My trip to Atlanta was exhilarating. I navigated two airports, a train system, and bus routes – all things I have not done in a long, long time. I learned about five square miles of a city I’d never been to by walking. Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because I was hopelessly lost. Traveling with a flip phone in a smart phone society is a whole different ball game than traveling an unknown city in the days of payphones and paper maps. People saw me holding a real map and not utilizing GPS and there was much commentary, and confusion by others on how to read it as it doesn’t flip itself around and identify your location for you. Even now, the word processor is telling me that the word payphone can not be pluralized. (When did that become a thing?) But I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to describe more than one.
I was pretty excited about the MARTA rail system. I’ve missed riding the rail since I moved from Dallas. Public transportation, once the stop points are identified and times committed to memory, are so much more relaxing than driving. I like being able to read on daily commutes, I like the safety of not risking car crashes. I like knowing that if I begin my journey at such-n-such time I am guaranteed to arrive at my destination at another specific time – down to the minute. Atlanta excels at this. The bus route, however, is a whole other ballgame that got me pretty flustered. The buses sort of arrive when they feel like it, the stops are relative, and the entire route based on the driver’s mood.
Everyone is very polite, though, even when they are offering you drugs. I thought, as a Texan, that I understood southern hospitality. When it comes to Good Mornings, sweet smiles, and a general attitude of helpfulness – we’ve got nothing on Georgia. Any half puzzled look on your face will immediately result in someone stopping to help. Stand at a stop too long and someone will inevitably ask you which bus you’re trying to catch and inform you, “Oh sometimes that driver likes to stop on that side of the street, be sure you check over there too or you might miss it.” Smiles abound, even in the early morning pre-coffee grog.
I went to Atlanta to work the Wordfire Press booth at DragonCon. Convention people are exactly what I expected, after doing Comicpalooza and OwlCon in Houston, it’s pretty much the same routine, just bigger and takes up the whole downtown area instead of one convention center. But outside the realm of the Con, everything was incredibly foreign. I felt like I had stepped into how I imagine the 1950’s in a lot of ways, and once three blocks away from the convention hotels and gathering areas, I’ve never been reminded so often of how white I am. Politely, but with bafflement.
Houston is a melting pot. Our segregation occurs on the socioeconomic level, rather than a race level. Latinos, Blacks, and Rednecks all live next to each other as long as they belong in the same tax bracket. I didn’t see a lot of Atlanta, but I got the sense that things aren’t that way there. So many times I was asked, “What’s a white girl doing on this street? You lost?” Or, the most bizarre, “Why you so comfortable talking to a black man? Is your husband black?” At that question I retorted, “Should I be scared of you?” “No, but these other niggers around here are cut-throat. You need to watch yourself.” I felt like a child being reprimanded for not knowing the rules, especially when literally everyone I talked to was so very kind. Yet, there I was a block the other side of Five Points, getting questioning glances from people who thought I was too pale to tread on their turf. “You lost, baby? You don’t belong here.” Or when I went to The Underground below the wrong CVS: “No, honey, you shouldn’t be down here, go up and get back to Peachtree as quick as you can, that’s where your people are,” before I even mentioned I was trying to meet anyone.
The whole experience was eye-opening and disheartening. I enjoyed every conversation I had, even the fellow who offered me crack was very polite and concerned, keeping his distance when addressing me. Is all of Atlanta that way, or just those neighborhoods? Why was everyone so separate?
In my perfect world, I want to notice how much darker your skin is than mine. I want to acknowledge that freckles on you look entirely different than freckles on me. Deep, dark skin catches my eye, as a prisma color artist I am enthralled by skin tones that involve so many undertones of purple. I want to listen to deep, milky voices bellow soul music, and that be ok. I don’t mind you calling me “white girl” but if I describe you as a black man or woman, I would like for you to not be offended. We are different in so many beautiful ways. To say we don’t see color is a disservice to the amazing people God created, like not noticing the difference between a sapphire and an emerald. But we are also both human, we have troubles and trials, we have cultures we sometimes share and sometimes don’t. I’ve never been so grateful to have grown up in Houston, where we all live side by side, work together, grow together, and learn together. Houston has its own problems for sure, but I think we all have a cohesive love for our city and for Texas that keeps us pretty united.
I hope to visit Atlanta again. I hope to branch out farther and see what the city as a whole is truly like, as opposed to the downtown areas I was restricted to for the duration of my stay. It has so many lovely parts and many beautiful people.