Category Archives: Southside Atlanta

The News Cafe: Slowing Down the Mental Hamster Wheel

The News Cafe. One of my Zen Gardens from the past.

While I don’t normally write about cities other than Atlanta, I recently noticed that the News Cafe in South Miami Beach has announced what they are calling a temporary closure though, given the plywood on the windows, it seems permanent. While it could be the result of a  COVID-related business dip it also looks like the Yelp reviews in the preceding months have not been kind. In any case, The News Cafe is (was) located at ground zero of South Beach and became something of an unofficial check-in spot for residents and tourists alike. Many know it as the place where Versace used to score his morning paper (or had an assistant do it for him) although my introduction to the area predated his arrival or at least coincided with it. Not that I knew anything about fashion or Versace. The Art-Deco district, as it was more commonly known then, was still emerging from a darker era, and there yet remained abandoned and dilapidated hotels next to the emerging luxury accommodations. 

While Madonna, as well as other celebs of the poodle-clutching variety, could be seen cruising the area, it was mostly working fashion models, German tourists, and wealthy South Americans who landed in South Beach. My first time on the boardwalk near Lummus Park involved a near collision with an impossibly tall bikini model zooming by on roller skates while holding a box of condoms. My first thought was, “Wow, they sure know how to welcome a visitor.” I had unknowingly stumbled into an active production set for an HIV Public Service Announcement. There was laughter all around albeit at my expense. 

Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. She is richer than anyone you know. I might have accidentally stepped on her foot in 1991.

SoBe (as it later came to be known) was clearly on the up and up and Gloria Estefan, who was experiencing significant popularity at the time, was a local investor and the growing contingent of Cubans added to the already established Latin flavor of the area such that one need not speak English at all to function. But it was still a self-contained bubble of sorts in that South Miami had little to do with North Miami and few remember that Miami was/is actually a different city than Miami Beach. If you suspect there were cultural politics behind all of this you would be correct. There were also communities such as Overtown and Liberty City distal to the Beach that figured heavily into area dynamics as well. Just to say that the South Beach of today was not at all evident in the late 80s and early 90s version. Then, you could still park your car pretty much anywhere on Collins. Mandatory valet service was rare unlike now when even Mcdonald’s has a valet parking service. And not far from The Beach was Coconut Grove which was starting to boom with the popular Coco Walk Mall.

The News Cafe itself was a 24/7 operation offering a combo of indoor and alfresco dining with access to international newspapers (hence the name) which, in the early 90s made it popular with tourists seeking a “back home” news fix. Even though the cafe is now closed you can see archives of their web-cam which shows the never-ending stream of people marching in front of the tables. For me, it was simply a place to zone out, read and slow down the mental hamster wheel. Many people travel with an agenda of “finding oneself” though I question this terminology as most people already know very well who they are and the real work involves coming to terms with how others, family, friends, society at large, are reacting to you (and vice-versa).

George Hamilton – Known for his ever-present “base tan”. I’m the opposite.

Certainly, the boredom and fatigue of existence can lead us to fantasize about another identity and that’s actually not a bad thing. But care must be taken to counter-balance it with established instinct. Then again, I could be totally full of crap. (I’ll save the philosophy for Happy Hour). I’m just saying that my side trips to Miami were actively restorative even if my engagement of the scene was passive. I’m definitely not the “George Hamilton, base tan” type of guy so I just soaked up the easy-going tropical vibes and that was enough. I’m one of the few people who can go to a sunny beach and actually come back more pale than when I left.

I picked Miami Beach as a semi-regular getaway destination for two reasons. It was $90 for a round trip flight which meant I could leave my home in North Atlanta around 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon and be checked in at the El Sol hotel by 5:00 p.m. If the airfare seemed cheap, consider that Miami was then dealing with an image problem resulting from the assault and murder of German tourists and was trying a number of things to lure travelers back. I’d been dealing with Southside Atlanta crime all my life and concluded that Miami could be no worse and at least there was a beach. El Sol, about 15 blocks up from the News Cafe, was my go-to hotel. While I didn’t spend much time there, I did return each afternoon for the free poolside drinks where I encountered a large family of Argentinians who mistook me for a rich businessman although I did nothing to promote that impression. The Matriarch of the family invited me to dinner which I realized was to be a chaperoned experience involving a formal introduction to her daughter who was sitting quietly next to the pool. I got it – from their point of view maybe she can meet this rich American who will eventually propose marriage. Extricating myself from this situation while allowing them to maintain dignity wasn’t easy but I found a solution in feigned illness. “Lo siento. Creo que los camarones son malos.”

This was all so odd as I was recovering from some recent surgery and was quite thin, almost skeletal. And on this trip, I was mistaken for a homeless person, a junkie, a fashion model, a musician, various actors (young and old), and for the most part a garden variety beach bum. Most people would be offended to be seen as a generic vagrant type whereas I was cool with it because nobody bugged me for money and as my Stewart Avenue mentors used to say, “life is better if you can’t be easily identified in a police line up”. While I agree with that sentiment, it’s not as if I engaged in enough ongoing shady behavior to develop an active concern for avoiding lineups but sure, standing out can bring problems. Let’s just say that if anybody thought I was somebody, I put it down to fame of the Warholian kind – a whispy, ephemeral form of notoriety that departs as rapidly as it arrives.

I’m not a doctor but people in Miami thought I was

I went to a custom clothing establishment in North Miami and the owner recounted how just that very day, Mel Brooks had popped in to pick up twelve tailor-made shirts but was not happy with the eventual price. I don’t know if he was conditioning me to accept the notion of premium pricing or perhaps just wanting me to know of his famous clients. I just ignored it and started trying on a few things which pretty much fit straight away thus allowing me to avoid the high markup for alterations. Later that night, I wore some of the clothes and was instantly misrecognized as some soap opera actor whose primary appeal was to the divorcee set. That the actor played a physician was evidently the hook though I had to remind my “fans” that 1) I was not the actor in question and 2) even if I were, I still wouldn’t be an actual doctor! This didn’t seem to matter to them. I began to rethink my rejection of the Argentinian proposal…

One of the more interesting things that happened on one of these trips was the accidental friendship I developed over the course of a few days with a retired cardiologist from New York. He was basically a Snowbird seeking warmer climes and Miami was THE place. He was very outgoing and almost immediately started in with the “so what brings you to Miami” talk and he simply wouldn’t accept that I had no agenda or intent other than to relax. “You mean you aren’t here on business?“, “You have family here, then”, “Oh so you are you thinking about living here.” I just laughed it all off. This guy was wired to the max and even in his mid-70s, he had to be doing something else he experienced guilt. And by extension, he assumed everyone else should also. He was basically a walking Woody Allen movie. The concept of just chilling out was totally foreign to him. He was all, “I wish my daughter would take her life more seriously“, so I’m thinking maybe she had quit school or had run off with someone. “No, she’s a corporate attorney in New York but really should be a cardiologist” to which I replied, “you, mean just like you?” He laughed, “Didn’t I see you in the Catskills?

And just when you think he might relax into the moment he would pivot into, “You’re well into your 30s, why aren’t you married? It’s time to settle down don’t you think? And maybe finish graduate school?”  Ah, the Jewish parent I never had. I responded, “most people leave their neuroses at home whereas you make them essential travel companions.” I think he liked my apparent zen attitudes and perhaps I saw some hope in his assurances that hard work would translate to success. We were like a mutual antidote to each other’s problems. “It’s perspiration, not inspiration – what you do does not have to be perfect but if you keep doing it, then it probably will be“. Stuff like that which DID in fact make sense for someone like me, a procrastinating perfectionist. Given his age and accent, it was very likely that he recalled WWII and might have even had some personal experience in a concentration camp though it didn’t come up. Laughter didn’t come easy to him but when it did, he greatly enjoyed it.

Back to The News Cafe. While I hope that it does reopen, I don’t know that I would run right down there because it would be pointless to try reproducing the sense of a bygone era. Take what’s in front of you and make something out of that. Some years ago, I did take my Wife there but the magic of the area had long been consumed by hype and crass over promotion. In the end, most of my emotional respites wind up being simple – a Library, a cafe, a park, or even a familiar book. Everyone has some respite that occurs more or less naturally and without effort. Sometimes they last though many times they do not. Just be on the lookout for the next one which is hard to do if you are lost in nostalgia.

The Mayor Of Stewart Avenue

Each year, the title of “Mayor of Stewart Avenue” was given to a successful area businessman who exhibited likeability and, more importantly, a willingness to share that year’s bounty by hosting a number of alcohol-fueled bashes designed to distract everyone from the undeniable economic decline plaguing the area.  In preceding decades, I’m sure the honor was reserved only for those of the highest moral rank, those captains of Southwest Atlanta industry whose wholesome character guaranteed success, well-behaved children, and a Norman Rockwell home life. For sure, mid 20th century enterprise was prosperous though by the 70s, businesses offering things like boat motors and fishing accessories were not a priority for Stewart Avenue residents. The economy had leveled off into auto pilot which, for a while, was fine but the fiscal dip started cutting into the bottom line. Many stores moved or closed while sleazy car dealers, Liquor Stores (a hit in any economy), No-Tell Motels, and privately owned markets (such as Brothers Three) remained. By the end of the decade there weren’t many candidates for the mayor title though it was a decent excuse to have a party.

The last “Mayor of Stewart Avenue” I recall with any clarity was a guy named Ken K. (his relatives might still be around so I’ll take the anonymous approach) who seemed to be doing quite well financially. He was fond of a drink which he might enjoy spontaneously throughout the day as can only the person with enough money and authority to avoid a rigid work schedule. This didn’t mean that he didn’t work just that he did so when it suited him. Like many in the area, he carried a gun and, when drunk, might discharge it more so to punctuate whatever was going on rather than out of self defense.

