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.
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.
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
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 ?
It somehow escaped my attention that S&S Cafeteria at 2002 Campbellton Road closed last year after 50 years of service to the Southwest Atlanta community. I remember this place as well as other cafeteria chains that have either waned in popularity or have been edged out by real estate development. I’m talking about Picadilly, Morrison’s, and Davis Brothers cafeterias all of which flourished in the southeast during the mid to late part of the 20th century. The food quality varied with location but it was generally passable with an occasional glimpse of accidental culinary excellence. Of particular significance was the role these places played on Sunday afternoons throughout the Bible Belt (more on this in a bit). Cafeterias were also popular during the week and provided chow for working stiffs or the elderly for whom home cooking had become dangerous or difficult due to cognitive (or appliance) failure. For the aged, the cafeteria might be the only form of public interaction outside of a doctor’s visit.
And then you had people like me – an inveterate bachelor totally disinterested (or incompetent) in cooking who needed to fulfill the biological obligation with an occasional halfway decent meal. These places were also great for eating your way out of a hangover though it required dark sunglasses as the interior was extremely well lit and the heat lamps radiated such intense heat that sun screen would have been helpful. I would also go to some of those buffet style, (dis)comfort food restaurants that instigated rules to prevent abuse of “all you can eat” deals. There would be a huge sign, in retina singeing red, explicitly forbidding buffet take out. When confronted, an obese woman clutching a Styrofoam box screamed, “I didn’t come her to read no damn signs, I came to eat”.
You’re An Imposter !
It never occurred to me that anyone would use cafeterias to make social or romantic contact but I was wrong. My physical similarity to another customer, a popular local physician, helped perpetuate an ongoing case of mistaken identity. Any attempts to correct the situation only intensified it. One of the line workers would say, “Oh hey Doc, What’s up man ?” I would jump in, “I’m doing well but I think there has been a big mistake, I’m actually not a do-.” But they were too busy and would cut me off, “That’s funny Doc. Gotta get back to it, See ya later Doc.”
The whole thing came to a head one night when a regular diner, an older woman, brought over her daughter and granddaughter, respectively about 40 and 20 years of age, and introduced them while making reference to an absent daughter in case I was underwhelmed by the beauty presently on offer. I had just cracked my 30s so I guess she was splitting the difference age-wise. “And girls, this is Doctor Phillips, an up-and-coming $urgeon. He was recently featured in the Atlanta Journal.” It was like Moses being offered his pick of Midian Shepherd women. I explained that I was not “Doctor Phillips” nor a physician or even close to being one. Well, that did the trick and they became red with embarrassment, but not for themselves – for me ! As they marched off, the daughter asked, “What kind of sick bastard would act like a Doctor just to meet women”.
I wasn’t out of the woods just yet – one of the cashiers took a liking to me though it became noticeable only after examining my ticket which included a “senior citizens discount.” I assumed it was an accident but it kept happening. While she was in my age range I did not find her at all appealing at least in that way so it got to be a bit awkward. However, it wasn’t awkward at all for my roommate who, unbeknownst to me, invited her and a co-worker over to our house one night. I came home to find two randy Picadilly women sitting on my couch – they were still in uniform ! Before I could react, one of them said, “I would just LOVE to get out of this itchy thing and take a long hot shower right about now.” As a person who likes to compartmentalize things in my life, this was like a cattle prod to the brain. Was I hallucinating ? I know it was rude but I feigned illness and locked myself in the bedroom until they left. Of course, this then meant that I had to find another cafeteria to go to.
How Sunday Church Works (Or Doesn’t)
Church attendance took place in two waves with the first group going only to Sunday School so as to complete their religious obligation in time to make it to the cafeteria and enjoy a leisurely early lunch. So the fat and happy first wavers would be strutting out of the cafeteria around 12:10 just as the second, and much larger, wave of main service parishioners would be queuing up in a line that might already be out the door. There would be some nasty looks exchanged between the two groups with the latter questioning the former’s spiritual integrity. Although, in my opinion, Church was mostly secondary to the food experience for either group and those obsessed with beating the crowds would always park on the fringe of the Church parking lot to facilitate a quick getaway. You couldn’t really blame the Moms who might look forward to the experience so they wouldn’t have to cook on a Sunday. But they tried to bundle too much into it all – bring along Grandpa and Grandma and task the older kids with guardian duty. These diners might not offer a Blessing over the meal under the assumption that their earlier service attendance provided more than adequate evidence of gratitude thus it was fine to proceed directly with the chow down.
