Thursday, June 28, 2007

Roggen

My friend Vitriola took me on a tour of Eastern Colorado yesterday -- little communities that I'd never heard of, despite growing up here. Ault, Pierce, Keenesburg, all towns I never knew existed.

And then there was Roggen, which seems to be teetering on the brink of ghost town status.

Located at the intersection of Interstate 76 and (Weld) County Road 73, Roggen looks like it was, at one time, a stop-off for commuters. This wasn't the only abandoned motel...

...except it wasn't totally abandoned (note child, lower left). There were signs that parts of the motel were still inhabited. There were signs up advertising rooms for rent, though I can't imagine the building is very safe.



There weren't many signs of life in the town. Two working businesses that we could see (a grain elevator and a gas station), and other than that, only a smattering of children around the two defunct motels. A church, which indicated it still held services. Well-kept flowers outside one building. Life appears to go on in Roggen, but for how long? Trying to figure out the population on the web, one source says 1,500, which almost has to be a very optimistic estimate. Another source puts the population for the entire 80652 zip code (including Roggen) at 710.





A little down the way lay this abandoned garage. I imagine it comes cheap, but it's obviously been gone for years. Unfortunately, the trend is probably toward more of this sort of thing and not toward any revitalization.

Likewise, this old house must have been nice once, but I doubt there's any renovation in its future.

One of the few places that's hale and hearty.

Rather ominous. Whatever was once written on this sign (church hours? exhortations to prayer? Burma Shave?) has long since been covered up.

There were a bunch more, which will trickle out in the next few days -- this doesn't even get us past Roggen, and there's plenty more photos besides.

* * *

Back to Atlanta today. Thanks, Tapeleg, ICJ, and Vitriola for being great and generous hosts while I was here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Five Beers You Drink In Heaven

Being back here in the land of great beer (tm), I've been guzzling the stuff 'til I'm sloshing around. I come back to the land of the most fit people on earth, and get less fit. Hardly my intention.

Three of my favorite beers are not available back in Atlanta, and are here -- so I've been taking advantage. So after a long day of exploring eastern Colorado (photos and details tomorrow) and then drinking one of those three great beers, I present: The Five Beers I Will Drink In Heaven, If Heaven Exists (I'm Not Sure), and If I Make It In If It Does Exist

Fat Tire. The beer that taught me about good beer. The old favorite. The Tomas Kloucek of beers. There was some discussion of going to the New Belgium Brewery on this trip -- didn't happen, but someday. And someday they'll start shipping the stuff out to Atlanta.

Czechvar. Legal battles prevent this from being available in Georgia. Stupid lawyers. A versatile beer, suitable for all occasions (sipping after work, pounding to forget work, guzzling at 4 a.m., weddings, funerals). I got down to super-awesome Sobo 151 twice this week (once with Tapeleg, one with my sister) to consume it. Added bonus: Sobo 151's garlic dip, which may be the best thing ever (if you like garlic).

St. James Red at the Walnut Brewery, Boulder. If I still lived here, I'd be at the Walnut every day -- great beer, great food, cute waitresses, housed inside a renovated old fire station. All the beers are great, but the St. James is the pick of the litter.

No picture -- Rogue Dead Guy. I already made the joke about this being named after an old hardcore band. More seriously: this may have passed Fat Tire as my favorite. For those not in the know, that's on a level with the Pope converting to Islam. A taste test is in order, if I ever have the two in front of me at the same time.

The fifth beer? Like all good bars, I'd have a rotating tap for this one. Right now, I'd probably put Dogfish Head's 90-Minute IPA in there. But that's subject to change.

Head back tomorrow. With luck, I'll post a bunch of photos before heading out to the airport.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Way Down Broadway

I've had occasion to go down to Denver twice in the last two days, both times to the utterly awesome Sobo 151. Today, I went down a bit early, to cruise Denver's South Broadway area and shoot photos of a bunch of similarly utterly awesome signs.

There's a bunch of shots that will trickle out in the next few days, as I'm motivated to resize them and upload them. For the moment, here's a few great old-timey motel signs. You don't see signs like this much anymore, and don't at all in Atlanta. I love 'em. If I (for some reason) was in the South Broadway area and needed lodging, I'd stop in just on the basis of these signs, even if the motels attached don't seem to promise much in the way of amenities.

