11 ways us locals know you’re not from Alabama

1. You don’t belong to a church.

Not everybody in the South goes to church, but almost everyone has a church they’d go to, if they were going to go. If you don’t have a good lay of the land when it comes to local churches, including denominational affiliation and some former experience, it’s a good hint that you’re not from around here.

In small towns, it’s not worth trying to fake it, either. That’s a good way to get caught in a lie — and Alabamians don’t like liars.

That’s a sin, didn’t you hear?

2. You’re freaking out about the wrong weather.

We’re going to have some follow-up questions concerning your origin if, under the threat of a low-category hurricane or tropical storm, you acquire any of the following: plywood, lumber, duct tape, sandbags, extreme rain gear, a canoe.
Seriously, a tropical storm isn’t even going to close schools, especially if you’re a few hours inland.

However, under the threat of snow, you should freak out. We don’t know what snow tires are. Nobody has a plow. Nobody understands how salt on roadways works, or at what point the roads will become icy and slick.
You should rush to the grocery store and purchase all the bread and milk, because it will be gone until additional supplies can be shipped from another part of the country to relieve this state of emergency.

Oh, and it might snow. Maybe.

3. You really don’t want something to drink.

If you’re invited into someone’s home, they’re going to offer you food and a drink. Usually, you can get away with turning down the food, but if you refuse both, you’ll raise a red flag.

Your host wants to feel like they’ve done a good job taking care of you. So, even if you’re not thirsty, accept a drink and just sip it. Otherwise, we’re going to ask you if you’re sure you’re not thirsty at least eight times an hour.

4. You’re polite, but not friendly-polite.

Southern folk are often very open people. It’s not that everyone is walking around with their guard down. An Alabamian’s hospitality can easily cross the line from “polite” to downright friendly, even at first blush.

If you’re not from around here, being polite and minding your manners earns you extra points, so long as it’s not stilted and formal. When your formalities are rigid, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re from out of town. Alabamian politeness is relaxed and easygoing. We’re just as likely to greet old friends and strangers with equal enthusiasm.

5. You said it wrong.

Pronounce the following: Mobile. Huntsville. Montgomery. Anniston. Selma. If you used every syllable, you just gave yourself away.

Even the best-spoken Alabama natives will crush those syllables together when referencing a town to other locals. Mobile becomes “Mo-beel”. Huntsville becomes “Huns-vul”. Selma sounds like “Seh-ma”.
Knowing where to leave syllables behind will go a long way in making you sound like a local.

6. You’re not sure what we just said.

The Alabama accent isn’t quite the same as other accents in the South. It’s a little more rough and tumble, and it can be much harder to understand — especially when taken at speed. Add in a little slang and you get phrases like:
“I’m fixin’ to take this buggy back up front. Get meemaw and pawpaw in the car, and ya’ll buckle up. Tide’s playing at one.”

Which translates roughly to:
“I’m about to take this shopping cart to the front (of the store). Get grandma and grandpa in the car, and everyone should buckle up. The Alabama Crimson Tide is playing at 1:00PM.”

If you’re ever caught in a crossfire of southern slang and you’re not sure what someone said, just ask. We might make fun of you for being a snowbird, but nobody wants you to be left out in the south.

7. You try to imitate our accent.

You’ll get it wrong and you’ll piss people off.

8. You don’t have family over that often.

As deeply rooted as any religious affiliation, Alabama traditions circulate around family reunions and get-togethers. It’s not uncommon to see a ton of cars crowding a relative’s yard when all the kids and grandkids come over to watch the Big Game. If you don’t have a family gathering to attend or family stories to share, we’ll catch on to your estrangement pretty quick.

The good news is that Alabamians are hospitable and want everyone to belong. If you don’t have a family and want to take part, let people know. You’re sure to receive an invite somewhere along the way.

9. You’re not too sure what this Iron Bowl business is all about.

High school football, game day parades, tailgating, wall-to-wall news coverage, restaurant specials. All of these are hallmarks of any football event. It’s a big deal, even at the local level.
The Iron Bowl is a statewide war, with battle lines drawn in crimson and orange. Take any “normal” game day and multiply by a factor of ten.

We’ll think you’re a little strange for not taking part.

