While working a construction job in Montgomery, I had the opportunity to know the city. I was warned by many to stay away from Montgomery, that it was overly vibrant, but compared to Washington D.C. and Baltimore, it was tolerable. Here are nine things I learned…
1. It makes demographic sense
You have white people who speak English and you have black people who speak English. All identify as Americans. In a nominal sense, all worship the same Christian God. The whites behave in a mostly uniform way and the blacks behave in a mostly uniform way. Whites have their own areas and blacks have their own areas. I quickly learned how to deal with both groups and didn’t have any problems with either, even though some black areas of the city were rough.
In Washington D.C., there is no demographic logic. The gates to the city have long since been opened to the world so the result is an environment built on the template of an international airport. Once you walk out your front door, you are surrounded by all the world’s religions and odors. You cannot guess which second or third language that you learned long ago will aid you on your tasks for the day. In Montgomery, there were practically no surprises, resulting in far less personal tension and confusion.
2. Southern Baptists have stronger faith than other Protestant denominations
It’s easy for a Catholic or Orthodox Christian to needle Protestants, but I can’t say much bad about the Southern Baptists I met in Montgomery. Their faith was significantly stronger than other Protestants I’ve encountered, especially compared to the Northeast. Many men shared Biblical views to me which would have made them zealous converts to the Orthodox Church.
The principal flaw I saw in their faith is their lack of spiritual tools to block out worldly addictions and demonic deception. They are also undergoing subversion from within, so if I return to Montgomery in a decade, I would expect to find weaker faith and an increased tolerance of sodomy.
3. Southern hospitality is real
Let me first tell you about Middle Eastern hospitality. If you arrive at my Armenian mother’s house unexpectedly, she will stop all she’s doing to serve you. She will use her creative genius to make a meal from random ingredients in her pantry and find varieties of tea I didn’t even know she had. She will sit you down, ensure you are comfortable, and anticipate your needs. She will give you what you didn’t know you wanted. When your water glass is half empty, she will fill it even though you don’t want more water. I advise you to visit her on an empty stomach because she will ply you with food.
Then there is my Iranian father and stepmom. In their house, your genuine exclamation of being “full” will be totally ignored as waves of food are brought out. Once you finish a piece of cake—and you must eat it or else you will get into an argument with the host—you will think the gluttonous ordeal is over, but here comes a basket of grapes, apples, oranges, and other fruits you didn’t know were in season. And there may be some imported confections after that, and how bought some nuts and pistachios? You’re expected to eat most of it, because you don’t want to insult the host, do you? I am my father’s son yet not a meal goes by where I’m not urged to eat double my bodily requirement.
The hospitality of a typical American is more of a self-serve buffet model, to put it as kindly as I can. You will often not be offered anything, not even a glass of water, but if you want to get it yourself, the host will instruct you how to do so. A question I’ve often had to ask in the homes of my American friends is “I’m so very thirsty—can I please have a glass of water?” and then when I’m granted permission, I must ask, “Where are the glasses?” You can visit my mother’s house for years, but you will never know the location of the glasses, and she will reprimand you if you dare pick up your own dishes and carry them to the sink. Of course I am grateful for even the glass of water that I have to retrieve, but there is quite an irreconcilable gulf between American and Middle Eastern hospitality.
Enter Southern hospitality. They are the middle ground between these two extremes. They offer you food but are not overbearing. They go out of their way to serve you but do not force it. They are not put off by unexpected guests and are generous with their food even if they don’t have much. Their hospitality was pleasant and graceful, and closer to what I have experienced for most of my life.
4. They love junk food
I was astonished not only by the sheer number of fast food restaurants in Montgomery but the fact that they were always busy, including brands that you thought died long ago, like Hardees. The population is so satisfied by fast food that there are practically no restaurants that aren’t a chain brand. Perhaps two or three restaurants in the entire city have what I would define as a craft burger that is not cooked from frozen meat. The food culture is rather abysmal, and it is here that I stepped up my own cooking.
5. The black population is very high
There are a lot of blacks in Montgomery, enough to scare off any white liberal, but for me it was not a shock. I’m used to such enrichment (my high school was nearly 50% black), so Montgomery was almost a home away from home.
I was told there were tensions between whites and blacks in the city, but compared to where? I didn’t see this tension because the blacks in Montgomery don’t have a chip on their shoulder like the east coast blacks who analyze every infinitesimal action from a white as some type of racial offense or personal affront. I found the races in Montgomery to exist in a peaceful détente, perhaps because so many whites are armed. The most negative experience I had with a black was when a female Walmart greeter was aggressive in asking me to put on a face mask (I did not comply).
6. A lot of men served in the military
Most people you meet have either served in the military or know a direct relative who has. A lot of families have had multiple generations in military service, and only lately have many of the enlisted come to realize that the military is not what it once was.
7. Everyone you talk to identifies as a Christian
When talking to people in DC, I don’t drop God in a conversation because chances are they are secular or atheist. In Montgomery, people would drop God on me first, usually very early on, and from that I must conclude that I didn’t meet a single atheist while I was there. I could talk about “God’s plan” and they wouldn’t bat an eye. I could drop a verse from the Gospel and they would know it. Maybe the person I was talking to wasn’t devout, but almost everyone in Montgomery believed in God and had a basic understanding of the Bible. There was no need to filter your faith.
8. There is less disparity between the rich and poor
I did not see any obscene displays of wealth in Montgomery. While there is a large underclass, from my view it seemed that most of the inhabitants were in the middle-class category, tenuously getting by. The most common type of vehicle was a pickup truck, usually old and beat up, and rarely did I see a BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
Even in the rich areas of Montgomery, which I often worked in, the owners did not display a level of snobbiness that I would’ve expected. Most people are down to earth and have not made a false god out of money as I’ve seen on the east coast.
9. The driving is aggressive
The number one downside is insanely aggressive driving, usually by minorities. I have never been tailgated so often by impatient drivers. I guess everyone is in a rush to get to Hardees before it closes.
If you’ve never lived in a very black city, I don’t think you’d feel comfortable in Montgomery, but since I grew up around blacks as a kid (and survived to tell the tale), I didn’t have to make any adjustments besides cooking more often due to a lack of decent food options. When you account for all the pros and cons, moving to Montgomery from the DC suburbs was more a lateral move for me than anything. The fact that I can live in Montgomery without being annoyed or robbed frequently tells me that there probably aren’t many places in the United States that I couldn’t adapt to.