By SEAN DIETRICH
It’s raining in central Alabama. I am on my porch, barefoot, watching the rainfall, hypnotized by the sound.
Rain can do strange things to a man.
I come from a long line of rain-watchers, horse thieves and used car salesmen. We are a barefoot people.
And although my wife keeps telling me to put on shoes because it’s so cold outside that ketchup takes a week just to come out of the bottle, I am a Florida man. Shoes are for going to town.
There is a specific cadence to Alabamian rain. The tone is wholly unlike the rain from my home state. This is the kind of thundershower you can only get in the foothills. There’s a different ring to it. It’s similar to the difference between a clarinet and a kazoo.
Birmingham is in the mountains. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. People from more precipitous states such as, say, Colorado, will outright laugh when you suggest that Birmingham has actual mountains.
“Those aren’t real mountains!” Colorado people will say while chewing their gluten-free granola. But don’t listen to these people. Their brains have been pickled by generations of Coors abuse.
This city definitely has mountains. They might not be the huge peaks of Wyoming, but they could inspire American hymns nonetheless.
Birmingham lives in the Jones Valley, flanked by parallel ridges which run northeast to southwest. These iron-ore hills are the tails of the mighty Appalachians. They are short. They are the Danny Devitos of the alpine world.
Still, to a guy from Florida, they are Mount Kilimanjaro.
I come from a long, flat, state, also known as the Tourism State. Our main crop each year is Midwesterners. There are no mountains in Florida. Even our singing is flat.
The highest point in the whole state is located in my home county. Britton Hill. Britton Hill’s summit is 345 feet above sea level, slightly higher than a residential water heater.
By contrast, the highest point in Birmingham is on the Red Mountain Ridge, clocking in at 1,025 feet. And I can tell you, after hiking Red Mountain yesterday, it’s a real mountain.
I took a short walk to the top, I wheezed until my face turned the color of an infected zit.
Red Mountain Park is 1,500 acres on the Red Mountain Ridge with miles of trails and a couple of arresting city overlooks.
The park was busy. I saw lots of people on the trails. Most were in superb physical shape, unlike yours truly. They wore activewear, they bicycled and many were walking behind their well-groomed dogs, carrying tiny bags of poo.
When I reached the summit, I stood and gazed at Magic City’s skyline from a thousand feet. The view was astonishing. I was overcome with the fact that I am now living in an actual city.
I’ve never lived in an actual city before. Which is probably why every time I leave our house I feel like I’m on a minor expedition. I am constantly being reminded that I’m in an urban environment. I am incessantly doing battle against SUVs, always seeing something brand new, always feeling this new ache in my heart.
The ache must be homesickness.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. But the rain in central Alabama sounds different to my ears. Rainfall on the Gulf Coast has a unique lilt to it, like the voice of your mama. This mountain rain sounds wilder and … just different.
All this makes me start to wonder. How will I fit in here? Will I make new friends? Or will I eat in the lunchroom alone? Will anyone invite me to play on their baseball team? How about birthday parties?
I’m a middle-aged man with a receding hairline. These things are harder to figure out as you sprint toward your golden years.
How will the big city change me? How will I adapt? I wonder what I will be like in two years. Five years. 15 years. Is this where I will grow old and eventually die? Will I be lucky enough to grow old?
Does anyone miss me back home? Is anyone thinking about me the way I’m thinking about them? Is Britton Hill still 345 feet tall? Am I a barefoot fool for wondering these things? Maybe.
Rain really does do strange things to a man.