2002 - 2004
A City gone with the (spring) wind
by ron hudspeth
A year and a half ago Jean McGregor left Atlanta to move back to her hometown of Pittsburgh after living 18 years in Atlanta.
Had Pittsburgh changed that much, I asked?
She thought for a moment before replying: "Not really."
Imagine leaving Atlanta 18 years ago. That would have been 1985. Your departure would have left behind a boogie-woogie town. Harrison's on Peachtree was still tearing up happy hour and you could get bare-as-you-dared at Limelight. The Braves were awful but no one cared. Everyone was having too damn good a time.
Words like AIDS and DUI had barely crept into our vocabulary. I can't recall anyone bitching about the stock market and while traffic was already a mess, you simply ordered one more cocktail and waited it out.
Yours truly was pumping out six columns a week at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and about this time each year on a slow day when I was brain dead from late night researching at a Peachtree watering hole, I would sit down in front of my computerized typewriter (yep, typewriter) and pound out a column called, "Springtime in Atlanta."
In it, I raved about the city. Is there any place more beautiful in April than Atlanta with dogwoods and azaleas exploding in rainbow colors? Certainly no town had more gorgeous women. And my, oh, my Atlanta was such a mannerly, have-a-nice day happening for someone who had spent his previous years on South Florida's coast where some of the nastiest people on the planet resided.
I gushed so much about the city it was embarrassing. I tossed the column to editors then hastily beat it for the door, knowing they would be rolling their eyes at my puff piece that sounded like it had been authored by the president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
I confess, I did the same column for 11 years with only minor changes.
Always because the next day I knew the phones would ring off the hook. Letters would pour in (and, I confess I got another column out of readers' pontifications on Atlanta's spring). I had touched a vein. It seemed everyone had a love affair with the city.
Now it's 2003 and, well, this ain't Pittsburgh.
You got to search to find that Pleasantville of 1985 that was Atlanta. You'll find a flicker of the old Harrison's at The Tavern at Phipps where the bartenders eventually become your friend. You won't find Limelight. It's long gone, replaced by Rupert's, which is also long gone.
Long gone with the wind, that is 1985 Atlanta. Replaced by one that's exploding in all directions&emdash;north, south, east, west&emdash;until no one really knows where Atlanta begins and ends. Every day thousands more arrive. They are all colors and from all over the world. It almost seems silly that Atlantans use to tell Yankees to go home. "Delta's ready when you are" always got a chuckle.
I spend much of my time away from Atlanta now, but when I return I'm always struck with constrast of the old, the new and the future about this place.
Atlanta never seems to quite know where it's going, but one thing is certain. It never backs up.
It is still a utopia for young, single people. They don't recall 1985, don't give a damn, and the fact is, they've got four zillion watering holes and restaurants to choose from. In 1985 we had about a half dozen.
It is also a certainty that Atlanta is a mecca for the black middle class. A half million arrived in the 1990s and more are coming. After dark, much of Atlanta is a black happening and that's not gonna change.
Maybe the biggest change is women. They are now the doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. She makes more money than you do, but do you open her car door? I don't envy being a young male in the 2000s. Hell hath no fury like a CEO with curves and tantalizing blue eyes.
It helps more than ever to have money in this town where no one blinks a eye when a glass of wine in a restaurant is $12 and a steak $33. In 1985 you could always find a party where they practically gave the booze and food away. I had to chuckle during the recent NBA weekend when I read people paid $10 to get in line at a club just for the slight chance they might be picked to go inside.
It does seem every day Atlanta makes more like New York. Is there a square foot of empty space on Peachtree where workers aren't nailing up another skyscraper apartment building? There are so many people you are too often ignored if you smile and say hello to a stranger
You hardly meet an oldtimer who doesn't shake his or her head and mutter, my, my this place has changed. My hunch is you haven't seen nothing yet. Come back in 2021.
But, no matter the calendar, this is a gorgeous place in the spring. It looks and smells wonderful. And, after all, there are dreams to remember. And new ones to make.
