There’s Something Comforting About Atlanta

Hey guys! I’m back in New Orleans, but I there are some more thoughts I want to share about my recent road trip.

On the way back from South Carolina my boyfriend and I stopped stopped in Atlanta to eat lunch with a friend at Hankook Taqueria (and pick up Publix subs for the road). I am quite fond of Atlanta. I have been many times and have a number of  friends who live there. My boyfriend is from Sacramento and hasn’t traveled as much through the South as I have. He remarked that he didn’t see the difference between Atlanta and any of the sprawling cities we’ve driven through on this road trip and others. I realize that Atlanta has a lot of metropolitan aspects that I really don’t like including traffic, suburban sprawl, chain stores and big, glass buildings that don’t make leave an aesthetic memory.

Yet, as we wove through the city on Hwy 85, I snapped pictures of the tall buildings that hugged the roads and thought about the impressive expanse of the city. To me, Atlanta represents a compromise between the bustling, unique cities I’ve always liked and enjoyed living in, and the familiarity of recognizable brand names and new building comforts that remind of growing up in Miami and going to college in Gainesville.

There’s a lot of creative spirit in the city. Atlanta is home to a number of graphic design schools (The Portfolio Center and Creative Circus come to mind) as well as the Cartoon Network. There is a great music scene and lots of independent shops. The city’s older neighborhoods are beautiful and the commercial areas are diverse and interesting–some are transitioning/gentrifying, while others are yuppy and well manicured. And although you do need a car to get most places, you have the option of MARTA to get to the airport.

Anyone who has read this blog knows I hate to admit how much I enjoy chain stores. But I do. And one advantage that Atlanta has even over my beloved West Bank, is PUBLIX. Publix grocery stores started in Florida, but have spread throughout the South… except to New Orleans. The stores are clean, reasonably priced, homey and make the best subs. They also have amazing packaging.

Atlanta also reminds me a lot of Gainesville, where I went to college. (It helps that there are a lot of Gator Alum in the city.) Like that college town, there are hundreds of apartment complexes, and although they are new and many don’t seethe of personality, they are new. They have pools, fresh carpets, big bathrooms and normal plumbing. I loved my DC apartment, with its built-in bookshelves and curved ceilings, but I had ongoing sewage problems for six months. I like the wood floors and raised porch of my house in Mid City, but you all really know I just want a closet.

What do you guys think of Atlanta? Would you ever live there?

Columbia, South Carolina is Not a Dump

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I’m embarrassed to say that in the six years my brother has lived in Columbia, South Carolina, I have never visited him. I blame part of this on the fact that my brother has described the city as a dump.

But I am here to tell you it is not.

The city is the capital of the state and the home of its flagship university, the University of South Carolina. The campus is BEAUTIFUL and the state capital building and its grounds are charming. My brother’s girlfriend drove us around and showed us the small theaters and indie movie houses near campus, brick houses surrounded by trees in lively neighborhoods and a sprawling former mental hospital that now stands empty. I did not see the city that my claims is boring and behind (although I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Confederate flag in front of the capital building.)

This morning, over breakfast at IHOP, I asked my brother why he is so negative about the city. He went on at length about the state’s underperforming schools, corrupt government and failure to maintain infrastructure, especially the roads. I nodded in understanding. After all, I live in Louisiana. However, my brother is a TV reporter, so he lives and breathes the news and can’t ignore it. He has got to interview the very politicians and bureaucrats that frustrate him.

My brother is also a sports fanatic and he explained how the city chased out its longtime minor-league team (that Babe Ruth once played for) and turned down the opportunity for the Carolina Panthers to play in the city during their inaugural NFL year, before their current stadium in Charlotte was built. For a sports fan, these failures seem to represent the city’s inability to advance it’s position and capitalize on its resources.

So, like many cities, Columbia has a lot to offer, but its downsides wear down its citizens. New Orleans too has terrible roads and terrible public officials, and has certainly discouraged many of its residents with its backwards ways. But for all its frustrations, the city offers so many “only in New Orleans” moments that make it worth it.

