Monday, March 31, 2008

Slight Delays, Take Another Route

Obviously, when I said "increased blogging pace" I meant "not increased blogging pace," and when I said "post coming tomorrow" I meant "in three or four days."

I slept nine or ten hours last night (rare) and have had four cups of coffee today (not so rare) and still feel like I could curl up under my desk and nap. I'm wolfing down leftover Easter candy that someone left at work, in hopes that will provide some rush.

Is there anything I'm missing that will provide energy? Is it time to take up cocaine?

Some of the promised posts to appear tomorrow, unless I'm lazy again.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book #9

Two posts in one day! Barely -- I'm stuffed full of food and booze after BaconFest 2008 (about which more tomorrow). It's rainy, I'm logy, and I read another book:

#9 -- "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Laura Silber and Alan Little

Another Balkan book? Well, yes. I see this described a lot as the one book you need to read on the conflict of the 1990s, and having done so, I can add my voice to the chorus. It's a surprisingly fast read -- it's exhaustively researched and really leaves nothing out, but it also doesn't pad with a lot of extraneous detail.

Its main value as opposed to other books is the analysis of the political maneuverings leading up to the war. The basic thrust of it is that everyone tried to manipulate everyone else, and then ended up surprised when the puppets started acting independently. No one (save perhaps Richard Holbrooke and a number of lower-level Balkan officials) comes out looking too pretty. It's conflict as farce, a war that most parties entered into cheerfully without any idea of any consequences.

It's probably not a good way to lose your Balkan virginity -- too many Milosevics and Markovics, Jansas and Jovics -- but if you want a really deep read, this is really good and level-headed. And on that note, the thunder and lightning are stepping up, so off goes Mr. Computer. Sayonara!

There Will Be Quiet After the Storm

We're all of a sudden into the Atlanta period where it's gorgeous when you wake up, gorgeous when you eat lunch, gorgeous when you sit out on a restaurant patio drinking a bottle of wine alone and contemplating all of life's missed opportunities, gorgeous when you go to bed. So I'm a bit more energized than usual, and that means one of the PPA epochs where I vow to get on a heavier posting schedule. It'll last a week or so, before it starts getting hot and I just lay in bed all day with three air-conditioners going.

But in the meantime, pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. There's one long-ass post coming, but it requires some research and photo-sorting, so it won't be 'til Sunday or Monday.

On the same long walk that will eventually produce the aforementioned long-ass post, I finally shot a few pictures of some of the tornado damage. I refrained up 'til now because immediately afterwards, city officials were asking people to please stay the hell away, and a friend who lives down in one of the worst-affected areas was less than amused by all the people gawking at ruined houses. Two weeks later, there was still plenty of evidence of the storm...



The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts -- one of the worst-hit (if not the worst-hit) buildings. At least in portions, multiple levels pancaked (this was where we sort of assumed a bunch of people died -- miraculously, no one did). Normally, the view here would have been blocked by a fence, but...



The fence went down too.

Back downtown, a mile and a half away, it's more office buildings and hotels that got hit. Before they boarded up some of the high-rise damage, it looked unreal -- like the buildings were torn tinfoil. Now, the Equitable looks like a malfunctioning Atari 2600 game.







There you have it: the grisly evidence from the storm that could have killed me (if I'd actually been where it hit). More stuff later!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Award Winner

A long time since a jersey post. Too long.

If you remember, back in January, I wore a HC Velvana Kladno jersey to the All-Star Game, and some guys doing a radio show pronounced it the coolest jersey they'd seen all day. By my reading, that makes the Velvana Kladno jersey a blue-ribbon jersey, and I've already placed it on my résumé.

(I won a hockey card game for having the coolest jersey, but I've yet to play it. Suggesting such a thing to most of my friends would invite mockery, and saying "wanna play a hockey card game?" to strangers is a good way to get lots of space at the bar.)



This is one of three Kladno jerseys in my collection. Kladno's most famous player is Jaromir Jagr -- his involvement in the club's management (and I think his Dad is still the president or something) probably explains why they have a penguin as the logo. Since the rather messy Jagr-penguin divorce, they've dropped the penguin, but not gone on to Capital- and Ranger-themed jerseys. Instead, they have a bulldog that looks a bit learning-deficient.

