An Alaskan in Alabama

I sit at my desk—a borrowed table—balanced on a pillow on an uncomfortable chair. This, along with my bed, is my only furniture. Looking out the widow I see the blue sky, with its pink fading, behind the cut-out black shapes of the trees. A few minutes ago small arrowed shapes swooped around the spaces of pink and blue between the trees—bats, I think, though later I decide that they are birds: swallows. I am out of my element. When I go outside, my glasses fog with the warm, thick humid air, which envelops my body, hugging me close: the same temperature as my blood. The rain clouds hover in the distance. When the rain comes, it comes in huge sheets—giant streams flowing within seconds down the streets in the wide channel created between the pavement and the curb, into the sewer drains, deep and cavernous, the sidewalk raised on small pylons/piers to accommodate the floods. The rain is warm; when I go out in it the water swirls around my ankles, a sensation both appealing and disturbing given the garbage in the streets, now moving around my legs.

I’ve been in Alabama almost two weeks, suddenly here in a quick transfer from my previous workplace in Oregon, known for hippies, eco-consciousness, and the Oregon Ducks. In Alabama everything is on a massive scale: giant vehicles, large portions, and a stadium that makes the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium look like a tinker toy. My eco-heart shudders as I learn that there is no glass recycling, except at the single Target in town, and as I see the entire town constantly in motion in their giant SUVs and trucks, driving fast, talking on the phone, and paying no attention to pedestrians and cyclists. There are crosswalks, but crossing them is a perilous enterprise. Though the sign says it’s the law that motorists must stop, most folks speed right past me, some trying to beat me to the next few feet of space. A few stop and wave me through with a gracious movement of the hand, which is very kind, though stopping is not an option, but the law. I wish to remind them of this, churlish me: sweaty, pale, and worried I am going to be mown down at any moment. My neighbor, who is originally from Ireland, told me that she’s been yelled at for being in the crosswalk and told to get out of the street. A colleague tells me he’s heard of the local police telling cyclists to get out of the road and onto the sidewalk. A cyclist almost ran into me this afternoon; for a second, I wanted to tell her off, but then I remembered where I am: given the speed of the motorists and the lack of bike lanes, I understand her presence on the few slight feet of sidewalk with their (relative) safety.


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