The clergy were definitely hip to this scene and most would never dare end the Service late, fearing that next week’s collection plate might be light as a form of retribution. Some clergy would openly joke about the situation going so far as to make reference to that day’s anticipated food specials within their sermon !
I know I’m keeping you from that butter milk fried chicken and smooth cream corn but remember that no human gets through life without experiencing at least some of what Job went through during his tribulations.
Quite a juxtaposition but he wanted (perhaps needed) to let congregants know he wouldn’t be keeping them much longer. They were already thinking, “Job didn’t have to wait in cafeteria lines like we will if you don’t wrap it up there, Preach.” In contrast, some clergy, particularly the Baptists, might hold the congregation late just to assert authority and make a case against gluttony albeit without explicitly mentioning it. My friend Demetrius told me that his Church had it the worst where the Preacher might drone on until 1 p.m. or longer depending on “where the spirit took him.” The cafeteria rush would begin around 11:45 a.m. and might not end till around 3 p.m. after which the dining room looked worse than the chow hall at San Quentin after a nail gun riot.
You Gotta Act Right !
Engaging the cafeteria line involved a strict protocol. First was picking up a tray and some rolled up silverware that might become magnetized due to repeated washing in an industrial sized utensil cleanser. Next was the selection of coleslaw, carrot salad, or the “radiation green jello” topped with cottage cheese any of which could be subbed in for a vegetable if going for the daily special. Next up was the pricey entree, a large piece of fish, quiche (rare in the South at that time), a Ribeye steak or some Prime Rib. Anyone selecting these options might be singled out for derision by those in line behind the “big spender“. “Ooooo. Mr. Money bags, gettin’ that high dollar food.” Next up were the daily special options (e.g. “Dilly Plate”) such as the square cut cod, spaghetti, chopped steak, sliced roast beef, followed by whatever vegetables were on offer – mashed potatoes were a standard. A dinner roll or corn stick was available as was dessert including that lemon pie wedge with the meringue that would shift and collapse under its own weight after an hour at room temperature. Then you picked the beverage from pre-filled glasses of ice-tea or sodas before encountering the food line cashier who would print up a ticket to be paid at the conclusion of your meal to another cashier located near the exit doors. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it ?
Don’t Even Think About It !
Breaking in line could result in an ass kicking. One simply did not try this and exceptions were made only for the elderly, infirm, or someone who was obviously joining a family already in line. Still, the latecomer would get the stare-down and be expected to offer an explanation which was usually along the lines of, “Excuse me, I’m so sorry. I was parking the car and need to get to my wife and kids.” Another offense involved holding up the line by asking stupid questions or making witless remarks to the line workers who did not like behavioral deviations as it interfered with overall efficiency. I discovered that the thing to do was tip the table workers very well so word would float back to the line that I was “okay”. This would establish some bankable good will upon which I could later draw should it become necessary. Not that I ever held up the line – I just didn’t want the people handling my food to NOT like me.
Cafeterias are still around and the behaviors I describe are not unique to the South or a specific type of Church. I’ve seen plenty of Catholics bolt immediately after Communion to beat the crowds which, if you live in a metropolitan area, is really not necessary since there are many more eating options now than in previous decades. There are even various brunch joints where people willingly stand in line for hours waiting for a shot at an overpriced Spanish omelette delivered by an overworked wait person. But, if it’s in the right part of town then your social rep can improve. It has never occurred to me to Instagram my high dollar eggs-and-bacon experience yet many do. Let’s just say that enough eating and takeout delivery places exist to lessen the concerns of even the hungriest church goer stuck in an interminable Church service. Ryan’s Steakhouse is popular I’m told and evidently the “Chocolate Fountain” (!) at The Golden Corral is not to be missed. If, however, you live in the country or deep in the suburbs you might find yourself having to plan an early departure from a service gone into overtime. Not all cafeterias are equal and where you go could well be the difference between a full on Redneck Communion or a solemn, loving meal between family members and fellow congregants. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid.