I dig penguins, so I like this jersey -- even if it's got a sort of beginning-graphic design look about it.



It was worn by Petr Kounovsky (wearing this led an old Polish man to approach me, thinking I was from ol' Polska -- just one of many people I've disappointed in my life). Kounovsky only played five games with the big club in the late '90s, so it's not exactly torn up. He's still active -- this past season he apparently split time between a lower-division Czech club and a Slovenian team, HK Maribor.



The team was sponsored by Velvana back then (hence the name "HC Velvana Kladno" -- see how that works?). Velvana appears to be some sort of auto-polish supply place. Kladno's now known as "Geus Okna Kladno," which I wanna say is an insurance company or something, but it's not like I'm gonna look it up.



The jersey was made by "Martin Straka 28," which is/was the current Rangers/former Penguins forward's jersey company. I can't find a webpage or any citations indicating it's still around. Maybe it went out of business when Straka went back to wearing #82.



Note the eyebrow: this is an angry penguin. Somehow, "angry penguin" never sounds all that threatening, though by all accounts they're pretty tough birds. Kladno hasn't won a league title since 1980, though (when their logo was the woman with a star over her head) so I guess the penguin failed to intimidate rivals.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Two Streets

Driving into work each day, I pass over a little stump of a street called "Fort." It's basically, at that point, just an interstate entrance and exit ramp that (unusually) has a name. Obviously an old street that got wiped out by the interstates; I've always made mental notes to do a little research.

Over the weekend, it came out that at least one person did indeed die in the tornado earlier this month -- they were found in the rubble in a partially-collapsed building on Hilliard Street. That struck me just because Hilliard (in the article) was described as something of a well-trafficked street -- but I'd never heard of it.

So, a little researching, and it turns out that my two little mystery streets are connected in one of the lesser-publicized but more important tales in Atlanta history.

On May 21, 1917, a fire broke out in a warehouse at the intersection of Fort and Decatur Streets, in the Fourth Ward neighborhood. Fueled by wooden shanties, it raged north, finally getting contained north of Ponce (the traditional white-black divider street). A few mansions and tons of poorer homes were burned -- according to Wikipedia, nearly 2,000 homes and 73 blocks were wiped out. Hilliard was one of the worst-hit streets.

On a PR level, it's probably less-discussed today because a) Atlanta had already had its big famous fire, and people are more likely to talk about Sherman today than 1917; b) historically, the U.S. had just entered World War I, which probably overshadowed everything; and c) most of those affected were black, decades before the civil rights era. The fire explains a lot about some of central Atlanta's oddities, though. According to Wikipedia and another web site that I now can't find, many of the areas were left alone for decades, which does a lot of show why construction in the area is so uneven (along Ponce, there's no real rhyme or reason to the styles or layout -- you'll see very isolated buildings, then a bunch all grouped together, old mansions next to newer businesses, etc). And the fire also explains why, if you look at the National Register of Historic Places for Fulton County, in downtown Atlanta the majority of sites date to the 1925-1949 period rather than (as you'd expect) earlier.

Back to our streets. Fort once was a pretty big street, but now it's reduced to that little entrance ramp, and a one-block stretch between Memorial and Martin Luther King. It's not a terribly interesting stretch, either, though its northern end is blocked by the Mattress Factory Lofts, which are pretty cool:



There are some other bits of Fort still existing, though. Prior to 1917, it ran north to Ponce, where it (in the manner of most north-south Atlanta streets) became Bedford Place. I don't know what its fate was in the rebuilding post-fire, but in 1942 (if not before), its intersection with Decatur Street (where the fire began) was wiped out for the Grady Homes public housing project. At that point, Fort still ran (with interruptions) up to Forrest (now Ralph McGill), where it became Bedford. At Ponce, Bedford now became Argonne, presumably a nod to WWI veterans. (all this is gleaned from 1911 and 1955 maps, part of the PPA collection.)