Even in 2003, there's no place like springtime in Atlanta.
What this City needs is a real snow job
by ron hudspeth
Atlantans should package January and February and mail them to the remote mountains of Afghanistan. They are the kind of months to stick up Osama Bin Laden's kilt.
For years I have referred to them for what they really are: Janugly and Februweary.
I can always tell when these two dastardly months are inflicting their misery upon the city because Atlantans have only two kinds of faces: Gloomy and green. The latter, of course, is produced by the runny noses and cold and flu-like plagues that always accompany these two nasty months.
If spring is a rose in Atlanta, winter is a thorn.
The entire city is inhumanely bleak, painted in tones of gray and depressing overcast. The dogwoods are dead. The warm sun checked out an eternity ago and isn't due back until April.
There's only one real salvation to the emotional pits created by Atlanta's gruesome winters.
It's called snow.
Snow does funny things to people. Good funny things. It soothes the savage beast and destroys depression. It lifts and rejuvenates the spirit, turning crusty adults into beautiful childlike characters. Snow makes us human in the best sense of the word.
Of course, Atlantans wouldn't have a clue about that. Atlanta rarely gets any snow to speak of during its ugly winters.
Worse yet, we get teased by the silly weather teasers.
"Get out the snowplows!" screams the weather guy on the radio. "Looks like we're gonna get three or four inches of the white stuff tomorrow night!"
Schools close. Kroger and Publix experience near riots as little old ladies scuffle for the last loaves of breads. The governor calls out the National Guard. You could shoot a cannon through local clubs and restaurants without hitting a patron.
And nothing happens. Except a miserable cold drizzle of rain that makes us feel even worse.
For that reason, to help you make it to spring, I have devised a list of remedies and exercises to help chase the winter blues until the glorious spring arrives:
Put on your favorite pair of cutoffs and barbecue outside.
Walk into Starbucks and order iced tea.
Buy a six pack and raft down the Chattahoochee in your swimsuit.
Instead of using deodorant, cover yourself in coconut suntan lotion and wear it on a date.
Dust off your Beach Boys CDs and play them at full volume until your neighbors howl.
Drive up to the nudist colony in Dawsonville and partake.
Go to a construction site and play in the sand.
Make yourself a pitcher of pina coladas.
Ignore the stares of your neighbors and wash your car.
Trace your ancestry. Maybe you have an aunt in Rio you can visit.
Actually, we might get lucky this year. Happens every quarter of a century or so.
Back in 1982, the mother of all snow storms hit Atlanta just as every one was trying to commute. Within literally minutes the city was paralyzed and, lo and behold, it turned into the biggest party of all time.
Atlantans abandoned their cars in the middle of streets and rushed into the nearest bars and restaurants to drink and raise hell. What else could they do? The party went on all night until many places ran out of booze. There was no worry about closing hours that evening.
People slept in lobbies of sold out hotels, passed out on tables in restaurants and down on Spring Street in Midtown some even invaded a funeral home for cover from the snow and slept in caskets.
It became known as Snow Jam and nine months later to the day Atlanta experienced a baby boom.
Hello, TV and radio weather teasers. Did you get that? It's Snowjam, not Snowjob.
Cross your frostbitten fingers, folks.
by ron hudspeth
We're about to say goodbye to 2002. Good grief, 2002? Yours truly is working on his 33rd year of pounding a typewriter in the city of Atlanta, and let me tell you that's a lot of cocktails, folks. I plan to donate my liver to the Emory Medical School. They can use it as a doorstop.
Here are some high (and low) lights:
BEST FORGOTTEN BAR: Cobalt on East Paces Ferry. The club spawned two separate killings, one the Ray Lewis brawl, and stuck a dagger into once wonderful Buckhead nightlife from which it has never recovered.
BEST FORGOTTEN BAR CONCEPTS: Clubs patterned after South Beach bars. They rank somewhere between boring and phoney. Been to South Beach lately? Don't. Try Fort Lauderdale instead.
