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.