Return to Murray Hill Ave


In 2001, a developer called Enclaves of Kirkwood, LLC bought 332 Murray Hill Avenue. They proposed to tear down the structure, clear-cut the property, and subdivide it into 10 residential lots with 10 new single-family homes. Despite protests from the Kirkwood Neighbors Association, they finally bulldozed the historic Queen Anne farmhouse in 2006. Then, I guess, the real estate bubble burst. 


The property is still vacant, but I recognize the yucca plant by the stone steps where Mug kissed me for the first time. This is me, pondering my lousy luck with houses.

The Plan and The Myth


Driving home from Florida last weekend, I was fascinated by a This American Life podcast called "Human Resources." You cannot beat that show for sheer weirdness in nonfiction. The episode was broadly themed around the shadowy forces that control our lives or "the uneasy interaction between humans and their institutions." Act 2 was an epiphany for me and probably for a lot of white listeners:

Act 2: The Plan
American cities have gone through a massive wave of gentrification in the last few decades. To some people, it's not a natural ebb and flow of the real estate market, but a plot, by rich, mainly white people, to take over the neighborhoods of poor, mainly black people. This American Life producer Jon Jeter reports on how, in neighborhoods all over the country, the plot has a name, "The Plan," and most people you talk to know about it.

Jeter talks to black people in Oakland, DC, Chicago and New Orleans, but he certainly could've found the same sentiments in Atlanta. The Projects get torn down and replaced by loft condos. When white people show up - inevitably walking their dogs - there goes the neighborhood. When long-neglected sidewalks and streets and public parks are suddenly the focus of repair and revitalization, look out. "It's not for us," they said. It's for the white people who are moving in, gentrifying the neighborhood. "Hey, I walk my dog," I thought. And, "So this is why Stumptown's city council fought so hard against restoring the Velodrome!"

On the other hand, I was reminded of the same stories I've grown up with about "blockbusting." My parent's generation still mutters about how some powerful institution- the housing authority or the federal government - starting moving black families into white neighborhoods to force integration. The culprit was some heinous mashup of institutional racism and the "natural ebb and flow of the real estate market."

Only so much of this can be written off as "conspiracy theory" talk. Whether there's a well-funded, sinister "plan" or not, the myth and the net effect are the same. Poor tribes, black or white or indian, always get pushed out. We occupy ourselves with racist theories about the cause while real estate developers laugh all the way to the bank.

Memorial for a Swimming Pool


This is a photo of a photo of the old East Point public pool, just down the street from my house, circa early ‘50s. Wasn’t it glorious? Look at all those white people, young and old, swimmers and sunbathers and people-watchers. And the pool is huge! I couldn’t even fit the whole thing in one shot. On a weekend like this past weekend, a string of muggy days in the mid-nineties, a pool like that would be a treasure.

But this pool, like many others in Atlanta was shut down, filled in, and otherwise destroyed during the era of desegregation. In its place there now stands the East Point Historical Society, where I found the photo, above.

Historical society

I spent my Saturday morning here instead of poolside. It’s another old house that was moved to a new location and reassembled for historical purposes. It seem like putting the museum on this spot would be kind of like building a house on a sacred Indian burial ground or something. I’m one one of the hot, sweaty residents, robbed of a pool, that came back to haunt the place.

Ye Olde Southlake Mall

Teal house

When you drive south on I-75 from Atlanta, heading out of the city and into the sprawl, you’ll pass Southlake Mall on your right. This is “The Mall” of my childhood– destination for Christmas shopping, gift certificate spending, giant cookie cake pickup and Glamour Shot sessions. There is no lake at Southlake, but there is a patch of woods between The Mall and the interstate.

Over the past few years, and many trips down 75, I’ve watched the progress of a strange development on this site. One by one, these huge historic-looking houses were wheeled in on flatbed trucks and reassembled in the swampy no-man's land between the Sears parking lot and the expressway.

They seemed so forlorn and out of place. Who was doing this? I wondered. And what for? I stopped to take this photo in September of 2006.


So I just got back in town after 6 weeks in the mountains, and had to make the rounds of Stumptown: Anne & Bill's Restaurant, the Library, and of course, I pulled over to check out the progress at “Olde Morrow.” It's fancy!


