Happy thanks to communal bliss
Go to a Beltline study group, and Angel Poventud sits alongside other residents, soaking up details about the 22-mile loop of park, trails and transit. Attend a monthly rally organized by Atlantans Together Against Crime, and the 37-year-old Midtown resident holds signs to bring attention to the rise in break-ins, muggings and assaults across the city. Drive past the intersection of Buford Highway and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, and his mug beams from a billboard advertising the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign.
Hell, eat a veggie burger at Engine 11 on North Avenue and Poventud rolls by. On rollerblades. He might even be wearing his trademark green dress. Angel Poventud is everywhere — and he's always smiling.
“It’s my community,” the Miami native says. “I’m a ham, I’ll admit it. But if I’m not engaged in the people around me, I get disinterested.”
After being laid off two months ago by shipping company CSX, Poventud, a railroad conductor, decided to make even more out of his free time.
“My personal motto is, ‘No one can pay you what your free time is worth,’” Poventud says. “When you find yourself with free time, try to embrace it and not be afraid of it.”
It’s that attitude that makes Poventud one of the most well-adjusted and productive guys we know.
“Honestly, it was a bit of a relief,” Poventud says of his job loss. “This is my fourth time being laid off in my life. That first time I was pretty panicky: ‘Oh my God, I have to get a job, be productive, and do my part.’ But I learned the second or third time that, yes, I need to find a job, but I also need to take great advantage of this time off. It’s very rare in our American culture where we don’t have weeks of time where we don’t have a responsibility to something.”
Poventud volunteers 10 to 20 hours each week for ATAC, the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, Trees Atlanta, Beltline study groups and three Midtown Neighborhood Association committees. Once a month, the historic preservation buff joins hundreds of cyclists for the free-form bicycle tour Critical Mass. Nearly every day, he skates through Piedmont Park. Poventud, who’s gay, also partakes in camping trips with outdoors enthusiasts the Radical Fairies.
Thanks to a railroad employee unemployment insurance fund, he’s been able to collect enough cash to cover his rent and utility bills. His spending money comes from a low-interest credit card.
“If the economy turns around, I get my job back, and I pay off my debt,” Poventud says.
And if it doesn’t turn around soon? Well, it will … eventually. And at least we’ll all be in this mess together.
“My grandmother lived to be 100,” he says. “So that’s the timeline I think about. What’s happening right now is stressful. But it’ll correct itself one way or another.”
Two weeks ago, Poventud got good news. The railroad company needed him back on the job. Come June, he'll be riding the rails again — in between blazing across town and volunteering.
— Thomas Wheatley
Happy about home prices
If someone had to get stuck with the cloud, Leah Calvert’s happy she at least ended up with its silver lining.
The pixieish bluegrass musician spent the past few months house shopping in the Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods where she grew up, without much luck finding anything in her modest price range. When she did come across a deal, she’d get shut out by real estate investors who’d swoop in with a higher bid.
The 29-year-old Calvert, who graduated from the University of Georgia in 2002, has worked on and off in accounting and office management and dedicated her spare time to earning her MBA at Georgia State University. In the past couple of years, she’s been able to follow her dream of being a full-time musician, as fiddler and singer for the Dappled Grays, a five-piece outfit that tours the regional bluegrass circuit and plays a steady schedule of corporate gigs and private parties.
Last month, Calvert finally closed on a 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom bungalow with a decent-sized yard in Sylvan Hills. The price: a crazily low $57,000.
The house last sold a decade ago for $145,000. It’s a foreclosure property, which was certainly bad news for somebody … but not Calvert.
“There is a sad side to the story, but there hasn’t been a day yet I haven’t been surprised that I got such a great deal,” she says.
Calvert hasn’t moved in yet. She still has a few weeks to go on her current lease, so she’s used the time to make minor renovations and landscaping improvements. But she’s looking forward to settling into a new home that, under normal circumstances, she never could have afforded.
“The new foreclosure market is giving people like me — working artists — a chance to become first-time homebuyers,” she says.