This is an update to my Stewart Avenue Crime Time Part 1 post on what I believe to be a very important development for the Stewart Avenue / Metropolitan Parkway corridor. The City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs has just recently called for proposals to install art in and around the Zone 3 Police Precinct which is soon to be built at 2353 Metropolitan Parkway. Area residents, as well as the Police Chief, expect the precinct to contribute significantly to neighborhood safety but also to the revival of the area’s image. I find it interesting, and entirely appropriate, that the precinct will be located directly across from what used to be The Alamo Plaza where the nadir of Stewart Avenue took place in 1993. As an area native, I appreciate what I think is a strategic decision though even if it wasn’t, it represents a stabilizing bookend to that tragic event which I covered in Let’s Go Drink One. I’ll provide an excerpt here: (I know – how arrogant to quote myself though it is kind of relevant)
Some North side guys experienced a nasty bachelor party run-in with a transsexual hooker and his/her pimp. It was the classic consumer case of “we didn’t get what we paid for” although the “Returns Department” issued a “Lead Refund”. So the City stepped in, closed down the the Alamo Plaza, (once a wholesome motel for traveling families), repaired some potholes, did some repaving, and applied a new name with little expectation that anyone would buy in to the idea that it would change anything.
The Stewart Avenue name had already become quite offensive to city leaders of the time and the resulting double murder at The Alamo (sounds like the name of a movie) was the proverbial last straw. Check the Atlanta Time Machine page for some more details. Atlanta likes to change street names as if that alone will fix things but I sincerely hope the precinct makes an impact. Logistically, the location is excellent as it provides plenty of room for expansion as well as rapid access to a number of areas. While I can’t be sure, I think this might be the essential turnaround event for this area to flourish. In-town properties are scarce and the Metropolitan corridor is minutes from Downtown or the Airport with almost no traffic when compared to all other parts of Atlanta. Lastly, if you are new to this blog, it’s pretty much devoted to the history (albeit a personalized one) of Southwest Atlanta so feel free to look around.
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.
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
Life can sometimes pile on in ways that seem unfair, particularly when compared to those people better prepared (if only financially) for the vagaries of existence. Most will view a job layoff, the loss of a family member, or being dumped as exceptional and not something to be taken personally. Those more accustomed to misfortune might view such events as evidence of diminishing luck and regress towards a fatalistic outlook. And if you swallow the idea that the exception has become the rule, then a drink, or something like it, can help keep the mind straight as conventional coping mechanisms will become increasingly ineffective under chronic stress. Of course, drinking is a conventional coping mechanism customarily employed by the masses to smooth nerves frayed by a demanding boss, a looming deadline, or a shrinking bank account. Social drinking can also ease communication with prospective love interests or at least cushion the trauma of personal rejection (is there any other kind ?) so it’s not without benefit. However, when pursued over time and ritualistically, (e.g. happy hours, nightly cocktails, weekend benders, tail gating), it can facilitate an incremental nadir involving a special blend of raw misery, legal problems, and self-loathing – which lends credence to the expression:
If you have 100 problems and 1 of them is drinking, then you really have only 1 problem
Alcohol (or an opioid) is no respecter of persons. It exhibits a profound normalizing effect across socioeconomic and racial groups. To wit, there are plenty of well-heeled sloshes who find themselves quivering through withdrawals in a sweat-soaked hospital bed, lying next to a homeless guy as both wonder “how the hell did I wind up next to him ?” At that point, they have more in common than not. My personal view is that addiction is a spiritual tapeworm which intercepts any good that might ordinarily be destined for the better parts of yourself. The addiction flourishes even as you don’t and inversely so. A deteriorating physical state and decline of self esteem will correspond to an increase in cravings.
I’m no Carrie Nation. So, if and to what extent someone drinks or “uses” is really their business until it spills over (no pun intended) onto spouses, children, co-workers, or strangers at which point it does become a larger issue. Morally though, if you wish to supplement, limit, or expand your consciousness then no problem as long as you keep your personal revelations away from me. After all, I did my own brand of experimentation and also worked in a liquor store which involved frequent encounters with urban shamans hawking their drug-and-booze-derived philosophies. Stewart Avenue was mostly a hard drinking section of town though one had easy access to any thing including LSD, the Ayahuasca of its day, which promised deep insight otherwise available only to the Mystics or meditating mountain dwellers. Despite its undeniable entertainment value, it didn’t really “fix” anyone or anything. A friend, and one time prelate of the local LSD scene, offered:
If I’m being honest, the wonderfully intricate answers that were so solid in the trip, would easily disintegrate with the first bit of returning reality. All that insight ran for cover when I sat down in front of that unpaid stack of bills.