Today I called the City of Morrow’s Economic Development office to get the lowdown. Lawanda told me it’s going to be a 17 acre development that will include taverns, retail, restaurants and a bed and breakfast. The central fountain and gardens will host receptions and outdoor events. Here’s the craziest part: they’re building the lake. As in “Southlake.” It's about goddam time!

Those are, in fact, historic structures from all over the state... the kind of old estate homes that have been displaced and demolished due to suburban sprawl. So this is where they go to die. (I can’t help but think of the old Victorians they rolled out of Mountain View to make way for the expansion of the airport. Wonder if they'll be wheeled back in someday for a mixed use development?)

If you pick up a historic house and move it from its historic context, is it still historic? Is history portable? Is it packagable and marketable? I guess we'll find out Spring of 2009.

Blue house

Retro Doughnuts

(photo pilfered from RW)

The Krispy Kreme doughnut “factory” on Ponce de Leon Ave has been there since the '60s. When the neon sign out front is switched to “HOT,” you can look through the plate glass windows to watch the doughnuts being born. A conveyor belt slowly moves the soft little doughballs from the proofing racks to the deep fryer, where they are flipped and fried by mechanical tongs. Then, golden and greasy, the naked pastries nose through a cascading sheet of liquid icing. As they bump along the snaking metal track, the wet icing congeals to a waxy shell. Some lucky employee, yawning, latex-gloved, corrals them into dozens, deftly flicking them into a flat white box using an special doughnut-flicking stick. This place has always been a magical fixture on a notoriously rough stretch of Ponce.

A few years ago, the Krispy Kreme on Ponce got a major facelift. Inside and out, the old doughnut shop is shiny and new. It’s now a place where suburban parents and kids, after a show at the Fox Theatre perhaps, can be seen late at night comfortably enjoying their coffee, licking the kreme from their fingers while cracked out hookers still dart along the edges of the parking lot.

They did a nice job with the renovation. It’s all retro chrome and seafoam green and those signature tiny polka dots. And you can still watch the doughnuts being fried and enrobed in sugar. But the wallpaper really bothered me. It’s a stylish collage of black and white photos from the chain’s history. I stood there for a while thinking, Where am I?

Right now, I’m miles away from Atlanta and it’s probably been over a year since I visited Krispy Kreme. But that wallpaper is still so puzzling to me. When I think about my hometown, that’s the kind of thing that fills me with dread. This always seems to be happening in Atlanta¬– they take a real place and tear it down. Or, even worse, they take a real place and make it into a non-place. A movie set version of a place. A parody. I don’t know. There is no there there.

Atlanta is full of non-places. I think Krispy Kreme was just responding to the trend of designing restaurants like a Vegas casinos– safe, phony versions of real places. In the Atlanta suburbs you can visit dynastic China (PF Chang) next to faux Sonoma (California Dreaming) next to Margaritaville (Bahama Breeze, Joe’s Crab Shack) next to Irish pub (O’Charleys). Around the corner from the Krispy Kreme is a condo complex called The Savannah. Why couldn’t it be called The Atlanta? What would that look like?

(Even when I was a kid, Bennigan’s kind of bothered me. All those fake antiques hanging on the walls… where did they come from? And what were they doing there in Stumptown, overlooking my baked potato bites?)

Why not just find some authentic period wallpaper? Rather than just restoring the ‘50s-era coolness of original Krispy Kreme, they made the place into a safer, franchisable version of itself. It could be anywhere. It’s like they’re cannibalizing their own brand. The doughnut eats itself. Twenty-five years from now, what are they going to use for decor?

I Love Wayfield Foods


I’m always griping about “Wayward” Foods, but only when I'm feeling deprived. The truth is, I love the Wayfield. I go there at least once a week because it's at the end of my street and on most days it's easy to find parking. They're compact and clean and unpretentious. So what if they don’t have neat stuff like gorgonzola, fennel, soy creamer or practically anything organic? For sandwich bread, half-and-half, an emergency roll of cookie dough or a forgotten lemon, it's swell having a Wayfield Foods within walking distance.

I finally confessed my love for the Wayfield last night. Lacking the mental stamina for a trip to the Whole Foods singles scene or a suburban Publix, we dropped by after dinner to pick up some milk and cereal. I was singing Wayfield's praises right into the produce section where I spotted some "Georgia White Dirt" for sale. I’ve heard of old timers eating this stuff to settle an upset stomach. And I’ve seen it for sale at roadside boiled p-nut stands and such. It says right on the package “not for human consumption,” but it’s shelved right between the cane sugar, plantains, corn husks and yellow root. (I had to look it up. I think its another herbal remedy.) I bet you can't get that at Trader Joes.


