My Birmingham: Gigi Douban

gogo-doubanGigi Douban was named news director for public radio WBHM 90.3 / WSGN in 2016, but she’s been reporting for public radio since 2006. You’ve heard her reporting on Studio 360, Public Radio International’s The World, and Marketplace. Meanwhile, Douban is also a prolific writer, having contributed to the likes of Bloomberg News and Runner’s World, among others.

This is Douban’s Birmingham.

Favorite restaurants, then and now: When you first got to Birmingham, what was the first restaurant that really blew you away?

I moved here 20 years ago, and back then there wasn’t near as much as there is now, definitely not in the way of spicy foods (I am a junkie). But back then I was a fan of Niki’s West. The fried green tomatoes and that cornbread. Wow. I learned to be ready with my order quickly. If you’ve gone you know what I mean. And I was blown away by the snapper throats at The Bright Star. They’re delicious. Plus, I love saying “snapper throats.” Now I’m still wowed by El Barrio. We haven’t tried everything on the menu, but they’ve yet to disappoint. The winner for food and atmosphere. Aside from that, any of the taco trucks in town are always a win.

Most interesting people you’ve met: Who has been the most interesting or inspiring or unexpected local character that you’ve “met,” either in person or by way of a story one of your reporters has filed for WBHM?

Oh my gosh, so many. Probably the first one that comes to mind is The Great Kaiser, a towering former wrestler who is now in his ‘70s. He still lifts weights at the JCC and wears this utterly amazing leopard-print weight belt. You know you want one. I also got to interview E.O. Wilson once. Not only is he brilliant, but he’s incredibly down to earth, and he has this gentle smile that just makes you melt. But through my job, I get to meet so many inspiring people. I once interviewed a Trump supporter here who, whatever your politics are, just made me think more about the challenges many Americans are facing day to day. He works two jobs, as a firefighter and an auto body tech. He’s in his ‘50s and puts in about 70 hours a week to make ends meet living a very modest lifestyle. And he’s getting older and starting to feel it. He worries about health care and retirement. He worries about being able to take his wife on one vacation a year, about being able to afford two reliable cars to get them where they need to go. Getting to meet folks like him made it clear to me that we all need to get out of our bubbles and listen to what others have to say and understand the real-life struggles they face.

Best place to run: As a runner and a contributor to Runner’s World, what’s your favorite place to run in Birmingham?

Any trail is great. There’s something about running where there are lots of trees around. And I love the crunch of gravel underneath my feet, or soft dirt. If I don’t have much time, I’ll head to Jemison Trail or the Shades Creek Greenway. But running somewhere like Red Mountain Park or Ruffner Mountain, time just flies.

Favorite night out on the town: What’s your idea of a great night out on the town in Birmingham—totally open ended depending on your tastes. Could be a specific music venue; theatre; late-night bookstore; wine bar…?

Do we have a late-night bookstore? We need one! Ideally catch a live music show at Saturn or Iron City. I’m really happy Birmingham has become a destination for great artists on tour. Ideally we hit Paramount at some point. Three words: Skee-ball challenge accepted.

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