What Am I?

20 July 2010

(Editors note, for some reason I cannot up load pictures in my blog today.)

As of today, I have been in Atlanta for 10 years, just over 20% of my life. I spent my first 33+ years in Chicago. There was the lost weekend, a little less than three years in Myrtle Beach, SC. I know that I am never leaving Atlanta but can I consider myself an Atlantan? Am I a Southerner? Or am I still just a Damn Yankee and a registered Chicago Democrat (Yes to the last one).

When I was in third grade, I did one of those projects where you research a state. In a moment of cosmic prescience, I was picked to research Georgia. The first thing I liked about Georgia was “The Krofft Super Show” that was filmed in what is now the Omni Hotel.

(Yes, that is Julie Cooper’s husband, Max Horvath as Kaptain Kool and Dr. Marlena Evans as Elektra Woman.)

More than anything, I wanted to live in Atlanta. In 1995, I visited Atlanta, before the Olympics, I did all the tourist trap things including taking the CNN tour, which is the former home of “The Krofft Super Show” (though I have no proof, I think Wolf Blitzer was Turkey of the aforementioned Kongs.

Finally, in 2000, I landed a job in Atlanta. I was home or I was in my new home. The place I wanted to live since doing that poster board where I was a victim of the Chicago Public School system.

Now that I have been here 10 years am I an Atlantan?

I am not a native. With that being said, 10 years is a lot longer than the average person who lives here. Atlanta has one of the highest population growth rates in the country. It is the fastest growing city of all the top 10 markets. I checked my friends on Facebook and my email list, only 15% are native Atlantans. Compare that to Chicago where I only had 10 friends who were not Chicagoans. (I am looking at you Dan.)

Unlike many people who move down here, I don’t complain about the Southern culture. It seems to me that every New Yorker who comes down has something to say about the traffic, the roads, the cooking, the slowness of life, the perceived Southern stupidity, etc. I have embraced the food and local arts scene. I have never said, “The pizza at Papa John’s isn’t as good as Famous Ray’s.” Mostly because everyone knows Chicago’s deep-dish pizza kicks New York’s thin pizza’s ass! (More on Chicago later.) Anyway, an Atlantan would go to Savage Pizza or Fritti before ordering from Papa John’s.

As for Chicago, try as I might, I can’t quit you. I left 13 years ago with open eyes. I knew I was never going back. I had seen everything I needed to see. Sure there are things I miss: The Art Institute, Wrigley Field, taste of Chicago, Second City, Steppenwolf, 16” softball, Gino’s East, Lincoln Park Zoo, slipping on by on LSD, running on the lakefront path, going to any of 50 blues bars to see the legends play, the Music Box Theater, the Museum of Science and Industry, the architecture, Maxwell St. Market, voter fraud, Buckingham Fountain, Green River (the drink and the tradition), the El, Greektown and Chinatown. I didn’t realize how much I could name off the top of my head.

My license plate is Cubs related, my email is chiguy_23 an homage to Ryno and MJ. The only time I ever go to Turner Field (yes, I call it Wrigley South) is to watch the Cubs. Like a true Chicagoan, I use my clout to get to the fifth row behind the Cubs dugout so Lou can feel my ire.

With all that Chicago has to offer, I don’t miss it. Atlanta has plenty to offer, just different.

Travel – In the Midwest, there is nothing to see and the land is so flat there is nothing to stop you from seeing it. Places like Indy, Milwaukee, Lake Geneva, Rockford, Starved Rock or the Islands, (Goose and Blue) don’t hold a candle to Savannah, Asheville, Charleston, Charlotte, Jacksonville or Birmingham. I can get in the car and be in any of those places in five hours or less. There is much more to do in Savannah than Milwaukee. There is more history in one block in Charleston then there is in the entire state of Indiana.

Arts – I regularly attend theater here with the same regularity I did in Chicago. The actors here are much more approachable. While I haven’t gotten to the point of getting free tickets, there have been other perks. At the incredible “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski” at the Shakespeare Tavern, one of the actors not in the play but running the house, recognized me and got me better seats than where the volunteer usher placed me. I belong to the High Museum of Art where they just wrapped a three-year alliance with the Louvre bringing treasures that never leave the famed museum over here to have a peach shake at Chick-Fil-A. In addition, I met renowned artist George Rodrigue at the High. I have a few of his silk screens.

