musings on trips, exploration, and atlanta love.

So, I made it home from Boston in one piece (partially thanks to United Airlines, which delayed the first leg of my flight because of the plane’s technical issues. Safety first, everyone! Have I mentioned that I am terrified of flying?). My big-girl fancy-pants interview went really well, and since it was during the beginning of the weekend, I had a few extra days to explore with my good friend Michelle, a current grad student at Simmons College. Now, exploring new cities is one of my favorite things to do, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m actually not a great person to travel with. I’m a snob about visiting normal tourist hotspots (some might call them “must-see landmarks,” I say they’re “places that are probably way more worth a visit at 2 AM when nobody else is around”), I have a predilection for alleyways and grungy establishments, and one of my favorite activities is hopping on random mass transit stops (preferably train or subway) just to go up and down the lines. Basically, I’m a selfish traveler — but that selfishness has, in the past, allowed me to see things in awesome cities that are off the proverbial, and sometimes literal, beaten path. And anyway, exploring is much more fun without a built-in tourist agenda.

Anyway, being in Boston reminded me of how much I missed living by the water. My family is from west central Florida, right along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Living in landlocked Atlanta the past few years, I managed to forget how I’m naturally drawn to water — even if I don’t particularly enjoy playing in the sand, the beach feels like home. So going on this adventure to Boston and being along the ocean made what could have been an anxiety-riddled job interview trip a little bit easier on my senses. That said, I found myself missing Atlanta pretty hard around the last day or two of my trip. It’s not the most glittery, accessible place I’ve ever hung my hat, but it’s my adopted home — water or no water. Exploring a new place is great for a weekend adventure, but how about your own city?

My good friend and classmate Anne wrote a great post on her blog about Atlanta neighborhoods, a response to this Creative Loafing piece from a couple of weeks ago. In keeping with the spirit of adventure, I got to thinking about how I really need to do more in-town exploration. I feel like Atlanta has a strong “second city” complex, in a way that is more detrimental to resident morale than it is a tool for empowerment. What I mean by that specifically is that while Chicago is known for being the “second city” to New York or what-have-you, at least they own it. In all honesty, I prefer Chicago heads and shoulders over NYC — but that’s another story for another time. I’ve effectively lived in ATL for five years, give or take my study-abroad year, and I can count at least five people off the top of my head who’ve moved away to pursue their art (etc.) in different pastures (er, cough, Brooklyn). BurnAway did a great piece on young artists who move away from Atlanta for various reasons, and I think it speaks a lot to an issue that ATL experiences but doesn’t quite handle: the city raises and nurtures some incredible talent, but that talent doesn’t stick around. It’s an interesting phenomenon that’s not only an Atlanta issue, but begs the question of how much Atlanta has to do to keep people interested. Or does it have to do anything at all? Maybe we’re content with the seemingly-endless sprawl, our inaccessibility on so many levels, the fact that as long as we’re recycling transplants, the rent stays cheap (I can’t think of anywhere else I could get away with paying $200 rent for plenty of space). I think everyone has a love-hate relationship with their city/place of residence, but my scales are tipped on the love side for Atlanta, and that love is fueled by the desire for Atlanta to become even greater as the years go by. Anything as long as it doesn’t get burned down again.

So, the Creative Loafing “Ultimate Neighborhood Guide” — I wanted to write my abridged take on it, too. (Sorry not sorry for being a copy-cat, Anne.) I’ve now lived in several different neighborhoods of the city, and I love how individual every single one is. I kind of love that you can just tell a Virginia Highlands person from a Poncey-Highlands person, even if the two neighborhoods are really, technically only separated by one road. So out of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in over the course of my time here, and therefore know more intimately (speaking for Buckhead and College Park would be pointless as I haven’t spent too much time in those places):

