It was January 12, 8 p.m.-ish, when I realized how much I loved Atlanta. I was in the packed Highland Ballroom, bourbon in hand, enjoying CL's Fiction Contest party, when Write Club Atlanta's viceroy/host Nick Tecosky took the stage. He led the rowdy crowd through the basics of the Write Club format: Authors would duel by reading original works influenced by competing themes (in this case, "add" and "subtract," to go with the Fiction Contest theme, "math"). The audience would not only listen, but laugh and yell and hoot when it felt the urge.
What followed during the Write Club duel itself (between our own Thomas Wheatley and Gwynedd Stuart), and the readings from the Fiction Contest winners, was a lesson in how to stage a night of nerdy fun. It was not only a celebration of things like storytelling, funny people, and seeking deeper truths in the everyday, but it was also a rowdy nose-thumbing to the pretensions that usually surround and suck the joy from such things.
It held all the qualities that to me make Atlanta — and I mean the city proper; screw OTP — such a vibrant place. It was youthful, artistic, passionate, full of beards and tats, and irony-free.
When I moved here a year ago from an unnamed North Texas locale, I spent most of my time explaining to people how similar the cities are — both have great food, friendly people, and are a business hub for their respective regions. But now that I'm heading back to Dallas (long-distance relationships: difficult), I realize how different the cities are in many ways.
Some of those differences are not for the best. Complain all you want about 105-degree afternoons, but those walks to the MARTA station on 80-degree, 90 percent humidity mornings drained me of the will to live. Atlanta's contours may make it a beautiful hilly landscape at times, but it's hell on a bike rider. And we all know how crappy a sports town this can be. (Save for Samuel L. Jackson and the "Rise Up" campaign, which is amazing.)
But there are a few unique attributes that I'll try to take with me to Texas, characteristics that I'll seek out and promote as much as possible. Some are simple, like great craft beer. I've never been much of a beer guy, preferring brown liquor or red wine. But the local beer scene here is crazy good. I gained 10 pounds from barley and hops alone. (I think last night's introduction to Ode to Mercy, the imperial brown ale from Decatur's Wild Heaven Craft Beers, was the apex of my local-beer-tasting tour.) And it should be noted: You guys are spoiled. Everyone here is accustomed to SweetWater beers because they're so plentiful, but be thankful you have a series of mass-produced brews of that quality. You don't get that everywhere, certainly not in Texas. Although I can't change the beer selection there, I can at least do our beer guru, Austin L. Ray, proud and become a proper beer snob.
Some of Atlanta's best attributes are grand, like its deep sense of community. I took to calling OTP "the 5 million," as in, "Atlanta isn't a isolationist conservative backwater. You're thinking of the 5 million." The 420,000 who live in the city proper aren't anything like those folks. It's a group who takes pride in Atlanta's diversity, its literary tradition, its full-throated support of artistic and cultural institutions, its togetherness. It's not hard to see. This is a city that goes out and does shit together, every weekend: festivals, concerts, plays, readings, parades, you name it. If you're not out experiencing the city in a communal way with your neighbors, you're not doing things the Atlanta way. That is uplifting, and worth repeating in other cities.
And some are procedural, like the fact you have a strong mayor system. After a few weeks here, I wrote an op-ed that infuriated Hizzoner, Kasim Reed. (He didn't tell me, but he called up news writers he knew and blistered them.) It called for more transparency from him and his office as he made personnel moves, and it stands true today. That said, coming from a city run by a weak mayor (strong city manager) system, it's pretty glorious to see one man in charge, executing a plan to right the municipal ship in this economy's stormy seas. We will continue to criticize him, but there's something about Reed's swagger I find awesome, because if I were in charge, I'd want the chance to cut through the bureaucracy and do what I thought was right.
Lastly, I'll take a lesson from Creative Loafing. Complaining about CL is a pastime in Atlanta, and I get that: Change is hard, and CL has gone through a lot of change. But this group I'm leaving behind is fantastic — Thomas Wheatley, Debbie Michaud, Joeff Davis, Rodney Carmichael, Chad Radford, Max Blau, Stephanie Dazey, Alicia Carter, Clay Duda, Vené Franco, Dustin Chambers, Amanda Croy, as well as regular writers like John Sugg, Gwynedd Stuart, Charles Bethea, Rembert Browne, Cliff Bostock, Curt Holman, Andrew Alexander, Allison Keene, Brad Kaplan, and dozens of others. They tell the story of this city like no one else. The lesson from them is this: Do great work, every day. You'll not only survive, you'll thrive.
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Womin geet back in da keetchin and fry me sum chikin!!!!
Now please excuse me while I bring home the bacon.