Atlanta and I have a long, often troublesome relationship. I loved visiting there as a kid, when my mom was working for the IRS. I remember loving the Fox Theatre, the still-open downtown department stores, and the strange little mid-block A&P stores as early as seven or eight years of age.
My first college road trip in 1982 was also to Atlanta, to see Talking Heads at the Fox with my friends Carroll, Byron, Laird, and Juliette. This was just before Midtown was essentially bulldozed and gentrified beyond recognition. I was 18, and I was excited by what I perceived to be real urbanism and actual fags walking down the street.
It was a strange trip, with our rather rumpled group sharing one room at the very corporate Colony Square Hotel. We pushed the beds together so there would be no discussions of who slept with who (not that there really would have been anyway), and Carroll and I claimed an end together since we were both suffering from major sniffly, sneezy bouts.
Nineteen years later, my allergies were still acting up in Atlanta.
I woke up, had a breakfast which would clog the healthiest of arteries at Waffle House, and started scouring the phone book for thrift stores and potential old supermarkets. I found more of the latter than the former.
I also looked up an old obsession I knew lived in Atlanta. He was, of course, the one person just about everyone has in their life, the one from which they never quite recover completely. He was listed. I opted against calling. We’d spoken probably tiwce in fifteen years, once when I was down with Duncan (via Columbia SC, which is a whole other story) and once when I was there with Jeff. I had to be pushed both times; I didn’t hate the guy, but it was a little painful and I found myself with very little to say.
I thought of another Atlanta road trip in 1984. It was the first one he and I took together. We were thrilled beyond belief to discover Weekends, the first alternative queer bar we’d even seen. We drank like crazy, since 19-year-olds could buy liquor in Georgia. I assumed we’d fall madly in love while staying together at the Atlanta Cabana. We didn’t. I was miserable for the whole trip. Many months of misery followed.
Feeling less miserable as a jaded 36-year-old, I toured Atlanta on Saturday. I must have driven 200 miles, and Atlanta is not a city in which it’s easy to drive. It’s a fun city to drive in; there’s lots of ground to cover. But the street network is not really adequate to handle the amount of traffic in a city where transit is, at best, an afterthought.
Atlanta is kind of a mess, with large sections of 1950s suburbia gone horribly wrong. Like eastern North Carolina, it was aesthetically-pleasing to me, but still disturbing. It;s a great place and all, but this was the first visit where I never seriously pondered living there.
I hit a few suburbs too, just to look for some slightly more viable, but still dowdy, areas. I was disappointed. But that damned animated chicken in Marietta made the whole drive worthwhile. Almost…
Dinner at the cafeteria. I’ve been accused of eating like an old black woman, and, true to form, I ordered exactly the same thing as the older African American lady in line ahead of me: catfish, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and sweet tea.
After dinner, I somehow managed to convince myself to go out. I’ve had the same tumultuous relationship with Atlanta nightlife as I have with the city itself. I often find it a little tedious and annoying, but there are sometimes surprises.
I went to the Eagle. Not because I particularly like it, but because I knew where it was, it was easy to get to, and it’s usually a little less preppy-uptight than other Atlanta bars. And easier to cruise.
The crowd was miserable and evocative of San Francisco’s Powerhouse on a Saturday night: clones galore, with a small circuit contingent, and way too many people whose sole identity revolves around being a gay bear. There was one person in the whole lousy crowd of 300 or so who caught my eye. Fortunately, I caught his too. Love when that happens…
He smoked, liked supermarkets, made websites, and wanted to move to San Francisco. I smoke, like supermarkets, make websites, and want to leave San Francisco. Conversation ensued.
As I found myself driving to a Midtown condo at 1:30 AM, I thought back to the one other time I’d gone home with someone in Atlanta. That was a strange trip too; it was my first road trip with someone I’d been dating but wasn’t really dating anymore. We got to Atlanta and realized (at the ATM) that our paychecks hadn’t cleared, so we were left with about $50 in cash. We survived for a day on Frito’s and Cokes I bought with my gas credit card. It was also the first time we’d watched each other pick up other people. He got the DJ at Club Velvet. I got a cute rich boy.
This time around, I got back to the Red Roof Inn about 5:00, which allowed me all of six hours sleep before checking out and starting the intentionally long trip home on Highway 29. Another sleep-deficit night…