Au revoir, Atlanta

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Image from Atlanta magazine.
I came back to Atlanta in spring.

It was April of 1991, and I was still recovering from wounds inflicted by pieces of a broken heart. (I write this with apologies to my girlfriend at the time, who succeeded the one over which my heart was broken; she was instrumental in reawakening my soul, for which I’m eternally grateful.) Atlanta was where I had gone to school in the ’80s and stayed for a bit, working at a downtown hotel, feeling rich from the regular wads of tips I made as a bellman (which, in reality, probably added up to less than $15,000 for the year — but my share of the rent was $162.50 a month) and hanging out with friends from college. Some were figuring things out. Others had yet to graduate.

Four years later, some had left and returned; others had never gone away. I needed a place to start anew. I had $500 to my name and bills for many times that amount, but I felt comfortable in Atlanta. It seemed to fit.

And so I loaded my life into my car and drove back down I-85 into its hopefully welcoming arms.

Twenty-six years later, I’m getting ready to leave. I have a new job in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, and though I’m looking forward to it, I can’t say it’s been easy to prepare.

In fact, it has been extraordinarily emotional for me. In 1991, I came back because of the gravity pull of college — even as it had quietly faded, as college does — and its camaraderie, which was enough to (mostly) set me upright. I leave having established a career as a writer, first as a freelancer, later for CNN; having married; having bought a home; having become a mainstay at the great Manuel’s Tavern, where I hosted Sunday night Team Trivia for 25 of those 26 years.

I leave having put down roots.

If it’s not obvious, I am not an itinerant sort. I’ve been in Atlanta for 31 of my 52 years — longer than where I was raised (New Orleans), from where I fled (New York), from where I had a blessed sabbatical (Ann Arbor). I like it here. People make fun of this city as soulless and centerless, and I have, too. But I also told people that though Atlanta isn’t a great place to visit (it’s gotten better, thanks to the downtown museums), it’s a wonderful place to live.

I was asked recently what I’ll miss the most. Friends and colleagues, of course. Walking the BeltLine, which makes Atlanta finally feel like the city I always knew it was. Revolution Doughnuts and the Toco Hills Kroger (which was known as the “Super Kroger” in my Emory days, to distinguish it from the tiny and now defunct Emory Kroger).

But most of all, I’ll miss the smell and feel of a spring day. No place does spring like Atlanta, and by “Atlanta” I mean the actual city, not the featureless suburbs beyond 285. (Hope you’re happy, Braves.) The city is at its finest in this season, when the humidity is low, the temperatures are pleasant and you can get lost in the greenery of the city’s winding, gently hilly roads, houses set back in the shade. (Those streets are terrible for traffic, no question, but wonderful for the spirit.) One day the branches are barren. The next they’re exploding with dogwood blossoms.

It smells like promise and feels like hope.

I’ll miss you, Atlanta. I came to you in spring and now I leave in spring. But I will not say that final “goodbye.” I’ll stick with “au revoir”: Until we meet again.

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