Evidently, knowing life’s underlying scared geometry doesn’t help with the tedium of daily living. What a surprise ! The power company doesn’t really care if you just spent 7 hours circling the rings of Saturn while mind melding with The Universal Architect. Just pay your bill there, Dr. Leary, and we’ll turn the lights back on so you can experience some REAL “illumination”.
Geez ! What’s Got You So Worked Up ?
But what started this particular post (rant) ? Ah yes, this 1980 video of Richard Burton being interviewed by Dick Cavett. A friend of mine sent me the link and I recall seeing this interview when it originally aired. Well I think so. I might have been out partying and saw it later in reruns. I always liked Burton and in addition to being a quality actor he possessed a velvety smooth baritone which I emulated in my youth (minus the accent) to unintentional, humorous effect. Anyway, he discusses a number of things though it’s the topic of alcoholism that interests me. Let me be clear that I’m not particularly interested in roasting Richard Burton or entertainers in general though this video so well captures the struggles of substance abuse that it merits discussion. The majority of the video commenters cast him as an unwitting victim, unfairly targeted by alcohol, whereas I see someone in denial who continues to play an active role in his own demise. Being equipped with abundant financial resources and a certain level of fame meant he didn’t have a particular boss to please. Nor was there a looming financial disaster that, for those of fewer means, might motivate a life change. He could, and did, delay his descent even though his persona had already become inextricably linked to alcohol. Unlike Dean Martin, who comically exaggerated his own drinking to good effect, such an approach would not be helpful to Burton who was, after all, an accomplished thespian who generally took on serious and challenging roles.
Accommodations were made for his “situation” which involved accepting work beneath his talents and for less money than he commanded in previous years. Anyone seeing the will know instantly that something went horribly wrong. Merely taking the role raised eyebrows. To be fair, It was a bad movie all around so its failure can not be attributed solely to Burton, but he was supposed to be the ace in the hole to ensure its success. The funny thing was that both Burton and Boorman, (the director with an unfortunate surname), thought separately that each was doing the other a favor. I suppose what really concerns me about the video are his references to maintaining abstinence via “my particular form of self control and, of course, the enormous assistance of my wife” as if either could realistically sustain abstinence in the long run. And was it really her job to monitor his behavior ? I’ve also never met someone, firmly in the alcoholic grip, who could summon enough self-knowledge or will power to effectively control addiction. There are heavy drinkers who are not at all alcoholic who can stop given sufficient motivation. They distinguish themselves from “real” alcoholics by being able to not drink without experiencing the crippling anxiety exhibited by one who has become “pickled” and not only wants the drink but “needs” it.
How Much Is Enough ?
In my experience, Burton was not simply a heavy drinker who accidentally got a bad rap. He wouldn’t cop to being an alcoholic though readily concedes, “I’m right on the edge of being one”, something I’ve heard numerous times from people invested in the idea that a drink remains a reasonable option despite all evidence to the contrary. In this regard, the video can be as harmful as it might be helpful in raising awareness to the problem of addiction. In Burton’s case, what was once a stellar career ended 4 years later at the age of 58 due to complications from alcoholism. Just so you won’t think I’m singling him out, take a look at this video of Oliver Reed and this one of Jack Kerouac both of which serve as evidence of decline hastened by substance abuse. Reed passed away from a heart attack attributed to a drinking bout during a production break from filming The Gladiator. I’m not sure that I ever fully bought into the idea of chemically assisted inspiration though admit that getting out of one’s own head can lead to productivity though in no way guarantees it.
Without giving too much away I will say that I’ve tried such an approach (like it wasn’t already obvious), but found that it offers diminishing returns – and might even present a bill. Your mileage may vary. I recall reading The Pleasures of Opium by Thomas de Quincy and nodding (no pun intended) in agreement with his description of “portable ecstasies” and how “happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in a waistcoat pocket.” For the uninitiated, he is talking about opium but substitute in the name of any popular recreational chemical and you get the point. Also, substitute in the word “inspiration” for “happiness” and you will understand why creatives might be loathe to forgo use of something that at one time might have worked for them. The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2019.
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 RCareer
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“.
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.
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
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….
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.
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.
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.