I know he certainly did it one night in Bros 3. He stumbled in the front door as he raised a 22 and popped of some shots with the bullets going into the ceiling. We were on him quickly from behind and wrestled the gun from his hand after which he staggered outside to his Cadillac where he wrangled the door open and fell into the front seat with his legs hanging out. Someone later pushed his legs in and shut the door, not out of the customary concern for a brother human, but just to get his ass out of the way. (Whoever did it probably rifled his wallet). When I returned the next morning, he was sitting in the store dealing with a hangover. He had no memory of the firearms display or, more likely, just didn’t want to cop to it since that would involve the assumption of responsibility. Besides, he already had a drink in his shaky hand to take off the edge.

People used to say this albeit unironically

Carrying a gun was not as odd as you might think given the time and place. This was long before credit card use (or possession) was ubiquitous, when gambling debts were always settled with cash (most still are) thus, being rolled was a distinct possibility. Additionally, being known around the Avenue as someone not afraid to bust a few caps could discourage a would-be robber. It could also work against you in that a thief might conclude that it’s easier to first shoot and then take the money. There were instances of that also. A cocky repo guy named Rick, known to “pack heat”, as we used to say, overplayed his hand one night and was himself gunned down by someone who feared being shot first. It flipped me out because just two days before he had helped me execute a candy bar stealing rat who had taken up residence at Brothers Three. I had found the sugar eating rodent behind some Styrofoam coolers. The rat hissed and Rick, who was standing nearby, handed me a 5-iron from a pawned bag of clubs while urging me to “fuck that rat up, boy !“. I took aim at the rodent, who had moved onto his haunches, and swung the club in a perfect arc, culminating in solid contact with his neck which snapped him into the next dimension. 

A Gin and Tonic – I made tons of these at Brother’s Three mostly for other people.

Anyway, back to Ken K. His general manner of speech inferred intoxication.  He slurred his words, grunted, and didn’t walk straight even when totally sober. Many in the area would drink daily and one of my regular duties was to mix drinks at 4:45 sharp for Roughhouse and whomever might be joining him. My orders were direct – make the drinks simple and strong – usually Tanqueray and Tonic or Vodka and OJ. This was the backdrop against which I learned to function. These guys worked pretty hard at the so called “straight job” in addition to whatever side “action” they had (usually gambling). It was hard enough for me to get to work after school and back home in time to finish homework but the Avenue education I received opened my eyes to intriguing possibilities – legal, illegal, and in between. Many of these men would keep drinking well into the evening and sometimes even into the next morning – yet would take exception to the idea of having a drink before the appointed “cock tail hour”.  Others had no such compunction. Most people, especially business owners, need to be sober at least for some portion of the day though if your supplier or partner is like you then it’s just as easy to do deals over lunch time (and sometimes breakfast) drinks. You can do this if you are the boss.

The mayoral election ceremony event was just a formality as that year’s recipient was usually selected well in advance during various drinking sessions held throughout the year. In previous decades, I bet there was a rigid protocol in place for nominations and voting, followed by a family-friendly award ceremony where high quality, catered food was the main event. The general banter would revolve around christian ethics and economic betterment with large checks being written to charities. Many of these businesses were good for sponsorship of Little League teams over at Perkerson Park which at the time was a really big thing  (a topic I discuss here). This was the era of Civic clubs such as the Lions, Civitan, Shriners, Elk, and Moose Lodge whose membership included Stewart Avenue business owners. They surely liked to drink but held up the veneer of social respectability at least until much later in the evening when clumsy sexual propositions would be made to waitresses and even the wives (and sometimes daughters) of fraternal brothers. Such activity, emanating from amateurs and the inexperienced, is never effective.

The 70s version of the Mayor’s ceremony, however, would dispense with any social pretense and might well involve women of the night (as a stated intent) and numerous bottles of liquor being hastily consumed straight out of the case. (Wives and daughters would most definitely NOT be in attendance). Dice games would breakout and public nudity would occur. In terms of the setting, it could be a bar but might just as easily wind up in a place like Kaiser’s Trim Shop where the work area would be converted to a party space – although no one bothered to move customer cars out of the way – the backseats of which might be used for a quickie. I know all of this to be true because it would be my job to run the liquor down to the shop in preparation for the event.

None of the Mayors I encountered would have been invited to articulate their personal ethics and entrepreneurial philosophies at a Church or to a classroom of business students. However, it would be too easy to dismiss them as layabouts or hedonists (well uniquely so) because many did in fact build businesses from scratch and managed to purchase homes, cars, and finance college education for their children.  Even In the face of economic decline, these types were agile and pivoted into other lines of work. They might also tap gambling winnings to pay college tuition or at least a child support payment. Anything to keep the hustle going.

Another thing I noticed about these men was their general lack of self-pity, not that they didn’t complain now and then, but it was usually just a happy hour comment, “the goddamn bank wants to foreclose on the shop”, that would soon be forgotten in the interest of finding a way around the problem even if it meant just accepting it. So, no – they wouldn’t be writing the next “Habits of Successful Business Dudes” but they could probably give a mean Ted Talk on innovative thinking in times of crisis. The title might be, “A  Business Guide For The Functional Alcoholic – How To Have A Good Time, All The Time”. Had any of these Mayors been around during the crash of 29, (some were, though as children), they certainly wouldn’t have jumped out the window. Nor would they have missed using acute national economic ruin as an excuse to have a drink. À votre santé

 

Dipper Dan Ice Cream Shop

You can gauge the financial viability of an area by the number of non-essential businesses it offers. By non-essential, I’m referring to cafes, bakeries, curio shops, and ice cream parlors none of which address required needs in the way that pharmacies and grocery stores might. An abundance of non-essential businesses means there is plenty of money in the area for recreational activities that, in tighter economic times, might not be possible. While I mention an ice cream shop in the title, it is more as a reference to a bygone era of considerable prosperity in the Stewart Avenue corridor rather than as a nostalgic pointer to a favorite childhood experience. I wasn’t that big of an ice cream fan but I loved the social opportunities it provided. Dipper Dan was part of a chain and the one at Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center was located between the The Huddle House and The Barber Shop were most of the employees could have just as easily been moonlighting at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island such was their penchant for buzz cuts. There were a few guys who could actually style hair beyond the boot camp look though if the customer was young, they 1) didn’t give a damn what you wanted and 2) enjoyed mowing down fledgling long haired punks as a means to restore order to a society driven mad by hippies and their backers.

Conway’s Nose Hair

The owner, Smitty, was a nice guy and I had a crush on his daughter who, like me, went to Perkerson elementary. So, if I could, I would try to line up a cut with him but usually wound up with one of those surly “barbers” who smelled of last night’s booze and whose shaky hand work would inevitably result in a laceration or two. These guys never acknowledged their mistakes, let along apologized for them, choosing rather to silently break out the Styptic Pen to arrest the bleeding as if nothing had ever happened. To their credit, they were fast. Get in the chair, get buzzed, and get gone. One of my most vivid memories was a guy with Conway Twitty style hair sitting in the chair while getting a manicure. I had never seen a man getting his nails done although the bigger issue was that he had enough hair emanating from his nose to form the basis of a curly mustache. One of the barbers got around to trimming that away (I thought he would need hedge clippers) and I immediately filed that image under the category of “things to never let happen to myself if I can possibly help it“.

Meeting Girls At The Mall

Oh, but this was supposed to be about the Ice Cream shop. There were multiple area locations of Dipper Dan with one opening up at the brand new Greenbriar Mall whose introduction dealt a serious blow to Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center. Greenbriar was an air conditioned, in door Mall with a number of attractive stores and restaurants of significantly larger size and variety than anything else in the region. It also gave a comfortable backdrop for that “teen thing” to happen where you could meet up with your friends and maybe check out the girls from the other schools – if you couldn’t find any from your own. While it was generally frowned upon to seek inter-school companionship, lots of flirtation happened, which might lead to some dirty looks, or even a fight, coming from guys for stealing THIER women ! Kind of an odd accusation since if that were actually true then why were THIER women giving us phone numbers in the first place ? Of course, there is that type of girl who will flirt just to see if she has something that anyone might be interested in yet has no intention of moving beyond that. Part of your job is to try to figure it all out. (Good luck with that).

Ice Cream Kisses

Dipper Dan had this blend called “Rainbow” which was a swirly combo of different flavors. Sort of like Lucky Charms Cereal in ice cream form. It was very sweet but not as sweet as the Bubblegum flavor, infamous for inducing vomiting in the little kids who were attracted to the orange fright wig color. I’m pretty sure they had a mop dedicated exclusively for vomit collection and, of course, no one wanted to be on clean up duty. It was pretty much a job assigned to the new employees most of whom were teenagers. Another frequent problem was the kids who dropped their cones even before their parents had paid for them !  Anyway, Dipper Dan was a place to get a cone and if you could get a girl to share a milkshake with you then you knew you were onto something. Two straws, one shake, sitting across from one another – staring into each other’s eyes ? It was almost like a kiss. There was no actual contact being made (maybe your respective knees under the table) but no one could really complain since it was pretty wholesome and very Norman Rockwell.

Chili Three Ways

There were still plenty of non-mall, standalone malt and shake shops in the area such as Dairy Queen and Zestos. There were some drive in places like Steak and Shake which offered something called “Chili Three Ways” sometimes known as “Three Way Chili”. One night my Mother and Father took me there and for some reason I made the observation that “Chili Three Ways” sounded like an illicit sexual act or something that one might see in a Times Square Peep show (like I would have known). My Mother didn’t react well to this, thinking maybe that I was an emerging pervert with a food fetish. Truth be told, I don’t know what made me say that except maybe I had been listening to George Carlin’s “Class Clown” record which provoked some subversive thinking. My Father reacted by spraying coke out of his nose as my Mother hit him for laughing. It took a while, but he stopped to say, “Son, That’s not a thing to say, especially in mixed company”. I acted contrite but on the ride home he kept making eye contact with me in the rear view mirror almost breaking out in laughter again. He couldn’t come out and say “good one” (until we were alone).

I don’t recall exactly when Dipper Dan closed but once the White Flight took hold and families bolted from the area, lots of those “non-essential” businesses shut down. Even the various hair places and dry cleaners closed because there wasn’t enough discretionary income floating around the area for those businesses to pay rent. The only sure things were the car lots, liquor stores (people drink in good or bad economies) and grocery stores. Sure, there were the NoTell Motels, some pizza joints and bars but once the families left so did the family businesses. Now, all this said. I notice that a new bakery has opened up on Sylvan Rd which looks to have three (!) cafes: Blendz Cafe, Rosie’s Coffee Cafe, and Bakery Bourgoyne (technically located on Evans Drive). This is astonishing to me and also lifts my mood considerably because if these kinds of establishments can flourish then perhaps a resurgence will occur ?

