There's No Place Like Home

I have said before the best place to watch college football is not Tiger Stadium or the Swamp or Bryant-Denny, but at home. At home, by yourself, no distractions, controlled environment.

After buckling to societal pressure and traveling to Auburn this past Saturday to watch the Tigers and Rebels, I have reaffirmed my belief that, when it comes to watching college football, there’s no place like home.

Some background: I went to Auburn, graduated in ’97, enjoyed my time there dearly and hold the memories made on the Plains as my absolute fondest. Jordan-Hare Stadium is a jewel, the people are as friendly and welcoming as imaginable, my seat in the press box was without equal, and the weather couldn’t have been any better for watching a game.

But I left town late that night disillusioned and very much with the feeling that if I never again stepped foot on Auburn soil I wouldn’t be missing all that much.

The perfect Auburn of my memories – quaint, charming, unique – has been slapped upside the head by the ugly hand of commercialism and the resulting welt has left the place sickeningly similar to any of a thousand other soulless, suburban, asphalt, boomtowns.

Coming in off the interstate, this once small Southern town which not too long ago had just a Waffle House and the iconic Super Club as the only businesses to greet you, looks now, and I swallow hard when I say this, like Tuscaloosa. Gasp!

Auburn, the so-called “loveliest village on the Plains,” now welcomes visitors with car lots, economy hotels, Hooters, Zaxby’s, KFC, a development of town homes that a Katrina refugee would turn his nose up at as undesirable, and every other boring, corporate, chain restaurant and retail outlet all other faceless cities in America have as well.

Coming into Auburn on College Street, I might as well have been in Sheboygan, WI, Columbus, GA or Prattville, AL. What difference would it make? They all look the same.

And that isn’t the worst of it.

On the other end of town in what was once a wooded area, a monstrosity known as “Tigertown” now resides. Fifty acres of Old Navy, Starbucks, Target, Olive Garden and every other pagan symbol of our consumer society mars the landscape of this once quiet and humble college environment. Corporate America’s version of carpet bombing: one unremarkable, vulgar, plain store piled on top of the other, all designed to separate you from your income with no thought at all given to how these commercial cesspools rob the life and charm from a city.

The city of Auburn is projectile vomiting cookie-cut businesses in every direction and it has left this once beautiful place an ungraceful, tacky, overgrown truck stop.

It’s been three years since I’d last been to Auburn, and maybe the people who live there and have watched the degradation occur gradually can accept it and don’t notice it as much, but the Audrey Hepburn of college towns has put on 25 pounds, now wears too much rouge and will sleep with anyone who’s willing to buy drinks.

The land developers in Auburn, some of whom claim to be “Auburn people,” ought to be ashamed of themselves for what they have done to that place in order to line their pockets to buy faster boats and younger women.

This is not to say all progress or growth is bad, or that Auburn has no heart left at all.

The campus is still gorgeous despite on going construction that makes it feel more like the Buckhead area in Atlanta than a college.

The true “Auburn people” are still the same and the spirit and passion they have for the place are greater than ever.

But once Samford Hall disappears from sight, it doesn’t take long to lose all sense of what made Auburn special as the runaway growth, like a malignant cancer, spreads closer and closer to the town’s, and university’s, vital organs.

I’m guessing Auburn isn’t the only once great college town this has happened to and if that’s the case, I’d just as soon stay home.