s fried pie, Thomas’ divine buffet…but perhaps we are less gourmands than gluttons for punishment. Or perhaps we are unredeemed elitists, overdue to be hoisted with our own petard and hurled backward unconscious into a neverending sea of breadsticks and salad.