Beware The Nudist Colony

Part of the joy of being in a band is playing live (see the dill pickle appreciation story) in front of diverse types of people, some of whom might represent a stepping stone to a new level of existence in the music business (if only incrementally). That shouldn’t necessarily be the primary motivation for performance but it certainly doesn’t hurt when someone approaches you with a well-intended, (and hopefully legitimate), offer of financial support. Some forms of sponsorship might be shady or based upon the execution of a chain of events, perhaps involving the movement of some “material”, before the cash becomes available. It’s more common, though, to receive basic types of appreciation, such as a home-cooked meal or a place to stay for the night.

Playing private parties can be a good source of income and once you make a few solid connections of this type, life can becomes easier. The only down side is the implied quid-pro-quo wherein the host generally wants to hear certain songs or expects to “sit in”. That’s generally okay but it does get awkward when someone’s wife wants to go all Janis Joplin, usually in some horrible approximation thereof, and then not leave the stage.

The inimitable John Kay ! Note that dark sunglasses can be helpful when having to view large (numbers of) nudists.

My band was once hired to play a private 4th of July party for a large and very well organized colony of nudists. When I say “large” I mean both in terms of body count and average attendee girth. When I say “organized” they owned the land they used for the festivities and had built an impressive compound that hosted people throughout the week. There were about 350 nudists present and although the event was 40 years ago, I’m still in therapy. I’m all for self-acceptance and personal esteem but I was not prepared for the jiggling mounds of flesh on display that sweltering Georgia day.

The nudists were very nice people, in that zany way that hippies usually are, and their generosity was overwhelming. The band was not in any way compelled to disrobe. Someone had deep pockets as the PA was top flight and professionally engineered (a guy from Showco). The event was also impressively catered with a veritable cornucopia of food (including vegetarian options) as well as top shelf alcohol. Not all in the crowd were unattractive but enough were so as to make it difficult to look at anyone straight-on for more than a few milliseconds, thus dark sun glasses became a necessity. I must have looked like John Kay except I did not suffer from any type of visual impairment – though might have were I forced to view the mountain of flesh without some form of protection.

Most nudists, at least the ones I’ve encountered, are politically and socially motivated more so than by any lurid or carnal urge that the typical outsider might imagine. By stripping (literally) away any pretense, people can presumably better view the other for what they truly are – a human being to be accepted independently of any perceived physical imperfections. (Or so goes that zany hippy logic) Talk to any seasoned medical professional and they will generally exhibit a bored attitude towards the nudity of others although generally only within the confines of a medical encounter. I’ve always been on the fence about the whole “let it all hang out” thing. If you have the body for it then I suppose it might be alright but in absence of that then maybe first hit the gym for a few months (or years) before presenting yourself to the public ? I’m speaking in general because intentional public nudity is not on my bucket list. I mean if I have to run out of a burning house with little or no coverage then so be it, but that’s about the only way I’ll do it.

My Father had a roommate named Bill whose very plump girlfriend we chose to nickname “Elastic Woman” because of her preference for those thick, industrial grade bras and girdles that were clearly visible under the polyester pant suits that were once all the rage. Women of a certain size used such clothing to forcefully constrain their flesh which might otherwise “spill out” in a vulgar protoplasmic display. We theorized that, so tight were the garments worn by “Elastic Woman“, that should they break under the strain, they would jet across the room in a sling-shot style effect, killing any one in the line of fire – a sleeping boyfriend, the cat, or maybe even the television. Damn, how did I get off into that ? Oh yea. There were a lot of women at the gig who resembled “Elastic Woman” minus the clothes that is.

Oh that we all could have the self-acceptance ability of cool jazz cat Herbie Mann

For the most part, the gig progressed quite well with the crowd demonstrating its appreciation by dancing in clusters of hand-holding hippy families which hearkened back to the commune days of the 60s. During a break, one of the upper level colony representatives introduced us to his wife which I thought might be part of some Inuit-influenced wife sharing ceremony. If it was, the fact that I, nor any of the other band members did not know the proper acceptance protocol, must have stopped it. In retrospect, I’m sure it was nothing of the sort. Rather than continue the awkward moment, he asked if he could sit in with the band on a few tunes. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem but the fact that he was nude and profusely sweating from lots of outdoor hippie dancing in the July heat meant that he would have had to wear the guitar in such a way that it would make contact with the matted greasy stomach hair (see photo to the left) as well as certain “other” body parts which in my mind would totally defile the guitar. I certainly knew he wasn’t going use my guitar.

I think he sensed the overall vibe and said, “Hey, I’ve got my own instrument” for which I was very grateful. His over emphasis on the word instrument suggested he was about to add, “no pun intended” but thankfully he declined. As a guitarist, he was pretty good in that Yasgur’s farm kind of way where you turn it up like Leslie West whom he kind of resembled albeit with no clothes. His sitting in led to more nudists on stage (which they had built) so it’s not like we could ask them to leave. Any mental adjustment I had made over the past hour in response to playing for the naked hippie pack was reset by having sweaty, corpulent bodies jumping around in uncomfortably close proximity. Mercifully, that was more or less the end of the engagement. The load out was plagued with people asking various questions which in any other case would have been fine, except, again, they were totally naked while trying to help lift road cases – a very unsafe proposition. So I kept the shades on even though it was well past sun down.

These days it’s difficult to escape body obsessed culture and shows like “Naked And Afraid” – a name I could never really remember, confusing it with names like “Nude And Angry” or “Irritated and Naked”. I notice that gyms seem to have these programs on wide screen TVs perhaps as a motivator for people to get into shape. Given the widespread availability of plastic surgery I suppose that route is a possibility though it seems that once you go down that route, it requires ongoing “touch ups” and associated procedures to protect the original investment. You just have to decide if what you have really needs any “help” in the first place. I mean, maybe the hippies got it right in that you should just roll with what you got but maybe just keep it private ?

Chain Gangs And Wino Caves

There is a rock quarry located on Sylvan Rd in Southwest Atlanta (well technically East Point) which I’m told was at one time worked by a combination of convict labor and black citizens who found themselves in violation of arbitrary laws, historically known as “Black Codes“, designed to (re)enslave them despite the ratification of the 13th Amendment. However, I don’t know when this particular locale was “opened for business” or to what extent the labor pool included Black Code “violators”.  History would have us believe that it was only the “worst of the worst” who were employed for cutting stone under the blistering Georgia sun.  This page, however, describes such issues in greater detail as well as the Atlanta Bellwood Quarry for which solid documentation does exist of labor and human abuse. According to another site, Georgia was, in the 1890s, the first state to use convict labor outside of prison walls though it rapidly “caught on” in many other states. That the idea of a “convict” might be extended to include a person or family who found themselves in violation of trip wire laws designed to entrap them was/is shocking.

Employment of chain gang labor persisted into the 50s when it was largely abolished but not before politicians / businessmen had enriched themselves by offering massively discounted labor as part of project bids. (See The Shawshank Redemption for a dramatization of such actions). Georgia abandoned the practice only in 1955 and North Carolina only in the 70s. By the 60s, the Sylvan Rd quarry was abandoned as a going concern and apparently hadn’t been touched in years. I wanted to point all of this out because the area might represent an enduring offense to the humanity and dignity of those forced to carve stone for a city that valued only part of the population. For the kids coming to the area in the 60s, we were unaware of this past. No one talked about – at all ! The quarry was merely a fascinating land mark to be explored and “conquered” in a way that kids imagine – long before video games that is. That is also attracted winos and indigents only added to the mystique.

Urban Camping

A satellite image of the Sylvan Rd Rock Quarry – Click to Expand

Access to the quarry (outlined by the red rectangle) could be gained directly off of Sylvan Rd though it involved commercial trespass so the winos waited till close of business before descending into the quarry to traverse the field of unevenly distributed sharp-edged rocks on the way to the opposite side where the cave was located (the green oval) – about 10 feet up. The easier approach was to enter from the rear of Springdale Christian Church (outlined by the blue square) and proceed up through some lush woods that overlooked the southeast corner of the quarry and provided direct access to the cave. But as that route required walking conspicuously through what was then a very new neighborhood, the winos wisely avoided it, fearing arrest. The cave opening had been formed by some mutually receding, clam shaped rocks that seemed content to remain in place until some future tectonic action might end their relative placement as well as the life of whomever had the misfortune of being inside the cave at the time. But, such a possibility didn’t stop us or the area winos from fully investigating what it might offer. It was perfect for teenagers wanting to sneak a drink of King Cotton Peach Wine, smoke a Camel or look at one of the nudie mags someone left behind. For the itinerant alcoholics, or those on the lam, it was simply a place to cool off before moving on.

Getting into the cave was a young man’s game as one had to crawl head first into the entrance and move slowly downward while spidering out one’s limbs to balance across some oddly angled rocks until reaching a relatively flat and spacious area about 5 feet down. How the winos made it in (especially when drunk) I don’t know as none of them seemed in sufficiently good shape to get TO the cave let alone INTO it. Not surprisingly, they accumulated a number of bruises in addition to the ones they already had. So once they made it, they usually didn’t go anywhere for a while. It’s tough to accurately estimate a wino’s age as they will always look older due to ripped garments, random extremity lacerations, and the usual personal hygiene deficiencies accompanying the lifestyle (rotten teeth, fetid breath, and weapons grade body odor). But it didn’t stop them from offering up tales of olympian achievement or circuitous justifications for their behavior. 

Who Shot John ? 