Note that this will be Part one of a two part series on the role that crime played in the demise of Stewart Avenue and the resulting negative reputation that persists until today.
In October of 2017, plans were announced to create a Zone 3 Atlanta Police Precinct on a square of land close to the former location of The Fire Place Lounge (an attempt at creating a “classy joint” on Stewart Avenue). The proximal area contains at least one new gas station which presages a nascent form of progress to which the Precinct would add a sense of safety. For those who remember the area in the 70s I think the new precinct would be across the street from what was once Thoni’s (pronounced “Thone-Eyes”) gas station – a dirt cheap but poorly maintained fueling establishment. The last time the city paid significant attention to this area resulted in the name change to “Metropolitan Parkway” which was a ham-handed attempt to “push the reset button” on south side history. The motivating event (and nadir of what was already a bottoming out period) was a bachelor party turned double murder that took place at the once wholesome Alamo Plaza. Some guys didn’t like it that the prostitute they had hired turned out to be a transvestite so payment became an issue and the pimp fired off some fatal shots. Overreaction all around. After that, no one wanted to know anything about Stewart Avenue. Anyway I think the precinct relocation project makes logistic sense as it would provide convenient and rapid access to many areas within Zone 3 while making future expansion much easier than it would be were the Precinct office to remain at its present location on Cherokee Avenue.
Zone 3 has its own Urban Dictionary entry which I suppose is a form of recognition “reppin’ the O-3 all day long, bitches!” although the entry has questions as to whether East Point and College Park are part of any Zone when they, as cities, maintain their respective police forces. Speaking of East Point. When I was a kid it was one of those cities with oppressive law enforcement that preyed on residents as a source of income. Speed trapping “outsiders” is one thing but leaning heavily into your own community is another level altogether. In my experience they preyed mostly on younger drivers and generally anyone who seemed incapable of hiring a decent defense attorney. Things that Atlanta City police would generally NOT pursue (driving with no shirt, loud muffler, cracked windshield, busted license plate bulb), would be pounced upon by East Point’s finest and if there just happened to be some underage drinkers in the car or a pack of rolling papers then all the better. A friend of mine was pulled over for “singing while driving” ! The cop’s analysis was, “Acting the fool like you did coulda caused a wreck. That rock music is too loud anyways”. Ah yes officer, so was it perhaps that “hippie music” that attracted your attention with the hopes of finding a “lid of grass” or two upon which to base your application for sergeant ?
For those who forgot or just weren’t around then, the State of Georgia used to have an annual car inspection requirement that could easily be met by slipping some extra cash to the “inspector” (usually a bored-out-his-mind gas station attendant) who would, for enough money, deem a go-kart as being fit for the road. I once assiduously studied the inspection requirements and walked through the parking lot at Stewart Lakewood shopping Center with the checklist in hand. It didn’t take long to realize that few automobiles could legitimately pass the evaluation or remain in good enough condition over time to comply for more than a few months. So almost anyone could be “legally” stopped. Cops could say, “I stopped you because you car is unsafe to operate – I could impound your vehicle right now”. So then, the reason for the stop could be to create the reasonable suspicion required to make the stop in the first place ! (If you just experienced a “what the fuck” moment then congratulations). While the inspection law might not have been conceived specifically to bypass the 4th amendment rights of citizens it most certainly was exploited by various municipal law enforcement groups (almost always smaller cities) to do exactly that. Once the state abandoned the annual inspection approach and moved to the emissions model then things improved considerably but it took some time.
Fairness requires me to say that the Atlanta City Police didn’t really engage in this behavior nearly as much as did East Point, College Park, and the Ga Highway Patrol. Probably because Atlanta Police had its own internal problems and they could always find plenty of felonies to address thus eliminating the need to build a budding (no pun intended) career on hassling long hairs and returning Vietnam veterans. As an example of this different attitude, I was, at the time, driving a junked out, barely-held-together-with-bondo Pontiac Le Mans that was so visually offensive that an Atlanta City Cop pulled up next to me just to say, “I could write you a bunch of tickets but your car is a form of entertainment to me – it makes me laugh whenever I see it”. And then he sped off. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or thankful. Bondo was used to fix holes and dings in the body of a car. The idea was to fill, sand down, and paint but for those of us with real clunkers there could actually be more bondo filler on and in the car body than actual metal. And if you didn’t care to paint the car (or have the money to do so) then it looked all patchwork-like (see picture) especially so if there was an abundance of rust which could produce a kind of car leprosy effect. I had so much rust on the car that I made sure to get an updated tetanus shot.
