Instead, it had mosquitoes. Stifling heat. Lousy bagels. And the traffic -- God, it was worse than I'd heard, worse than anything Dante could have envisioned. Every night, I'd leave work around 6 and ease into the snarl on I-85, lurching toward Buckhead and home.
Yes, I lived in Buckhead. Forgive me, I was new. I suppose I could blame my fiancée -- she was, after all, the first of us to move here, and had picked the place. But I had been consulted, I had seen pictures, I knew what I was getting into. And it was comfortable. I mean, it was practically a hotel -- we had access to a pool, a gym, a screening room with a lending library; there was even a goddamn teaching kitchen there, with guest chefs once a month serving up stir-fries and tenderloins and other foods I'd never cook.
But it was so Melrose Place. The pool on weekends was filled with shaved chest jerkoffs, parading about with their baseball caps turned backward. Our next-door neighbor turned up the bass on Tupac so often the walls would literally throb. One night we were awoken by a tearful woman in the courtyard below us. She was trying to break up a fight between two frat boy meatheads. She kept shrieking, "I love you both!"
When we hosted guests, my sarcasm would infect them. If they were from up north, the first thing they'd say is how cheap the gas was. Then I'd tell them about my $300 ad valorem bill, and they'd do the math. They'd want to see CNN, so we'd eat in the food court. They'd come to a Braves game looking for Ted Turner and I'd tell them, sorry, AOL owns the team now. They'd come thinking of Margaret Mitchell and leave reading Tom Wolfe.
And then one day, we moved. To an apartment in Inman Park. All at once, the view from my bedroom window wasn't of a cheap courtyard fountain, but of a huge oak tree. The commute to work was five minutes, not 30. We got a dog from the humane society. We went to improv nights around the corner at Dad's Garage. We ordered pizzas from Johnny's. We walked to concerts at the Variety. I started to jog along the Freedom Park path. My fiancée bought a bike. On weekends we'd stand in line at Thumbs Up for a Heap with veggies, which I've come to realize is the greatest single meal in the history of food. On Sundays, I'd actually walk the mutt to the coffee shop and buy a New York Times. I felt so ... urban.
Maybe it was the new perspective, but I started seeing the city in a new way. Atlanta, it turns out, is pretty unique among American cities; it was founded not because of any natural advantage, but because two rail lines crossed here. That's why when you stand on top of Stone Mountain and look west toward Atlanta, it looks like a city rising from the trees. There's no river to speak of, no harbor, no ocean for hundreds of miles.
What's more, the city's still a baby; in 1860, Boston's population was 177,000; Chicago's was 112,000; New York's was 813,000. And Atlanta's? In 1860, not even 8,000 people lived here. So although much has been made of Sherman's torching of Atlanta, there really wasn't a hell of a lot to burn.
Apparently, though, it was enough to instill in those who settled here an obsession with building something newer. But never so good that we'd miss it much if, for example, it burned to the ground. Think about it -- is there one prominent building in Atlanta the city would be lesser for losing? The Fox Theatre perhaps? Maybe the High Museum?
Atlanta's lack of architectural identity -- or at least any durable architectural identity -- is easily bemoaned, especially if you live in a Buckhead apartment complex where grass is not planted but rather unrolled off a truck. But concentrating on that misses the greatness of Atlanta. And yes, I'm convinced that it is great, but great in a unique and gloriously flawed way. It is a city built on fresh starts and the hint of future success. It is a city where the developer is king and the environment isn't. It is a city where the automobile will forever rule. It is a city, in fact, not unlike America.
Finally, it is a city that makes editing a Best Of section like Cityscape a moving target. So check out what's best in Atlanta now, because next year, they may just tear it the hell down to make room for something better.
-- Steve Fennessy