One of the winos characterized himself as a former military insider whose knowledge of John F. Kennedy’s “true” assassins (surprise, there was more than one) made him an enemy of the state. So he was destined to be forever on the run adopting various disguises as he made occasional contact with similarly ostracized individuals identifiable only by a set of secret gestures. “How do you know who might be such a person“, I asked. “Oh you just know, it’s the look. And then you offer up the signal. But, I’ve really told you too much already“. Most of these guys were just providing entertainment in exchange for money, cigarettes, old clothes or anything we might offer. None of them remained long in the quarry but they left us with a valuable gag reel which we riffed on for weeks making ridiculous hand gestures as if mercenaries in some unnamed military campaign. “My nom de guerre is Colonel Sanders and I served proudly in the Fried Chickens Wars of the 60s“. No one, especially our parents, knew what the hell we were talking about which made it even more funny.

Ann Margaret Was Bad In The Sack ?

One of the longer residents of the cave was Howard who, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, preferred to be called Sonny as a form of tribute to his birth Mother whom he claimed to have known only for a few years before being packed off to live with his Father and new Step Mother. I noticed a correlation between the names and level of drinking. “Sonny” liked to get unapologetically and paralytically drunk whereas “Howard” drank less (though still to excess) and exhibited anxiety with his inability to cease alcohol consumption. Unlike most of the winos seeking refuge in the cave, Howard was a local who lived in a trailer on Stewart Avenue with his sister. She had given him money to purchase tomato seeds and fertilizer at King Hardware though failed miserably in the mission having chosen to buy a half gallon of Smirnoff instead. So he was banned from the trailer and sought refuge in the cave. He expressed great admiration for Rod Stewart who was just then experiencing his first major taste of success as a solo artist. He saw in Rod a kindred spirit attached to the ways of romance and nostalgia for the “Gasoline Alley” of one’s youth. Howard talked openly of his brief but torrid love affair with none other than famed actress Ann Margaret whom he claimed to have met as her star was in ascendence. “She was a lousy lay“, he said while puffing on a Lucky Strike. “Not nearly as good as Jayne Mansfield or Raquel Welch”. Wait… What ? I noticed that exaggerated masculinity was a characteristic of any of these stories as if their problems could all be traced to being “too much man” for society at large. 

The appeal of what was once powerful and compelling will usually wane with time especially when considering that girls had no interest in going to the quarry with me which is why I stopped going. Besides, I had already begun my tenure on Stewart Avenue which afforded access to many things of far greater interest than some smelly cave inhabited with outcasts and those not long for the world. In viewing the Google satellite maps of the area it appears that the quarry is intact although overgrown with a mixture of kudzu and the greenery common to humid Atlanta. Since the geography seems the same, perhaps the cave is still there and it might even contain the refuse of teenage drinking and smoking – or even some of the graffiti we spray painted on the stone. I’m pretty sure I could still find it though getting into it might be a challenge what with the extra pounds that I now carry. As I keep pointing out in my posts, the general area is quite ripe for aggressive housing development though building on top of quarries is usually quite difficult. So even if town homes and condos spring up on the proximal boundaries, the quarry will probably be left alone. It could become a dedication site for those who labored and died there but that would require a much larger examination and corresponding acknowledgment. This is one of those situations where I would really like input from the older readers of this blog so we can get the story straight. The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2019

 

Intuition Is Divine – Olin Rainwater

Learning Your Craft

Lots of guy learn to play guitar simply to impress girls but those with serious intent usually separate themselves from the pack by progressing rapidly and seeking out performance opportunities, which is where you really learn your craft because you see instantly what works. Getting feedback from strangers is essential to growth and if you are in any way good, you will own your weaknesses and learn to separate the constructive comments from the crap. During a live set, I once had an obese lady throw a dill pickle at at me in what I initially believed to be an expression of dissatisfaction until she pulled out another, (from where I do not know), placed it between her rather large breasts and started licking it. While this didn’t count as nuanced feedback on the performance taking place, I did take it to mean that whatever song we were playing in that moment was provoking a definite reaction and should maybe remain in the set (or not). See, that’s profound and memorable feedback you would never get in a pure rehearsal situation or when playing for friends.

It’s a general truism that praise from a family member or a close friend (or sales person) is mostly meaningless outside of its ability to soothe and encourage – unless, or until, it is balanced by input from a neutral third party with specific knowledge in the domain under consideration. In absence of such it becomes an American Idol kind of thing where the tone-deaf contestant submits for an audition on the encouragement of a drunk uncle who sort of, kind of used to be in a band that, back in the day,  got really close to making it. And when the contestant gets slaughtered by the judges, they really never saw it coming because no one had “the talk” with them about their actual prospects for a music career. Not to say that American Idol judges (or drunk uncles) are especially knowledgeable (some are, some aren’t)  but there is a certain level of bad that is objectively observe-able in those desperate for a shot at stardom. Let’s just say that playing some tunes at the family barbecue picnic is fine though should never be confused as a general validation of talent.

A Very Short Artist and Repertoire Career

As I pointed out in this post, there were many cover bands in the East Point, College Park, and Sylvan Hills areas with most of them working the local bar circuit while writing originals in hopes of attracting record company interest. Many were accomplished in faithfully reproducing the rock tunes of the day with some of them choosing to play songs likely to appeal only to other musicians. This became a problem for club owners whose priority was to sell alcohol. (No one can easily dance to “Roundabout” by Yes). Thus, bands would have to calibrate their performances for dancing and drinking or risk not being invited back. In their group biography, Aerosmith referenced a deliberate intent to avoid the cover band grind so they could focus on their original set even if it meant living in poverty and having to steal food. While playing 5 sets, 6 nights a week will do wonders for your musical chops, and put a few bucks in your pocket, breaking out of that into a record contract is difficult especially if your original songs are simple approximations of the covers used to promote beer purchases.

I went to Los Angeles right before “hair metal” peaked and the glut of bands made it pointless for anyone to come to LA since there were a million groups already present most of whom were equally as good as, if not much better than,  anything you could bring to town. It was a peculiar mix of desperation, greasy long hair, and onset alcoholism.  The mayor should have put up a sign “Dear Rock Bands – No Vacancy. There is No Room for You. Go back Now“.  Everyone was incredibly insecure and restless which led to aggressive drug use and frequent personnel turnover as guys jumped ship to find that “magic” combination that would land them the top marquee spot at Gazzarri’s, The Whiskey, or The Starwood. (See Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years which explores this topic in much greater depth). Once “pay to play” was implemented it should have been a sign that maybe you go back home and roll the dice there (and much more cheaply). Some bailed out of the hair metal scene and landed in “New’ Country bands – a genre just then getting off the ground.  Most found straight jobs or enrolled in College and generally adjusted to a life of convention. Some, however, couldn’t let it go and kept at it even though hair metal continued to wane in popularity.

You Guys Are Marvelous, Let’s Keep In Touch

I once shared a large number of drinks with an A&R guy at Atlanta’s Charley Magruders who was in town to scout one of “The South’s hottest bands“. I was astonished by his capacity for alcohol as well as his general knowledge of politics and science which dominated that evening’s discussion even as everyone else was totally digging the band. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me so I asked him about the group, “Oh them”, he said, as if they were an intrusive presence, like an apartment neighbor playing the stereo too loud. “Well the singer is too pudgy, the guitar player is good but he looks 35, their songs are average – they are more like jams, not real songs and, besides, everyone else has passed on them”.  So he was there just for the drinks – the band’s manager was picking up his tab (and by extension mine). He had absolutely no intention of signing them with the main reason being that no other record company wanted them so how could they be any good – outside of the club scene, that is ? When the sweat soaked singer (he actually was kind of fat)  looked over at the A&R guy for the smallest sign of approval, my host raised his glass high and gave the thumbs up as if watching a 26 year old Mick Jagger lather up the crowds at Madison Square Garden. Al Pacino would have been envious, so masterful was the acting.

He invited me to join him and his boss (my potential employer) not long thereafter at Danny’s in Marietta where he similarly rejected another “hottest band in Atlanta“. It was particularly awkward when the singer and guitar player sheepishly strolled over to check-in during a break. My record label friend adopted a hyper-supportive tone,“Dynamite set guys. Any hotter and we would have to call the fire department”. Wow. What a line. Any career I had been contemplating in A&R ended that evening as I didn’t relish the idea of having to lie so overtly to bands. I was told to treat it like a mediocre date – be positive and polite, promise to call, but let it fade into history and if you just have to be honest, then do it via phone to eliminate the possibility of physical assault. I was really good at identifying talent (still am) just that I lacked the tolerance for accommodating the endless layers of bullshit endemic to the music business. The bands that did get signed believed quite mistakenly that their troubles were over and certain fame awaited. But of course, that rarely panned out and the A&R guy who signed them would always leave or get fired leaving them with no advocate at the office. But that’s okay. Everyone at the label “still believes in you, baby” even as they quietly drop the option for the second record and slowly, yet firmly, show you the door “Let’s keep in touch, you are so talented“.

Intuitive Musicians

There is a type of musician who, in the presence of more flashy players, can easily go unnoticed though you quickly  realize that he or she is instinctively covering a lot of parts musically and vocally, while writing songs that do an end-around on your critical thinking filters. As an example, instead of using a complicated chord progression, they “see through it” and offer a tasteful alternative that is easier to play and provides fluid voice leading ultimately resulting in something better with much less effort. Most of these guys are what I call intuitive musicians who see the bigger picture of any song and work inwards to remove the junk, thus allowing the essence of the song to become evident – as opposed to the more technical musician who just likes to throw in things on top. The late Sonny Sharrock characterized most rock guitarists as “Jugglers”, musicians who have a set number of “tricks” they rotate though or juggle as part of their performances. It doesn’t take long before you’ve heard all of their tricks and become bored.

But there were two guys in Sylvan Hills who were of this intuitive type. The first was Terry K. whose Father was a local music teacher. Terry was part of The Spontaneous Generation who had a regional release in 1968 with “Up In My Mind” backed by The Who’s “Pictures of Lily”. Jan Whitten was also in the band (cousin of Mike Whitten, the original drummer in the Atlanta rock band Alien).  Most people from Sylvan Hills will probably remember an unfortunate accident which resulted in Terry’s general withdrawal from life though he still wrote songs and served as a sounding board for others. While he wasn’t the type of guy who mastered note-for-note renditions of something like Third Stone from the Sun he could comfortably sit in with someone who had and offer complimentary accompaniment all without much preparation. He had a solid ear, almost like a jazzer, so hearing chords and melodies was easy for him. Need a harmony line ? No problem. Advice on a chord substitution ? Sure. A complimentary descending keyboard chordal sequence ? How many do you want ?