Now? The Grady Homes project was razed in 2005; it's apparently being rebuilt, but it's not moving too quickly. There's a giant vacant lot where the 1917 fire once began:



The remaining bits of Fort were all wiped out by the construction of the Downtown Connector, aside from the little one-block spur and the interstate ramps. There's also a little dead-end offshoot of Tanner Street that was probably once part of Fort. The south-of-Ponce part of Fort/Bedford is now called Central Park Place. Argonne is still a sleepy little street.

The mysterious Hilliard, meanwhile, is still there, but there's not a lot happening on it. It appears to be a pretty mean neighborhood. One old building has some fantastic signs:



Parts were blocked off this morning, presumably due to tornado damage. I curved around, got back on it, and went past the scariest damn buildings I've ever seen in Atlanta (seriously, I like abandoned buildings, but there was no way I was gonna poke around these -- parts of a burnt-out apartment complex) before the street dead-ended up at a school.

(The list of old Atlanta street names helped out some on this post, as did the aforementioned Wikipedia article. The 1917 NY Times article (link is PDF) on the fire also provided some background on a bit of Atlanta history I knew nothing about.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

The PPA family isn't too big on the whole religion thing, so my most enduring memory is Easter Sunday in Tucson, 1996. Driving around, some guy in a pickup cut me off. I honked, gave him the finger, and he held a pistol out the window and waggled it in a gesture I took to be threatening. That did a lot to make my then-frequent road rage ebb.

#8 -- "Soccer Against the Enemy" by Simon Kuper

Another sports book?? Yes, and there may be a baseball book coming soon too. Dunno why. Perhaps it's just an effort to distract myself from the Avalanche's crapfest.

When I read (and was disappointed by) Franklin Foer's soccer book a few years back, I had no idea that the book I was anticipating already existed: a comprehensive, well-written, insightful look at how soccer and society collide. Kuper's book is just that, though. He spent a year traveling about, immersing himself in soccer culture the world over (Scotland, Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, the U.S., etc). The subtitle ("How the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power") implies a bit more of a consistent narrative, rather than the loosely-collected trip tales, but it's a pretty great read, helped along by Kuper's dry wit and sharp mind.

One irritant, not Kuper's fault: this was originally "Football Against the Enemy" in other countries, and whoever handled the U.S. publication pretty obviously did a "replace all" with the manuscript. Problem is, some of those "footballs" needed to stay, because now the book talks about "quarterbacks in American soccer." A small thing, yeah, but as an editor, it makes my heart ache.

Regardless. Great book! Buy it!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

In Praise of Takeout

I've been by the little bunker-style building on MLK many times, and always been kind of intrigued -- more for photography purposes than food purposes, since it's got some cool signs and I could never really tell if it was open or not. But lately, I've been berating myself for eating out in bars too much and ethnic food joints not enough, and berating Atlanta for a dearth of good quick takeout places, so today I gave Nick's a try.

It seems to have a pretty loyal following, and wow, I can see why -- if the food I had today (souvlaki gyro, Greek salad) is any indication, this'll be one of my favorite restaurants in town. The place is just a little concrete block painted Greek colors, and inside it smells amazing. Today was lasagna day, and I'll have to try that sometime -- it smelled great. Put in my order, lingered for 5-10 minutes admiring the Greek tourist photos and reading the clippings (one of which was headlined "I Go Greek Once a Week" -- um, I always thought "going Greek" had another connotation), got my food, drove in to work, and went crazy. It's really, really good.

It's been around about a decade, an eternity for Atlanta. I figured it was longer, because the cool signs on the other side of the building look very '60s-ish. Say, Greg, why didn't you take any pictures of those signs? Since that's, like, all you do? Sadly, I forgot. Next time. But anyway. Atlanta people: Nick's kicks ass. And it plays to my world view -- in Greg-land, Greek restaurants should always be named Nick's. (Italian restaurants should be named Sal's.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Old New York

#7 -- "Up In the Old Hotel" by Joseph Mitchell

I need to start marking down where I initially hear about writers, because I'd like to give a thankful shout-out to whoever it was that hinted I should read this. Mitchell was a venerable New Yorker writer from the 1930s to the 1960s, and this collects profiles and features from that time span.

Mitchell chronicled lifestyles and personalities that were -- even if not explicitly stated -- in danger of extinction. Bowery bums, bohemians, rivermen, denizens of the fish market. And he does it really well, with sympathy but also a sense of humor.