BEST X-RATED TALE: The original little Longhorn Steakhouse on Peachtree. It's been around for 21 years and isn't ever likely to revert to the X-rated bookstore and sex toy shop it was when George McKerrow, Jr. found the building in 1981.
BEST GREASY SPOON: The Krystal at Peachtree and Seventh Streets in Midtown which in a 20-year span that ended in 1997 hosted a steady and colorful nightly parade of hookers, pimps, winos, motorcycle hoods, street preachers, long-haired rednecks, runaways, gays, straights and assorted other living things that crawled from beneath rocks in those days before Midtown was cool.
BEST NIGHT-LIFE WEEK IN ATLANTA HISTORY: The 1994 Super Bowl. How good was it? A crowd of 35,000 showed up for a three-night span at Frankie's at the Prado and the Cheetah had a line to get in at 11 in the morning.
WORST NIGHT-LIFE WEEK IN ATLANTA HISTORY: (Tie) The 1996 Olympics and the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Waiters and bartenders all over the city twidled their thumbs. How bad was it? It was reported one wild-and-crazy Democratic delegate actually showed up at The Cheetah and paid the girls to put their clothes back on.
BEST BAR CONCEPT THAT DIDN'T WORK IN ATLANTA: Way down there in funky Key West, Sloppy Joe's is one helluva great bar with superb music, classic characters and a carefree fun-lovin' Conch party atmosphere. Must be the ocean. In landlocked Atlanta it was a fish out of water.
MOST POTENT RESTAURANT DISH EVER: The 'on the house' stuffed eggplant at McKinnon's served gratis, of course, if an expectant mother didn't deliver within 48 hours after eating it.
WHY FOOD CRITICS ARE SNOBS WHO SHOULD BACK UP TO THE PAY WINDOW: Cheesecake Factory, thoroughly panned as rotten by every food reviewer in the city, remains the top grossing Atlanta restaurant ($12 million and change, so I hear).
NO SHOES, NO SHIRT, NO SERVICE: Atlanta one-upped that catchy moniker phrase with an early 1970s law that required all men to wear coats and ties in bars or nightclubs after 8 p.m.
BEST BAR POETRY: (Tie) One is credited to one-time Atlanta tavern owners George (Crowley's) Watson and Jack (Harrison's on Peachtree) Loersch when they opened a bar in Costa Rica a few years back. The motto over the door: "You're never too old to waste the rest of your life." The other was Aunt Charley's, the neighborhood Buckhead tavern which had a 20-year run until 1995: "A Sunny Place For Shady People."
BEST QUICKIE CELEBRITY SPOTTING: Opening night at the cheesy Planet Hollywood downtown which drew the likes of Arnold Schwarznegger, Bruce Willis, Whoopi Goldberg, Brooke Shields, Wesley Snipes, Danny Glover, Samuel Jackson and Charlie Sheen. None of them ever came back.
BIGGEST BUST (AND IT WASN'T DOLLY'S): Country Star Cafe on Peachtree in the heart of Buckhead. It was country music's answer to movie-themed Planet Hollywood and music-themed Hard Rock Cafe (we should have known) and among its owners were Vince Gill and Reba McIntre. Some $10 million was spent on the 50,000 square feet restaurant-bar and it lasted four months. It was eventually replaced by ESPN The Zone, another loser.
THE NINE LIVES NIGHTSPOT: Name the concepts that graced the big building at the corner of Peachtree and Pharr roads before Three Dollar Cafe arrived in 1991 to give it stability. Ready? The one-time sports car dealership (Baker Motors) first became Animal Crackers and that concept was followed by Thrills, Buckhead Beach, The Piranha Room, Acapulco Bar, The Ocean Club, R&R USA and Poco Loco.
HOW TO REPULSE YOUR DATE: A young lady at Park Place Cafe accidentally discharged her mace capsule causing evacuation of the bar.
