The Return of the Small Town: Boom Days 2010 in Fort Payne, AL

A glimpse at the culture of Fort Payne, Alabama.

It can be common for people who grow up in a small town to want to move away as soon they graduate high school, as was the case for myself.  Since I graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1999, I have lived in Florida, Virginia, and for the last five years, Nashville.  That means for over 11 years, I have pretty much lived away from the hometown that molded me.  Now, I realize that a lot of this could be that I am married now and have a baby on the way, but I must admit, my old hometown suddenly seems really cool again.  Maybe it’s because the pace of my life is slowing down, compared to my single days and even my married-with-no-children days, and is now starting to match the speed of a small town and no longer a big city.  But I still think something special is happening in this small town, apart from my interference or commentary.

This past weekend my wife and I spent the weekend there with my parents, sister, and her husband.  My sister Dana had mentioned to me that there was this thing going on called “Boom Days” on Saturday in the city park.  She heard something about free pancakes and people dressed up like “old times”.  That’s all she knew.  I was way too curious about this possible Lord of the Rings picnic not to go.  So I went.

Turns out the pancakes weren’t free, but instead they were part of an all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet for just five bucks, and the people dressed up were Civil War reenacters, not from Medieval times.  There was also a llama, a clown, a car show, a guy on a unicycle, horses, cool crafts exhibits, three concert stages, (four if you count two guys playing bluegrass on the sidewalk), a BBQ competition, and even a dog show.  I had originally only planned to check it out for a little while to say that I went, then leave.  But instead, I was there for over two and half hours and left with a slight sunburn.

In other words, I had a whole lot of fun.  It was a reunion of sorts: I caught up with some childhood classmates like Alex Igou and Tiffanie Baker Vincent, as well as our legendary elementary school librarian, Mrs. Jane Mauldin.  Boom Days 2010 was truly the kind of city wide event that had something for everybody.  I predict that like the days of June Jam (1982-1997), Boom Days will similarly help the culture of the town to resurface.

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started bringing friends home for the weekend that I realized that Fort Payne supersedes commercialized stereotypes of what a small Southern town is supposed to be like.  Fort Payne is not simply Country music, cows, and tractors- which are all good and necessary.  Being that when I was growing up I was constantly in plays and musicals, most of them written and directed by native Eddie McPherson, I was always aware of Fort Payne’s love of the arts.  It has to mean something when there are two theatres in downtown, on the same street, a block away from each other.

Fort Payne is also set apart from many towns in that half of the city is on a mountain and the other half is in a valley.  I grew up on the mountain side, sandwiched in between Little River Canyon, Little River Falls, De Soto State Park, and the artistic town of Mentone.  So while the valley half is where I learned to be social and outgoing, at school and at church, it was the outdoorsy mountain half that catered to my introspective and artistic side.  Simply put, Fort Payne is the perfect environment to yield well-rounded and level-headed people.

It takes a village.  Mine was Fort Payne.

All of the scenic route snapshots  used in this post were taken during Boom Days 2010, courtesy of Nick Shell.


Birthday Status Update: I’m Super Famous for 24 Hours Just for Surviving Another Year

Birthdays are sort of a funny thing.  And they’re also pretty dang awesome.

After a flood of friends and family telling me to enjoy my 29th birthday via facebook wall comments and mailed birthday cards, I decided to do what they said.  Since last October, I have been wanting a mountain bike.  So when a generous check came in the mail from my parents, I went out the next day to Dick’s Sporting Goods with a “$10 off” coupon and bought myself the mountain bike of my dreams, which conveniently had just went on sale, saving me an additional $70.

Owning a bike takes me back to the days of being a kid.  Because the backseats of my Honda Element fold individually into the sides of the car, I just fold up one seat and my bike easily stays put there.  And I keep my helmet and air pump with me as well.  That means that wherever I am, I can take out my mountain bike for a spin.

I am just too cool these days.

On Monday I explored some areas around my work place, which is outside of Nashville.  There’s this gated apartment community that is only accessible by car and by punching in the correct password on the gate.  Unless you’re on a bike.

It’s interesting how much I blend in like a wallflower when I’m wearing my helmet, dressed professionally, riding my 10 speed mountain bike.  No one questions me at all.  I rode throughout the neighborhood as people said hello to me, not realizing I wasn’t one of their own.

Then I found what I didn’t know I was looking for.  In the back of the neighborhood, situated on a hill, yet just hundreds of feet away from the living quarters, was a Civil War Era graveyard.  Buried inside are the first two original “white settlers” (as the sign explained to me) who stepped foot in Franklin, TN.  They came straight from Scotland.

With my awesome mountain bike, now I can go on more adventures like that during my lunch break.  Or at my house.  I don’t go anywhere now without my new manly accessory.

In addition to my parents’ gift, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a gift card for Barnes & Noble, so I was finally able to buy the two non-fiction books (Maps & Legends, and Manhood for Amateurs) by my favorite author, Michael Chabon, who of course is Jewish.  No other writer has influenced my writing style more than he has.

I could have bought those books a long time ago but it’s so hard for me to spend my own money on stuff I want, but don’t need.  That’s what birthday money is for.

As for my wife, she couldn’t have read my mind any better.  I honestly hadn’t thought much about what she would get me for my birthday, with me being so preoccupied about Baby Bean.  But she got me four things that we’re just perfect:

1)     A ceramic wedding ring.  In our almost two years of marriage, I haven’t been able to consistently wear my actual ring because I am allergic to the metal in it.  So I’ve settled for hemp rings hand-made by people up in hippy stores in Louisville who basically made them for me for free after hearing the sad story of me being so much in love with my wife but not being able to wear my wedding ring.  But now I wear an exact replica of my original ring.  It feels great to look like a married man.

2)     Three years ago for my birthday while my wife was living in Australia, she bought me a Fossil watch and mailed it to me.  About a year ago, the watch battery died and we never got around to replacing it.  But my wife took the effort and time to get the battery replaced so now I can wear my watch again, which matches my wedding ring- a metallic slate color.

3)     The newest CD from the half-Indian, half-American living legend, Norah Jones.  It’s always the right time for Norah Jones.  She’s this generation’s Bonnie Raitt, whom I also love.  Maybe I’m supposed to want a CD from someone manly, like the soundtrack to Iron Man 2 featuring ACDC.  But I am unashamedly a Norah Jones fan, just as much as I am a fan of Michael Buble, who put on one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

4)     Lastly, speaking of gifts that arguably I should want if I was 20 years older than I actually am, my wife set up a weekend trip for us to stay in a Bed & Breakfast in northern Kentucky.

We don’t really do hotels.  Because I can only imagine how seldom the blankets get washed on hotel beds.  But with Bed & Breakfasts, you just know everything’s clean and classy.  Some of my friends have commented, “But isn’t that awkward?  Getting up in the morning and eating breakfast with people you don’t know?”   Not for us.  It’s fun.

Yes, they’re always my parents’ age or older and have kids our age, but it’s always interesting to meet other married couples traveling from different parts of the country for different romantic reasons.  We took our honeymoon up in New England and there was no one up there where we stayed who was our age.  We didn’t mind at all.

So there it is.  For all those who wished me a happy birthday this year, not knowing exactly what that would entail for me, now you know how it all went down.  Thanks for caring about my birthday.  It really does mean a lot.

Bottom image: Clover handcrafted signs (Oak Cottage)