Note for the sticklers: I used Photoshop and cranked up the saturation on these, first to make up for cloudy day/bad lighting on the Red Pine sign (which still is rather dim), then because the garishness sort of fit. It's not something I plan to do often, so you can rest assured that my camera speaks only the truth.











(this place is, obviously, no longer in business -- the rest are)

More later, as sobriety and energy allow.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Atlanta Airport Hates Problem Drinkers

(alt. title: "TG for TGI Friday's")

Flew to Colorado yesterday, and as has become customary because I'm an idiot, I assumed that there would be about a four-hour security delay at Hartsfield-Jackson Shitty Airport. So when I got through security in (the usual) 20 minutes or so, with only one security person berating me, I had nothing to do but sit around. So, as you'd expect, I went hunting for a drink. Sure, it was 10:30 am, but I was on vacation, so don't judge me, dammit.

Good freaking luck -- in the Delta (main) terminal at Hartsfield, one bar has closed down (it's going to be replaced by a Sweetwater brewpub, which will be great, but I exist in the here and now, and the prospect of a future brewpub puts me no closer to a drink now), and just about all the other dining options are Sbarro's or Popeye's Chicken. Both of which, I'm sure, have their uses, but drinking ain't one.

I finally found the aforementioned TGI Friday's, kind of tucked away. The bar, I noted with some satisfaction, was operating at full capacity -- obviously I'm not the only person who wants to flush his life away.

* * *

Anyway, yep, back in Boulder, with all the natural beauty and disconcerting unreality that goes along with my hometown. I'm typing this out in the Bookend Cafe on Pearl Street, and noticing that I'm the only person here with any body fat. I'm also probably the only person here who didn't bicycle 42 miles this morning.

Adding to the strangeness, I rented a SUV for the trip -- not my normal mode of transportation. It has all sorts of blind spots and weird sightlines, but as long as I never reverse or change lanes, I should be ok.

* * *

Two albums I've rediscovered after ignoring for years: Rocket From the Crypt "Circa: Now!" and Jets to Brazil "Four-Cornered Night." I sort of lost interest in RFTC over the years as they churned out a slew of mediocre albums, but boy was Circa great. Maybe the greatest party album ever, he said with only a touch of hyperbole. Friends back in Atlanta can look forward to me playing this over and over in coming weeks. You're welcome! J2B, meanwhile -- I thought their other two albums were coma-inducing, but somehow they really hit it right with "Four-Cornered Night." This prompted me to write a really fawning article in my pal Brian's "Soundboard" magazine during my very short career as a freelancer.

* * *

Oh, shit, bearded man setting up with bongo drums just about 30 feet away. Suddenly many of Boulder's bad points come flooding back.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Query

This is a pretty long shot, and basically relies on someone with the knowledge I seek stumbling upon this post. Probably it's a backwards way of doing this -- I should hunt around for an appropriate message board -- but I'm kinda lazy, and a Google search isn't giving me joy.

Anyway: I'm looking for someone with a knowledge of the history of road/traffic signs (and yes, this sentence is here solely for Google purposes). Some years ago, I read something discussing pre-standardization road signs in America. It indicated that in the early days of automobiles, signs were often random -- for instance, a stop sign might have an upraised hand to indicate "halt," or something completely different.

It's a subject I'm (for a variety of reasons) kind of interested in reading more on -- but I don't know where I found that first reference, years back. My guesses were either "The Straight Dope" or Bill Bryson's "Made in America" -- but it appears neither of those are correct.

So, anonymous future person who stumbles upon the PPA -- any help?

* * *

#30 -- "The Butterfly Effect" by Pernille Rygg

This is another of those books that's been sitting on the shelf since the book-reviewing days. It's been a long time since I've read many mysteries, and this one (it's Swedish, by the way) managed to hold my interest. Plot-wise, it's not so great -- it's got some holes, to put it mildly. But the writing's pretty good, and often clever.

* * *

Off to Colorado Saturday. Hurrah! Blogging will be light.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Travels With Kapuściński

#29 -- "Travels With Herodotus" by Ryszard Kapuściński

It's been a busy few posthumous months for ol' Ryszard -- a new book (his final, I'd presume) is out, and he's been outed as a spy (about which more anon). Considerably more than I've accomplished, and I'm still alive.