Back in the 70s the police didn’t do much in terms of patrolling on Stewart Avenue at least in my experience. Once the frequency of low-level street crime reaches a certain level in any area the cops start to ignore it because they realistically cannot address it in any meaningful way. Plus, they get the idea that the community isn’t really doing much to help itself so why bother ? The city then decides to redirect police resources to other locales where complaints are being made by well-heeled citizens whose voice might more easily be heard in the Mayor’s Office. It’s a true sign of transition when cops start blaming you for being a victim of petty crime. “So why were you walking around late a night anyway ? What did you expect ?”. There is some tragedy here in that domestic violence winds up being all too common in these environments and if someone doesn’t have much money then it becomes very difficult to “stay somewhere else” even for a night or two while things cool off at home. I would see women from time to time with bruises and black eyes stroll into the store avoiding eye contact. It was clear something wasn’t working at home but what recourse did they have ? Many of them didn’t work or if they did there wasn’t enough money to leave. This is why some of the waitresses up at the Huddle House would spontaneously leave town with a truck driver. While such a move could look completely irresponsible it could have been the very thing that kept them out of the hospital (or worse).
Whew. I got off track there. So back to East Point…. I had the misfortune of rear-ending a friend of mine. His car I mean. So I got a court date in front of the infamous “Judge Duffy”, a well-known hater of long hairs and, in my view, probably anyone who had NOT participated in one of the World Wars. (I guess The Korean War too). As we sat awaiting the case, an unhappy defendant put on an exhibition of flagrant courtroom defiance:
“Don’t make no difference what you gone do Judge. I ain’t gone bow down to you. In fact YOU da one that gone bow down to ME”.
The courtroom erupted into laughter not because of what the guy had said, but because of to whom he had spoken. Duffy went apoplectic and his gavel oscillated faster than a piston in Richard Petty’s Plymouth at the Dixie 500. By the time order was restored, the lunatic had been dragged out by the bailiffs. I had also been laughing just because everyone else had but then Duffy calls my case and is staring straight at me. “Oh no – he saw me laugh”. He quickly asked if the damage had been addressed (it had) after which he slammed the gavel and shouted, “$35 or 10 days”. So I realize that he has to offer an alternative to the fine in case a person doesn’t have money. But 10 days ? I mean 3 days I could see. Maybe 5. But 10 ? It was then I noticed that the courtroom clock read straight 10 a.m. Hmmmm. Of course, I chose to pay the fine rather than become a guest of the East Point jail which, as I was told by an indigent defendant, “wasn’t really that bad”. “Besides”, he said, “I could use the rest. My old lady is driving me crazy”. I never thought of jail as a possible respite from marriage but perhaps his relationship had some quirks not commonly found in the typical union. So much for connubial bliss. It was also helpful to know that, “No one does the full-time anyway unless you make trouble. You would do at most 4 days out of 10“. Good info but I still had plans that did not involve eating jailhouse food.
There was some intersection of interests between East Point and Atlanta City Police relative to an area in West End called Dimmock Street which was a “stop and cop” – a place to purchase weed typically the absolute worst quality available (so I was told). It was so well-known to police that they would mess with the dealers in the winter by rolling up hard and extinguishing the flames from the burning barrels the weed merchants had going just to keep warm. The dealers would scamper like roaches as the cops blew in and laughed triumphantly as they doused the fire. Sure, they would make arrests now and then but it was just as likely to be customers as dealers. A lot of the customer traffic came from College Park and East Point so the respective police departments of those cities would be on the lookout for cars with loads of “young punks” to roust on the suspicion that they were “holding” something especially if they were coming down Lee Street (which turns into Main Street) from West End. See, going through West End towards downtown was a favored route to rock concerts at The Omni. And while not everyone was interested in Dimmock Street (or what could be bought there) the cops didn’t care and assumed that any group of young people coming from that direction after a certain hour at night just had to be up to no good. Going back to the inspection thing – a noisy or smokey tailpipe would be all that was necessary to pull someone over.
I’m going to end Part 1 here as I’ll need to transition to the more serious types of crime and how it impacted the area. I don’t want to cram too much into one post so I’ll post Part 2 soon.