On this, Tupelo is kicking Anniston’s backside.
That Mississippi city is a lot like Anniston: small, Southern, landlocked and imperfect. Tupelo birthed Elvis Presley. Anniston harbored a young George Constantine Nichopoulos — Dr. Nick — who became Elvis’ personal physician and overprescribed medications that led to the King of Rock n’ Roll’s death in a Graceland bathroom. Beat that, Oxford!
But this isn’t about Elvis or Dr. Feelgood. It’s about bicycles, guitars, public art and low-hanging fruit.
Tupelo gets it. Anniston doesn’t. Our surprise should be muted.
It’s laughable, really. This only happens here.
On Wednesday, the McClellan Development Authority opened the McClellan Bike Trail at Anniston’s former Army post — a whopping big deal for a city still trying to become Alabama’s, if not the Southeast’s, premier cycling destination. What’s more, no other Alabama trail is certified by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. (Another whopping big deal.) Yet, a few miles south, Anniston city officials spent Wednesday explaining why displays of student-painted bicycles had been removed from downtown.
Anniston likes bikes. Anniston hosts the Sunny King Criterium each spring. Anniston is fortunate to sit alongside the Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail. Anniston is desperate to extend the Chief Ladiga Trail. Realistic or not, Anniston dreams of becoming Bike City Alabama. But Anniston doesn’t like painted bikes decorating Noble Street, which is why they’re now stored like unwanted Christmas toys at the old National Guard Armory.
But, a clarification.
It’s Councilman Ben Little who doesn’t like painted bikes decorating Noble Street.
“If we leave those up, then someone else will come up with statues or something else up there,” Little told The Star.
His best line:
“Cats might want a cat out there, dogs may want a dog out there.”
(As an unrepentant dog guy, I’d love to have a giant pooch statue sitting in a Noble Street median. Make it a bulldog. Paint it Anniston High red. Let Anniston’s seniors autograph it each spring, a rite of passage, a new school tradition. Whatcha think, Ben?)
Funnies aside, there is a legal issue at play. Anniston’s ordinance on public displays on city property is strict. By law, the bikes that Donoho School students painted can’t be permanently displayed without amending the existing ordinance or some other City Council action.
From what I can tell, neither Mayor Jack Draper nor a majority of the council dislikes bikes. (Really, who hates bikes? Do they also despise butterflies and kittens?) But the law is the law. And Little, the diligent protector of Anniston’s mediocrity and short-sightedness, can’t resist the urge to cook up trouble where, in truth, none existed.
Little could have suggested a swift council action authorizing the bikes’ permanency. Bike City Alabama, you know. But that’s no fun. Better to bark about hypothetical dog statues setting untenable precedents and offending those who believe Noble Street looks fine just the way it is.
Tupelo, if it could speak, would surely laugh at Anniston’s plight.
I suggest Draper and Little drive west on Interstate 22 and pay our unofficial sister city a visit, and here’s what they’d see: the Guitar Sculpture Project — an art display started by a local elementary school teacher that honors Tupelo’s Elvis history, empowers local art students and decorates that city’s downtown. That’s low-hanging fruit Anniston has spoiled.
Today, Tupelo is home to a forest of Elvis-themed guitar sculptures that have become iconic downtown visuals. I’m sure some Tupeloans think they’re garish. But so what? Make fun of Tupelo all you want, but the city is embracing its individuality. And I doubt a Tupelo goofball will demand equal space to install a dog statue just to settle an infantile councilman’s political score.
“The guitars fit in great with the new downtown landscape,” Debbie Brangenberg, director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, told that city’s newspaper, the Daily Journal, a few years ago. “Pedestrians and tourists love them. They make wonderful photo opportunities.”
Little may not value pedestrians and tourists, but boo to that. On this, Draper and the council should 3-2 vote him into a tizzy. Grab the low-hanging fruit.
First, change the ordinance or use another council action to allow for the bikes’ return.
Second, ask the city’s elementary schools — public and private — to partner with Anniston’s downtown overseers and paint more bikes for Noble Street and the city’s parks. Tupelo is the template. Anniston can’t become Bike City Alabama if it doesn’t go all in.
And third, don’t worry about cats wanting cat statues or dogs requesting dog statues. That’s Little’s problem. Let him deal with it.