Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not That Peachy

Boston welcomed me back yesterday afternoon. Apparently while I was gone the city decided to advance the calendar to April and spring weather.

Atlanta, as a city, bored me. To be fair, though, rain and a lack of time kept me from doing the actual tourist-oriented activities like the Carter Library, CNN, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s museum, or Coca Cola. So, my view of the city emerged only from that which surrounded the downtown convention-center.

What existed near the conference? Absolutely nothing. There are a few restaurants and a mediocre mall. Overall, though, “downtown” Atlanta consists of nothing but enormous poured-concrete buildings or round round glass towers, seemingly all constructed as offices or hotels between 1985 and 1996. Even finding a basic drugstore or convenience shop proved tricky.

Restaurant owners and the few businesses within walking distance clearly understood their dominance. They charged hefty prices for their goods. Lunch one day cost me $10 for a small tuna sandwich and coffee. None of this impressed me. No wonder Union troops burned the city. They probably couldn’t scrap up the cash for a bagel.

Maybe I just found paying those prices annoying because it was Atlanta, Georgia. In cities like New York, one expects pricey items. Heck, the cost of food in New York includes a type of short-term rent just to occupy the cafe/bar space. For a place located in Georgia, though, why?

Speaking of greedy Georgia citizens, Atlanta also fails its indigent population. San Francisco is the only other U.S. city where I have encountered a more concentrated number of people asking for money on the street. Even then, the number of people on San Francisco's streets seemed to markedly decrease since Gavin Newsome became mayor(at least based on my anecdotal experience of visiting). Obviously I am not saying that cities like San Francisco or Boston have adequately addressed their transient population or that they aren’t also failing to provide enough services. One just needs to take a stroll through Boston Common to find homelessness and poverty. Atlanta, however, struck me as particularly problematic.

The sheer volume of destitute people in Atlanta suggested to me that the city and state did not provide even basic necessities. No less than five different people asked an acquaintance and me for money in less than ten minutes as we waited for a dinner companion. We probably encountered an additional half-dozen or more on the walk to and from the hotel as well. Something is amiss in the peach state.

The next day only lowered my opinion of the city even more. Perhaps the hotels complained or maybe the history association expressed displeasure at the inconvenience of the poor asking for money as they rushed from one session to another. Whatever the case, my second day in the city saw a sudden surge in the police presence downtown. It was almost as if Atlanta replaced every transient with a cop.

This, it strikes me, has become the “solution” that people want for homelessness. As a nation, we still judge the value of an individual on whether or not he or she can perform paid labor. If that individual can’t do a job, they are deemed useless and undeserving. Even suggesting that tax dollars be spent providing social services is most often met with the greediest of responses: “Me paying taxes to help somebody who doesn’t work? No! I feel no obligation to my fellow citizens. Much better I hoard my money to buy that new H3 Hummer.” These same folk, though, don’t even blink at taxes funding an unending prison system or massive police forces. As a result, cities, like Atlanta, forcibly remove the unpleasant living reminders of our failures as a society. Conventioneers, after all, shouldn’t have to see Atlanta’s transients. Yet, the city’s effort to hide its transient problem suggests some recognition of shame. Alright, I will step off the gravitas soapbox – temporarily.

As for the conference itself, all went fine. Often, though, academic conventions leave me feeling a bit lonely. We all need to share and discuss experiences on a deeper level than casual conversation. The peculiar ups and downs of an academic convention, oddly enough, is one of those times. So much happens at these events – grad students jockey for positions, lecherous professors make clumsy passes, people get sloppy drunk at publisher-sponsored parties. I noticed more acutely that I didn’t have somebody permanent in my life to relate and laugh about the conference’s foibles.

At the moment, to be honest, I am not really looking for another LTR. Indeed, I have even evaded some opportunities. Too many things in my life are in transition to realistically want a serious relationship or accomplish a genuine level of commitment. Most times, I am content with the people who do surround me. Still, there are times, like at the conference, when I feel a certain absence.

Academic conferences also remind me of my innate shyness that I have struggled against since adolescence. “You’re shy?” I hear you asking, “How can that be? Surely the glow of your inner greatness shines for all to see.” Well, obviously that is true.

The bigger the crowd, however, the more quiet I usually become. That trait does not do me any favors given that these conferences exist, in part, for networking purposes. As a result, I have been more committed over the past few years to actively seeking out and meeting new people at these annual events. Sometimes, though, it’s a pain in the ass to try to get people to like you.


Anonymous said...

The best thing about Atlanta is that the boys are easy. There are beautiful neighborhoods outside of downtown--but the center is completely soul-less.

I would imagine that Atlanta and some other ugly city in Florida attract all the homeless in the southeast. What you say about a lack of services is hardly surprising. This is a city that built highways in such a way as to keep the blacks on one side and the lily-whites on the other.

Anonymous said...

I think maybe it isn't that people find it distasteful to pay taxes to support others who don't work, it's that we're jealous that we're working and they're not. Hmm. Maybe that's just me. I should have better evaluated my husband's sugar-daddy potential ahead of time.

vuboq said...

Sorry you didn't have a good time in Atlanta ... maybe (if there's a) next time, you'll be able to leave the boring convention center area and explore :-)

And, I find it difficult to believe you have to try hard to get people to like you. I'm sure they all instantaneously love you.


GayProf said...

Whit: Jason said similar things about the boys in Atlanta. Alas, I did not have an opportunity to test the validity of those perceptions.

Pacalaga: My standards for a "sugar daddy" are pretty low. Basically, I consider any guy with a car sugardaddy material.

VUBOQ: Yeah, I think my view of Atlanta didn't really do the area justice. I was pleased that the MARTA ran right from the airport to downtown. That is a sign of civilization in my book.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that you didn't have a better time--surely there must be a good time to be had there somewhere....

