From time to time, I think about various people I've met throughout my life. On Tuesday, I thought about my friend Pam Schwiebert Elrod.
I met Pam many years ago at Augusta University when I was a college student. She was, and still is, such a delightful person, someone always armed with a quick laugh, an easy smile. She brings the sunshine wherever she goes.
Pam is married to another wonderful person, Rick Elrod. Some people might not agree about Rick. You see, he's been a baseball umpire for years. That's one of the toughest jobs in sports, but Rick does a great job - even if he doesn't please everyone.
I thought about Pam and Rick after reading something that got under my skin. One of the other local media organizations posted a report from a website called "Wallet Hub," of the 2017 "Happiest Places to Live" in America. Augusta is ranked No. 148 out of 150 cities, checking in just above Cleveland and Detroit.
Per Wallet Hub, 10 of the top 12 cities are located in California. Washington, D.C., ranks 10th (despite its daily gridlock and slimy politicians). Regionally, Charlotte, N.C., ranks No. 41, Atlanta comes in at No. 83 and Columbus, Ga., makes it just ahead of Augusta at No. 145. The survey only included the largest 150 cities/metropolitan areas. Places like Charleston, S.C., Macon, Ga., and Savannah, Ga., weren't included.
How did Wallet Hub conclude which cities are happier places to live than others? This is direct from its website: "WalletHub's data team ... examined each city based on 30 key indicators of happiness, ranging from depression rate to income-growth rate to average leisure time spent per day."
So the question is: Are you happy living here?
Pam once told me years ago that she was going to have fun wherever she went, whatever she did. That's a great philosophy, something I've never forgotten. She brings the sunshine. (Side note: Happy birthday, Pam!)
Some folks don't see the light, though. They prefer living under their own dark clouds. This Wallet Hub survey only gives them more ammunition to think living in Augusta is a horrible thing. (And to clarify, Augusta is not just Richmond County. Augusta includes Columbia County, Lincoln County, McDuffie County, Burke County and even across the river into Aiken County and Edgefield County.)
I asked my wife if she was unhappy living in Augusta. She said no. Obviously, she must be mistaken. This isn't a good place to live. That's what one website (out of millions) tells us. This must be true.
Brace yourself, folks, for more Augusta-bashing in a few weeks. During the Masters Tournament, other media will descend upon our fine city, and some will write about how we have (gasp!) strip malls. And there's even a Hooters Restaurant (the horror!). And then there's road construction (curbs!). And there's downtown Augusta (close your eyes!). And then there's a Rock Fore! Dough concert that week.
I don't believe Augusta is perfect. Do we need more jobs with better pay? Absolutely. Do we need better restaurants? You bet. I'm still waiting on Fazoli's to return. And we could also add a Cheesecake Factory and a Dave & Buster's. And what about a water park? Scuttle's Island, anyone?
Yes, Augusta could be better. And it could also be worse. Go visit Springfield, Mass. If there's a mall there, I didn't find it. Eight years ago, Michael Holahan and I went to a movie theater in Springfield that made Masters Cinemas look like the Taj Mahal.
I've been to other cities in Georgia, but none I want to move to. Atlanta (too much traffic). Savannah (too expensive). Columbus (it's OK). Macon (no).
Augusta has been home for me almost all my life. There are things we can do here that we can't do in other places, like drive from one place to another in a reasonable amount of time - unless you live in Columbia County (seriously, why can't the Georgia Department of Transportation fix one road project at a time instead of working on 10 projects simultaneously? If only the Augusta National handled road construction.)
From time to time, I hear people complain there's never anything to do around here. Are you kidding? There's plenty to do. Starting Thursday, there's a big high school soccer tournament at Blanchard Woods Park. There's a St. Patrick's Day parade Friday in Augusta. There's more you can read about in the "Calendar" section of our paper.
With education, employment and religion, my family is constantly on the go - I'm sure many of you lead similarly busy lives. In my free time, I take the kids to the movies. Or we go to Putt-Putt. Or we go to a GreenJackets game. Or we go to the neighborhood pool in the summer. Or we go to a library. Or we go to a multitude of places within a few hours of here.
If Augusta is that bad, why is it growing? People are flocking here, one of the reasons being the growth of the Army Cyber Command operation at Fort Gordon. I wonder if the folks moving here will change their minds now that this website article states how unhappy a place it is.
If you're not happy, don't blame Augusta. Don't blame some website. Blame yourself. Your happiness comes from within. Wherever you live, you have to bring your own sunshine. And if you can't do that, I feel sorry for you.