I Want To Be Here

I have some friends who are pretty “metropolitan” types. They’ve lived in several cities, mostly in the North East, and city life is for them. It’s basically written all over their lives, from their public transportation habits to their housing choices, to their clothing styles, to their dining habits etc. etc.

The other day we were talking about San Francisco, and they each said something to the effect that the city by the bay is in their top three places they want to live. New York City being basically at the top, I gathered. Now, mind you, they were saying this having moved to Atlanta, bought houses in Atlanta, and basically sunk some hefty roots. And yet Atlanta isn’t in their top three, or even five places they want to live.

They had their reasons, although we didn’t discuss it very long– I guess they like the culture, like the arts, like the food, and even, for SOME reason, like the climate. If you’ve never been there, lemme just say that San Francisco is cold, baby. Said Mark Twain:

“The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”

Actually, he only supposedly said that, but the sentiment is accurate. Regardless of the chill, I’ll agree with my pals that San Francisco is a great town. I’ve got a bunch of friends out there, and have visited several times; I look forward to returning. But San Fran has problems, man.

  • It’s really expensive to live there– you basically have to give up hope of owning your home, unless you make a shit-ton of salary.
  • There are lots of homeless.
  • The hills, although charming, are still really f-ing steep man.
  • It’s touristy.
  • Despite the much-vaunted public transportation system, traffic is still pretty bad, especially if you need to head out of town.
  • Barry Bonds plays for the Giants.

I’m sure there are other problems– I’ve only visited, I don’t live there. However, those are enough to make my point. It ain’t perfect. Where is? Certainly not my town, Atlanta.

But if I wanted to live in San Francisco, or New York, I would. I’d be there. Where I live is pretty high up on the list of “What Makes JB Happy,” and I didn’t just move to Atlanta on a random whim. Every place in the world has something to enjoy, whether it’s the quality or strength of the people, the landscape, the history, or the culture, and personally, I think Atlanta ranks way up there and deserves a lot more respect from the metrogenti. There’s so much going on here, from the big-ticket items to the tiny little details, that in my humble opinion Hotlanta can hold its own with any city people usually stick on their lists of “Oh I’d like to live there someday.”

I will now attempt to explain why.

Art! We’ve got a lovely major art museum in the High Museum. We’ve got other assorted galleries around town that, including the Museum of Design. There are two galleries that sell art right in my little piece of the city, and the works they display are pretty damn cool even if I can’t afford them. Art is all over the place. It’s not Washington, DC, but the ATL art scene is by no means a vast wasteland. If you drop by, check out what’s going on at the Eyedrum, and the SCAD gallery in the Woodruff Arts Center. If you act fast, i’ll give you one of my free passes to visit the High Museum.

Speaking of Vast Wastelands, Atlanta is the home of Turner Broadcasting, which means the Cartoon Network people live and work here. In fact, at the Museum of Design I just mentioned, there’s an exhibit by the Cartoon Network right now.

Big Ticket Culture— by which I mean that Atlanta has a world-class symphony orchestra (I heard them play Mozart and actually LIKED it. Mozart usually puts me to sleep), a gigantic aquarium (second largest in the world, they say), a fantastic botanical garden, that High Museum of Art I mentioned before, and innumerable other performing arts organizations dotted around town. Like the Institute for Puppetry Arts. There’s also the Carter Center, where I saw Jimmy Carter and Madelaine Albright speak just a few weeks ago. And last year listened to Sarah Vowell read from her latest book.

College— Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory. That’s enough there, but there’s also the Savannah College of Art and Design, there’s Moorehouse, there’s Agnes Scott, and other smaller colleges whose campuses I drive by when I get lost around town. Why do I mention colleges? Because they draw stuff. They generate activity. At Emory University you can sign up for lectures about stuff like the weather or a “mini med school.” Rob has taken a few of those. Colleges have sports. Colleges have concerts. Colleges bring people in to speak and teach– Salman Rushdie is a visiting professor at Emory.