I was taken by what you said about attitudes toward the "useless" poor. I'm reading a book about radical right free-marketeers in NZ, and it suggests that these neo-cons have destroyed the usual consensus among "true" conservatives and liberals that the poor must be cared for. The book says the radicals promote exactly the attitudes you suggest in order to justify both tax cuts for the rich and and gutting of social safety nets in particular as well as tolerance in general. I wonder if your experience doesn't lend some anecdotal support to that idea.

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes, though, it’s a pain in the ass to try to get people to like you."

I hear that.

I think that's why blogville is great sometimes. We get to write whatever we want,and people comment or not. No rejection, and we don't have to worry about clean pants either.

Christopher said...

I hate to go here, but for the four years or so I lived in Albuquerque, I experienced more indigent people on the street asking for things than anywhere else I've ever lived. Not because Albuquerque has more, mind you, but because of my area of town. I lived in that big ugly Melrose Place wannabe complex across from Albuquerque Mining Company, and worked at an office across from La Hacienda Express, all on Central Avenue. I was asked for money and cigarettes multiple times each day as I took the bus back and forth for work, was propositioned by hookers with no gaydar, and once was attacked by a guy who had been on a seven-day meth binge. It had far less to do with it being Albuquerque than it did with being on Central Avenue. I think you were just in a part of town that attracts the homeless because of foot traffic and perhaps proximity to a shelter or other services.

That said, Atlanta has far too much concrete, but overall, I like the city and the people. Not as much as Albuquerque, mind you, but I like it nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear Atlanta wasn't the 'cool place' I told you it was. Really, I do like it there. Like a couple of people suggested; if you do go back, hopefully you'll be able to see more of the city. (BTW: I've seen more homeless people during the two months of hell I spent in Kew West than I've seen in my entire life. Now there's a city that can't handle much of anything.) Glad you're back here safe and sound.

Will said...

Last time I was in San Francisco, I was shocked by the hoards of homeless sleeping all over sidewalks, in parks, everywhere. Has the city no social services to assist?

For many, many years groups of people -- particularly smart, outgoing people I didn't know -- intimidated the hell out of me. Fortunately I learned to cope, learned that they're great people the vast majority of whom are anxious to meet and include new people into their conversations and activities. But I went through the tortures of the damned for years before I became confortable walking up to them, saying hello and behaving like I belonged, because that's what was expected and if I behaved that way, I found I DID belong.

GayProf said...

Arthur: I am not certain these ideas first appeared among neo-cons. Without a doubt, though, they worked to make them seem acceptable. Reagan, in particular, demonized the nation's poor during his time in office.

Rebekah: Not only do we not need to worry about clean pants in the blog-world, we don't have to worry about wearing pants at all.

Christopher: Yes, Albuquerque has significant problems grappling with its own transients. As you noted, Central Ave and the area around the university reveal these problems. Still, New Mexico has been working harder in the past few years to address their needs. Also, Albuquerque is a fraction of the size of Atlanta.

Steve: I can only imagine that certain Florida cities must totally abandon their homeless citizens.

Will: Yeah, I feel what you are putting down regarding meeting people. It's not that I am intellectually intimidated exactly. My reaction would be the same whether the room was full of academics or other people.

Most times I succeed in overcoming the shyness. It still exists, though, and requires a conscious effort to address it.

deeky said...

in her satin tights:

Michael said...

Atlanta, is a wonderful city. A huge gay area. Two gay shopping center gay flags everywhere. But honestly I've never found the people friendly.

Boston, is a great city. everyone is very friendly and there are Dunkin' Doughnuts on every corner-Ahhhh....

Anonymous said...

Sorry you didn't like Atlanta. I lived there for four years in the heart of the city and loved it - hated moving out of it.

Granted, the downtown area where you were has nothing. You needed to move into midtown, little five points, highlands and (for some) buckhead and other areas. One of the best things about Atlanta is the food and the art scene - theatre is really strong, with many different venues. The High is a pretty decent art museum. The local food (and there are a few downtown, but not many) is heaven. When you return, you must have some Jake's ice cream - my favorite is "Slap Yo Mama Chocolate."

The boys are cute, but never found them particularly easy. I never was. I swear.

Atlanta has a lot to love, sorry you didn't find it this time.

Adam said...

Wait till you come to downtown Dallas on a weekend day.

Welcome home!

tornwordo said...

I fully support any rant on the treatment of transients in America.

And maybe if your nametag read "Gayprof" you would meet more "targeted" individuals, if you get my drift.

seekeronos said...

The thing that bothers me about the transient issue is:

Why are my tax dollars being used to support an underclass that is otherwise capable of working, but refuses to?

I am not talking about people who are genuinely "down on their luck" by virtue of market forces not in thier favor (suddenly unemployed, etc)... but rather, "professional vagrants" who have decided to drop out of the societal framework and live off the government quarter (meagre as it might be).

Or the near certainty of institutionalized vote-grubbing that certain politicians will do (especially from the left side of the House) ...

... to seek permanent tenures and are securing such by permanently entitling resident welfare queens and thier multi-generational offspring.

These people need motivation, training, and a large dose of hope which comes not from just "three hots and a cot", but skills training and perhaps spiritual intervention.

Instead of soaking my wallet to feed and shelter folks who "just don't care anymore", we should empower and privatize charities and not-for-profits to take over the social network.

Perhaps even offer corporate taxbreaks to for-profits that show proven results in rehabilitating these folks back into productive, empowered, and maybe even satisfied citizens.

Such corporations could function with a market-driven mandate to improve the lot of the transients, and churches and other spiritual organizations could minister to their other needs as well.