The most appealing pieces for me are kind of obvious to anyone who knows my interests -- the opening piece on McSorley's Ale House (still open, 70 years after Mitchell's piece), and the titular story, in which a restaurateur takes Mitchell into the long-abandoned upper stories of his building, trying to find some clues about what the building's previous incarnations were like.

And there's also the Joe Gould pieces, which (I guess) are Mitchell's most famous -- the story of a local personality, who claimed to be writing the world's longest book as he solicited money from friends and acquaintances. The first is rather romanticized and jovial -- the second, decades later and after Gould's death, much more honest, sad and sweet.

Two links to point out, for more NY stuff -- Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, which tracks the disappearance of the city's older buildings and businesses, and old favorite Forgotten NY.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Excitement

So if you've been near a newscast this evening, you've likely heard that tornadoes tore through downtown Atlanta. This isn't really a common event, and it's less so when I'm at a bar, watching the tornado go down the other side of the street. We were at Fidel's going-away party when torrents of rain started pounding down -- then they stopped, the sky turned a sickly green, and hey, there's a fence post (or something) flying lazily through the air over there. The power went out, we all (counterintuitively) ran inside, only to realize that we were in a confined area next to giant windows and shelves of liquor bottles (I told you it was counterintuitive). The storm passed pretty quickly, we eased outside and called people to check on whether they were ok, then people started screaming and storming out of the restaurant next door -- either there was a fire, or someone accidentally pulled a fire alarm, depending on who you ask. We retreated to a bar with power, I had nachos and told anyone who would listen about my brush with death. It's kind of sad that this is the most invigorating thing I've felt in, oh, a year and a half.

Friday, March 14, 2008

You Can Come Down Off the Rooftops Now

Czechvar is no longer available at Manuel's.

Seriously, God, what did I do wrong?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Venceremos

The PPA inner circle takes a major hit this weekend, as long-time friend/confidant Fidel moves up to DC to become ambassador to Kosovo or something like that. It's almost inconceivable to contemplate the city without him around; in the six or so years we've known each other, I'd estimate we've gone out drinking one billion times and consumed 3.2 gigaliters of beer. One of the funniest and smartest people I've ever known, and the one with the most (in his own way) integrity, he's really made this city much more bearable.

I think most of the stories I could tell wouldn't translate well (or I'm forbidden to tell them) -- lots of drink involved -- but it's been a good six years of debating politics and commiserating over the shortcomings of life in Atlanta. I've said it several times recently -- life without Fidel will be much more productive but much less fun, and I'd take fun over productive any day.

Good luck, man. We still have a world to win.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spam Stays Current

I'm impressed. Just 24 hours after the Spitzer scandal broke, I got an e-mail with this subject line:

"Janice is Eliot Spitzer whore"

Spammers are obviously going all-out to stay up-to-date.

Another book:

#6 -- "About Three Bricks Shy of a Load" by Roy Blount

An old football book I've wanted to read for a while. I'm a sucker for these inside-the-team books ("Ball Four," "The Game of Our Lives," "Thin Ice," etc) which seem to have died out (in terms of quality) by the early '80s, when players started being a little less open and more image-conscious. The '70s were especially fun for them, when you've got players talking about ... well, very '70s things.

In "Bricks," Blount tags along with the Pittsburgh Steelers in a season just before they started their run of Super Bowls. It's good fun, not great but good. There's some pretty great parts -- he's evocative in describing Pittsburgh's working-class identity, and there's a section on fans' and coaches' competing desires for beauty and wins in the sport that struck me as one of the most insightful things I've ever read about sports.

It always seems to stop just short of the depth I was looking for (I wanted John Matuszak wildness) but it's all good fun. Now I gotta get back to some of the tougher books I've been putting off...

Mysteries of Atlanta

The alleyway behind my condo is a fascinating place -- with a variety of businesses (including one bar) backing on to it, you overhear a lot of slices of life. Flirting, fights, vomiting, car hood sex. All there.

One of the buildings there is the old Hilan Theatre, a mid-20th-century movie (I think) house more recently converted to a Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's. The Starbucks, with a fantastic rooftop patio, was about the only Starbucks I ever felt fond of, so naturally it left not long ago.