Music! Ok, so the Police aren’t coming here. But so many other acts near and dear to this indie-pop white boy’s heart are. At the bar down the street from my house, the Electric Six are playing this Wednesday. At that same tiny little room in a tiny little bar, I saw The Hold Steady rock out last winter supporting an album that wound up on the Top Ten list of more than one major critic. And just a couple weeks ago, Southern Culture on the Skids twanged away. Shut up. I like them. Late next week Sebadoh is at the Variety.

In June, Rush is dropping in for the first stop of their latest tour, and Fountains of Wayne are also playing that week. Not at the same venue, of course. Ha. Wouldn’t that be interesting, in a surreal and fabric-of-space-and-time-destroying way. “Leave the Biker” vs. “The Trees.” *schloomp* <– sound of world imploding.

Any night of any week of the year, you can hear something to your taste. We have the Tabernacle, which the Decemberists seem to consider a second home, since they’ve played there like three times in a year. I’m probably going to see Patty Griffin there in April. In May, Modest Mouse will be at this goth club called Masquerade.

I mean, geez, this town kicks ass for music. And not just the major-label acts. There are kickass local bands too, like Moresight, who played at ISP Records (down the street and around the corner from my house) recently and completely blew me away. I met their guitarist at my neighbor’s house, where they make homebrew that kicks my ass while it whispers sweet beery nothings into my ear.

And hell, Paste Magazine publishes out of Atlanta. They have a really great compilation CD with each issue. Love it. LOVE IT. And at their first annual Rock-n-Reel festival, which was just a month or so after I got to Atlanta, I saw the Brothers Chaps of Homestar Runner fame speak, and I saw Erin McKeown, and lots of local bands, and Victoria Williams, and Buddy Miller, and Elf Power, and and and… *gasp*

And it’s not music but there are two improv comedy troupes in town, and they’re both pretty funny. At least I think so. Last Christmas you could have gone to Dad’s Garage and seen their “Scientology Pageant,” which was a pageant, based on Scientology, exclusively starring kids. Heh. I didn’t get to see it, alas. Maybe they’ll do it again this year, lemme know if you want to come along.

Movies are a big part of my life, and Atlanta doesn’t lack. You can’t see “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” at a seedy little place on Christmas eve like you can in LA, but the LaFonte Plaza had “Inland Empire” for like three weeks. And there’s the Midtown Art Theater with at least 6 flicks, there’s Tara, with 4 art screens, and for mainstream fare there’s 16 screens at Atlantic Station, 12 at Phipps Plaza, and 24 up the highway 10 minutes from my office– and that one’s an AMC, the best of the megaplex presenters. And there’s a freakin’ drive-in about 5 minutes from my house. A drive-in. That’s still in business.

Sports, yeah yeah yeah. What, the Braves, the Falcons, the Thrashers, and whatever the hell the basketball team is called aren’t enough? How about flat-track ROLLER DERBY, bitch?!

I Like the Buildings in this town. I’m no Brad Pitt, but I love architecture in an uninformed way. I saw the Frank Gehry documentary. I wasn’t completely repulsed by the Experience Music Project building in Seattle. In Atlanta there are like three separate skylines, and while I will admit that NYC is far and away more intriguing for architecture, I find the Atlanta skyline to be pretty rad when I’m driving up Freedom Parkway to this certain stop light right before I get on the highway.

And then, after having had lunch at Atlantic Station’s yummy California Pizza Kitchen franchise (don’t sneer, it’s good), walking back to my office across the 17th street bridge, I look to my right and see this cluster of buildings that makes me wish I had a sketchpad.

I don’t find anything boring or bland about the buildings in Atlanta. Subtle, maybe, but distinct. The Georgia Power building with it’s sides that slant out as the building goes up so it looks like the top part of an italicized exclamation point. The Westin hotel with its 70’s roundness and the glass elevator that goes the whole way from the bottom to the top outside the building. The High Museum, which you can see on film in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” playing the part of the Sanitorium where Hannibal Lecter is incarcerated. The Woodruff Arts Center, right next to the high and just as interesting. The brand-new Bank One building with the weird wings at the top. The Wachovia building that looks like it was built out of giant toy blocks from different buckets. I love walking to lunch.

