“I believe cities have personalities. They tell a story. They somehow exude a feeling.”
Last month I completed a year-long goal, where I would do a new thing that I could only do in Birmingham each week for a year. I called the project “52 things to do in Birmingham,” but shortened it for the hashtag (#52thingstodoinbham). If you are confused by the name, remember there are 52 weeks in a year and I am doing a new thing each week for a year.
The idea came from a friend of mine in Los Angeles, Julia, who had done a similar challenge in Los Angeles. A month before moving to Birmingham, I realized in my 2.5 years in LA that I had never hiked to the Hollywood sign. How could I have lived in this city so long and missed out on one of the biggest sites to see? I was so busy and wrapped up with school and working that I had left most of the city undiscovered. Just as Julie finished telling me about all the amazing things she discovered in LA, we made it to the top of the Hollywood sign before sundown to take in the view. Then just like every other city in the world we celebrated with endless soup, salad, and breadsticks at Olive Garden.
Two months later I was sitting in my new Alabama apartment, unsure what to do with my time. I did not know the area, had not started work yet, and did not have any friends in town. My furniture was 2 weeks late and I was stuck sitting on my blow-up mattress, with no internet, re-watching Gilmore Girls for the 10th time on my phone. I drove to the O’Henry’s coffee shop in downtown Homewood to use their internet and finally got some move-in paperwork started to switch over my car registration (that could be a whole 52 things to do in itself). Instead, I thought of my hike to the Hollywood sign and Julia’s LA challenge and began researching things to do in Birmingham. From that moment forward, 52 things to do in Birmingham was born.
I got in my car the next morning and drove downtown, pulling over to take in the sights and sounds, reading the plaques about the city, and talking to strangers along the way. Not too long after, I had my first day of work at my new job. Luckily all the furniture had arrived by then too.
Making friends in your 20s after college is extremely difficult, especially when you have no base, such as high school friends in the city. I’m just a Yankee, who doesn’t like sweet tea, trying to not sound strange using “Y’all.” Already feeling like a fish out of water, finding connections and friendships was going to take time.
I believe cities have personalities. They tell a story. They somehow exude a feeling. Even while I was traveling abroad, I hold this statement to be true. You can learn all the history, see all the sites, and eat at every 5-star restaurant in town, but nothing can describe the feelings you get when beaming about a city. What was it that made cities have that feeling?
Then in March, we got the news that we would be working from home due to COVID-19. Museums, restaurants, and sporting events all got shut down. My list of 52 things suddenly became near impossible. I went home to Philadelphia for a couple months (working from home) to overcome the loneliness of quarantining alone in a strange city. I thought that my goal of completing the 52 things was going to be put on hold till 2021.
I returned to Birmingham in July, ready to find creative ways to safely do Birmingham things. I would have to do multiple things in a week to reach 52 by the end of October. This included some hiking spots, takeout food and drinks, and some social distancing. As the months went along, I realized what it was about cities that I longed for. It was the people who experience the city with you. My fond memories of all the past places I’ve lived have nothing to do with the city, but the people who made it a second home.
The one thing this challenge forced me to do, was get out of my apartment and attempt to make those connections. Whether this was pre-pandemic heading to the bar, or during the pandemic and asking a new friend to go on a social distance hike. It forced me to become part of Birmingham’s story. A character (dare I say main character – okay not really) who was trying to make sense of the world around them during the craziest year of them all.
During the year that is 2020, I’ve found myself lonelier than ever before. At the same time, I have never felt more like myself than ever before. Although so many terrible things were happening, it was a year of so much growth and realizations. I started re-connecting with old friends over zoom, I made some tough life decisions, and truly started to work on myself as a human being. The make-shift toilet in my back seat from my last post should have told you everything you needed to know about all of that.
No matter where you live (or currently find yourself quarantining), I would highly encourage you to try a “52 things” challenge there. You would be surprised by how much history and culture you will learn as well as how many inspiring people you will meet along the way.
Below is a list of everything that was included in the 52 things to do in Birmingham challenge. All photos and information can be found by searching the hashtag #52thingstodoinbham on Instagram and Facebook.
Here are some things that did not make the list, but I totally did and forgot to snap a photo:
- Trim Tab Brewery: We actually came here after my job interview and some other times before COVID.
- Back Forty: We literally came here for work lunch and game nights all the time before COVID since our warehouse is next door.
- Saw’s BBQ: I ordered takeout during COVID but only had pics from Rodney Scotts.
- Rainbow tunnels: Our work building was next to them and I just never posted about it. They are really cool, so definitely look up some photos.
Until next time, please enjoy this TikTok I made about the election week…
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