10. You’re not sure why autumn is such a big to-do.

Fall in Alabama is a return to order and outdoors. Kids in the state get the summers off, usually from May to August when the temperatures soar. This is earlier than many other states. Headed into fall, kids go back to school — and that’s the signal that things are about to get fun.

Autumn brings sports back to the state. Everyone is affiliated with the football culture here, both at the local and college level. Kids are either playing football, cheerleading, or marching in the band. Supporting the team is a community effort.

Hunting also starts up in the fall, and deer are abundant in the Alabama woodlands. Catching a ten- or twelve-point buck is a point of pride for most gun-toting’ country boys.
If you’re not into the game and gun culture, we’ll definitely wonder why.

11. You’re not going to Gulf Shores for spring break or family vacation.

Whether it’s a family vacation or spring break, headed down to “the beach” means headed to Gulf Shores or Pensacola Beach (the PCB). Everyone in Alabama does this like it’s some kind of annual ritual.

If you’re headed somewhere else, expect us to be curious. It’s pretty rare to find an Alabamian who isn’t traveling to the beach (or to Disney World on rare occasion), but most aren’t catching a plane to globe trot.

How, where to get the COVID vaccine in Alabama

Vehicles lined up for shots at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Montgomery on Monday. The clinic gave 2,000 shots on the first day of a week-long event.

Roughly 1.5 million Alabamians are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but making an appointment and getting a vaccine can be a daunting task.

Eight large-scale drive-in clinic sites launched this week and Walmart and Sam’s Club annnounced that the vaccine would be offered at 74 sites across Alabama. But getting an appointment can be a challenge.

There are more places offering the vaccine than ever, but supplies are still limited and not all the places on the Alabama Department of Public Health’s list of vaccine providers have doses to give. None has enough to go around.

So, for those who are eligible – currently people 65 and older, medical personnel, educators, child care workers, first responders, corrections officers, grocery store workers and others -- here are the best ways to sign up and receive the vaccine.

Drive-through clinics, hospitals

The places that are giving out the most vaccine doses currently are those eight drive-through sites and the state’s larger hospitals.

Since late January, the state has been administering about 100,000 vaccine doses per week. This week saw the launch of some drive-through clinics that aim to give out 2,000 per day at each clinic. That’s a pretty big chunk of the shots available in Alabama.

You can find the list and contact info for those clinics here. Most require appointments (the Montgomery and Selma sites don’t), and some have already had to turn away people who showed up without appointments or people who were not in the eligible groups to receive the vaccine.

Several hospitals in Alabama have their own online signups to request vaccine appointments, listed below:

In Mobile and Baldwin counties, you can also register with Infirmary Health by calling 251-341-2819.

In Anniston, you can register with Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center by calling 256-235-5600.

If you live in the Birmingham area, or are willing to travel there, UAB Hospital has three drive-through clinic sites. Those sites are UAB Hospital Highlands parking deck, the Hoover Met Complex stadium parking lot and at Parker High School in Birmingham, just west of Interstate 65.

Those sites do require an appointment, and UAB officials say people are showing up “every day” without appointments who have to be turned away. You can request an appointment at one of those locations through the UAB vaccine portal or the one run by the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency.

Dr. Sarah Nafziger, who heads UAB’s vaccine operations, said people do not have to live in Jefferson County to receive the vaccine at one of those sites.

Jefferson County and Birmingham officials are also working to expand access to the vaccine to people without internet access or transportation by offering free rides to and from the mass vaccine sites and holding a handful of unscheduled vaccine opportunities for people who live near the Parker High School vaccination site.

At Walmart, urgent cares

Beginning Feb. 11, 74 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations will offer the vaccine in their in-store pharmacies. Those locations are spread across the state, but almost all are outside of the Birmingham metro area, as the Walmarts were intended to reach areas of the state farther from major hospitals.

Walmart does require an appointment. You can see a list of participating locations here and request an appointment at www.walmart.com/covidvaccine for Walmart and www.SamsClub.com/covid for Sam’s Club. A Sam’s Club membership is not required for people to receive the vaccine.

The chain MainStreet Family Care and KidsStreet Urgent Care also has 17 locations across Alabama offering the vaccine with an online appointment portal here: https://www.mainstreetfamilycare.com/getting-the-covid-19-vaccine-in-alabama/

There are other providers offering the vaccine in Alabama, but they can be a little harder to track down.