Restaurants – We have them in spades: Willy’s Mexicana Burritos, Eats, The Varsity, Top Flr, Café Sunflower, Nino’s, the Colonnade, Taqueria del Sol, Flying Biscuit, Alon’s, Muss & Turner’s, ONE Midtown Kitchen and Paolo’s Gelato Italiano just to salivate over a few. Only an Atlantan would know half of them.

Music – Granted, our scene here is not what Chicago has. Since I have been here, three venues have closed The Roxy, Echo Lounge and Cotton Club. Sadly all three were places where up and coming bands would play. They have not been replaced; I can’t help but think how many acts I have missed because there was no place to see them. There is no radio station here that comes close to matching WXRT, though if one would listen to my advice, there would be, I’m just saying. Thanks to the Internets, I can listen to just about any station in the world.

Running – There is probably no better place to run in the entire world than the lakefront path in Lincoln Park. Like LSD, it starts at Hollywood and you can run it all the way to 76th. I only made it as far as Diversey St. What it has in scenery, both on the path and looking at the skyline, it lacks in terrain. There are no hills anywhere on the path. I have learned since moving here that hill running prepares you for everything that any race has to offer. I have the Silver Comet Trail, though it is flat, it is unspoiled by the 21st Century trappings minus the obnoxious a-holes using their cellphones on the path. Where I currently live, I can run hills in the shadow of Stone Mountain. In Vinings, where I used lived in Atlanta, I ran up and down West Paces Ferry and Cobb Parkway. Trust me, a 5-miler one those courses is tougher than a 13-miler on Lake Michigan.

Diversity – While Chicago does have minorities, the city is for the most part segregated. In Atlanta, there is true diversity; we may not have a Chinatown or a Greektown that is because everything is spread out all over. We have had an African-American mayor since I got here. In fact, the last white mayor was served in 1974. For the most part, there is racial harmony. I rarely go to a place that is all white, even the highbrow events I attend. In Chicago, there is an undercurrent of racism in everything. You don’t get that in Atlanta. It is a nice trade-off indeed.

But am I an Atlantan or just a Chicagoan who has moved on?

I can never root for an Atlanta team, I tried to with all the teams but it didn’t seem right. As we say in Chicago, “dance wit da one dat brung you.” Hell, I even jumped on the Blackhawks bandwagon this year and I haven’t followed them since Bobby Orr was on the team.

After 10 years, I do know a lot of things about our fair city. I know where the Disco Kroger is and why it is called that. Most newcomers have no idea what it is. I can correctly pronounce Ponce de Leon Ave and Atlanta like a local. There are 71 different variations of Peachtree Street.

Running the Peachtree is probably the event that makes me feel most like an Atlantan. We all do it; 55,000 of my closest running buddies. If you are in any size group in the city it is guaranteed that at least 1/3  have run the race in the last five years, even if you are new to town.

Can I escape my roots?

I guess I will always be a Chicagoan. It’s in my DNA. But I haven’t been there in 13 years with no plans on going back. Maybe I will run the Chicago Marathon but there are other places I want to run first. Atlanta is now in my DNA. Breakfast means the Biscuit, not Nookies Tree. The thought of taking public transportation is out of the question where it used to be de rigueur. Though pasta is my favorite dish, I avoid spaghetti junction at all costs. I have not developed a Southern accent though I think I have lost Chicago accent, I no longer pronounce “th” as a “d” as in “Da Bulls just beat da Pistons da odder night at da UC.”

I am not a Southerner. I have not felt the sting of the Civil War, my family cannot trace their roots back 300 years in this country, I don’t have a favorite college football team or NASCAR driver and I have never eaten hog jowls & gizzards.

When it comes down to it, I am an Atlantan. Like most others here, I am from somewhere else, and I am staying.

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3 Responses to “What Am I?”

  1. Brian Clark Says:

    Hey Neil,

    I enjoyed the hell out of this article, and for the life of me don’t know why you’re not writing professionally. A truly excellent piece, my friend.

  2. Mike Eddings Says:

    Good article except for that little stab about Myrtle Beach,the place i never plan on leaving!

  3. Art Says:

    Just now read this. Nicely done! You actually make this place sound interesting (note to readers from afar: don’t be fooled. It’s really lame. Only Neil’s writing makes it sound fun).


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