"Travels With Herodotus" reads like a coda, a closing -- one suspects that he intended it to be his last book regardless. It's a smattering of tales and anecdotes from his travels over the decades, paralleled by his reading and re-reading of the "Histories" of Herodotus.

Tough as this is for me to say about one of my favorites -- ok, one of my idols -- it's pretty uneven. There's some good spots, and some very inspiring lines. There's also some pieces that just fall flat (his first visit to China -- all the observations are surprisingly cliche), and sometimes it depends far too much on the readings of Herodotus. I understand the device, but it's overused.

It's still not bad, and I'm certainly glad we got it rather than not -- but if you've never read Kapuściński, this shouldn't be your starting place.

* * *

So, those spying claims. I haven't (being kind of sad about it) delved too deeply into what they constitute -- basically I know that from what is said, Kapuściński's extensive travels were allowable due to a deal with the government. I discussed this with my friend (and fellow Kapuściński-fan) Susanne -- who suggested that if it's the only way to do what he ultimately did, perhaps (through his writing) he at least partially made up for any wrongs he committed. Perhaps so.

The story doesn't affect my enjoyment of RK's writing in the least ... but it did hit me hard. I just expect people to be perfect, I guess.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Abandoned Churches of Atlanta, June Edition

Drove past this down on Memorial Drive today -- an odd little building, that looks as if perhaps it was originally a gas station or fast-food restaurant (I'm guessing that because I don't think I've ever seen a church with a pay phone so prominently displayed out front). The congregation has apparently moved down the road a bit. The building is up for rent, if anyone feels energetic.

Bonus Sunday stuff:



The Towne Cinema has (apparently) been used for other things besides movies since the '70s (though any solid info is really hard to find), but in a move that's catered to dorks like me, they've kept the awesome sign.

Doing a Lexis-Nexis search on the property indicates that it's been used as a restaurant, music club, dance studio, and martial arts place -- just within the last five years or so. At any rate, they're doing a good job of keeping it up.

It's located in Avondale Estates, an odd little place that I don't know much about. A stretch of buildings is done up in Tudor Revival style, like this, that brings to mind the '70s ski villages of my youth. Then it goes back to strips of television repair shops.

This same style is scattered about parts of Atlanta -- there's one very strange and eye-catching house (?) a few blocks away from me -- but this is the only sustained use of the style that I know about. I dunno if someone went nuts for Tudor a few decades back, or what.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Taste of Somalia

Weird people you meet in bars dept.: last night at Atkins Park I ended up seated next to stereotypical golf guy, a polo-shirted jackass who divided his time between screaming invective and advice at the television, broadcasting whatever big golf tournament is going on right now. He started talking to the room at large about how he was on the "Hooters Tour" in 1998, and lots of other too-loud stupidity about baseball and frat-guy topics. It was like being trapped in an elevator with Bill Simmons (except I could have left). When the tournament went off, he got flat-out weird, playing Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues" on the jukebox and singing along lustily to each line that involved killing the wife -- punctuating each by shouting "bitch!" Ladies, I get the feeling this guy might be single!

Atlanta is surrounded by tiny ill-defined communities, constantly overlapping so that I don't have any fixed idea where they are. Many of them are largely populated by immigrants -- Tucker and Clarkston, for instance -- places filled with strip malls, foreign restaurants and groceries, places where the signs and conversations are usually in a different language. Tom Tancredo would shit, but I think it's pretty cool.

Around here, the name "Stone Mountain" has a variety of associations -- good hiking, a monument to the Confederates, one of the Ku Klux Klan's favorite spots 90 years ago. But it's also a town, and it's one of those with a large immigrant population. I wonder what the white-sheeted luminaries would think to see it: Vietnamese-owned garages, churches with signs in Amharic, restaurants offering everything except hamburgers.

Among them -- a Somali joint. I never knew about it until an idle wander through the online listings the other night. The concept of Somali cuisine is foreign to me -- not sure why, as I scarf down the food of neighboring Ethiopia often enough. But I've just never thought of it. A Somali restaurant seemed as unlikely as a Chadian place.

So yesterday, I drove out. The restaurant (Madina -- for the locals, it's at 5291 Memorial Drive, Stone Mountain) is the first I've visited in years that doesn't serve booze. (well: they do have "beer" -- which is apparently the Somali term for goat liver. I passed.)