The Alabama Department of Public Health maintains a list of more than 800 vaccine providers on its website, and a map showing where they’re located. But that includes all the places that have signed up to give the vaccine. Not all those providers have vaccine doses to give.

Some of those haven’t gotten any shipments of vaccine yet, and many of the ones that have are fully booked and not taking appointments.

So it’s not as simple as finding the location on the map nearest you.

As of last week, Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said there were still around 500 of those 883 sites that hadn’t received any doses yet. And the map doesn’t indicate whether that provider has received any vaccine yet, or whether they’re currently offering appointments.

Most providers don’t have a phone number of web site listed on the map, so you’ll have to get the name of a facility near you from the map and then figure out how to contact them to determine whether they’re taking appointments and how to sign up.

The state health department has a portal for scheduling appointments at county health departments at ALCovidVaccine.gov.

Unfortunately, as of Wednesday night, the portal said all appointments are currently booked, and asks people to check back later. The state also has a notification tool to sign up for updates on when new groups are made eligible to receive the vaccine, but does not currently offer a way to be notified when more appointments become available.

Check your messages often

If you’ve requested appointments from providers, it may pay off to check your messages frequently.

Dr. Nafziger at UAB said the clinic typically books appointments when they have the vaccine in hand, ready to be given. That means that people may be notified at the last minute that an appointment is available.

“Unfortunately, with this process, it’s going to be last-minute for a lot of us,” Nafziger said. “That’s just the nature of it, because the way the vaccine allocations are coming in, we want to use the vaccine very quickly.

“And so what that means is last-minute communication on appointment times, we’re asking everyone to be patient with us with this, to check your email frequently, to check your messages and make sure that you are looking for those appointments. It’s going to be usually with short notice, unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do to make that better.”

Their clinics overbook their appointments by a small amount in case of no-shows, she said, and maintain a list of stand-by patients to receive any extra doses that may be left at the end of the day.

“We have a pool of people that we can call from who are on standby, who qualify for vaccine but haven’t been scheduled yet, and we can notify those people and get them in quickly,” she said.

She also said that sometimes volunteers working at the vaccine sites can receive doses at the end of the day.

How to Extend Your Stay

What if you don’t want to leave? Maybe it’s been a few weeks and you’ve found the right place with the right people, and the thought of leaving is horrifying. You have options … but those options are going to vary a lot depending on where you are and, believe it or not, your age.

Things to know about extending your travels:

Visa, needed everywhere you want to be. Nearly every country in the world has a time limit for how long you can stay. Most countries will either give you a visa (small “v”) when you arrive, if you need one at all. Other countries require you to obtain one in advance, either online or by visiting an embassy. On one end of that spectrum are countries like Georgia and Palau that offer one-year stays for United States citizens. At the other end are countries like Togo, which offers only seven-days, though there are ways that can be extended. If you’re traveling through Europe, a short stay visit in the Schengen Area entitles you to 90 days every six months.

Tourist visas are relatively easy to obtain, and for most people it’s all you’ll need. If you want to stay longer than that visa allows, you’ll need a different visa, if that country offers one. Most tourist visas don’t allow you to get a real job.

Work holidays. Some countries offer a working holiday visa, which allows some hours or days of work and a longer length visa. These usually have an age cap at around 30, as they’re meant for younger people. Some also have limits to how many people are accepted. Options for Americans are more limited than those for citizens of many other countries, but there are programs in, for example, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal and South Korea.

Work for accommodation. If your trip is limited more by budget than visa, or you’re able to get a visa for longer than you can really afford, working at a hostel in exchange for accommodation is a common way to stay longer for even less expense. You’ll work for a few hours, usually cleaning or filling in on a shift, and get a night’s stay out of it.

Go Back to school. There might be opportunities to get a degree in the country you’re interested in traveling to. While many universities have such programs, availability and eligibility varies greatly. Getting a visa to attend school probably allows you to work a certain number of hours per week, but that will vary depending on the country.

Run for the border (actually, don’t). I’ve met several people living in countries well past what was legally allowed. Often this is achieved by making a “visa run” where they left the country briefly, then returned, “refreshing” their visa for that country. This is, at best, dubiously legal. Some countries don’t care. Others very much do. I met one couple – she was a resident and he was not – who were trying this. On the third visa run the border guard told him that he knew what was going on and while the guard would let him pass this time, the next guard might not. On the other hand, in some countries, visa runs were advertised at multiple tourist bus companies. This isn’t something I’d try, especially when the punishment is often not being allowed back into the country, or worse, having trouble visiting any country in the future. For instance, here’s what happens if you overstay in Europe.

