1. $7 inner tube rental.

You would load up the cooler and float the Styx river in south Alabama (seven bucks to rent an inner tube, and an extra seven to rent a tube to put the ice chest in), or the Little Cahaba near Birmingham. White water rafting on Chatahootchee River and kayaking on the Coosa River were also a guaranteed good time, as were heading to Smith Lake near Cullman and Lake Lurleen in Tuscaloosa.

2. Sinking your toes into the sand Orange Beach.

Or Gulf Shores. You’re not picky. Sipping a cold beer or one of the Florabama‘s Buschwackers in the cool gulf breeze on the beach has to be one of the best feelings in the world.

3. Real sweet tea.

Ordering unsweet tea (gag) is a telltale sign you’re from the north. We know that Alabama sweet tea is the best drink to go with barbecue (ribs at Dreamland). You shake your head in frustration and utter disappointment when other states try to offer you their sad ‘version’ of sweet tea.

4. Calling everything ‘Coke’.

In Alabama, it’s all Coke. Not soda, not pop. Coke.

Waiter: “Do you want a Coke?”

Customer: “Sure, I’ll take a Dr. Pepper.”

5. ‘DEGA.

Or as outsiders call it, Talladega. The Talladega Superspeedway hosts some of the biggest NASCAR races of the year, and the small city of Talladega is transformed as thousands of eager fans gather. It’s not just about the race, it’s about the culture, the history…and the epic camping and tailgating. Electricity and an intangible energy fills the air as Budweisers are cracked, tailgates are let down, and memories are made (and quite possibly soon forgotten).

6. Starting to tailgate in the morning and watch SEC games all day into the evening.

It’s either Auburn, Alabama, or you’re not from here. SEC football isn’t just a sport down here. It’s a way of life. Seriously. We plan our work, family life, even weddings around games. No out-of-state alumni bar will compare (though they can be the next best thing for a homesick Alabama grad who moved after college).

7. Everything fried and generously dipped in ranch.

This includes pickles, green tomatoes, and of course chicken. Classic “meat and three’s” are a favorite (Martin’s in Montgomery is one of the best). Even Mexican restaurants like Homewood’s The Little Donkey feature fried chicken on their menus, and it’s dang good. The Mainstreet Cafe, a quaint and quirky restaurant in Madison that was transformed from an old jail and still has bars in the windows, has some of the best fried green tomatoes next to the ones your grandma makes. Green Acres Cafe in north Birmingham is close competition, and have fried wings so good you’ll wanna slap said grandma.

8. Space Camp.

Rocket City, anyone? There’s nothing like being able to go to the Space and Rocket Center and tour space camp, see rockets, simulators, and ride Space Shot, which lets you know what it feels like to launch in a rocket. It satisfies the inner kid in all of us. And the inner adult, because now you’re old enough to finally enjoy the Biergarten. Win.

9. Watching flickering lightning bugs twinkle and light up the open sky.

Or smelling sweet honeysuckle in the spring. Magnolias in south Alabama, Alabama pines, and our thick red clay paint a picture of peace in my heart, and the memory of them made it ache when I moved and made my DC commute filled with metros and busy city sidewalks.

10. Smelling the rain before it comes.

Afternoon thunderstorms pass through and fade, ridding the air of its heavy humidity, creating the perfect porch sitting weather. We like to sleep with the windows open when this happens and drift off to the peaceful lullaby of crickets and midnight trains.

11. Good, old-fashioned manners.

We were raised to say please, thank you, Sir and Ma’am. Anyone even slightly older than you will be addressed as Ms. or Mr., even if it’s prefacing their first name. We open doors and help strangers whose cars are stalled or need a helping hand without thinking twice.

12. Quirky names.

Arab, Choctawhatchee River, Cut and Shoot, and Lickskillet to name a few of our rivers and towns. And hearing someone actually pronounce Mobile correctly always makes us long for home.

13. Seeing everyone you know at the grocery store.

As one Facebook friend put it, “Considering I moved to New York City, I miss how Wal-Mart was like Time Square for me there; that place never sleeps.”

14. Roadtripping south down I-65. Basically just for the ice cream.

No road trip south down I-65 was complete without a stop at Peach Park. We’d wander around to stretch our legs and stock up on plenty of their fresh peaches before sitting on outside on a porch swing to enjoy a cone of their trademark homemade peach ice cream.

15. Feeling nostalgic as soon as you hear one of our unspoken theme songs.

“Sweet Home Alabama” and “Dixieland Delight” coming on the radio will always make your heart burst with joy and have you choking back tears all at the same time.