I always remember myself as having had Scout Finch’s childhood. Even though the reality was mostly me indoors watching cartoons or playing with my Star Wars men, the parts that stand out were wandering around creeks and catching lightning bugs and riding my bike down Main Street to the old red-brick buildings of downtown to get ice cream at the family-owned drugstore and finding Boo Radley lurking in my brother’s bedroom.
So I’m sure my unrealistic nostalgia is coloring my impressions of my home state, and I’m not giving it a fair shake. All’s I know is that what I’m remembering now is why I wanted to leave in the first place.
Whenever I mention I’m from Georgia, it’s not long before people start talking about racism. (Or sodomy, but whatever). And I always point out that racism is a problem everywhere; non-Southerners just like to convince themselves it’s all safely concentrated in the South. And I still say that. And I still say that people in Georgia are hella racist.
Every time I come back, it’s usually just about a half hour before I hear something so racist it makes my teeth hurt. But this trip, probably because it’s the first time I’ve spent any time in an area where I’m not in the majority, is the first time it’s struck me how it’s not just stupid white people complaining about blacks. It goes both ways. I’ve gotten the “what the hell do you want, white boy” attitude so many times now I’ve stopped counting.
Still, it’s gradually improving, just not as quickly as I would’ve hoped. And it seems more of a class thing than a race thing at this point; give people enough money & education and they turn colorblind. And at least there’s still remnants of this layer of enforced politeness in the south, so that everybody stays pretty civil.
Almost as surprising as saying that there’s racism in the South: it’s also quite hot. The difference between southern heat and west coast heat is that here, if it’s hot during the day, it’s almost as hot that night. Fortunately, also unlike the west coast, people in the south have mastered the idea of air conditioning.
This was the biggest surprise; driving around Atlanta is way worse than driving around LA, which up until now was my vote for city with the worst traffic in America. Here, the thing to do is ride up on somebody’s ass and do a two- or three-lane swerving lane change coming a few microns away from your back bumper. Part of the reason my daddy’s illness has been hard on my family is because my mama can’t drive to the hospital — and I don’t blame her at all. Navigating I-20 and 285 has been driving me nuts.
Because of the traffic and the heat, Georgia’s got daily smog warnings now. I don’t remember there ever being a pollution problem here when I was growing up, on account of all the trees. Now it’s even more like LA.
5. Soulless Suburban Sprawl
There’s not a patch of land anywhere they won’t build a strip mall on. The same mid-90s Bed, Bath, and Beyond architecture in every damn one.
6. The ATL
Nothing sadder than seeing a local news anchor in his 60s going on about “the ATL” on what used to be a semi-respectable news show.
7. Trinity Broadcasting Network
I still say religion is a very personal thing; any attempt to explain it or evangelize it trivializes it, and it’s way too easy to turn it from a personal expression of faith into a power struggle. That disclaimer aside, people here are a lot more expressive of their religion than I’m used to. And I’m happy to see it; I think it’s a good thing.
What pains me is to see Christianity being twisted to preach everything that’s the exact opposite of what it should be about. It’s now all about intolerance and fear and superiority and worst, politics. There’s a ton of religious broadcasting, but the worst is the Trinity Broadcasting Network. It’s got as much political propaganda as anything else; they’re not going to be happy until the United States is a theocracy and all people are controlled by fear and willful ignorance. I actually heard one “preacher” comparing those promoting religious tolerance to worship of Baal.
8. Red State
This is the part that really makes me sad. Georgia’s always been conservative, but as I was growing up, it seemed a lot more progressive. Fiercely Democratic, trying to make some sense of religious conservatism combined with the civil rights movement and the bare remnants of Confederate rebellious libertarianism, all mixing together to make a delicious moderate gravy.
Now, it’s been twisted just like every other generic bright red state, a bunch of Fox News-watchin’, Anne Coulter-readin’ yahoos who are uncomfortable with the brown people taking over and are playing right into the party line ‘cuz the president seems like a good ole boy who’d be fun to have a beer with.
9. Emory University Hospital
10. Pernicious Blandness
It’s manifested in the turn to Republicanism, and in the soulless suburban sprawl, but it’s all a sign that southerners are killing the south. I sure as hell am not a secessionist, and the only people I’ve got less patience for than Republicans are libertarians.
Still, I like the idea that the south is different and that that difference is worth preserving. Old town areas are getting harder and harder to find, getting replaced by Wal-Marts. Historic churches are turned into civic buildings as the congregations build newer and more modern, featureless buildings all over the place, each with a big retail sign out front advertising the week’s sermon as if it were a going-out-of-business sale. I definitely don’t have a problem with things getting more modern, since I depend heavily on having a reliable wireless connection. I just don’t want to see Atlanta turn into Orlando. In their attempts to modernize, Georgians are destroying everything that makes the south cool, and keeping everything (racism, ignorance, intolerant theocracy) that makes it the punchline to a joke.
And six things I still like about Georgia:
1. Lightning Bugs
They’re still here, and they’re still pretty cool.
A documentary with Joanne Woodward told me that Atlanta has more trees per square mile than any other metropolitan area. It’s easy to see that, too; they’re all over, in a constant battle between woods vs. freeways and Borders bookstores.
3. The street names
North Druid Hills, Snapfinger Road, Wesley Chapel, Five Points Trickum. Those are street names I can get behind, not mispronounced mundane Spanish words and names of saints and presidents.
They’re ubiquitous now, but still they’re consistently as good as I remember. And I think it’s really cool that they’ve stuck to the policy of staying closed on Sundays.
5. Everything’s cheaper
It’s cute to hear people complaining about how ridiculously expensive gas has gotten, when it’s about $2.50 a gallon.