Sponsorship. If you’ve decided that this is the new spot for the new you, finding a company to sponsor you is a sort of fast-track towards residency and perhaps citizenship. While on a temporary visa a friend of mine found work as a photographer, and the company liked her so much they brought her on full time and sponsored her. She just got her permanent resident card.

So if you want to stay, it’s potentially doable, especially if you’re young. Generally though countries don’t want you treating their temporary visas like a back door to citizenship. Don’t risk your future ability to travel by ignoring how long you’re allowed in a country. It’s best to do it legally. Worst case, you can always go back next year!

11 Reasons You Don't Want to Retire in Florida

As retirement approaches and the punch of the polar vortex is conjuring dreams of warmer temperatures and a lost shaker of salt, you have Florida on your mind. After all, it’s the quintessential post-working world existence. But is it right for you?

Before you take the Florida plunge, let us offer some earnest advice: Try before you buy. Spend some serious leisure time in the Sunshine State. Just be sure to skip the hotel and instead rent an Airbnb in a residential area you’re interested in. Introduce yourself to the neighbors, shop and dine locally, and observe the rhythms of life. Stay a few days – or, better, a few weeks – and you might not like what you see as the realities of Florida living sink in.

To that end, we took a serious look at the downsides of retiring in Florida. Here’s some of what we found.

Florida Is Crawling With Boomers

Do you really want to join the graying crowd that made Woodstock a thing? Face it, your riff to retire in Florida isn’t solely yours. Look at the numbers and consider what you’ll be facing in the coming years.

Florida’s estimated population of nearly 21 million includes some 4.2 million residents 65 and older. That’s up from 3.3 million seniors in the 2010 U.S. Census. And the upcoming 2020 census is expected to count 4.5 million Floridians who are 65-plus. By 2030, the number of seniors in the Sunshine State is expected to crack 6 million. That’s a lot of tricked-out golf carts. Other popular retirement states in the Southeast – Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas – all skew much younger than Florida.

Florida Is Crawling With Critters, Too

It’s common knowledge that Florida has a lot of alligators. There are also invasive Burmese pythons, green iguanas and herpes-carrying wild monkeys. Then there are the rats: Rats on the beach, rats in palm trees and rats on your roof. Molly Elliott, who lives in Fort Myers Beach, said beach rats were a big adjustment for her, as was the expense of keeping them out of her house. She pays $300 a year for rodent control.

Other transplanted northerners agree the pests and exotic creatures are an acquired taste. “Critters!” says Trisha Torrey, a transplant who now lives in central Florida. “It’s not unusual to see snakes and alligators, especially on golf courses. Neighbors have found poisonous snakes on their lanais and patios three times in the two years we’ve lived here.”

Florida Has an Excess of Weirdness

Perhaps Florida gets a bad rap, but come on: It sure has more than its fair share of weird stories that waft in and out of the news cycle. Craig Pittman, a native Floridian and journalist at the Tampa Bay Times, literally wrote the book on Florida weirdness: “Oh Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.” Here’s a telling snippet from a 2016 New York Times review of Pittman’s book: “The deal with Florida is the charlatans and lunatics and Snapchat-famous plastic surgeons. It is the Ponzi schemes, the byzantine corruption, the evangelical fervor and the consenting-adult depravity. It is the seasonless climate. The lack of historical consciousness. The way in which this nation’s unctuous elements tend to trickle down as if Florida were the grease trap under America’s George Foreman grill.”

No State Income Tax? Florida Makes Up for It

A big whoop to many Florida transplants is there’s no state income tax, including no income tax on Social Security benefits, pensions and other retirement income. Score one for the Sunshine State.

But don’t confuse no state income tax with no taxes at all. State and local taxes in Florida can take a bite out of your retirement savings. For instance, the combined state and local sales tax averages 7.05% in Florida, according to the Tax Foundation. That’s higher than the combined rates retirees from snowbird states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey are accustomed to paying. Buying a new ride for your retirement? The 6% state sales tax applies to the entire purchase price, plus counties can tack on their own vehicle sales tax. Fees can add up, too. Florida charges a steep $225 fee to register an out-of-state vehicle, for example, and a drivers license costs $48 for eight years (versus $25 for 12 years in Arizona, a competing retirement hotspot).

