Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not so peachy

Because I almost never take anything but direct flights if I can help it, I had not yet been truly exposed to the frustrations and the humiliations of air travel in America. But yesterday in Atlanta, I experienced in the flesh this particular form of aggravation. The worst part is not the unfathomably rude and unhelpful Delta agent at the courtesy "help" line (being a novice I used the phone, as the gate agent unwisely, sadistically counseled. Don't ever do this. Talk to someone at the counter). The saddest, most depressing part is staying the night at a generic airport hotel on Desolation Highway, where looking for something as basic as dinner can be an ordeal if your only means of transportation happens to be your own two feet. Where else other than hell does a restaurant close at 8:30 pm? To add insult to injury, it was a Picadilly's, a buffet style cafeteria I know and love from my days in Killeen, TX (you better believe it, darlings).
So I walked towards the beckoning Waffle House, whose bright yellow sign was much more alluring than the place itself. The walk was close but rather forbidding, sidewalks in these parts being inconsiderate afterthoughts. The "streets" are dark and forlorn and it doesn't help to see young Black men loitering where there is clearly absolutely nothing worth loitering for. At first I thought they were dealing drugs, but then I saw the whores at the back of the gas station, or walking to and fro between the Motel 6 and my own hotel. It probably was a pimping and dealing combo.
In any case, the solitary waffle I ate was pretty good. I sat at the counter, the only white person around, and said I would have my dinner to stay. They gave it to me to go, I'm guessing not out of rudeness but out of custom. I ate it there anyway but I didn't feel very welcome.
The next day I decided that in order to avoid any suicidal thoughts from taking root, I would take the train to downtown Atlanta, to see the sights.
Now, people from Atlanta, please forgive me. Either I missed all the sights, or you don't really have any. Going to downtown Atlanta was even more depressing. And I'll tell you why. I know they have the Olympic green, which I didn't see (it was horribly hot and muggy and not the best weather to sightsee), and maybe the House of Coca-Cola, but a walk down famous Peachtree St yielded nothing but generic buildings, indigent black people and a heaviness of heart.
I was looking for a Sephora in order to shpritz myself with perfume, (since my toiletries were en route to Caracas) and give myself a free makeover. I was looking for an Old Navy to buy a cheap t-shirt and stop smelling like a hobo. I was looking for a basic Gap, a Nike store, any sign of retail civilization, not to shop, but to feel better. No such thing was to be found. Not at Peachtree Center (Brooks Brothers does not soothe me), not at a terrible place called Underground Atlanta which looks like a failed version of the generic malls they do when they try to rehabilitate murdered downtowns. I am no Jane Jacobs, but as I walked down the clean and ghostly streets I thought, why do you put stores inside a mall that nobody can see, when you could have them providing foot traffic and life on the street?
Then I hit a street, across the subway station, one of those half boarded up streets I've seen in places like downtown Memphis or Richmond, Virginia, that is the last crumbling badass bastion of what probably was a nice and healthy commercial strip back in the day. Now it looks like shit but at least it is authentic and alive and me, I was the only white person around.
Maybe it was just a bad astral conjunction of missed connections and overlooked sights, but I was looking forward to spending my remaining hours at the airport. It was that bad.

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