Monday, February 18, 2008

The Peachtree Run

It's hard to believe that it has been twenty years since I grabbed the sheepskin, pulled up stakes, loaded up the wagon and moved my mixed metaphors out of Atlanta. I only lived there five years while in college, but I still consider it home. Every year or so I find an excuse to come through and stay a day or two. When I do, I frequently find myself doing something I call the Peachtree Run. Not to be confused with the famous Peachtree Road Race (which I understand is having some drought related site issues).

No, the Peachtree Run is a drive up or down THE Peachtree Street (my son counted 42 variations of Peachtree in the GPS database) between downtown and Lenox. I look out the window and try to notice all the things that have changed as well as remember the things that are still there. The population sign at the Darlington is still there but not lit.

On this trip, the prominent trend was vacant lots ready for new highrises. A big one was in Buckhead across from the Cheesecake Factory where the last of the storefront Buckhead bars used to be. It's about to become a luxury shopping development called ironically enough The Streets of Buckhead. In my college days, and for much longer, Buckhead was the cheap drinking district where one-price drink and drown specials were prevalent. On a Friday night, I was much more likely to be found further south at Oxford Books, but plenty of people I knew knew which bar had the best specials which night. My brother's bachelor party was spent bar hopping through every faux dive within stumbling distance of Rio Bravo Cantina.

One of the landmarks was a building with a bump-out that used to hold a ferris wheel. At one time it was called Buckhead Beach and used to change names and themes annually. It settled down for a long time as Tex-Mex place called Three Dollar Cafe. Now it's an abandoned husk waiting for the wrecking ball.

In midtown right near 14th street a strip of gay bars is similarly shuttered with construction activity imminent. My favorite place around 14th Street was Steve's Ice Cream which got renamed Gorin's after a trademark dispute with the Steve's in Boston. It began as a walk-up ice cream stand featuring Ben and Jerry's style ultra-rich ice cream with odd flavors. My favorite was amaretto almond. You could nearly get drunk off the amaretto in it. When the developers bought the block, Gorin's became a diner featuring gourmet sandwiches. There's now a high-rise on the original site, but we found a Gorin's franchise in CNN Center. Alas, ice cream has been completely eradicated from the menu and it serves only sandwiches.

The Peachtree Run is metaphorical and applies to all the parts of Atlanta I used to haunt. We had Sunday brunch in Little Five Points, which has maintained it's hippie counter culture vibe, at a place called Front Page News. While the waitstaff had all the mandatory levels of ink and piercings, the clientele was buppies and families with multiple strollers in tow. While walking back to the car, I noticed that famed feminist bookstore Charis Books had moved off of Moreland Avenue itself into a house just off the main road. Even the landmarks start to shift subtly.

In the name of progress and renewal, big chains come in and start to make everyplace look like White Marsh or Tysons Corner or some other ersatz small town center. Ponce de Leon Boulevard which had tons of quirky restaurants is now littered with chains like Chipotle and Moes. Even along gritty Moreland Avenue, someone put in a giant big box center with a Best Buy and Target and Barnes and Noble. It's an improvement to the area, but the parking lot looked just like the strip malls in Alpharetta. The Ma(u)lling of America rolls on in fits and starts erasing the old and paving over anything independent and unique. That is the way time just chips away at your memories.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What favorite place have you seen change with time?


2fs said...

Not actually addressing your BCWhoring...but "The Streets of Buckhead," eh? I'm amused at trends in nomenclature: this is one example of faux-snootiness (or rather, real snootiness, although unencumbered by historical wealth), the formation "The [common noun] of [place name]." I believe such places tend to be a step down (i.e., less outrageously overpriced) than places named in the format "The [common noun] at [place name]"...particularly if the place name itself is something like [plural nouns], particularly if that noun is obscure and olde English-y. So: "The Oaks at Fettles," say.

yellojkt said...

There's a truism that real estate developments are named after what they destroyed, i.e. Willow Oaks will be have been denuded of both willows and oaks. That makes the Streets of Buckhead particularly appropriate.