You’ll Sweat. A lot.

Let’s put this right up front: Florida earned two spots on the list of the top 10 sweatiest cities in the U.S. Both Tampa and Miami made the cut. If you think it’s just those cities in Florida that are sweaty, you’re kidding yourself.

However, your actual retirement location goes hand in hand with your degree of perspiration. You’re at risk of breaking a sweat year round in South Florida, where even in the dead of winter temperatures can crack 80 degrees. But the farther north you travel, the more temperate the climate becomes. Yes, summers are hot, but expect winter temps to fall below freezing in parts of northern Florida. And in places like Pensacola, Tallahassee and Jacksonville, it even snows.

You Won’t Be Outside as Much as You Think

After years of being cooped up in an office, you’re looking forward to being outdoors for hours on end to soak up Florida’s eternal sunshine. Hold that thought. Remember those sweaty temperatures we warned you about? Many savvy retirees confine outdoor activities, from rounds of golf to leisurely walks, to early mornings when the mercury and humidity levels are still tolerable.

“The summer is so very hot, hot, hot!” says Torrey, the Florida transplant who lived in Central New York for many years. “Now, as I tell my friends, at least we don’t have to shovel 90 degrees.”

On top of the heat and humidity, there are also biting flies, mosquito swarms and columns of fire ants to ward off.

Swimming Pools Are Expensive

Naturally, you’ll want a swimming pool to beat the Florida heat. Plus, imagine the joy of watching your grandkids splash around under the lanai. And while you’re at it, you’ll want an attached spa to soak those aging muscles.

Just be prepared to pay a pretty penny to keep your pool up and running year round. It costs $177 a week, on average, to maintain a standard 14-by-28-foot pool. You’ll also spend hundreds – even thousands – of dollars on routine repairs to torn liners and leaky plumbing. And if you want your water heated, expect to shell out anywhere from $100 to $600 a month to run a pool heater.

The Sun Can Take a Toll on Your Skin

Many boomers who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s grooved at the beach, slathering on baby oil to enhance the tan. SPF? Who knew? And those same boomers, now aging, are eager for the tropical Florida sunshine. But consider the dark side: Too much sun causes premature wrinkling, uneven skin coloring and worse.

"The skin can become tough and leathery," according to the Florida Institute of Neuroscience. "You may also notice more wrinkles. The sun can also cause brown, red, yellow, or gray spots in the skin called sun spots."

Prolonged sun exposure and frequent sunburns can also increase your risk of skin cancer. Sun worshippers are urged to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (when the rays are most damaging) and use broad-spectrum sunscreens. And when you are on the beach or poolside, sit under an umbrella.

Hurricanes Are a Real Menace

The Atlantic hurricane season is a long one. It runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 – fully half the year – peaking in August through October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Florida is in the crosshairs of many of those deadly and destructive Atlantic hurricanes. In 2018, Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S. in 50 years, killed at least 20 people and devastated towns in Florida's Panhandle. Total losses topped $25 billion, according to NOAA. Hurricane Irma, one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, struck Florida in 2017 and caused $52 billion in losses.

Hurricane Insurance Premiums Are a Menace, Too

Retirees who move to Florida are often shocked to discover that deductibles for hurricane insurance often range from 2% to 5% of the policy coverage, rather than the fixed dollar amount, say $500, they were accustom to up north. And that’s if you can line up any insurance at all.

“Homeowners insurance in general can be tough to get when you live on a barrier island,” says Elliott, the northern transplant who now lives in Fort Myers Beach on the Gulf Coast. “No one wanted to insure us, so we had to use the default state insurer.”

If you want to spend less on insurance, you’ll have to dish out for a wind mitigation test for the house you plan to buy to see how well it would stand up to severe winds. Why? “The cost to insure a home without wind mitigation features could be four times higher than a home with wind mitigation,” says Chris Heidrick, an independent insurance agent in Sanibel, Fla.

Oh, and if you buy a home in a designated flood zone, your mortgage company will insist you buy flood insurance. Typical homeowners insurance covers wind and rain, but not flooding.

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