Alabama or New York? One man’s debate

Richard Schmidt Living and Learning
Posted 10/8/13

My wife and I have just returned from two weeks in New York City where I was priest-in-residence at a religious retreat center a half block from Central Park. Other than to be “in residence,” my duties were few. We had lots of free time. It was …

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Alabama or New York? One man’s debate


My wife and I have just returned from two weeks in New York City where I was priest-in-residence at a religious retreat center a half block from Central Park. Other than to be “in residence,” my duties were few. We had lots of free time. It was a very nice gig.

Pam and I linked up with several old friends who can’t imagine living anywhere but in New York — especially not in the Deep South, as some of them seemed eager to tell us. “Why did you ever move to Alabama?” they asked, apparently expecting us to admit it was the worst decision of our lives.

Comparisons were made. Here’s how I saw it:

Ethnic mix: New York City is a microcosm of the world. Walking through Central Park, we passed Hasidic Jews, African-Americans, Muslim women in their burkas, Hispanics, Europeans, Orientals, and Africans, all speaking their native tongues, to say nothing of native Caucasian New Yorkers who also sounded foreign to us. All these people were getting along together splendidly. We loved it. In Alabama, most people look and sound pretty much alike. Advantage: New York.

Scenery: New York offers the many charms of Central Park, a soaring skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and pastoral vistas up the Hudson River. But Alabama has white beaches, live oaks, Mobile Bay sunsets, and kudzu (yes, I think kudzu is pretty, especially on someone else’s property). Advantage: Alabama.

Transportation: Once you learn how to use the subways, busses, trains and cabs; transportation in New York is easy, efficient, and cheap. I’d love to eliminate the expense and hassle of buying, fueling, servicing, insuring, garaging, and replacing a private automobile. Advantage: New York.

Cuisine: Pam and I enjoyed deli sandwiches for lunch and the seemingly limitless variety of ethnic foods in New York. Do you like Afghan food? Ethiopian? Peruvian? Samoan? New York has it all. But it’s hard (though not impossible) to find good hush puppies, cheese grits, gumbo, collards and fried flounder in New York. Advantage: Alabama.

Politics: I’ve lived in 10 states and haven’t liked the politics in any of them. Politicians everywhere seem to make statements sound plebian, simplistic, and crimped. The difference is that in New York, you learn things and hear viewpoints that inform and challenge you, whereas in Alabama, many people merely repeat what they hear from the guy next door or on Fox News. Advantage: New York.

Pace of life: Southerners mosey, amble and dally, but New Yorkers seem in a perpetual rush, dashing up or down subway stairs and bumping into each other on street corners, on escalators, and in lines at the corner grocery (small groceries proliferate in New York, but don’t look for anything like a Publix or a Winn Dixie). New Yorkers can relax and breathe deeply in Central Park and a few other places, but they don’t even think about relaxing in their yards (what yards?). Advantage: Alabama.

Cultural life: Pam and I attended a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic as they prepared for a performance of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” and Tchaikovsky’s first Piano Concerto with soloist Yefim Bronfman. The concert itself would have been too pricey, but the rehearsal was almost as good and quite affordable. We also had our choice of dozens of churches, all offering splendid music both to hear and to sing. And then there are New York’s countless museums, galleries, and auction houses, with more fine art than the entire South. Of course you can listen to good music on your iPhone nowadays and find good art on the Internet, but it’s not the same. Advantage: New York.

Noise level: Jackhammers, garbage trucks, police sirens and people yelling to be heard over other people yelling — that’s Manhattan. Back home, the only noise I complain about is the occasional mockingbird that won’t stop singing. Advantage: Alabama.

People: We found New Yorkers to be friendly, helpful, and gracious, just like Alabamians. Advantage: None.

No place is perfect, every place has something to recommend it, and people’s tastes and needs differ. I love visiting New York, but I know where I belong and I’m always glad when I return to Sweet Home Alabama.

Richard H. Schmidt is a retired Episcopal priest, editor and author who lives in Fairhope. He can be reached at