Across from Mount Nebo and the liquor store is a walled-off government housing complex. Once we saw a series of glass bottles lobbed over the ramparts, shattering on Moreland as cars passed unaware.
Jim Vaughn, of all people, was sitting right by the cashier, punching keys on a laptop. It had been 15 years, but he was unmistakable, just add gray hair.
“Hey, Jim?” I said, resting my latte on the table. “Do you remember me?”
He blinked a few times, and then tested the name.
“Wait. It’s Hannah-Roo and Myra-too!”
“Hannah-Roo and Myra-too! That’s what I always said to remember your name!”
Not exactly what I was expecting, but he has known me since I was a little girl. Our families were neighbors and we went to church together in Stumptown.
We exchanged a hug-- me and this huge old guy in suspenders-- right in the coffee shop. He gave me a quick appraisal.
“You look great,” he said, “You look… the same.”
“How’ve you been?” I asked, trying to remember if it was his mom who had just died, or his dad. Or both.
“And you... you were saved by a miracle on 9/11,” he told me
“You were living in New York and you were late for work that morning or something and it was a miracle?”
“Oh nothing like that really. I mean, I was there and it made me late for work. But I wasn’t really saved…” I sounded like I was being modest. Suddenly I didn’t want to ruin the miraculous story he had heard about me.
“Hey, I was sorry to hear about your parents.” I said quietly.
“Well, they say lovers follow.”
I nodded, completely stumped. My date was settling on a couch across the room.
What was Jim Vaughn doing here? What was he so busy with online? I wished him well and walked away with that queer feeling you’d get from seeing your 7th grade biology teacher at her part-time job at Wicks’n’Sticks. Like a cheap imitation of the girl he remembered.
Another friend from church, a transplant, once explained to me about the two Krogers in East Atlanta– the “nice” one North of I-20 and the “ghetto” Kroger on the southside. She cautioned me that the Drive-In Theatre was down there, but beyond that was no-man’s-land.
And Stumptown, I thought. Beyond that is the place where I grew up.
It’s a stretch of highway I have memorized from frequent use– a conglomeration of truckyards leading inside the perimeter. As teenagers we took Moreland from Stumptown into Little 5 Points, the coolest place anyone could think of. With our car doors locked, we coasted through the deserted traffic lights. Moreland was fast, but menacing. It sloped through a valley of landfills spotted with methane flames.
I took my driver’s license test in the parking lot of the old Grant’s on Moreland, in the shadow of those trapezoidal mountains of garbage. When I was in college and still mastering the stick shift, still afraid of the Interstates, I would take Moreland south to visit my old church. It was blank and airy those Sunday mornings. It felt like no one, no city for miles around.
I remember the weekend visits to see my mom in that house in East Atlanta. The drive up Moreland Ave was like entering another country. From the backseat I guessed at the decayed shapes of houses and billboards beneath the kudzu. Not long after Hub Cab Daddy, I’d be on the lookout for The Foxy Lady and the badly rendered silhouettes of her on the windows.
Everything was different there. The stuff in the fridge. The TV shows I could watch. The sidewalks felt old because they were made up of hexagonal pavers, not poured concrete. The arched doorways and crank windows and murky basement were to me like something out of Smurf Village, vaguely bygone, less than real.
Terri and I sipped mochas in a coffee shop in East Atlanta. We began to mirror each other on the cracked leather couch as she told me about the house she’s renting down the street.
“Is that Ormewood Park?” I asked. “My mom used to live over there.”
“It’s actually North Ormewood Park,” she said. “Because it’s North of Confederate.”
She continued to explain the neighborhood map, but I got lost right away. Like many of my friends at church, Terri is a transplant to Atlanta. She moved here for her Masters degree, and found it a nice place to stay. I sometimes wonder if we’re talking about the same city at all.
“I wish I knew what it was like, you know,” she waved her hand around the coffee shop,“before all this.” I scan the bluelit faces floating over laptops.
“Well, you know that church on the corner, the massive brick one,” I said, “That’s the original Moreland Avenue Baptist Church. It was huge. You can just imagine when it was full. They sold the property and have been surviving off that money for years.”
Moreland Ave Baptist used to take up a campus in East Atlanta that looks like it was built in the ‘50s. The congregation has dwindled to a couple dozen old folks who now share space with our church. They think we are young and reckless with our loud sound system and suspicious looking hairdos. We halfway expect to be evicted anytime.
“Aren't they having their last service next week?” said Terri.
“Their last service?”
“Yeah, I heard they’re, you know, stopping. Or retiring. Whatever, this is the last time they’ll meet.”
“Are you sure?”
“That’s what I heard.”
I was stunned. They can do that? Just stop?