  • Best Neighborhood Overall: Decatur. As you probably know, I’m an Agnes Scott alumna, so I’ve spent my fair share of time in Decatur, which is just barely a suburb of Atlanta. Decatur is, for the most part, greater. Put simply: there are more watering holes than you can shake a stick at, and most of those watering holes have some fantastic food. I’m partial to Leon’s over Brickstore, mostly because I’m not really a fancy beer drinker (fetch me some ice, dear; my gin is getting lonely), but Brickstore has an amazing tempeh gyro. Drinking aside, though, downtown Decatur is just really fun — and perhaps most importantly, is generally safer than most all other Atlanta neighborhoods, or at least it feels that way. As a first year at Agnes Scott, I spent an unhealthy amount of time at Java Monkey, writing (oh, who am I kidding, procrastinating on) papers and making moony eyes at a particular barista I had a crush on. They closed pretty late, and I didn’t have a car then, so I’d walk back to Agnes Scott usually around midnight or so — and never felt threatened or compromised. That is definitely worth its weight in gold. Decatur also has tons of community festivals through the year, including (but not limited to) the fabulous Decatur Book Festival, which is arguably my favorite event of the year. So, I think “best neighborhood overall” is pretty spot-on, even if Decatur is its own city and therefore not technically an Atlanta “neighborhood.”
  • Grant Park/not mentioned, but Peoplestown: So, Peoplestown is a stone’s throw from Grant Park, so close it’s almost difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. I lived in the PT during the summer before my senior year, in a house full of boys and Colt 45, so draw your own conclusions. Something I take issue with in the depiction of Grant Park — with no mention of its vastly poorer sibling neighborhood — is that it’s not the whole picture (it never is). Grant Park has a lot of beautiful houses, and the Pool is really fun on hot summer nights (though for the record you can blame CL, not me, for ruining fun in that piece they did about “best community pools to break into”), but PT can be downright sketchy. Atlanta has never done a decent job with its various gentrification projects, and the Grant Park/Peoplestown divide just proves the point further. One minute you’re passing amazingly gorgeous, fully restored historical homes that practically ooze old money — the next, you’re in front of boarded-up windows and bars on the doors. This isn’t a complaint about GP/PT so much as general frustration of the hostile effects of gentrification, and how little Atlanta seems to be able to empower its less-endowed residents, in favor of touting its super-wealthy Grant Parkians. Grant Parkers? Oh well. Peoplestown could be really great with more assistance and positive programs, but that just doesn’t seem to be on the Atlanta agenda anytime soon. Then again, Grant Central Pizza is really good.
  • Poncey-Highland, Ranked No.4: Okay, I know I said I love Decatur, but this is my favorite neighborhood in Atlanta. It’s walkable, beautiful, has great shopping, and Manuel’s. When my mom visits, she loves to stay at the Highland Inn; my favorite salad in the city is found at Cafe di Sol (also, ropa vieja nachos, gahhhhhhhhhhmazing); my favorite coffee shop is right on Highland Ave; some of the best hipster-watching is at the Righteous Room (second only to Estoria in Cabbagetown, also informally known as Bangs Paradise). Enough gushing. There is so much to do, and so much excellent people-watching, that it gets my vote for best overall. Also, King of Pops and Super Pan!!! Can you tell I’m hungry right now. As for CL‘s note on the “hidden gem” of the Carter Center, I can vouch for it. One of my favorite memories of the past year-and-change involves watching the sunset over that pond and admiring the ATL skyline. Perfect.
  • Kirkwood, My Current ‘Hood: So, I’ve officially lived in Kirkwood for a year, and … well, sigh. I’ll be a little sad to move away when my lease ends, because Kirkwood Village has so much promise — and the best pizza in town. To that end, when Atlanta was iced in for a week in January (don’t laugh, we don’t have many snow plows and the ones we do certainly weren’t moseying their way to Hosea Williams Drive), my boyfriend and I seriously ate that pizza nearly every day. No judging. However, it seemed like half of the businesses in the Village shuttered for good during the winter, and the neighborhood bar slashed its operating hours by a ton (up until recently, I was convinced the local branch of a popular juice shop was really a drug front). Kirkwood has its own spring festival, and is trying so hard to compete with its neighbors Candler Park and Lake Claire, but success is slow and, frankly, probably a long way off. My house is close to the police precinct, which ups the feeling of safety, but you won’t find me walking alone in the neighborhood at night. All that said, I do love this little neighborhood, and I’d live there again in a heartbeat (not only because of the pizza — the rent is cheap.) ETA: Apparently Kirkwood has added a vegan bakery, and soon, a chi-chi charcuterie shop! Go Kirkwood!

This is the longest entry I have ever written in a blog, and I’ve probably given myself carpal tunnel. Occupational hazard. In closing, forever I love Atlanta!

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