We visited Atlanta. It’s the first time we’ve returned since we moved away over the summer. I don’t miss it. Construction traffic forced us off the highway and around to a side road for a 25-minute detour and I miss it less. We crested the first hill that reveals the first panorama of Atlanta consuming land towards all the compass points. I miss it not at all.
I talk with my new friends in our new home about Atlanta. Their eyes light up. What a place to go! What a place to be! Oh, the food you will eat and the drinks you will drink. They laugh about the choking traffic because for folks who never lived there, it’s a punchline. For those of us who did or still do, it is a special tax all its own. We spent one more hour to drive back from from Atlanta than to cross Atlanta from our old house to a friend’s apartment. It’s just not funny.
My skin crawled as we rushed through the main arteries. You check your mirrors every two seconds or you miss a gap. Worse, someone hits you. You race up an exit ramp, idle beside a homeless girl who might not yet be 18, jam yourself into merging traffic to fight down a minor road towards Little Five Points, park blocks away, deflect not one but two lewd comments, all in pursuit of dinner with a friend. Then you fight a ridiculous ten miles and thirty minutes north by northeast to your other friends’ home where you park and pray you don’t have to drive again.
I sound negative. I sound like a bitter old man bemoaning the days when Henry Ford’s damnable Model-T ruined my pastoral walkways. If you believe me, you don’t want to visit this city. You want to stay far away. What could a place like this offer in exchange for this stress, this ludicrous transport, this chaos?
It offers a life all its own. We passed a stilt-walker clad in robes with a black Oni mask. Not a panhandler or street performer – this person wanted to take a walk dressed like an anime demon. We slip into the wonderfully narrow Porter Beer Bar that opens like Mary Poppins’ purse into a sprawling restaurant. We pick novel beers at random from the four-page list. We feast on goat cheese fritters tossed in garlic aioli, I eat a truly medium rare Angus burger whose scalding grease cleanses the road rage from my bones, we laugh and catch up with our friend who shows us her tail and ceramic vampire fangs, and I remember how much I miss my friend. This is our first stop. The broiling September heat eases as the sun sets. Not too much, though, and not too different from home.
We battle north by northwest to a preposterously independent hamlet buried in the middle of the city that is not one city but an archipelago of cities. Atlanta itself is a relatively small core, maybe 600,000 souls. Anyone who’s lived there knows Atlanta is actually everything ITP, In The Perimeter, the sprawling 45-mile ring that is I-285. That highway, split and forked by I-75 and I-85, proves all roads lead to Rome because folks from as far away as Marietta, Alpharetta, Cumming, and a dozen other cities in their own rights and scores of towns all claim to be from Atlanta. Six million people, six-tenths of the state, live in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. You feel the shoulders, nerves, and heat of every single one when you venture out on the roads.
Our friends live in a new construction beside the castle that is Oglethorpe University. Where once we would have rushed out to drink, we now sit, talk, and drink… but only a little. That’s for tomorrow, after all. We burst into the dense world that is the five blocks around their apartment. Everything is here. Try it. The grocer, the banker, the stylist, the mechanic, the bars, the restaurants, the doctor, the businesses, the gym… this enclave is a world. We don’t venture beyond. Why would anyone venture out onto the roads when everything you want to do and everyone you want to see is five blocks away or walking beside you?
We play Battleship while waiting for food, tip a server who’s long abandoned us for another table just sitting down to order mimosas, drink too much for that time of morning and spend the day drinking more. We’re asleep by 7pm, rouse around 10 to feign a rally, and collapse onto a couch to imbibe the Saturday chaos that is college football.
We break camp the next morning for the sprint home. The city trails behind us. I see the crest consume the Atlantan panorama and then the highway waits ahead. Atlanta’s vibrations rattle on long past the Perimeter. They shake through the traffic that engulfs us across the state line and back home. Where we live now is alive in a different way, a sleepier way, more like a deep river than the roaring falls that is Atlanta. I’m happier in it, more comfortable, better buoyed and faster moving because it’s my kind of flow. As I unpack, though, I am aware of how primed I feel. Ideas, plans, contingencies, excitements; they all rush through my thoughts because I spent a night and a day with our friends inside an electric behemoth.