I had forgotten how much I love Atlanta. After an absence of about a decade, I’ve returned to a place that has changed, but still feels like home. I spent a large amount of my younger days here — a key time for most people when they make their closest friends and allies. Reconnecting with them, and making some new friends in the short time I’ve been back, has reminded me why I always enjoyed the city so much.
A lot of the things I took for granted years ago I chose to revisit the other day.
Not since I was in my early 20s had I rode MARTA. The sound of the train pulling into the Inman Park station, that unidentifiable oily smell that permeates every stop and the presence of errant pigeons was once something I found annoying. This time, however, it all seemed kind of comfortable and almost reassuring.
Like just about every southerner I know, we all have a weakness for some oh-so-good but oh-so-bad-for-you fast food.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t, but every once in a while, I’ll allow myself to indulge. Two things Atlanta has that I had completely forgotten about but were part of my once starving writer’s diet: Krystal cheeseburgers and Zesto’s fish sandwiches. Of course, my dietary palette has decidedly matured since way back when, but both were still an enjoyable (albeit somewhat greasy) trip back in time.
I couldn’t resist paying a visit to an old loft space (it was over a wig shop called “The Soul Train”) I leased in the early 1990s on Broad Street, just a block away from the former Rich’s building. It was a fun time — I shot a film there — and my career as a writer started off in the crumbling old building where life seemed like one big party.
There were, however, some more evocative experiences I had living there: From my second story bay of windows that stretched across the entire front of the facade, I witnessed a gathering of about 20 Klansmen from rural Georgia spark a massive backlash that resulted in scores of accidental injuries for Klan protestors trampled by their own gigantic crowd. Police cars were overturned and officers (in place to protect the small band of Klansmen, oddly enough) were pelted with rocks.
On another occasion I saw a huge contingent of LGBT activists march towards the capitol, where they enacted a “kiss-in” in protest of government response to the AIDS crisis. Atlanta police broke up the demonstration and then-Mayor Andrew Young condemned the action of the group (known as ACT UP), calling it “distasteful” and “irresponsible.” He later apologized and has since become one of our staunchest allies.
Today the building that I witnessed these historic moments from is now an Islamic Mosque.
During that period, I also saw Midtown evolve from a funky gay ghetto to a trendy upscale status symbol. As is the case in practically every major city across the country, the LGBT community had more-or-less claimed the once crumbling inner-city neighborhood as their own, fixed it up and made it look pretty and cool. So cool, in fact, many LGBT residents were priced right out of the area they helped reinvigorate.