I was in Columbia for less than a day (did I mention I’m embarrassed about this?). I know I’ll be back to investigate further.

“Their South is different than our South”

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… is what I said to my boyfriend as we left North Carolina. As mentioned earlier, we’ve been on a five-day tear through the South. Our purpose was a wedding in Charlotte, but we tacked on stops in Atlanta, Winston-Salem and Columbia, South Carolina.

Charlotte
We spent less than 24 hours in Charlotte, but it struck me as a very modern city. It’s the largest city in North Carolina and the city has experienced a lot of new building since the 1980s. The downtown was sparsely populated, but not under used. My friends and I got around the city’s light rail, and it was always packed (unlike a lot of public tranporation systems in the south.) I wasn’t moved by the built environment, but I have a feeling that there is more to Charlotte than the slice I saw. I look forward to seeing more.

Winston-Salem
I was more charmed by Winston-Salem. It has maintained a lot of its older buildings or built newer buildings that fit into the context of their surroundings. The friends that we visited took us to Misty Creek vineyards, in nearby Mocksville. I have spent time in western North Carolina, in the Smoky Mountains, but I didnt know what to expect in the central part of the state. I was surpised by the area’s green, rolling hillsides. It also helped that the weather was beautiful and our friends drove us around in their Mini convertible. I’m going to insist I always experience the area this way.

Their South
There are a few southern stereotypes that I haven’t experienced strongly in NOLA. I have yet to spend a lot of time in the rest of Louisiana, so perhaps it’s just the city.

Overall, North Carolina seemed very religious. It is known as part of the bible belt (does the “bible belt” include Louisiana?) and it seemed that people we encountered spoke more openly about religion and everyone wore religious jewlery. I have noticed that New Orleanians sprinkle their language with the word “blessed,” and openly bless the aspects of the city (“Bless You Boys” is often said about the Saints). However, to me it feels like a term that has been secularized. There are certainly religious New Orleanians, but being a part of the city fabric is what makes the community– not shared religious beliefs.

I also heard a few people in North Carolina  make comments that made me feel like a fancy “city folk.” A waitress at a diner outside Charlotte teased one of our friends for eating a salad for brunch because it was healthy. And, yeah, not to rely on stereotypes… but the people at this diner didn’t look so healthy themselves.

A woman at a bagel shop in Winston asked me if I was carrying a dead body in my overstuffed puma shoulder bag. Schlepping around a big bag filled with everything I need for the day is a holdover from commuting on the metro each day in D.C.

I know New Orleans is more cosmopolitan than the rest of the state, so I look forward to visiting the rest of Louisiana to sample its southern-ness. I’ll be sure to order salads and put my computer in my over-sized bag so I can report back.

Road Trip #3

It’s my third road trip of the summer (using the calendar-year end of summer, Sept 23, not Labor Day.) I wish it could be as leisurely as the one that kicked off this blog, but I can’t really be away from New Orleans that long these days… job searching takes time, y’all. In August we drove from D.C. to New Orleans with a 15-foot truck that contained all of my belongings, including my crazy cat, so we couldn’t really stop. We’re using this opportunity to repeat most of that route and spend time with our friends and family.

Day 1: Drive from New Orleans to Atlanta and stay with one of my closest friends from college.
Day 2: Drive to Charlotte to for the wedding of two of my boyfriend’s grad-school friends
Day 3: Drive to Winston-Salem. Meet up with one of my (other) closest friends from college. Stay with the couple that introduced my boyfriend and I to each other (they are New Orleans ex-pats, but they will be coming back here 100%) and go see Cowboy Mouth!
Day 4: Hang out in Winston-Salem. Drive to Columbia, SC in the evening to stay with my brother.
Day 5: Drive to New Orleans, stopping in Atlanta to eat with a dear friend from D.C. who now attends the Portfolio Center.