The Food is Good and that’s no lie. I’m no foodie, but Rob is, and he’s been to the great restaurants in town. He and his wife had dinner at the (five star) Dining Room at the Ritz, and said it was totally great for only a few hundred dollars for the two of them. A pittance. But it was their anniversary! Happy belated anniversary, guys! He said they had unpretentious, yet consummately professional service and delicious food. As he remarked to me, it’s hard to believe some people eat like that almost every day.

There are several other big-time restaurants I’ve never been to that Rob says are really nice. Bacchanalia. Float Away Cafe. Joel. And I have been to this Brazilian steak joint called Fogo de Chao, where these guys walk around the whole time with skewers of meat and you flip a little cardboard thing over to indicate whether you want them to offer you some. Green means “I’ve swallowed, and am ready for another chunk of filet please.” Red means “wait, gimme a minute, I’m chewing as fast as I can. I wish I had bigger cheeks, but there you have it. Don’t go too far.”

There are little indie places that the hipsters go to, like The Flying Biscuit and The Earl and Taqueria del Sol. There are little indie places that the hipsters don’t seem to know about. And I’m not going to mention here. Feel free to go get a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s at the mall while you dream about the awesome joint I’m having dinner at, chump.

There are lots of mid-scale, good restaurants. I had the fried chicken at Watershed one Tuesday evening, and it was so yummy my mouth is watering even now. There are bars with good food, even though nobody believes me. Just try the salmon dinner at the Earl. It’s good, I swear.

You can drive up Buford Highway and eat at any of about three hundred ethnic restaurants, and the authentic kind no less. You know, the kind that I probably wouldn’t like. But we went to one for Rob’s birthday lunch, and I’d go back there. EVEN ME. (I’m rather famously averse to culinary adventurism.) Suffice to say that it’s an f-ing BIG CITY and it has good food and if you don’t think so then you’re not looking in the right places.

You can shop, oh my yes can you ever shop in Atlanta. It’s kind of insane. You can go buy a $12,000 Bang and Olufsen stereo at the high-end mall. That’s right, it’s a mall, and it’s high-end. I could maybe buy a shirt there some day. Or you can go across the street to the giant regular mall, where they have an Apple Store. You can go to any of the little neighborhoods and find a unique boutique to drop some cash on a cheap consignment outfit or a pair of $200 jeans. From clothes to bikes to art to books to food to groceries– we have a Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s is coming, and there’s this great Dekalb Farmer’s Market just ten minutes away– to tattoos to scooters to lapdances. There’s an Ikea, and even, *sigh* a Wal-Mart. Ok, that’s not a plus, but it’s a big town, and big towns have it all. Speaking of neighborhoods…

We Have Neighborhoods in addition to the big downtown with the big buildings, Atlanta has this cluster of neighborhoods just a few blocks to the west of the skyrises. These neighborhoods comprise most of what goes on in my life. All summer long there will be festivals and parties in these neighborhoods, each of which has a distinct identity.

My own neighborhood, East Atlanta, has its festival later in the year. It’s called the East Atlanta Strut, and it’s a really great time. Each of the festivals also includes an arts and crafts show, the kind where the itinerant artists all set up tents and sell their stuff right there. They have the like all over the country, and Atlanta has like 8 of these shows and festivals throughout the summer months.

The neighborhoods themselves have their own personalities. East Atlanta is kind of working-class bohemian youth culture with an emphasis on grit and rock-n-roll. Little Five Points is where the hippies hang out and where you go to buy that expensive glass “tobacco” smoking contraption. Inman Park and Grant Park are where in-town parents and young professionals seem to live. The Virginia Highlands are hip and expensive and you’re either rich or you rent, and where you can go to Fontaine’s and eat seafood. Mmmm. Decatur is where the Indigo Girls live, and you can extrapolate from that fairly easily. It’s true. I like Decatur a lot, despite all the lesbians. I kid! I kid! I like Decatur a lot BECAUSE of all the lesbians.

