Here’s Your Handy Huntsville Guide

It’s the second Sunday of the month, and The Huntsville Times has published my latest community column entitled, “New to the city? Here’s a handy guide for you newcomers.”

Sigh. You know the drill. Here’s the first paragraph:

We moved to Huntsville 15 years ago this month. Back then, what I really wanted was a reliable newcomer’s guide. There are probably folks migrating to Huntsville from northern Virginia as part of the BRAC move who feel the same way. Maybe some of them will even read this column.

And here’s the rest.

For the uninitiated, BRAC stands for “Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.” Basically, the federal government from time to time will close down a military base or move a command from one area of the country to another, presumably to cut costs and increase efficiency. Yes, I managed to type that with a straight face, but barely.

Huntsville benefited from BRAC in the 1990s, receiving several thousand workers and their families from St. Louis, and now we’re poised to do the same thing again with a large group of federal workers in the DC area. This will occur over the next few years, and local leaders and head honchos of every variety are all atwitter over the prospect of such a boon to the local economy.

“If you build it, they will come” is the new community cant, and this has launched a wave of spending on new “this or that” in advance of their arrival, some of which, admittedly, is needed. I wonder sometimes, though, just how big the impact will be and whether or not it justifies some of the frenzied “spendthriftiness” that I’ve witnessed lately.

But if they do come like they say they will, then I’m figuring that folks moving from northern Virginia will be in for a little Southern Culture shock. So, I’m just trying to lessen the blow and be a good neighbor.

No need to thank me; you’re already welcome–in more ways than one.

  1. mmlace

    Almost makes me wanna visit Huntsville! As always, Dr. Eyeguy, thanks for sharing!

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    Yeah, I’m betting the Chamber of Commerce and the Visitor’s Bureau will be calling asking me to write for them. Just you wait.

  3. Brady

    You needed the first paragraph. Thanks for giving it to us. I’ll have to remember the thing about “bless his heart”. I didn’t realize that was the way it worked until you mentioned it.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    Brady, bless your heart, where have you been? Oh, that’s right, globetrotting and preaching/teaching and what not. And writing 200 words every other day or so whether you need to or not.

    Yeah, I happen to think that first paragraphs are important, but apparently The Huntsville Times thinks they’re optional. It must be the “new journalism,” but I’m really too old school to go for that very much.

  5. cg

    Wow, I must have really been put down when a southerner once exclaimed to me, “Bless your LITTLE PUMPKIN heart.”

  6. Mike the Eyeguy

    When people starting throwing in fruits and vegetables, that’s usually not a good sign. Still, “little pumpkin” is not as bad as “pea pickin’.”

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    The link to the column may not work eventually. Here is the column in its entirety:

    We moved to Huntsville 15 years ago this month. Back then, what I really wanted was a reliable newcomer’s guide. There are probably folks migrating to Huntsville from northern Virginia as part of the BRAC move who feel the same way. Maybe some of them will even read this column.

    If so, then relax. As a native Virginian, I feel your dislocation. Allow me to be your guide:

    When driving to Huntsville, enter from the east. Cross Monte Sano and behold beautiful Jones Valley and the stunning view of downtown Huntsville. You’ll experience many happy memories of those weekend getaways in the Shenandoah Valley.

    Don’t enter from the west via U.S. 72 and hang a right on South Memorial Parkway like I did the first time I came to town. The heavy commercialization and the sight of all those billboards will make you want to get away from Huntsville.

    Expect an inconsistent architectural theme to the city. We have more than our fair share of structural gems, such as the ante-bellum homes in the Twickenham District and the charming old churches and business buildings downtown. But be warned – when you pass our courthouse and City Hall, avert your gaze.

    Shorter commutes

    Prepare to have extra time on your hands from shorter commutes. The natives complain about “the traffic,” but they exaggerate. If you build your 4,000-square-foot dream home in a former cotton field in the boonies of Monrovia, though, you might find yourself having some Beltway flashbacks.

    Learn to love barbecue. It’s a little known fact of history that the Saturn V rocket, our town totem, was not powered by liquid hydrogen but instead by pulled pork. Those nerdy NASA guys in the short-sleeve white shirts and skinny black ties who sent us to the moon back in the 1960s ate tons of the stuff. Combining barbecue with sweet tea produces an especially potent fuel.

    Remember this name: Wernher von Braun. Go to and memorize his entry. Everything is about him and named after him. He is THE MAN. And it’s pronounced von “BROWN” not von “BRAWN.” I never had trouble remembering that, but you might.

    If you’re a Christian, boy are you going to be blessed! You can stand in any spot in the city and hit three or four different churches with a rock – and you won’t even need a sling.

    They know you’re coming, so prepare to be wooed with new building additions, a deluge of mail-outs and TV commercials, potlucks galore and a program for your every spiritual/suburban need. If you’re of a different religious persuasion, you may have to search harder to find some fellowship, but Huntsville’s still got you covered.

    If you must criticize someone, please don’t do so directly like you’re accustomed to up north. Instead, insert the phrase “bless his/her heart” when making any potentially negative comment. You can practically get away with slander if you just remember to say those magic words.

    If you want your kids to become National Merit Scholars and be taught by first-rate teachers, then be sure to enroll them at that 1960s architectural “uh-oh” known as Grissom High School. Remember, there’s more to a school than its windowless facade and the portable “classroom” units sitting out front. Bless their hearts.

    The dividing line

    You had the Washington Redskins, but down here we have real football. Families, neighborhoods and churches have been known to divide along the fault line of Alabama vs. Auburn. I would suggest that you remain neutral as long as possible.

    Of course, the day may come when one of your kids may enroll in one of those fine institutions of higher learning and, like me, you’ll find yourself yelling, “Roll Tide, Roll!” even though Huntsville is nowhere near the Gulf of Mexico.

    No, we’re far from perfect. But don’t be surprised if, despite The Rocket City’s occasional quirks, you fall in love with the place anyway.

    As I’ve discovered, Huntsville is still a great place to live.

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