The menu was a blend of styles, befitting Somalia's place in the world: a touch of Ethiopian from the west, a touch of Indian from the east, a touch of Italian from the colonizers. I got habiib -- fried goat -- with a spiced rice dish. I'd never had goat, but my virgin experience (uh, that sounds wrong) was pretty good. Tender and well-spiced. I felt exotic as hell. The rice dish was fantastic, and came with a burn-your-face-off hot sauce that I'll have to try again. And I will make a return trip -- the menu's pretty interesting, and the very filling meal was less than $10.

So that's Somali food conquered. I eat Ethiopian food about once a month, and there's an Eritrean restaurant not far away, just waiting. Anyone know where I can get Djiboutian food? The taste treats of the Afars and Issas?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Moving Targets

Technically, it's named the "Atlanta Book Exchange," but most people I know are unaware that's the name -- they just know it as "Books," for reasons made clear by the signs above.

It's something of an icon, both for me and others. For me, because it was one of the first places I gravitated (along with Manuel's Tavern) when I first moved here. For the community at large, because it's been there for more than 30 years, something of an eternity in my neighborhood (the only places I can think of that have been around longer: Manuel's again and Atkins Park).

I've been meaning to write about the ABE/Books for a while, because -- in a lifetime of spending way too much time and money in used bookstores -- it's one of the few that stands out for me. (the others: Book Worm and now-defunct Stage House II in Boulder; Second Story Books in DC; and some place in St. Louis that I guess didn't really stand out that much, because I don't remember the name.) It's a small old house, packed floor-to-ceiling with books. Somehow, in very limited space, it turns into a maze. I've been there hundreds of times, and can still take wrong turns.

The selection is fantastic, particularly in history. I spend more time than I'd care to admit searching out books on Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and constantly find new titles when I'm searching through the stacks. It's the classic "go in to buy one -- come out with six" bookstore. The literature and travel sections are pretty swell, too (except for foreign literature, which is shunted off into an alcove, and kind of chaotic in its organization).

Now, the store is moving, sometime in the next month or so. While that's the kind of thing I'd normally bemoan, in this case, it looks like a winner all around. The new space looks (at least to my untrained eye) bigger -- and it's actually an even shorter walk from my place (granted, we're talking a reduction of five blocks to three, but hey).

And best of all -- it's going to be right across the street from Manuel's now. An afternoon spent browsing the shelves and then reading the new purchases as I get sloshed at Manuel's sounds immensely pleasurable.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Road Goes On Forever

#28 -- "On Foot to the Golden Horn" by Jason Goodwin

Lately I've been dreaming of some undefined period in the future, after I quit my current job (not in the offing, I assure you) -- I'd like to, Patrick Leigh Fermor-style, take some months and walk across Europe. The imagined route varies -- sometimes it's just the Balkans, sometimes cutting through Central Europe, sometimes an ambitious trek from Greece to Norway or vice versa.

Goodwin actually did such a thing, as opposed to just muttering to his friends about how he was gonna do it someday. What's more, he did it at a particularly interesting time, strolling with his girlfriend and another friend from Poland to Istanbul as Communism was in freefall.

When it concentrates on the travel, and the people encountered along the way, "On Foot to the Golden Horn" is quite good. Unfortunately the first half or so labors under one of my pet peeves -- repeated descriptions of tensions among the travelers, particularly the third-wheel friend. It's not interesting and really adds nothing. Once the third-wheel guy breaks off and goes his own way, the book emerges from a cloud.

All in all pretty readable. I read Goodwin's history of the Ottoman Empire a few years back and wasn't too impressed, but this is much better.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Kryptonite

It's become pretty apparent recently that Jagermeister is my own personal Kryptonite (robs me of super powers, results in near-death experiences, etc). A couple times recently, I've ended up with blackguards buying me late-night shots of the stuff, and it always has the same effect -- I'm not really functional until at least 2 pm the next day. No Jagermeister, mild hangovers -- yes Jagermeister, pray for death the next day.

* * *

I'm closing off four days away from work now. After this, it's two weeks until Colorado -- then three (I think) weeks 'til five days off, and then a month until the trip to London.