— Scott Henry
Happy about his inner song
Almost every morning on my way to the office, working through the haze of the depressing morning news, my first cup of strong coffee, and the urge for a cigarette, I see him on the corner of Luckie Street and North Avenue. At first, he appears just a silhouetted figure moving, jumping swinging, dancing. As I get closer, I see his smile, big and fantastic, as he makes his way through his wide range of dance moves. His arms pump in impossible motions. His head is cocked toward the sky, face marked with sheer ecstasy. I always think, “I want to feel that. I want to know that. I want to dance like that.” So I stopped and asked him who he is and why he’s so … happy.
What’s your name?
Prince Daweed. That’s Hebrew for David. I go by Prince, like Prince Charles. That’s not his first name, you know?
What music do you listen to when you dance?
I love music, good music. R&B, hip-hop. I love the Bee Gees. I love Daryl Hall and John Oates. And I love James Brown. I absolutely love Stevie Wonder. He's very uplifting. I love Donna Summers, and I love Earth, Wind and Fire.
Why do you seem so happy?
I just have a great appreciation for life. Before, I was depressed and self-conscious. I was out in Los Angeles for seven years. I was trying to get noticed, trying to get signed by somebody. Sometimes, the best moves you make are the ones you don’t make. Say you make a move; say you have a destination to go to in your mind. Follow your first mind, ’cause you never go wrong.
Why do you dance here?
It’s a nice, wide area, and hardly anyone walks here.
What do you see when you dance?
I see me on a beach somewhere with black sand, palm trees, aqua water, 89 degrees, shirt off, shorts on — and just, like, I am in paradise. That’s what music does for me.
How do you suggest others find happiness?
Love yourself! It has to come from within. It can’t come externally. Some people love their cars and their money — toxic people, people who do not build themselves up. Know yourself! I was searching through various religions and now I have found a way of life, how to walk and how to live.
— Joeff Davis
Happy to avoid foreclosure
Back in December, we reported on a Lithonia family whose home was being foreclosed on after they fell behind in their mortgage payments — and after the bank allegedly tacked on thousands of dollars in abusive servicing charges.
The situation looked pretty grim for the homeowner, who asked not to be named because she works for a well-known financial institution and doesn’t want her situation to reflect poorly on her employer. Even if she could somehow catch up on the late payments and exorbitant fees, her 11.6 percent interest rate would likely have made it difficult to stay on top of her mortgage for long.
The woman’s attorney, Howard Rothbloom, has been fighting for five years to help her keep the house she shares with her husband, a truck driver, their children, and several extended family members. Now, the case finally has a resolution — and a happy one at that. The lender dropped all the servicing charges on the woman's loan. It rolled her missed payments back into her principle. And it dropped her interest rate to an insanely low 4.26 percent.
Now that the homeowner’s payments have decreased from $1,022 to $724, she’ll be able to pay on time, Rothbloom says.
Call it a sign of the times.
“In this market, they don’t want these houses back, because oftentimes the houses are worth less than what are owed on them,” Rothbloom says. "It didn’t used to be that way. It used to be that foreclosed houses were a profit center for lenders.”
The homeowner says that, without Rothbloom, the house she worked so hard to keep would likely have ended up on the auction block.
“He could have just dropped the case,” she says of Rothbloom. “He could have said, ‘I’m tired. This isn’t going anywhere. I can’t do this no more.’ But he didn’t. He stuck it out. He kept encouraging me, even when I was tired. He saw an injustice — and he said, ‘We’re going to fight this.’”
— Mara Shalhoup
Happy to let tough times spawn great art
Opal Gallery occupies a petite storefront nestled between A Cappella Books and Savage Pizza in Little Five Points. It’s a small space, and a quick turn around the gallery could take less than five minutes — if it wasn’t for director Constance Lewis.
At the gallery’s April 9 opening for David Knox’s This World Below: Portraits in the Era of Katrina, Lewis buzzed about in a hot pink ’50s-style cocktail dress, energizing the sepia-toned photographs, “craw-doo encrusted shutters,” and chatty but monochromatic crowd.