All the young couples moving to the Southside bemoan the lack of good grocery stores. Its a neighborhood subject we always bring up, like the weather or the traffic. And its true. It seems like there are liquor stores and fried chicken chains and hot wing joints everywhere but very little access to fresh, nutritious foods. The people in the checkout line with me at the Kroger Citi-Center or Sav-a-Lot are buying boxed, canned and processed foods, so the fresh produce selection is always pretty weak. (By the way, Sav-a-Lot makes Wayfield look like freakin Dean & Deluca. Slashed cardboard boxes in the aisles serve as display racks, generic Oreos spilled out on the shelves, flies in the freezer.) And its not just the locals. I have some suburban relatives who don’t buy veggies unless they're processed and packaged and marketed to them with a name like “Simply Potatoes.”

I guess I also love Wayfield because it bears a resemblance to the A&P and Winn Dixie of my youth in Stumptown. Cheese came in yellow and orange, rectangle or square. Even 15 years agao, you couldn't find rice cakes or pita bread and hummus. Your selection was limited to the name brand and the no-name brand and not much in between. But you could ride your bike there and back.



I've been looking for this book for a long time. I need all of y'all to read it so we can freak out together. Meanwhile, I feel a little anxious carrying around a book with a cover like this and posting it here. Will onlookers take me for a redneck or a liberal?

In reading it so far, I have been inspired to:
-Visit Mozeley Park and Peyton Forest
-Find the old Nathan Bedford Forest Klavern No. 1 on Whitehall Street
-Hunt down the original layout for "An Appeal for Human Rights" and reproduce it on T-shirts
-Call the author
-Grill my parents about school desegretation
-Take up my project on Moreland Avenue Baptist again
-Ask a real estate agent about the term "blockbusting"
-Pray for healing

Karla Circle


Whenever Jason is telling me a story from his childhood, like the time he put on cowboy boots just to slide down the neighbors driveway and everyone applauded, or when he burnt the skin off his toes stomping out a secret "experiment" that caught fire, or when his sister spraypainted "CP" on every tree in the backyard, or when the next door neighbor's husband got struck by lightening, or the time David Turner got the breath knocked out of him after he failed to clear the creek on his bike, despite the plywood ramps they had constructed for the event, and they tried reviving him with a waterhose, my first question is always, "Now, how old were you when this happened?"

And he is never quite sure how old he was, because he spent his whole childhood in one place-- the house on Karla Circle. He claims the years bleed together in his memory. He will then perform a little equation like, "it was after Matt got his beetle but before my mom died, so that would be '88, '89." Or something like, "that was the year we got bikes for Christmas and right after that, Van busted his spleen riding, so I was probably 9."

It's not that he's forgetful. Jason's stories render detail as if he's describing a video he's edited, or a painting he's studied. I guess "home" does define our sense of a personal timeline, and his lasted 17 years.

It doesn't help that neither of us can remember seeing any baby photos of him. There is little documentation, but we still found bits of evidence: a faded "CP" on the brick and a scrap of rusty chain embraced in the bark of a tree.

The End of Moreland Ave - 6

I recognized them just by the backs of their heads in the checkout line. Which makes perfect sense, I guess, because I spent hours in church gazing at the backs of their heads. It was a little sad to see them, 20 years older than they should be, heavier, grayer under the fluorescent lights, lined up in the mega Pet store instead of in pews.
    “I just saw some people I know,” I told my husband. “Old friends of my parents-– a couple from their Sunday school class.”
    “Did you want to talk to them?” he asked. He had a huge sack of dog food balanced on one shoulder.
    I shrugged. “No need. They probably didn’t spot us.”
    I wanted to linger a few more minutes in the chew toys aisle, just in case. To speak to them would mean a mini-reunion. It would mean a replay of the same conversation I’ve had with them for the past 10 years. Energetic greetings. Update on my siblings, my parents. Bragging about their kids, who are my age, who have moved here and there, who I was never that close to anyways. I couldn’t muster it up. It’s too sad that they are 50 already and they are the last generation of our church.
    When we rounded the corner, they were already gone.