This seems to be a pretty good adaptive mechanism. Break up the vacation so that I'm off a day or two every month or so. Unfortunately, after the August trip, I only have one week off through the end of the year. The wheels will presumably come off then.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Searching for Answers That I'll Never Find

Proving, I guess, that I'm a slow learner, I set out again this morning to travel along a stretch of the Dixie Highway. Multiple wrong turns, unexpected street name changes, and intersections that appear on no map later, I packed it in.

A few thoughts from the trip:

1) If I ever again tell myself that I don't need to plan out a route on one of these journeys, someone punch me in the head.

2) I honestly thought, on the first day of a mini-vacation, that driving around metro Atlanta would be restful. Again, hit me.

3) All the mania for renaming streets in this city, and no one sees fit to rename one of the three Marietta Street/Road/Boulevards?

4) The last of those, Marietta Boulevard, may be the foulest-smelling place in the city, thanks to all sorts of industrial work. There's a big sign advertising a new housing community nearby -- keep the windows closed!

And most seriously, 5) I think my motivation behind driving the Dixie to find a remnant of the way things were before interstates, thinking I'll find old mom-and-pop motels, broken-down neon signs, businesses and buildings that faded into obsolescence when I-75 and 85 became reality. It's becoming apparent that I'm not going to find any such thing, at least within spitting distance of Atlanta. Everything's auto lots or strip malls. I-75 has been around since the '50s -- the Dixie Highway was basically obsolete before then, I think. The things I'm looking for have been gone for decades.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

My Hometown

I've been pretty homesick lately, really jonesing for Boulder -- the sky, the air, the general sense of peace. I go back in about three weeks, and it's obviously long overdue -- I haven't been this wistful about the place in a while.

Adding to that sense of Boulder-as-paradise: the city managing to piss off a whole bunch of people by allowing a frank discussion of sex and STDs and such. If you buy into that old saw about knowing someone by their enemies, a city could do worse than to draw the condemnation of the Bill O'Reillys and Michelle Malkins of the world. Go Boulder!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Old School

#27 -- "The Iron Gate of Illyria" by Torgny Sommelius

Possibly the most obscure book on my shelf, this was referenced in a Dervla Murphy travelogue that I read some years back. It's a 1950s (I think) account of the (Swedish) author's journey through Yugoslavia, a few years after that country broke from Moscow.

It's pretty joyful and lively. Sommelius reminds me quite a bit of Patrick Leigh Fermor, both in the happiness of his writing, and his improvisational method of travel (he went through Yugoslavia on the way to India, then ended up ditching the India idea and staying in Yugoslavia for months on end). The book is very much coast-oriented, and who can really blame him? The section on Dubrovnik made me want to head back immediately.

It appears this is the only book of his ever translated into English -- too bad. He has/had a pretty good style.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Land of the Lost

Woke up with a hangover -- thanks for the Jameson shot, Fidel! -- but in a change of pace, didn't handle it in my normal way (putting pillow over head, ignoring need to get out of bed, weeping) and sweated the damn thing out. Yeah, that's right. I'm Ernest Hemingway here.

I've long sort of known of an abandoned water works covered by foliage somewhere around town, but until recently didn't bother to look it up. When I did, surprise surprise -- it's in a park, and seemed completely accessible. So this morning, I trooped out to Mason Mill Park to see the old Decatur Water Works.

And ... it's not so easily accessible. Mason Mill is a mixed-use park -- I figured it was just hiking trails and such, but there's tennis courts, a senior center, etc. The trails themselves are something of an afterthought, and not well marked -- and the one map I found was kind of inaccurate.

After a couple tries, I found the trail I wanted -- had to leave the park, go down a dead-end road, head through the vegetation, cross railroad tracks, and plunge into the jungle. Then, the water works is a bit off the main trail -- so I just muddled around 'til I found the ruins.

Photos are below -- click on 'em if you'd like larger versions. Obviously, I'm not the only person to discover them. I'm not sure if they're officially off-limits or not -- given their crumbling nature and lack of barriers, I imagine authorities would prefer you not poke around. Plenty of people do, though, judging by the graffiti and garbage.













Some more info on the water works, including why they're so abandoned, can be found here -- and reading into it, it appears they actually don't mind if you check it out. A relief to be on the right side of the law for once.