There was another guy name Olin Rainwater who fell into this category though he was far more prolific in terms of musical output having written hundreds of songs. He was truly a walking band in the sense that he could sing, play guitar, and write tunes so he required minimal backup to perform. He could have easily been a power trio guy in the vein of Mountain or Creem as his lead lines were bluesy and his rhythm was spot on even as he was singing. The act of singing and playing simultaneously came quite naturally to him whereas I always struggled with that. When it came to covers, Olin was able to listen to songs, even those with rich instrumentation and complex arrangements, and boil them down to the essentials. Oh, he might miss some of the extensions but his ultimate chord selections captured the right tonality while leaving room for the color tones which he could supply vocally. Amazingly, he could do this within minutes of hearing a song and, best of all, be ready to perform it not long thereafter. Now, that’s talent and courage that few people have. I would still be worried about whether a chord was an F#minor with a flat 5 and he would be like, “No, let’s do it. 1-2-3, go”. That he was so confident bolstered my confidence which made it all so much easier. It was an additive, no, a multiplicative effect that was truly liberating. When people trust each other, great things can happen.

Option Anxiety

While rehearsal was important, he also liked to throw songs my way (his own or cover tunes) which required learning the song as the band was playing it. This involved me looking at his guitar neck, copping the chords, and internalizing the structure – again, while the song was being played. He might solo but it was just as likely he would give me the nod. It all somehow worked – not because I was so good but because I didn’t have to worry about him dropping the beat or screwing up which only emboldened me to try things I normally would not have. Like me, he was a Stones fan particularly of the weaving interplay between the two guitars where the listener might not be able to immediately distinguish who is playing what. It all sounds so well integrated that there is no need to dissect it. Besides, if that even crossed your mind it simply meant the performance was at best average.

When it came to writing songs,  I didn’t know what his process was but it was fast and versatile such that he could write to a title or a phrase or begin with a set of chords. However, he told me that his biggest challenge was the distraction of having multiple options. He felt he could go in different directions – rock, country, R&B, or avant-garde and it wasn’t clear what the most expedient thing would be. And the resulting confusion undermined his goal setting efforts. Most people are limited in a way that makes these considerations largely academic or irrelevant, but Olin was gifted in an absolute sense so I could appreciate his struggle (not that I shared in it) just that he truly had a number of possibilities that most artists do not. And there was always the tug of financial obligation which led to a stint with local oldies band The Cruise-O-Matics.  just to pay some bills.

There are a number of stories to relate though I’ll let it sit for now. I do recall with great fondness in the mid 80s stopping by his apartment on Pharr Rd which he shared with his future wife Sloan. At the time I was living behind the original Longhorn Steak house on Peachtree so it was easy to pop by and talk, learn tunes, and generally shoot the breeze. We had both left the south side for more convenient access to things and Buckhead was only in the earliest stages of becoming the obnoxious night time entertainment district that it would grow to be. However, then it was easy to get around. But as is the case in life, he went his way, I went mine and it was quite some time before I spoke with him courtesy of a chance encounter with Sloan. Unfortunately, he passed away a couple of years ago but it was really good to reconnect. For a taste of his music check out this video compilation assembled by Dean (a fellow south sider and good friend to Olin) which is just a sample of a much larger catalogue of impressive stylistic variety. I have an 8-track tape of some of his sessions completed at Song Bird studio off of Howell Mill Rd which I plan to convert to MP3 – as soon as I find an 8-track player to do so. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid

Talking ‘Bout My Generation

The face of a generation

My first actual “get off my lawn” experience came from a guy who lived on Springdale Place in Southwest Atlanta. (Out of respect for the current owners I won’t be specific about the address). On my way home from school. I cut though this guy’s yard and he comes out screaming that I was “disrespecting his home” and that I shouldn’t be “so goddamn lazy” and that I should “get a haircut”. When I related this story to others, someone rolled his house (something of a lost art) which of course made the guy think that I did it. Anyway. Moving on to a more general (if not biased) view of this dynamic – It becomes the duty of each generation to discredit the one preceding it just as the established populous will condemn younger generations who “carelessly squander” the “hard won freedom so selflessly given” to them by their forefathers. “Ungrateful young punks” was a commonly heard phrase. Some degree of generational friction is inevitable and especially so in times of economic decline when people go on fault finding missions. However, I’ve also noticed that in communities where job possibilities remain scarce, Happy Hour conversations will usually telescope down to the troubles of that particular day as taking a longer view becomes far too depressing. Sort of a working man’s realization of “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof“. And the commonality of the shared struggle, along with gallons of booze, would allow people to forget the differences which is why you could find people in their 20s tossing back drinks right next to some geezer all without conflict unless (or until) someone cadged one too many drinks which was a serious offense.

His defense mechanism involved blurting out random accusations of homosexual activity with the hope that any scrutiny he was enduring would be redirected to his target long enough to allow for an escape

Who knew that “Ray The Mooch” had a spirit animal ?

Speaking of which – there was a professional mooch named Ray, a young guy, who got banned from LP Pips for stealing left over drinks from uncleared tables. He positioned himself in proximity to large parties waiting for the group to disband after which he would swoop in and guzzle half empty pitchers of warm beer while alternately sucking down residual vodka from long abandoned mixed drink glasses which might also contain cigarette butts. “The vulture is a patient bird, my friend” he would say of his “accomplishments” which was shocking in that he saw his scavenging as some noble strategy sanctioned by Mother Nature. When confronted, his defense mechanism involved blurting out random accusations of homosexual activity with the hope that any scrutiny he was enduring would be redirected to his target long enough to allow for an escape – sort of like an octopus squirting ink to disorient. And as people took time to puzzle out the veracity of his claim (which might also involve those not present such as the President, Mary Tyler Moore, or Billy Graham) he would be gone. Someone rightly pointed out that if he put half as much energy into legitimate enterprise as he did mooching, he could afford his own damn drinks and perhaps rescue whatever was left of his loathsome reputation.

Talk to any young woman who worked a hotel check-in desk during a typical fraternal convention. Having to endure the amorous advances of fezzed-up “Potentates” took its toll

Mooses, Elks, Lions, and Shriners

While I encountered many representatives of preceding generations at Brothers Three and Banks Liquor store I also ran into them at the The Stewart Avenue Moose Lodge which was located on the hill behind the Golden Ribbon. The Lodge served as a private club for the older set who basically liked to get their drink on, shoot some pool, and have the occasional BBQ for charity which is ostensibly what they were all about. What I liked about the Moose crowd was that they did not give a damn about anything and with the exception of a few jerks who couldn’t hold their liquor it was a laid back place. If you walked out the door connected to the pool room, the view overlooked the Ribbon and a portion of Stewart Avenue. If you were buzzed enough you got the idea that this was really “something”. That you were seeing a “city in motion, on the up and up” and that just maybe things were going to work out after all. But then your eyes would fall down to the parking lot of The Ribbon where someone was throwing up.

This was still the era of the Fraternal  Organization which included The Lions Club, The Shriners, The Elks, The Lions Club, The Rotary, The American Legion, and The VFW with lots of member overlap between them. Civic clubs used to be THE way to get the inside angle on good jobs particularly in sales. I’m not challenging the sincerity of these groups, or their charitable contributions, but they could do some Olympian level drinking which, in the case of the Shriners, was addressed by Ray Stevens in his “all too real” Shriner’s Convention song. For supporting testimony, talk to any young woman who worked a hotel check-in desk during a typical fraternal convention. Having to endure the amorous advances of fezzed-up “Potentates” took its toll and on-the-spot employment resignations might occur due to the unrelenting (and completely unwanted) attention from men with more hair growing out their nose than on their head. George Carlin’s Shriner assessment was quite direct possibly because they disliked his long hair and hippy sensibilities:

Forty percent of all arrests, traceable [to alcohol]. Fifty percent of all first admissions to mental institutions traceable to alcohol. And then, of course, there’s diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, heart disease, insanity, divorce. So I always say “Drink up, Shriners!” whenever I see a couple of ’em.

Despite the generational friction, you could learn something from these old timers though it always fell along very practical lines such as “work for a good company”, “get married”, “buy a house”, “have children”. (preferably in that order). This was totally understandable if you grew up in the shadow of economic ruin and ongoing military activity both of which would require different existential skills than those required in the 60s and 70s wherein diplomacy and social activism might be more appropriate over a defensive mentality. (“Are you a Hawk or a Dove ?”) It’s the difference between protecting hard-earned achievements and trying to grow something totally new based on a kinder world view. Both approaches are useful although not necessarily in equal amounts or at the same time or under the same roof. Maintaining hyper vigilance in anticipation of the next financial crisis would come at some mental expense just as throwing caution to the wind when planning one’s future could be reckless and irresponsible. Family dinner table discussions could be very interesting.

Defrocked Priests and Trust Funders

I knew a guy who liked to drop acid and read The Book of Revelation. That took courage.

Makers Mark – the favored Bourbon of defrocked priests the world over – well maybe just on Stewart Avenue

Moving into less serious territory, there were a couple of older characters I enjoyed talking to. The first was a former priest who I’ll refer to as Father O’Malley since I never knew his name or the circumstances of his departure from the Church – defrocked, resigned, or excommunicated ? There weren’t many Catholics in the area so it was hard to verify his backstory, but I could easily imagine him in the predawn darkness shuffling past rows of saints, some high level, some obscure, on his way to the six a.m. Mass where he was met by the same three parishioners. He had the stilted gait of the aged though his face remained unaffected by any pain he might have had so people thought him to be much younger. Periodically he would walk into the liquor store carrying a large Bible in whose margins he had scribbled various interpretative notes highlighted by tobacco smears and dried bourbon splotches. I thought these writings must surely relate to secret truths or ancient christian mysticism. And maybe they did – but there was also quite clearly a phone number written on at least one page (in the Book of Ephesians) with the name “Zelda” under it. His brand was Maker’s Mark which had that melted seal thing going on which maybe reminded him of Papal authority. Or maybe he just like getting blasted and reading the Bible. I knew a guy who liked to drop acid and read The Book of Revelation. That took courage.