CAN'T GET A DATE?: In 1991 Atlanta led the nation with 148 pages of escort service ads in its phone book.
BEST MOVIE EVER FILMED IN ATLANTA: Rob Lowe's infamous home video with a young lady from Marietta he met at the Rio nightclub downtown during the Democratic National Convention.
by ron hudspeth
It's 2002, the clock's ticking and it's a grand time to give thanks for:
The first ray of sunshine through the window pane.
The twinkle of the magnificent Atlanta skyline after dark.
The "we love you" twinkle in the eyes of a couple pooches named Drac and Che.
A hot shower on a cold, rainy night.
Candles, white tablecloths, smooth red wine and mysterious eyes.
That first sip of morning coffee.
Thanks for the giggles
Docs who pronounce you fit for another year.
Memories of a father and mother missed very much.
Cops who smile.
The excitement and electricity of a big town on Friday night.
The car that starts on a frigid morning.
Driving rain on a tin roof.
People who laugh
A morning walk through the woods with a good dog.
The person who invited the microwave.
Aspirin the morning after.
Lovin' animal lovers
Elderly people with a twinkle in their eye.
Jeans that fit perfectly.
Convertibles on gentle, warm spring days
The big oak tree in the front yard.
The blue light in the rear view mirror - going the other way.
A street named Peachtree.
The crack of a baseball bat.
Honky tonks and cold beer.
Fresh, hot popcorn.
People who care about animals.
Mountain cabins with someone special.
Your best buddy who will still be there after he hears the worst thing about you.
TV anchors who are good, not pretty.
Cotton flannel shirts.
People who don't take themselves seriously.
All the relationships I've had and lost.
A happy store clerk.
Women in high heels.
People who volunteer.
Snowcapped mountains and live volcanoes.
The sight of a whale born-free.
The smells of newsprint.
Bands with harmonicas.
People from the South.
Nice, cloudy days
People who dare to be different.
Cars that last 100,000 miles.
The shortcut that avoids a traffic jam.
Big, puffy white clouds.
The satellite dish that sucks in an event from far, far away.
Clean crisp sheets.
Wild ducks on a small lake.
Wild and free monkeys in the trees.
Fall Saturday afternoons on college campuses.
Fascinating stories about the Civil War.
The courage of men who fought in World War II.
Two-lane country backroads.
Neatly stacked firewood.
A fresh hair trim.
A steaming jacuzzi on aching bones.
My remote control.
Camping on a secluded beach to the rhythm of pounding waves.
A big cushy, easy chair.
Hundred-year-old mahogany bars at happy hour.
Green lights at rush hour.
by ron hudspeth
OCOTAL BEACH, Costa Rica - In two months a big Delta jet, direct from Atlanta and just a few thousand feet high and making its final approach, will loop over the magnificent Pacific bay I call "heaven" and glide inland to a new airport not 25 minutes from my piece of paradise.
It will be the start of something and the end of something else. Some call it progress.
The two Howler monkeys that recently have come almost daily to eat wild fruit off a tree just off the deck of my bungalow probably won't notice. Neither will the flocks of parrots that swoop overheard. Neither will the old iguana I call Iggy who waits for the sizzling noon day sun to bask on my roof. Neither will the assorted coatis, raccoons, lizards, skunks, tarantulas and giant frogs who occasionally show up to tease my two trusty mutts, Drac and Che.
But things are changing. Some call it progress.
Across the bay, beyond the three humpbacked islands that make up the most beautiful view I have ever seen, there is a gorgeous peninsula, once pristine with a double white sand beach, that will soon become the home of a Four Seasons Hotel and resort, complete with an Arnold Palmer golf course. The latter 72-year-old even flew his own jet into that new airport a couple months to check out the progress.
Progress? Yes, progress, that funny word. Delta, the Atlanta-based air line, has announced it's flying here beginning December 1. Not too many moons after that (sometime in late 2003) Four Seasons will begin renting $400 a night rooms.
