Auburn in the summer is, in many ways, the way I like to imagine it. The downtown traffic is manageable, much better than it is in the fall, and the pace on campus is slower than an offensive lineman in a 40-yard dash.
It’s easier to get a parking space or a table at a restaurant. There are no lengthy lines at any of the bookstores.
One of my favorite stories about Auburn is a 1978 newspaper article from The Atlanta Journal. For many years, a laminated copy of the story hung in Toomer’s Drug Store, just above the lemonade counter.
The opening lines of the story read, “The corner of Magnolia and College is a perfectly preserved microcosm of life in the ‘30s. You can still park for a nickel an hour, at meters painted in stars and stripes. And you get the feeling that if you let the meter run out, Barney Fife will get you for sure.’’
The last lines read, “The feeling in the air here is that God cares for Auburn. For Auburn is right - Auburn is the way life should be.’’
I was reminded of those lines the other day when I went to Auburn on business. It was my first trip there in several months, more months than I care to remember.
Downtown Auburn has undergone one change after another since that story was written in the fall of 1978, days before Auburn and Georgia played to a 22-all tie. But the corner of Magnolia and College still has the charm that has made it one of the most celebrated collegiate settings, even with the trees cut down.
I expected to be angry when I got my first glimpse of a tree-less Toomer’s Corner, maybe cuss Harvey a time or two. It’s long past time, though, to forget about him. The corner will always be a gathering spot, forever a symbol of Auburn tradition and spirit, with or without the oaks.
Among the most obvious signs of tradition are in the south end zone of Jordan-Hare Stadium, adorned with murals of Auburn greats. The stadium, unlike the corner and downtown, could use some sprucing up.
The stadium hasn’t undergone a major expansion since the east upper deck was finished in 1987. There has been talk for years of adding an upper deck to the north end zone, but Auburn doesn’t need another major expansion - not now, anyway.
What Auburn needs is some attention to the outside of the stadium, something more than murals.
Every school in the Western Division has undergone recent stadium improvements or has announced expansion plans. Auburn, meanwhile, has had various stadium projects. The most significant were in 2004 and 2006, when additional sections were added to the east upper deck and the concourses were renovated, among other things.
Jordan-Hare Stadium is still one of the best places in the country to watch a football game. The game-day atmosphere can be electric, particularly at night. But cosmetic changes are needed soon.
For starters, I’d suggest bricking the exterior to complement the brickwork at Auburn Arena, Plainsman Park and the new student health and wellness center. The murals help to hide the erector-set look in the south end zone, but they need to be replaced.
Auburn football and the Southeastern Conference are much different than they were when Ed Hinton, one of the all-time great Southern football writers, wrote his story for The Atlanta Journal in 1978.
“They’re supposed to talk about football all the time around Toomer’s,’’ Hinton wrote as Auburn prepared to play the top two teams in the SEC that season. “But not today. Today there is no mention that this little town is the home of the football team which can decide the championship of the Southeastern Conference. Perhaps in Athens and Tuscaloosa the people are more aware of - and concerned about - this little place than its own inhabitants are aware of its present importance.’’
Auburn football and the Southeastern Conference are much bigger enterprises than they were 35 years ago. Expectations are greater, too. Can you imagine no one at Toomer's Corner talking about football four days before a big game against Georgia, as Hinton writes?
The increasing business of football is why more progress is needed when it comes to the stadium. Somehow, some glamour - the ‘’wow factor,’’ as it’s more commonly known - needs to return to the outside of the stadium.
That much seems apparent on a drive through campus on a slow summer day, when only a campus security guard is near the stadium.
So does this on the way back through town: Auburn is still right.
And Auburn is still the way life should be.