Twenty-seven reasons to love Demopolis

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 10, 2005

Truth be told, I didn’t see myself celebrating Oct. 7, 2005, my twenty-seventh birthday, in Demopolis.

By 27, I was going to be rubbing elbows with John Cusack and Uma Thurman in a trendy L.A. cafe as they told me how much they loved my latest screenplay. I was going to be in Knoxville, alongside Mike Gottfried doing play-by-play for ESPN’s Saturday night SEC game of the week. I was going to be at the Boston Barnes and Noble signing copies of my latest book, “Hello, My Name Is,” the first ever volume of poetry to hit number-one on the New York Times bestseller lists.

OK, so that last one was never very realistic (as opposed to the other two, which were perfectly reasonable things to expect, of course). And as it turns out, after nine months of living and working in Demopolis, that this city and this job is a great place to be at 27.

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So in honor of the occasion and the city I am very, very happy to call my home, here are 27 reasons it’s good to be in Demopolis:

1. Raspberry Slush Puppies at the SportPlex in summer.

2. The remarkable ability of area churches to have the state’s former college quarterback stars come to speak. In just the last four months, Jay Barker and Stan White have both made appearances. Sweet.

3. Smokin’ Jack’s.

4. A city school system that gives students super-cool things like elementary school musicals and varsity high school soccer.

5. A city school system full of super-cool teachers, administrators, and Board of Ed members that make sure students get a super-good education (and make sure, too, that the folks at the local newspaper hear about what’s going on).

6. That sign along Highway 80 for a defunct business selling “Pure Emu Oil” and “Pure Rhea Oil.” Rhea oil! It’s like they took the VH1 TV show “I Love the ’90s,” distilled it its purest essence, and built it into a sign.

7. Foscue Park. Nature = good.

8. Evening jogs. Much nicer with stars and fresh air as opposed to, say, yellowing streetlights and car exhaust.

9. Christmas on the River. No, I haven’t gotten to experience it myself yet, but from what I understand it’s a pretty safe bet it belongs on this list.

10. Ethnic cuisine. Maybe there’s another town of Demopolis’s size with three Mexican restaurants, two Chinese restaurants, and an Italian restaurant to choose from. But I haven’t been there.

11. The downtown square. Loft apartments, the city fountain, neat-o shops and places to eat…what’s not to like?

12. And while we’re on the subject, it makes me irrationally happy the old-school playground merry-go-round is still in the downtown park. I think adults forget sometimes how much fun it can be to be stupidly dizzy. It’s a vitally important part of throwing…er, growing up.

13. Royal blue’s always been my favorite color. No joke.

14. Good ol’ Southern friendliness. Conversations with bank tellers or gas station cashiers or waitresses or the guy in front of you in the grocery line are good for the soul.

15. Late-night runs to Sonic. Like being in college again, but without having to spend the next seven hours writing a paper.

16. A police department and a Chief of Police that work awfully hard to keep us safe and still take the time to say hello and give us a hand when we need a little help.

17. Rick’s honorary submission: “Feeding the turtles at the yacht basin.” Totally.

18. The name “Demopolis.” Fun to say. Fun to shorten to–and chant–“Demop.” It’s Greek, which is only about a thousand times cooler than, say, naming the city after some random Scottish city the original settler’s great uncle’s roommate was born in. And, best of all, we’re the only one.

19. Patrolling the sidelines at a Demopolis High or WAP football game. I’ll gladly watch just about any high school football game I can get to, but when the crowd gets as involved and is as energetic as the crowds here in Demopolis (yes, for both teams) the experience goes way beyond “gladly watching.” And while we’re on the subject of sports…

20. Watching the basketball teams…

21. Watching the baseball and softball teams…

22. Watching Dixie Youth and volleyball and soccer and anything else athletic here in Demopolis. From everything I’ve seen, we have great kids here. From everything I’ve seen, we have great parents and fans here. As a sports editor, I am mighty, mighty thankful for that.

23. A public library that makes the public libraries of other Demopolis-sized towns look like the cardboard box my little brother kept his comic book collection in. I’m racking up the overdue book fines as I type and you read, but when the money goes to a cause this good, it’s hard to care.

24. The River City Rumble. Funnel cakes, drag boats going a gazillion miles-an-hour, and a local guy to root for. I’d like a second helping, please.

25. Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital. There’s nice folks, really nice folks, super-nice folks, and then there’s the administration and staff at Whitfield. There’s a reason why small-town hospitals across the country are struggling while BWWMH thrives and grows, and that’s it.

26. The Demopolis Times. Shameless plug, I know. But they did give me a job.

27. The reason so many of the other things on this list exist: the unity here in Demopolis. Elsewhere across the Black Belt, I’ve seen first-hand places where city leadership and two groups of citizens are fighting against each other, trying to take the city in two different directions. As seen this week, the Demopolis Council isn’t always automatically on the same page. But they always have the same goal in mind: what’s best for their city and the people who live here, with everything else second.

That kind of unity, both in Demopolis’s leadership and in its people, is what drives the city forward. It’s why, whoever’s birthday it might be, there’s always reason to celebrate living here.