I have now lived long enough to really understand what progress is all about. When you were kid you figured it was a good word. A half century later you realize it's simply another way of saying change.
There are now more than 20 homes in this mountainous valley overlooking the Pacific. Most of have been built in the past three years.
Below on the beach is a bar called Father Rooster. It's carved out of a 90-year-old fisherman's home that just 25 years ago was the only evidence of civilization in the valley. In the mid-seventies, Ernesto, a Costa Rican fisherman, lived there with his wife and 11 kids.
He had no electricity and no running water.
"We kept eight dogs," he recalled, "because the coyotes would come at night to raid our chickens."
Life was simple for Ernesto and he and his family ate more fresh fish than you'll find on the menu at Pano Karatassos' big eatery on Pharr Road.
Then in 1981 an American surfer, who had washed up here, and a Costa Rican, bought the whole valley for $35,000 and nailed up a hotel. Today, mere half-acre lots go for a quarter million.
Liberia, a town of 40,000 thirty minutes inland where I go to get supplies, is getting a mall with four movie theatres. Burger King is already there and McDonald's and KFC are on their way. The Red Hot Chili Peppers come to Costa Rica this month. Yes, the Americans are coming. For how much longer can than this little country be paradise with chickens in the yard?
I have watched Atlanta evolve drastically in 30 years. From what we used to call "a big little town" into a giant melting pot of humanity. Too few smiles. Too much stress. Change or progress?
It is an odd time in life, thanks to religious zealots, who have always been responsible for much of humanity's miseries.
But all that is far away from here. It is almost sunset and the view is magnificent. Two dolphins leap and disappear a couple hundred years into the ocean blue. The monkeys are back nibbling on the fruit.
Iggy is on the roof peering curiously below as if to ask, "who are you in my space?"
I could explain to him it's all about change. Or is it progress?
by ron hudspeth
It is in all my days in Atlanta it is the whackiest discrimination I have ever heard.
Robert E. Lee and old pal Lewis Grizzard just rolled over in their graves
WKHX-FM, a country music station, fired morning deejay Moby the other day because he sounded too Southern.
Yep, too Southern.
This is a country music station mind you that in the past could have played any one of the following gems:
"How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away."
"I Keep Forgettin' I Forgot About You."
"I'll Marry You Tomorrow, Let's Honeymoon Tonight."
"I'm So Miserable Without You, It's Like Having You Here."
"She Got The Ring and I Got The Finger."
"She's Looking Better After Every Beer."
"I Don't Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling."
"If The Phone Don't Ring, You'll Know It's Me."
"Please Bypass This Heart."
"My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend and I Sure Do Miss Him."
"Mama, Get A Hammer (There's A Fly On Poppa's Head.)"
"I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well."
All those lines were pinned by Southerners for country music mainly because those north of the Mason-Dixon line have neither enough soul nor wisdom to create same.
I suspicion some Yankees are now in the WKHX board room.
"If you listened to Moby's dialect, it didn't reflect the average Atlantan today," said Dene Hallam, the station's operations manager.
Huh? Been to the Waffle House in Smyrna or Snellville lately, Dean?
Truth is, I've known Moby for years and his dialect is better than most Atlantans I know, and all New Yorkers. The irony is Moby was a rock deejay in Houston before Atlanta and there he talked like a rock deejay. In Atlanta he sounded more country and, heaven forbid, "Southern." That's what deejays are supposed to do.
Moby once spent a week with me at my beach bungalow in Costa Rica and I discovered he liked opera. Actually, I would have believed it if they had claimed they fired Moby because he didn't sound Southern enough.
The truth is, Moby wasn't fired because he talks Southern, but because today's country music stinks.
WKHX had dropped to eighth in the latest Arbitron ratings, the lowest in years. Hallam couldn't fire himself, so he fired Moby, whose clever humor was light-years beyond most of the cheesy bathroom drivel that takes place on other stations at rush hour.
