Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Clicking Pause in The ATL

I wrote this post back in the spring but only last night got around to publishing it.  Even though it's a little too hot for Merlot on the deck, I think you could substitute Cosmos and the effect would be the same.

Down here in the South, we have a monthly magazine which is aptly titled Southern Living. It's an institution...people all across the South rely on SL to give them the best recipes, gardening ideas, and potential travel destinations.  It's the Southern equivalent of Sunset or Yankee, I suppose.  And here in "The ATL", as we locals affectionately call our fair city, Southern Living is gospel.  As the Brits say, it's "spot-on".

Every year about this time, we become very grateful for living in a place like this.  Most evenings in the spring, summer or fall, we can dine al fresco -- in fact, as I write this, I'm downing the last few sips of my Two-Buck Chuck Trader Joe's 2008 Merlot while sitting out on the deck with my laptop.  As I look around, I see that I'm surrounded by a veritable forest up here.  If you don't tend to a piece of ground, something will start growing, and before you know it, you'll have to pull out the Roundup just to see through it all.  But the pervasive green is so calming, and I think we often take it for granted.  Take note the next time you fly into Atlanta, and you'll notice that there's green absolutely everywhere.

Even though Atlanta is a Southern city, there are times when we tend to forget it.  For example, our traffic is legendary, and our drivers are possessed of a certain, shall we say fortitude, that would allow them to compete in modern Roman motorsports.  According to a national study released several years ago, we have some of the longest commute times in the nation.  Yet, when we get home, we must revert to a state of happiness, because people keep moving here.  It's something of a paradox, but it's been like this as long as I can remember.

Yet even with the tremendous influx of people from other regions and other parts of the world, we retain something of the Southern charm.  You can still go into a store, and a perfect stranger will stop you and ask if you've tried a certain black bean salsa or some wild dark roast coffee, and before you realize it, you're fully engaged and making recommendations like a culinary Roger Ebert.  It's not that people don't have a sense of personal space, but rather that they're willing to make the effort to be outgoing, and that's very nice.

According to the last figures, we're now a city of about 5.5 million people.  Some days, I swear they're all driving I-285, which we call "The Perimeter" (ironically, since it runs through some of the busiest parts of the city), or navigating "The Connector", a downtown stretch where I-75 and I-85 wrap their arms around each other's waists for a 16-lane dance.  But there's something about this diverse mix of cultures and attitudes, combined with a very real sense of the here and now, that makes this place what it is.  I moved here in 1982, thinking that I'd give it two or three years, and except for two years away in Charlotte, I've been here ever since.  I don't know if and when I'll call another place home, but this one is good. 

I don't often take the time to thank my city, but that's exactly what this is.  Thanks, Atlanta, for opening my mind and still allowing me to find some good catfish.