I wish that we could take the scenic routes to some of these destinations, but when I looked up the off-roads to Atlanta, Google Maps said it would take 11 hours. Eight hours sounds much better after that…

Where Y’At, Kind of New Orleanian Blog?

I have been a bad, bad blogger. It’s been two weeks since my last post. Shame, I have it.

But I also have a good excuse–moving. My boyfriend and I said goodbye to our lovely Uptown sublease, traveled to D.C., packed up my life there, drove  south in a 15-foot truck (with my cat) and arrived back here to a new place in Mid City. I’ll write up some of my thoughts from those events in upcoming posts, but for now I’ll update y’all* on some things I’ve blogged about before.

Recycling
Recently I wrote about recycling in New Orleans. A few days after the post went up, the Times-Pic published the article New Orleans Recycling Efforts Not a waste, but Has a Long Way to Go. The article is optimistic, and says that NOLA has diverted approximately two percent of its waste from the landfill.

In my recycling post I mentioned my disappointment with the city for not recycling glass, especially because Abita (arguably the most consumed beer in the city) comes exclusively in bottles. Well, big up to this Big Easy brewery, because it announced on July 25 that three of its most popular flavors will come in cans, starting in 2012.

Austin Updates: My Questions Answered
In June, when I wrote about my experience driving through Austin. I quote myself (how narcissistic) “I don’t remember hearing much about Austin in the 1990s. I am also curious as to how the city became what it is. A friend said she’d send me a link to a set of stories NPR did on the city’s growth.”

Lizette made good on her promise: Austin, TX, Growing Pains. It’s from this rad site called “State of the Reunion,” which explores how American cities and towns create community and cultural narratives about the uniqueness of these places. Basically, I’m going to read and listen the hell out of this site… as soon as my boyfriend and I get internet in our new place.

*trying to use “y’all”


 

 

The Expected and Unexpected in Texas

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*I typed this in the car. It could be better. I will fix when I am on land.

There are some things I expected from Texas. I have seen ranches, cowboy hats and a man getting arrested in a gas-station Wendys. I’ve heard country music, “y’all’s” and a chatty woman casually utter a racial slur. But the most surprising thing about Texas is everything I didn’t expect.

The Landscape
Our detour into West Texas took us through Guadalupe National Park. I had no idea such an epic mountain range existed in the state. We drove through a forboding thunderstorm accompanied by high winds that blew smoke from a nearby fire. Coupled with the fact that we were one of the only cars on the road, I felt like we were driving to the end of the earth. It was beautiful and eerie.

On Friday we drove through Texas hill country, which is dotted with farms, peach stands and–as billed– hills. We passed through some adorable towns. Fredericksburg looks like something out of a movie. An adorable Texas movie.

Marfa
Although it seems everyone in Texas knows about this place, I feel like I am breaking some serious news here. Guys,– assuming you like hipsters and randomness–Marfa, Texas is awesome.

At first glance, Marfa looked like all the sleepy, one-block towns we had seen in the southwest. It was already nightfall, so we weren’t going to be able to see the great art galleries my friend had recommended to us. The streets were empty and the town was dark, but we made it to The Miniature Rooster just in time to order dinner.

So I don’t have any pictures or the restaurant or Padres, the bar we went to afterwards, but somehow we had driven to a hipster oasis. Miniature Rooster had an amazing menu (shrimp and grits with some foam–sorry, this ain’t a food blog, but it was YUM) and decorations straight out of the pages of Ready Made Magazine. Padres had a stage and a back porch, lit by Christmas lights. We joined a small group of cigarette-smoking bearded guys to watch the Heat/Mavs game.