My guess is the real culprit in the death of country music is the phony Garth Brooks (or Chris Gaines or whatever his name is), but that's a story for another time.
Country music, once a love of mine, has been in a slump for more than a decade. It seems hard pressed to find new Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggards, George Jones and Willie Nelsons. The new acts are mostly young "pretty boys" with hats who look the same and sound the same &emdash; mediocre. All, I'm told, to attract "a young audience."
Many of today's young Atlantans won't believe it, but it wasn't that long ago that country music was the rage of Buckhead and the rest of Atlanta. The "Urban Cowboy" craze swept Atlanta nightlife and people wearing cowboy boots and hats were the norm in clubs up-and-down Peachtree.
However, the last decade saw the demise of two Miss Kitty's country music clubs and the legendary 22-year-old Buckboard where almost every big-time country music star played his first Atlanta gig.
Only the giant Cowboys in Kennesaw thrives and when the deejay pounds the music before and after the live acts one wonders if he's in a country music nightclub or at Rendezvous or Backstreet.
Meanwhile, I suppose WKHX is looking for someone to replace Moby whose "dialect reflects the average Atlantan today."
If someone out there speaks Spanish, Korean, Japanese and a couple others he or she may want to apply. They are certainly among today's "average" Atlantans. If you got a hint of a Southern drawl, forget it.
It's not an issue. I've already flipped the dial, looking for Shaggy and Shakira.
Giving thanks for burgers & honky tonks
by ron hudspeth
Thanksgiving. A grand day to give thanks for:
Elderly people with a twinkle in their eye... jeans that fit snugly... the crack of a baseball bat... cows grazing on a lush, green hillside... the plane's wheels touching down firmly on the runway... the patter of rain on a tin roof... 100-year-old buildings... people who care about animals... honky tonks and cold beer... Sunday morning preachers on AM radio in small towns... the electric blanket... fresh, hot popcorn... your best buddy who will be there after he or she hears the worse thing about you.
Cheesesburgers & whales
Those words from the doctor, "everything looks good"... All the loving relationships ever had and lost... Rock music one night and country the next... fresh seafood... a happy store clerk... women in high heels... people who volunteer... snow-capped mountains... the warm seductiveness of the Caribbean... secluded waterfalls... the off shore sight of whale... a cheeseburger after a week in a foreign land... the smell of newsprint... bands with harmonicas and fiddles... cars that last 100,000 miles... people from the South.
Let there be light
That first ray of morning sunshine through the window pane... the twinkle of the magnificent Atlanta skyline after dark... a hot shower on a cold, rainy night... that special person who brings you soup when you're sick with another terminal case of the flu... candles, white tablecloths and smooth red wine... morning coffee... cops who smile.
A big old oak
On time flights... Jamaican sunsets and Costa Rican rain forests... memories of a father and mother missed very much... the excitement and electricity of Atlanta on a Friday night... people who laugh at life... a street named Peachtree... a morning walk through the woods with a good dog... that car that starts on a frigid morning... roaring fireplaces... ocean views... the old man sitting on a Georgia porch who always waves... the aroma of turkey in a cozy warm kitchen... the big oak tree in the front yard... convertibles on gentle warm days... a couch, pillow and remote control.
Backroads and wolves
People who dare to be different... the shortcut that avoids a traffic jam... big, puffy white clouds... wild ducks on a small lake.... chocolate... clean, crisp sheets... breakfast with the morning newspaper... Fall Saturday afternoons on college campuses... fascinating stories about the Civil War... cowboys... long blonde hair... a steaming jacuzzi on aching bones... two-lane country backroads... the roar of a mountain creek... the wild, untamed eyes of a wolf.
The grandest day
Neatly stacked firewood... wild flowers... ballpark hotdogs... pork chops... 100-year-old mahogany bars... green lights at rush hour... people who believe that individual freedom is our most precious possession... Thanksgiving Day, short, neat, friendly and warm. It remains the best holiday of them all.