Father O’Malley rattled on about church politics and how the priorities were all wrong (something of an understatement even then). “I should have been paid by the sin” he laughed. “There is no money in saving a soul just once – you gotta keep ’em coming back to pony up. Confession is just a cover“. I imagine that it was such frank talk that displeased his superiors which no doubt facilitated his exit though he had a point which definitely applied to other denominations. If you are “once saved, always saved” then why bother going to Church after conversion ? Evidently his years in the Confessional gave him preternatural ability to see through anyone’s line of bullshit and, when drunk (which was most of the time) he called them out which made him no friends. My takeaway lesson was that having deep insight into others is worthless in absence of self-restraint.

There was another guy named Bill – a pipe-smoking, professorial looking gentleman of some means which, based on his check mastheads, was due to a trust fund. Well into middle age, he alluded to Ivy League education, extensive global travel, and friendships with famous musicians though rarely included specifics. It seemed calculated to promote an air of respectability but there was a sophisticated sleaziness to it all which was very entertaining.  One evening he is in NYC having “soup at Ratner’s” with some “poet friends” and two days later he is San Francisco “listening to an acetate of the upcoming Grateful Dead” album. I suspect that portions of his overall story were true though he clearly had a well lit pilot light for bullshit that could be fully dialed up in the presence of women or whomever it was needing to be impressed. He was like a performer always in search of an audience. And I was just a struggling student working in a liquor store which is why I think he let me in on his approach that legitimized “aggressive embellishment” when discussing one’s pursuits and accomplishments. “Don’t understate what it is you do. Talk it up. If you don’t then no one else will”. He had a point and I definitely needed to up my self promotion game. His “thing” was to mix pipe tobacco with marijuana and puff on that throughout the day. He could get away with it too since he looked perfect with a pipe (the only thing missing was a monocle). This “system” allowed him to smoke up in public without getting “too stoned” so he was engaging in a form of micro dosing decades before it was in vogue. He took great pains to ensure that the odor of his special blend did not betray his motives. That he was rarely without his pipe completed his cover. In addition to the look, he also had the confidence to pull it off which supports the idea that if you do something with élan then no one will take notice.

As always there is more to say and these are but two of the older characters I encountered on a frequent basis with the bulk of them being kind of hard-assed about life and not the least bit interested in anyone’s opinion especially coming from some “young punk“. What I did find was that if you could make people laugh (intentionally or not) then you would be welcomed. Not necessarily because they liked you, but just that the tension of the day would be eased, the laughter would attract women, and then the drinks would REALLY start to flow which is really all a working man really needs. There will always be the world class bullshitters like Bill and while I don’t see myself ever rising (or sinking) to his level I do understand his motivations and took a page from his book. The same with Father O’Malley. Just because I can see imminent trouble in the lives of others doesn’t mean that I should say anything. They probably already know anyway. (That I can’t seem to recognize it in my own life is another issue altogether). By the mid 70s there were at least two retirement communities in the area that were well populated and this overlaps with my job at Brothers Three that involved helping old women hide booze under their groceries so they could smuggle it into these buildings. Anyway, maybe I’m writing all this because I’m “getting up there” which I knew would happen though didn’t realize it would be here so soon. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid

Can I Tell You About My Savior ? Part 2

During the 70s, In addition to the Krishnas, The Way International (TWI) had a significant presence in Atlanta as did The Unification Church. Even Scientology had someone working the plaza down at Georgia State University. Speaking of the plaza there was also a “fire and brimstone” preacher who would drag a really big cross through there while raging on about “rampant Devil Worship”.  He got banned from campus though my primary beef wasn’t his belief that we were “Irredeemable Minions of Satan” (a decent name for a metal band) but that he had attached a wheel to the bottom of the cross to make it easier for him to haul it around. Talk about being hypocritical and lazy.

I don’t think anyone joined the Moonies specifically to get laid but by the looks of many of them, The Unification church might have been their only shot at having some sex at least in this lifetime.

But it was The Moonies who exhibited that far-way, slack-jawed look that media outlets seized upon as evidence of the supposed “cult mind control” being used to siphon off the energies of American youth for seditious ends – basically to stockpile tax-exempt cash reserves for the gurus and self-declared men of god running the show. The shot callers at the Unification Church kept its labor force on the streets up to 12 -16 hours per day hustling for dough. And, unlike TWI or Scientology, the Moonie crew rarely bothered to hawk the benefits of membership except when inviting people to their weekend retreats at which, according to media reports, food was withheld pending the completion of long sermons after which famished attendees consumed drug-laced food (allegedly) designed to keep them from leaving the retreat which all along had been nothing more than a base camp for new recruits.

I don’t know how accurate this media report was but the Moonies did flourish perhaps by providing Mass Marriages calculated to ease the tensions and loneliness of the over-worked novitiates upon whose shoulders the “Church” was being built. That your spouse might be someone you didn’t know or even like was supposed to be overlooked in the name of church growth. I don’t think anyone joined the Moonies specifically to get laid but by the looks of many of them, The Unification church might have been their only shot at having some sex at least in this lifetime. The only Moonie I met that was in anyway cool really wasn’t a Moonie at all – he just masqueraded as one so that, like a hobo riding the rails of freedom,  he could get free passage around the country albeit as part of the sweaty Moonie horde. He put in the time, sold the goods, and reunited with the group at the end of the day but confessed that he would be leaving once he rotated back to California. I’m not sure how he escaped the attention of the over-seers because, unlike most of his church peers, he had an undeniable streak of independence that in a cult situation is really frowned upon. I even asked him how he pulled it off. “I’m a good worker, I keep quiet, so they leave me alone”. Words to live by.

I do know that claiming large blocks of personal time was a standard technique of all the “new religions” which was remarkably effective as it would slowly isolate you from soon-to-be-former-friends, school mates, and family. Your initial involvement might be one meeting a week, then it’s three and then you are scheduling school and work around “ministry functions” because they start talking about spiritual priorities as if earning a living and going to school are inferior “worldly pursuits”. Car rides to and from various events are crammed with other “believers” and talk centers around arcane theology and there is always some upcoming special event  which is right about the time you realize you are involved in something far more involved than you had originally imagined or even wanted.

While the mission of the organization involved promoting the Word Over The World, in my view it was more about having a young, mobile and unpaid sales force on the road working in the financial interests of The Way International.

If you aren’t immediately familiar with The Way International you might recall them being roasted by “The Soup” in relation to the dancing ability of their performers seen in the “Renewed Mind” video – although my experience with the organization predates this event by decades. The Way touted a form of power-based Christianity offered in home fellowships called “Twigs” so one need not tolerate musty sanctuaries filled with paraffin skinned geezers wagging the bony finger of accusation just because you had long hair. No Sir ! TWI offered fellowship with people your own age many of whom were attractive young women immersed in a new flavor of Christianity. The main pitch of TWI was a class called PFAL (Power For Abundant Living) which alleged to provide keys to the more “abundant life” referenced in John 10:10. The class was pitched (at least to me) as a one stop shop for spiritual truth that could totally replace all my previous religious training and provide a general blueprint for successful living. However, I soon learned that there were other classes to take (such as “The Renewed Mind”, “Dealing With The Adversary”. “The Christian Family And Sex”, “Intermediate and Advanced PFAL”) and if you tossed in the outreach platforms such as the one year “Word Over The World Ambassador” program and “The Way Corps” leadership program then you could easily become busy for years. There was even a College at Emporia Kansas for those with academic inclinations.

While the mission of the organization involved the promotion of the Word Over The World, in my view it was all about having a young, mobile and unpaid sales force on the road working in the financial interests of TWI.  I won’t go into the group’s theology here as entire forums exist to debate that, as well as the ethics of the leadership, but there was a great deal of terminology to be learned which served as a marker of your current organizational progress. Within a five  minute conversation you would encounter unbelievable amounts of  bullshit buzzwords and internal lingo (“take a checkup from the neck up“, “get your needs and wants parallel“) yet people would walk away from it all exhilarated as if something meaningful had actually just happened. My distillate thinking on TWI is that many participants were on the level, at least initially, and really wanted to make a difference. But any time you have a large group of young, impressionable, and naive people, someone is going to notice and find a way to take advantage of that. I had a lot of friends involved in that scene, but I give them the credit for that and not TWI which was simply the umbrella organization under which we might have met.

He exploded into laughter as Colt 45 sprayed out of his nose – “Who let this crazy white motherfucker in here ?” Who indeed…?

I never really ever left TWI because I never really joined them at least not to the extent that everyone else did. My default approach to life has always involved an insatiable curiosity flanked by a strong level of paranoia which meant that I could easily be found in the strangest situations without  every wanting to fully invest in whatever scene I had stumbled upon. In short, I was a natural party crasher who got easily bored (or suspicious) with the party that everyone else seemed to really dig. To wit, I once wound up in the bowels of West End at a poker game as the only white guy sitting next to a Black Panther, fresh out of Reidsville who, in growling tones,  was laying out his vision of the future.  “The last days are soon coming for you and all things White – your happiness and fortune will soon be mine“.  I really wanted to avoid confrontation, but his timing was impeccable. I responded, “Well thanks for the head’s up there Eldridge but the end isn’t here quite yet” while laying out a full house (jacks over 9s) which took the pot. He exploded into laughter as Colt 45 sprayed out of his nose – “Who let this crazy white motherfucker in here ?” Who indeed…?

My involvement with TWI slowed to an end for a couple of reasons the first of which was that it was inconsistent with the lifestyle I enjoyed as part of the general Stewart Avenue experience (see the posts on this site for a deeper description). So, you know, hanging it all up to serve a Church, any Church, wasn’t on my mind. Second, I wanted to finish College and since I had to work to pay tuition there was little time left anything else. My last meaningful intersection with TWI was as a side musician for a band who had entered “The Way Music Challenge” which was sort of an internal “Battle Of The Bands” with the prize being… well I can’t really remember. The tunes were easy cover songs (at least I thought so) though the actual show itself was typical Way production with its hyper “attention to detail” thing going into over drive. People obsessing about how someone’s hair was combed (or wasn’t) or if the lighting was hitting the stage “correctly”. Guys ! It’s just a church gig – not The Stones at Madison Square Garden.