I was desperate to find out how this artistic community chose this area to make their haven. Sure, it’s cheap– but wouldn’t any remote town been just as cheap? In talking to the people in Marfa, it seems most are Austin transplants, but no one could say WHY Marfa. The only attraction there is the Marfa lights– but how did art follow? We drove through Roswell New Mexico and it didnt seem like alien sitings lured anyone funky. So I guess the lights arent the only mystery in the town. And speaking of…

The Marfa Lights
I think I saw them? We stopped at a viewing station they have set up, which is just binoculars and bathrooms. I can’t remember the last time I was somewhere so dark and quiet. I was even a little scared. You could barely see the person next to you.

I did see SOME stuff. I saw some light over the horizon and two shiny things that looked like headlights. The people that stood with us said that wasn’t it, but the woman at our hotel said that if you saw any lights, those were the Marfa lights. Okay! So… I saw the Marfa Lights?

Austin
I thought I’d have tons to say about Austin. After all, it’s the city I’ve heard the most about from our travels.

But Austin turned out to be exactly how I imagined. And I mean that in a flattering way. The food is amazing and overwhelming. The city doesn’t just have the very popular food trucks– they have food trailers. (Everything is bigger in Texas?) They are everywhere. And every single person you ask has at least five different recommendations as to where you can get the best BBQ and breakfast tacos. And as a design heavy city, each place had a well-considered brand and it’s own tshirt.

It was HOT and HUMID, so we didn’t do too much. We heard music on sixth street and went dancing in East Austin, but mostly we sat around. Driving for over a week and eating will do that to you.

I was most surprised with how unpretenious I found the city. In the past decade it seems the majority of all things cool in music, food and design originate in Austin and Brooklyn. I enjoy Brooklyn, but have found it scene-y, self conscious and intimidating. I assumed the same for Austin, but it just didn’t have that air. Is it cos it’s in the south?  Cos it’s too hot for people to care? Yet another Texas mystery.

I don’t remember hearing much about Austin in the 1990s. I am also curious as to how the city became what it is. A friend said she’d send me a link to a set of stories NPR did on the city’s growth. I’ll post them here for y’all. (See how I did that!)

Another thing that I found surprising about Austin: most places have fans instead of air conditioning. All the other southern cities I’ve been to blast the air. What’s with that, Austin? Not cool. Literally.

New Mexico in Context

Route 285 in New Mexico. This is the busiest the road ever looked.

On the car ride from New Mexico to Texas, I read my boyfriend the post I wrote about Albuquerque. As an urban planner he is trained to look at cities in context, and he had a different perspective. Although I viewed the city’s big box stores as tacky reflections of urban sprawl, my boyfriend assumed that most other parts of the New Mexico didn’t have those services. He told me that Albuquerque is the biggest city in the state and reminded me of a conversation we had with an employee of the funky Flying Star Cafe. When we told her we were visiting the city, she excitedly recommended we visit the Borders a few blocks away. I giggled as we left the restaurant. “Borders! As if that’s an exotic place!” I said (or something equally snobby).

However, the Albuquerian’s enthusiasm made more sense  as we drove southeast through the state.

Most human activity ceased about 45 minutes outside of Albuquerque. For miles all I saw was barren yellow grass. As the car grew low on gas, the desperation for a town increased. Everything was bordered up in the first town we passed through, including the gas station. A trip to Wikipedia told us that, as of the 2000 census, the city had 96 people.

Vaughn’s main street

Vaughn, about 20 miles down the road, was a little better in that it had two working gas stations… but not much else. As I took a picture of a vintage sign outside a motel the motel’s older owner started talking to me. He said Vaughn was established at the turn of the 20th century as a railroad town. It once had 1,900 people, but now is has 500. The man was glad I liked the sign even though some of the neon had gone out. He wants to get it fixed, but it costs $1200 and means he has to ask  someone to drive up from Roswell, which is almost 2 hours away. He has four kids, but they’ve all moved away to Albuquerque.

Another view of Vaughn, with the vintage hotel sign on the right.

As I got back into the car and took another look at the bordered up businesses around us, I thought about how much a Walmart, Sears or, yes, a Borders would mean to the 500 people who lived in the area. Albuquerque looked pretty good now.