Whenever I pick up a New York publication and see that it's making an attempt to explain Atlanta and/or the South, I hold my breath. Because I know, sooner or later, it's coming. The jab. The slight. The ever-so-subtle insult. The self-righteous smirk that tells you that New Yorkers have this image of the South as a place where a bunch of hicks with bad teeth sit on the front porch and sip corn whiskey all day.
Think I'm kidding? When my ex-girlfriend lived in Manhattan, she called one night giggling hysterically because a woman in her office had asked her, in all seriousness, whether she'd ever "ate squirrel." You know, seeing as how she was from the South and all.
So I gritted my teeth last month when I saw the New York Sun had printed a Bloomberg story headlined: "40,000 New Yorkers Flee State For Atlanta." First of all, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that many new people walking around in my city wearing Yankees ball caps. Turns out they're not so happy about it, either.
It wasn't three paragraphs before the first diss appeared. Some dude who'd been living in his parents' house in Long Island, with his wife and two kids, moved to Atlanta and bought a $275,000 house in the burbs with four bedrooms. It has a yard and a pool. And is he happy? No, because the state of pizza in Atlanta is an affront to his New York sensibilities.
That was followed by the inevitable Gone With The Wind reference, and then how some of the ex-New Yorkers are so offended by Southern culture that they had to band together through MySpace. They're disdainful when we say "y'all" and "bless your heart." One presumably intelligent CNN producer opined that she'll kill herself if her kids grow up with a Southern accent. So what exactly would she prefer? A Queens accent?
They don't like our pizza. They hate our bagels. They complain that we talk too slowly. "Atlanta is a second-tier city," is how one transplant put it. "New York is cooler and more exciting in every respect."
Delta is ready when you are, people. Bye, y'all! Bless your hearts.
The story stirred up a storm on the Internet. There were five pages of comments on the Sun's website. But a counter point of view seemed necessary. Do ex-Atlantans who now live in New York whine about the Big Apple? Of course not. Southerners are too gracious. Besides, they love it there. "Let me count the ways I love it here," says Kristen Tate, who moved to New York two years ago. "It's so culturally diverse, which is something I also love about Atlanta. But the whole world is here."
Living in New York City is one grand adventure for them. Yet here's the thing – and this is really going to piss off all the New Yorkers who believe the world begins and ends on that little island – almost to a person, our expatriates hope to come back to Atlanta someday. Even many ex-New Yorkers who left to come here don't want to go back. Which sums up my whole theory about the Big Apple: It's a great place to live – but just for a little while.
My first experience with New York City came after I moved to Rhode Island in 1988.
I was so excited to be that close to the city that I drove to Manhattan my very first weekend there. Coming down I-95, I was awestruck when I spied the lit-up skyline. It was Atlanta magnified 20 times, and so intimidating that I didn't actually drive into the city; I only drove around it. I genuinely feared that if I took my car into Manhattan, I might never find my way out.
After that, I discovered the commuter rail system. New York was a three-and-a-half-hour ride away, and I took advantage of it to go into the city every few weeks.
A few years later, I was back in Georgia but my wanderlust for the Big Apple had yet to be satisfied. I wanted to be in New York because that's where the best writers in the world congregated. Sinatra got that one right: If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I had a book out, and enough connections to get meetings with some of the top magazine editors in New York City.
An added incentive was that my girlfriend lived there, so I already felt like a part-time resident. I was all about New York. I loved the energy. The great restaurants. The little corner groceries. The subway system that took you everywhere. There was Greenwich Village. Washington Square Park. Times Square. Union Square. Grand Central Station. Ray's Pizza. Sidewalk pretzels. New York, New York. What a town.
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