I did have a conversation with a Scientologist back in the 70s and when I told him that I had spent some time with TWI he responded, “Man, those guys are really intense. They are like a cult aren’t they”.

I was hungover the day of the show and could barely hide my contempt for the whiny control freaks in charge of it all, but I was supportive of the band I had agreed to help so just wanted to see it through. After sound check, and before they let in the crowd, I noticed this stunning blonde in a form fitting yet very tasteful white dress standing over my amplifier, cleaning the dark spots and scuff marks off the tolex (the consequences of playing dingy bars). I was amazed that anyone would even care (again “attention to detail”) and I fell into something of a trance watching and wondering how far she would go in cleaning it. She went all the way which was very hard work – especially so given her attire. When I got on stage for the performance the amp looked sparkling new. She gave me a big grin. I wanted to ask her out but as I knew I didn’t want to go to another “ministry function” I just let it be.

If you’ve made it this far you probably want to know what any of this has to do with Stewart Avenue. Or you were (or maybe are) associated with TWI and some search engine result brought you here. Anyway, in the former case it does matter in the sense that at one time in the 70s (and into the 80s) you could easily encounter Salvation Army workers, Hare Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Moonies, Way people, and a few groups who couldn’t be classified walking up and down The Avenue some of whom were just on their way to a destination while others stopped to “witness” to passersby. I got to meet many of them simply because they would stop by Brothers Three for some refreshment or just to stand in the air conditioning for a while before going back out into the heat of Summer. That they all got along or at least tolerated one another was pretty amazing. I never saw any fights, or anyone try to convert anyone else. That would have been funny. However, I did have a conversation with a Scientologist and when I told him that I had spent some time with TWI he responded, “Man, those guys are really intense. They are like a cult aren’t they“. Oh, the irony….

Can I Tell You About My Savior ? Part 1

Alligator farms – Mere recreation or a metaphor for existence ?

One of my favorite origin-of-life theories involves the notion that each of us has chosen to be on Earth to experience a recreational break from Eternity which, I suppose, could become boring. Kind of like choosing to pull off the Cosmic Highway into a rest stop – in this case Earth. Like how a traveler down I-75 might check out one of those Alligator farms on the way to Florida. Certainly this can all be represented in far more noble terms but I’ll hold off on the deep theology at least until Happy Hour. Some of the early church sermons I endured as a kid were as interminable as the promised pleasures of Heaven (or agonies of Hell) that await us upon departure from this planet. I remember sitting in a stifling-hot sanctuary fidgeting against itchy “church clothes” while having to feign appreciation for the Preacher talking about things that made me paranoid long before I knew such a word existed. When someone says, “God is always watching over you” my default reaction is, “Wow. Even in the bathroom ?

Many of my fellow congregants looked like this gentleman. Imagine the smell of moth balls permeating the air

And then there was that after-the-service walk down the center aisle and the predictable comments of elderly parishioners who smelled strongly of moth balls. It was like they were being embalmed incrementally so by the time they got to their own funeral there wouldn’t be much left to do except slip them into the coffin. The only thing that made the overall church experience bearable was a number of cute girls in the nearby pews but the scene was too well chaperoned to offer any interaction opportunities.  My family “churched around” at places like Springdale Christian, Perkerson Baptist, and Capitol View Baptist before settling in at Capitol View Presbyterian (no longer in existence) located across from Sylvan High School. At the time, Presbyterian churches represented a form of “Christianity light” in that you got “sprinkled”, not fully immersed and your personal interpretation of biblical passages could be as figurative as you would like as long as you didn’t try to start theological debates. I think the Presbyterians were trying to go after the “walk-aways” from the Baptist Church which was a total drag (at least for me) with its promised damnation for those refusing to comply with the hyper conservative missives of the church few of which could actually be found in the Bible. Being horny was definitely a crime even if you didn’t act on it. Even thinking about being horny was off limits so on that account alone I needed to find another scene.

The general activities at our church were geared towards the interests of “older people” and youth programs weren’t even on the map. I recalled how Pilgrim children always looked like adult Pilgrims except in miniature. There was no period of adolescence back in the the Pligrim days and the kids were viewed as adults-in-training simply to be seen an not heard until they could demonstrate comparable levels of repressed behavior customarily exhibited by adult Pilgrims. The concept of adolescence emerged only in the early 1900s evolving slowly over time well into the 60s as the youth of America grew restless with the idea of having to leap directly into forms of work favored by their parents especially when there were new possibilities on offer. That this might have been perceived as laziness or ingratitude for the sacrifices of previous generations was most unfortunate. The early work-aptitude tests I took made no mention of artistic occupations and teachers sought to route anyone with such tendencies into factory jobs, draftsmanship, architecture, or some form of engineering. No Sir. No way was society going to tolerate another generation of distracted, self-indulgent hippy workers.

When someone says, “God is always watching over you” my default reaction is, “Wow. Even in the bathroom ?

The reason I bring any of this up is because lots of people, (then and now), didn’t seem to understand how and why various religious cults grew in popularity in the 60s and 70s, but when considering what I just told you then it should be easier to understand. Put simply, organized religion of that time, combined with long established societal expectations, ignored the interests of young people while doubling down on the practice of berating the youth of America for not falling in line with another war on communism. The social condition of the US was far from ideal at the time and a generic repetition of what might have been appropriate (or at least familiar) a decade or two before might not be in the best interest of the country. So, imagine that in this context if some new, hip church showed up that intentionally welcomed young people then could it be that big of a surprise that there were takers ? I mean a church (even if it wasn’t a recognized one) that had people your age who held common interests ? That didn’t require you to wear suffocating clothing ? Alternative religions exploded in size in the 70s because young people needed a place of their own – that’s all there was to it. In saying this I have demeaned the work of many Sociology PhD students who had to dress it all up just to get past their committees and eventually graduate although I stand by my version that has more explanatory power.

A pothead acquaintance of mine used to roll joints on his Ouija board to get “some of that paranormal thang goin’ on – Ghost Ganja !

It didn’t mean that these setups were all on the level or that they had the best interests of everyone in mind. Maybe they did at first and the mission got corrupted over time or perhaps there was bad intent from the get go. Some “older” people figured out how to mobilize and manipulate “hippie labor” to their own ends. And it certainly didn’t escape my attention that lots of participants (young and old) were simply pleasure seekers looking for action. So you had older clergymen dipping into the congregation for some “comfort” but it was all rationalized because there are “no rules” right ?  Any pretense about trying to better the world through communal action was generally abandoned although, as we moved into the 70s, the sex and drugs remained. Any time you have large collections of young people then hookups will happen and outsiders will notice – some of whom were representatives of the larger mainstream churches angry that their offering plates were losing money to some “sex cult”.

For a time, George Harrison liked hanging with the Krishnas. Note the lack of women.

For reasons only they could tell you, the Hare Krishnas used to aggressively canvas Stewart Avenue in the late 60s and early 70s which paralleled their activities in downtown Atlanta especially before rock concerts at The Omni where they would offer bread and incense in exchange for small change donations. The Krishna women (the few that there were) had this rapid fire sales move where they would step to you while pinning a rose to your shirt all within like two seconds after which they would extend their hands to get the donation. It was an impressive maneuver and easily worth the 50 cents I might offer as tribute. On Stewart Avenue, the Krishnas worked the stretch starting at Zayre’s discount store up to Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center as there was a fair amount of foot traffic which simplified their goal of selling incense or a copy of their magazine which talked of the “GodHead”. They targeted younger people such as myself but weren’t shy about talking to anyone who might have some spare change jingling in their pockets.

For those old enough to remember, Atlanta Airport, and US airports in general, used to be plagued by any number of religious and human rights groups who would aggressively panhandle travelers so much so that it was finally shut down altogether. Such activity was masterfully parodied in the Airplane movie wherein Robert Stack runs a gauntlet of donation seekers. The Krishnas had a temple down on Ponce which hosted a weekly vegetarian feast where it was rumored that they laced the food with “brain washing chemicals” which only served to intrigue me. But my objections to the Krishnas had nothing to do with religion or their choice of food (spiked or otherwise). I could just never join a group that required baldness or at least a crew cut. Maybe I was vain but I also noticed that women did not generally look favorably on Krishna men except perhaps for the female Krishnas themselves who always seemed to have a peculiar form of body odor. It’s quite possible that the men did also but the women had this flirty way about them that involved getting much deeper into your personal space which would make any hygiene deficiencies much more apparent. Of course, 4 hours of canvasing the Atlanta streets in July might result in having a certain body aroma independently of your religious mission.

I think my Quija board was afraid of me because it kept hiding !

I’ll be splitting this post up into multiple parts because I’m like 1800 words into this thing and still have a lot to cover. But before I wrap this up I wanted to point out that the first ever Christian (or religious) bookstore I ever encountered was Berean Christian Bookstore located on Cleveland Avenue. It’s still there ! Although I think the name might have changed. For those of you familiar with the area, who might also be having a senior moment, this was close to the Old South Bottle Shop and the K-Mart farther down Cleveland Avenue right after it crossed over I-75. One could also move farther down the road to play a few rounds of golf at Brown’s Mill Golf course.

While this doesn’t seem such a big deal now it was then because it never occurred to me that there would be an entire enterprise dedicated to christian publishing. I just assumed that all you needed was a copy of The Bible and a decent Church and you were good to go. But Berean’s had like 15 different styles of Bibles and Concordances on offer as well as study guides in addition to books about “Godly Living”, “Christian Ethics”, and several publications on the dangers of the occult – to which I was immediately attracted. This wasn’t at all a superficial interest as my Father had a book by parapsychologist Hans Holzer, all around “ghost guy”, long before such a thing was popular. I read how he and his “medium friend”, Sybil Leek would investigate supernatural activity which probably influenced later movies like Poltergeist. Just to say that I was no stranger to the terminology of the occult or its negative image in the eyes of Church.

