Mobile, Alabama, got pretty miffed several months back when I included it on a list of “miserable” cities, based on health and wellness statistics from Gallup.
So when a local mayoral candidate invited me down to prove me wrong, I booked a flight. I’d never been to Mobile before, and figured it would be a good chance to learn about a new city beyond a set of numbers.
I won’t say that I got an unbiased view: During my three days in Mobile, I was wined, dined, and shown the best side of the city. There are blighted neighborhoods, crime (though violent crime numbers are down in 2013), and room to improve citizen health.
But I found that Mobile is actually a pretty cool town. It’s got a long history, great seafood, and people who made me, a New Jersey native, understand the meaning of “Southern Hospitality.”
Keep checking back here to read more about my trip over the next few weeks.
Disclosure: A couple of months ago, I included Mobile, Alabama on a list of the “most miserable cities in America,” based on Gallup data. Sandy Stimpson, a mayoral candidate in Mobile (#3 on the list) objected to my characterization, and offered to fly me down and show me how great the city really is. After a little prodding, I agreed to a visit. Stimpson is paying my travel expenses and arranging my travel in the city. I’m not planning to cover the mayoral race, but will be writing about my trip here.
Mobile was settled by the French in 1702. It has flown under six flags: French, Spanish, British, Republic of Alabama, Confederacy, and United States.
The city has 8 nationally recognised historic districts, and dozens of landmarked homes and buildings. This Italianate-style house in the De Tonti Square Historic District is now a museum.
Mobile is home to the ninth largest port in the U.S. It opens into Mobile Bay, and is just 32 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
Move over, Seattle: Mobile is the rainiest city in America, with more than five feet of rain annually. And folks weren't kidding when they said summers were hot and humid. I barely saw a soul on the streets during the midday heat.
Mardi Gras is a HUGE point of pride for Mobile: Any Mobilian will tell you that their city is home to the oldest Carnival celebration in America, having beat New Orleans by 15 years.
Joe Cain, the founder of Mardi Gras, has obtained mythical status in the city. Visitors come to throw beads on his grave, and images of Cain dressed as fictional Chief Slacabamorinico are everywhere.
But beads aren't the only treat tossed from floats to the crowds along the parade route. You can expect to catch a Moon Pie — a sweet treat made with chocolate, graham cracker, and marshmallow.
Moon Pies have become such an icon of Mobile that a 12-foot version of the cookie drops from one of the city's tallest buildings on New Year's Eve.
Another big point of pride is the seafood, which comes straight from the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Everything I tried was fresh and delicious, from the red snapper to the oysters.
You probably won't see a West Indies Salad outside the Mobile metro area, which is too bad. The combination of crabmeat blended with white onion and vinegar is unbeatable.
No wonder the seafood is stellar: The city is right on the Mobile River Delta, the second largest delta in the U.S. It is one of the most biologically diverse places in America, with huge numbers of fish and turtle species, and acts as an estuary for the Gulf of Mexico.
It's a popular place to boat and fish. There are also fish camps along some of the deltas waterways where locals go to escape.
The bay is home to the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship that's now a museum. Alabama schoolchildren raised $100,000 of the $1 million needed to preserve the ship.
Some of America's most impressive warships are built right in Mobile. Shipbuilder Austal's Littoral Combat Ship sits in the port and looks like something straight out of Star Wars.
The city recently broke ground on a massive jet factory for Airbus, the company's first assembly plant in the U.S. The $600 million factory is expected to employ 1,000 people when in opens in a few years.
Mobile hosts the annual Distinguished Young Women competition, formerly America's Junior Miss pageant. The 50 finalists — one from each state — spend two weeks rehearsing before the big show at the city's civic centre.
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