I’m here. I bought a really nice house here. I have great friends, and a great job. Those things aren’t in San Francisco, and they probably wouldn’t be. The same friends certainly wouldn’t be, and unlike some people I don’t feel like friends grow on trees. And my house in San Francisco would be a townhouse that I’d share with three other people, not a detached house with a big back yard that’s still in the city. And my job? Well, I might be able to have a similar job, and even possibly stay with the same company. But it’s doubtful, and without a giant raise all of a sudden I’m 23 and renting again. I like my house.

There are books about Atlanta. There’s a big ol’ map just like the Thomas Bros. map they issue to each car arriving in LA. There’s magazines about Atlanta. There’s a rumor mill. There’s a lot to know about Atlanta, and in my year.5 of living in this town I’ve only scratched the surface. And of that scratch, only the merest sub-scratch is in this post! So you get what I’m sayin’ right?

The spirit of a city is engendered by its people.

I just made that up; it sounds profound doesn’t it? But it’s true. I mean to do my part to make the spirit of Atlanta one that attracts people people like me. Not by protesting the latest development scheme, not by donating large sums (which I don’t have) to municipal renovation, but just by being me. Going to the festivals, making a soapbox derby cart, playing my music, participating in the scene, helping out with stuff, walking around town, drinking beer at the Earl, buying local art, and generally being the all-around cool guy my Mama always knew I was.

This is my town now. I have no plans to leave. I’m not on my way to somewhere else. I like other places too; I like New York and San Fran and to a certain extent even stinky Philadelphia. Other places are great. But this is where I live, and I picked it, and before it gets dismissed with a wave of some ignorant “only-ever-visited-friends-who-live-in-the-suburbs” hand, you’ll need to reckon with me.



  1. Amen. I’ve had job opportunities to go work in New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia (my hometown) but I’d much rather be here. In the 3 years I’ve lived in Atlanta I’ve really fallen in love with it and I love how I still haven’t even seen everything the city has to offer. And you’re right that the music scene is pretty awesome and you didn’t even mention the two best venues in the city–the EARL and the Drunken Unicorn/MJQ Concourse.

  2. I liked reading this. I think it’s cool for people to write love letters to their cities. I did one, once, for some guy on Ask MetaFilter: http://ask.metafilter.com/24004/From-NorCal-to-Boise#383952

    I should start a web 2.0 website exclusively for this. like lonelyplanet or wikitravel or about, but better. maybe have a list of things to do and then have people write up little articles on each thing and then there could be voting on them like digg and the best writeup would be displayed.

  3. It’s funny, I’m of a similar demographic to you, and absolutely hate ATL. I hate the traffic, the bible thumpers, the overpriced alcohol, the yuppies that somehow seem like wannabee yuppies. And yes there is a music scene and the Earl is nice, but for a city of this size, the music scene is relatively lame.

    I mean, I’m glad your happy and all, but you can’t point to someone who’s in the most urban situation available in ATL, (Living in East ATL, working in midtown, having disposable income and time) and try and justify life in the city that way. I would guess that your commute is probably in the top 10% of shortest undertaken by the population of Atlanta and you live in by far one of the most neighborhoody neighborhoods.

  4. William, what do you mean that he can’t point to someone living in an urban situation and try to justify life in the city that way?

    Isn’t he just trying to explain why he likes Atlanta? Why would he take it from the viewpoint of someone he’s not, like someone living in in the suburbs and commuting?

    If he were one of them, maybe he wouldn’t like it as much, sure. But so what? He’s not trying to convince them to like it.

    When you say that the music scene is lame for a city of its size, I assume you mean that most cities of its size have a better music scene. I wonder whether that’s true, or if you’re comparing it to certain cities with a music scene that’s BETTER than their size would suggest.

    Anyway, every city has its problems, and its people who hate it for one reason or another. I hope for your sake that you can get out as soon as possible (if you haven’t already), and get to a place you like better.

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