Hans “OG” Holzer – The Original Ghostbuster !

I had a Ouija board when I was a kid and I’m certain that any spirits inhabiting that thing were scared off (more probably bored) by my inane questions. The odd thing is that I kept misplacing it although it later occurred to me that maybe it was hiding from me. “Oh no – You again ! Please, NO !” I wasn’t the only person who took a cavalier attitude towards the thing – A pothead acquaintance of mine used to roll joints ON his Ouija board to get “some of that paranormal thang goin’ on – Ghost Ganja !“.  At the time, Scéances were still happening and there was a group of older kids who held these things and they talked about how they got “signs from the beyond” so I attended one of these and NOTHING happened. Well, the girl next to me did put her hand on my thigh which in my mind qualified as a supernatural event. So we left the Scéance early thus breaking the “sacred circle” albeit for a very good reason…. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Stewart Avenue Crime Time Part 2

This is Part 2 of “Stewart Avenue Crime Part 1” so you might want to check that out before proceeding but, hey, do whatever you want ! I got a chuckle from this article wherein APD Chief Ericka Shields offered her opinion on the “dark days” of Stewart Avenue.

“We had people from all over the state coming to Stewart Avenue, and it wasn’t for shopping either. [A] Majority of the cases that we made involved those who lived nowhere near here”

What the Chief describes is the classic situation of people cruising an area for “services” they would never tolerate in or near their own back yard though feel entitled to as long as it’s in another neighborhood located far away. This is a variation (albeit a far more serious one) of the practice of cutting though residential neighborhoods during a rush hour commute but then calling for blood should it occur on your street. Once an area is perceived as being disinterested in its own safety (although that is hardly ever the case) it becomes ongoing justification for outlying city residents to ignore the fact that decent people might still reside in the area. And just because they lack the financial and political clout to address the blight and crime doesn’t mean they want (or deserve) for the problem to perpetuate itself. It’s like once a landfill winds up someplace, the outsiders want it to stay there forever because “God knows we don’t want it where we live”.

I was stingy with my sympathies for those caught soliciting prostitutes as it was their ongoing patronage that contributed to the decline of my neighborhood. It’s tough to watch what was once a thriving, prosperous area go down the tubes and when you encounter people who are enthusiastically contributing to that it’s easy to cop an attitude. I was probably more tolerant than most but others, especially business owners (mostly car lots), took great delight in the misfortunes of outsiders seeking illegal action who wound up getting ripped off, roughed-up, arrested, or maybe even all three. There is a rhythm unique to any urban region and those out of sync can easily be identified and exploited. Stewart Avenue had a rhythm as did Ponce de Leon and so did Moreland Ave – at least before the gentrification. And while they were similar, you didn’t necessarily get a pass at “Southern Comfort” just because you liked to hang out at “The Crystal Palace” or “Ray Lee’s Blue Lantern.” While all the inhabitants might not get along we did in fact recognize each other as part of some post-Appalachian, urban-hillbilly ecosystem though it was no guarantee of peace.  I’m reminded of Hunter Thompson’s comment in “Hell’s Angels”:

[Nelson] Algren called them “fierce craving boys” with “a feeling of having been cheated.” Freebooters, armed and drunk—a legion of gamblers, brawlers and whorehoppers.

Which is to say that despite a common regional lineage or shared socioeconomic status, the guy you might be drinking with might easily turn on you because of some perceived slight once the liquor had taken hold. So then, how do you think such a person would react to an outsider ?

Caught With The Pants Down In The Wrong Part of Town

Not all of those seeking “action” were outsiders but plenty were and many Cobb County, Ward Cleaver types would take the “long way” to and from Atlanta Airport airport with a stop for some action. And, if they had a flat tire or, worse, got assaulted by a hustler, it would involve an awkward phone call for help. There would be guys coming into Brothers Three or Banks  Liquor trying to make you part of an alibi by using the store phone and telling their wives (or whomever):

My car broke down and I pulled into this store and am using their phone. Hey, What’s the name of this place ? Yea, Three Brothers ? Oh, Brothers Three. No, No, don’t worry I’ll call the tow truck from here. I gotta get off the phone now. Let’s talk later.

Actually their car was in the back parking lot of an Adult Bookstore where they had hoped to have met someone but that was all conveniently left out of the conversation. But the work was far from over as they had to cook up a plausible explanation as to why they were in the area in the first place. This was almost always a variation of “I-75 was packed so I got off onto Stewart Avenue and got lost.” Let me be clear. I could not be less interested in someone’s proclivities and personal vices just that they should pursue them closer to their own damn home and not attempt to sell off such an obvious bullshit story. Sometimes, we would have wives call us back and ask questions because their intuition told them that something was wrong.

On occasion an area native would get caught in a way that might expose a formerly hidden lifestyle. Getting nabbed with a hooker could be a problem but much more so if getting caught soliciting men which happened to at least two area business owners. Neither recovered from the resulting shame. I was surprised to see a highly respected teacher of mine cruising the Avenue which didn’t result in any major consequence until he was later busted for participation in an organized prostitution ring. He was successful and cultured but his yearnings for the flesh brought him down. Women weren’t immune from lapses in judgement either. My own history involves being approached by more than one married woman with a yen for younger men. They didn’t take rejection lightly which might later involve them telling their husband that I was the one who had approach them ! That could be incredibly awkward for all involved and I was grateful for having a number of surly co-workers glad to work as my advocate in these cases.

“Wino Mike”, even in the grip of DTs, would never want a beer !

Stewart Avenue always had a significant degree of ambient crime including bar fights, vandalism, and the occasional mugging that might take place down towards University Avenue. The area winos aroused little interest except from angry car lot owners who didn’t like them breaking into cars to seek refuge from the cold or rain. Nothing worse than opening a car for a potential customer only to find a scabrous, urine-soaked drunk writhing on the front seat. Yanking them out and hosing them down was a favored form of revenge but it’s not as if they were guilty of any major crime. One of the more enduring winos was “Mike” who was rumored to have connections to steady money which might have been true since he kept going strong despite obvious health problems. That he was a slave to alcohol did not prevent him from refusing offers of beer even when in the grip of Delirium tremens. A can of Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon simply didn’t pack the punch of his beloved Barton’s American Blended Whiskey. In a pinch he would accept some MD 20 20 or a bottle of gin but beer was for weaker men.

The parking lot of Banks Liquor and Brothers Three Package store saw lots of action back in the day

There was lots of fighting going on mostly at night and in the parking lots of various bars and liquor stores. Some of these altercations were a source of great amusement even to the participants themselves who would realize how foolish they must look taking swings that never landed. I watched a fight in the parking lot of Banks Liquor make it’s way to the other side of Stewart Avenue into the Adult Bookstore parking lot where the drunken pugilists (three of them) decided to call it quits since no one was willing to “tap out”. The fattest of the three decided to retreat in a peculiar manner by scaling the fence surrounding the 166 underpass upon which his pants leg got caught resulting in his being suspended upside down. Eventually his pants leg tore and he fell squarely onto his head. And like a bug with a tough exoskeleton he somehow scuttled up the sloping pavement to rest underneath the bridge. His was hyperventilating and vomiting. I had a pair of binoculars that someone had pawned for some Scotch so I could verify that he was sliced up pretty bad. Someone called the cops who showed up and basically screamed at the guy who responded with enough force to convince them that he was okay.

“Stick-up kid, but look what you done did”

Now if you want to talk “real crime”, there were holdups such as the one I was involved in at Brothers 3 wherein some guys busted through the sliding side door while slamming my co-worker Larry in the head with the butt of a shotgun. It was a move designed to signal serious intent and it worked. After dropping Larry, I saw them heading towards me so I just hit the floor as did an older customer and a young black guy named Ron who looked like running back Jim Brown. None of us had any money of which to speak and while they had made a bloody example of Larry they left everyone else alone except to verbally berate us and threaten certain death should we not remain on the ground for at least 30 minutes after their departure. (We were up inside of two). Their take was around $170 and a six pack of Schlitz Malt liquor which, in my opinion, reflected a lack of ambition. The main guy was an impossibly skinny, pimply faced black dude with a floppy hat who had come in earlier to case the joint. He had told me that I looked like Rod Stewart (completely untrue) and it was such an out of context remark that I mentioned it to Larry, but we just put it down to the guy being a flake job – which he was. In the aftermath of the robbery Ron told me that he knew one of the guys and guaranteed that he was going “handle it” though I never received confirmation that he did (not that he owed anyone). In any case, he turned out to be a cool guy who would drop in just to say hello now and then to shoot the breeze. I suppose there is something about being in a tough situation with someone that can help form a bond. He was definitely the kind of guy you would want to be robbed with – assuming you had to be robbed at all.

The problem with the incipient crime was that legitimate businesses simply trying to maintain or make a come back could do very little to combat the growing negativity associated with the area that persists till this day. As a prime example, Caruoso’s Italian restaurant attempted something of a reprise at the intersection of Langston and Stewart next to the new Kroger that itself had displaced Earl Bennet’s Trailer park – a place I detail in this post.  However, no one wanted to drive in from other parts of town especially when there were plenty of eating options all over town.  Even the famous Pilgreen’s restaurant located on Lee Street struggled to keep them coming in but they at least lasted longer. Atlanta had a problem with crime in the 70s which included on-again, off-again notoriety as the murder capital of the nation. Going back to the article referenced at the beginning, the Chief said the following:

When the name was changed to Metropolitan Parkway, it made many people cynical, and now the corridor has numerous potential for great things to happen. Our goal with the precinct is to integrate it into the community as we will have meeting spaces for local organizations and anticipate having officers moving within the area

I do agree that there is a great deal of potential but unfortunately that’s ALL there is at this point as no major real estate moves have been made. Very odd given the corridor’s proximity to the movie studios and the music amphitheater along with an abundance of cheap land that is also very convenient to downtown and the Airport. The demand for inside-the-perimeter living would suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the area blows up but it still remains dormant for the time being.