“Hi! Thanks for coming. It’s great to see you. Hey, do you know so-and-so? Let me introduce you …” she chirps before slipping off to the next group. Visiting Opal always means meeting someone new, and that’s a conscious effort on the part of Lewis. “That was one of the points of having a storefront,” she says. “It’s accessible to everybody. The people that are a part of it create it. That’s the point.”
And so is cultivating an artistic community. Lewis, who earned a degree in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, wanted to reconstruct the creative culture in Atlanta she experienced in the Bay Area. “The gallery is a place for people to explore, so that the work shown isn’t defined by the gallery, it’s defined by the creative input,” she says.
If it seems like a bit of an ambiguous plan for such dire times, it also seems to be working. Opal celebrated its one-year anniversary last March, and the little gallery appears to be going strong. “When times are tough, artists do what they do best and that’s create,” says Lewis. “When there’s need, I think there’s potential for something new and innovative.”
She says that, at the risk of sounding sappy, she believes we’re living in one of the most interesting times in the art world, “where people are able to come up with things that are really, really innovative, because of the lack of security that we have in the economy — and in life.”
Lewis’ positivity is more than bearable — it’s infectious. She’s convincing in her assertion that there’s a reward to be found in this seemingly difficult era. “It inevitably makes a project, or even life, more interesting,” she says.
— Debbie Michaud
Happy to have two reasons to be happy
Four months ago, things were looking pretty rough for Calavino Donati. Her namesake restaurant in Oakhurst, which she’d opened on the heels of having to shutter her popular Roman Lily Café in Inman Park, was struggling. She’d just launched a desperate MySpace campaign, asking friends and customers to donate some cash to save Calavino’s. The loss of her beloved Italian restaurant, so soon after jacked-up rent forced her to close Roman Lily, would be too much for her to bear.
So at the urging of her wife, Doria Roberts, Donati swallowed her pride and asked for help — and help began to trickle in. But it wasn’t enough. She’d opened Calavino’s months before the onset of the recession. She also opened it without a financial cushion, and once business slipped, she couldn’t catch up. She had no choice but to close Calavino’s doors for good.
She might have given up on her lifelong passion, too — if not for the persistent support of Roberts, an acoustic folk goddess who, despite a busy tour schedule, threw herself into helping Donati launch a new restaurant.
“She reminded me every single day of how much people loved my food and what I did,” Donati says. “When I was ready to just pack up a van and move to the beach and wash dishes at a dirty little Mexican restaurant, she told me to just keep trying.”
Two months ago, Donati got a call from My Sister’s Room, an East Atlanta bar whose owners wanted Donati to manage the business. She wasn’t interested in working at a bar, but she and Roberts met the owners for brunch. And they came up with a plan.
My Sister’s Room used to be a restaurant, and some of the bones of that restaurant still existed — most importantly, the range hood and walk-in cooler. What’s more, the bar business didn’t really pick up until 10 p.m. So Donati decided she’d “move in” to My Sister’s Room. In the hours before the bar opened, she’d have enough time to serve lunch and dinner. Her new restaurant would focus on more affordable Southern fare — duck and waffles, dill-havarti mac-n-cheese, spicy collards — to better suit these tough financial times.
Since mid-March, Donati and Roberts have been running the 50-seat Calavino’s Soul Kitchen out of the Glenwood Avenue bar.
“We’re doing two concepts out of one place,” Donati says. And so what if she and Roberts have to drag the tables and chairs into the kitchen at the end of each day to make more room for bar patrons — and then drag them back out every morning. These times require ingenuity and hustle, of which the couple has plenty.
“She is as independent and strong and stubborn as I am,” Donati says of Roberts. “We push each other and support each other, and it’s perfect.”
Donati points out that she’s happy to have two things to be happy about: Calavino’s Soul Kitchen and Roberts. And there very well could be a third reason on the way.
“Our plan is to have another little Taurus and another little Virgo running around,” Donati says, alluding to her and Roberts’ respective signs. Before they met, they’d always assumed they’d have children of their own. Now, they can raise children together.
“Even if I did not find another [restaurant] space, I could still be part of this happy story,” Donati says. “That makes me even happier than having another restaurant.”
— Mara Shalhoup
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