There's been working going on for a while on the theater part (the part that backs against the alley), but to what purpose I'm not sure. There's been rumors that an improv theater will open there (which would be cool) or that a nightclub will (which would not), but aside from the very occasional workshop, there's nothing actually going on, other than vague construction. They do have an ear-splitting alarm which goes off if anyone dares to walk within ten feet of the heavily-secured doors, which is fantastic, because it's a pretty heavily-trafficked alley. Hear that alarm go off at 8 am (and believe me, you can hear it) and you start rethinking old attitudes about murder being wrong.

Every once in a while, an odd item appears outside those doors. Lots of stuff gets dumped in alleys, as you can imagine, but there have been a few things that stood out. One was an orange rabbit statue which appeared a few years back (somewhere on this blog, there's a photo of it). It gradually fell apart as passers-by kicked it, revealing something about Atlantans in the process, but the base is still there.

This week? A pile of sodden neckties. Still there last night. I didn't feel like handling moldering fabric so I didn't examine too closely, but who thinks "I've got a pile of old neckties -- gonna go dump them out back of the theater"? I bet that's what set off the alarm. Is it some kind of offering?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Newly Abandoned

Here's a case study in why people in Atlanta get sick, over and over: the last two days it's been sunny, highs in the 70s. Today? I woke up to snow, and it's not supposed to get above 40. This is also (I think) the fourth or fifth time it's snowed this year, which must be some sort of record (at least while I've been living here, and that's all that matters, isn't it?).



Not unusual to see abandoned buildings around town; it is kind of unusual, though, when I used to hang out at the place a lot. This was the Prince of Wales pub, my regular stomping grounds from about late 2003-mid 2005. It was part of a chain of faux-Brit pubs around town, with dim lighting, heavy food, and Guinness. Not sure what happened but apparently it was something tax/legal related. Two of the chain closed really suddenly right around Christmas -- the one right across the street from me (Hand in Hand) seems to still be going strong.

The POW already looks like it's been abandoned for years, gutted and stripped. It wasn't the best bar in town, far from it, but lotsa memories there. Most of them along the lines of playing "Piano Man" on the jukebox to annoy the bartender or getting sick after eating the chicken and chips, but still.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The PPA's Top Holiday

Happy birthday, Tomáš Klouček! The PPA hero is 28 today, and about to be team-less again -- Vak Fan has informed me that he'll leave Zlin and look elsewhere for employment next year. I guess it's too much to hope that he'd stay in one place for two seasons so that I could ease up on buying jerseys.

How best to celebrate Klouček's birthday? In my case, I went to the eye doctor, and later will drink beer. However, it's one of those holidays where each person celebrates best in his or her own way.

(All this, just a day after L'ubomir Vaic's birthday.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

When in Rome (Do the Jerk)



I admit, I've been waiting to use that post title for a couple years now. I've never known much about Rome (Georgia) -- it got its name because of a topographical similarity to Rome #1, and that's about it. I knew a girl who went to college there, but she seemed markedly unenthusiastic about it. Between that and a really psychotic right-wing web page celebrating the city's virtues, I didn't expect much of it. Oh, there is a minor league baseball team up there, which has always sounded like a nice way to spend an evening, but since they're called the Braves, I figure the fans do the tomahawk chop, which always makes me sad to be alive.

Still, I wanted to go up there, really for one reason only: the city has a statue given as a gift by Benito Mussolini.

Yeah, that Benito Mussolini.



It's still there: Romulus and Remus, donated by Il Duce. In fairness, it was given to the city well before World War II, and he gave it out of a spirit of Roman brotherhood, rather than ideological sympathy. Still, aside from the 45-foot tall statue of Saddam Hussein in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it's hard to think of any other gifts of such notorious origin.



Yep, Benito.

Anyway, I drove up there almost solely for the statue -- it's quite a hike, 45 minutes or so on the interstate and then it's another 30 miles off the interstate. But to my surprise, Rome turned out to be really charming and pleasant; more bustling and interesting than I'd expected.

Lots of old buildings, for one thing, and largely still in use. Up at the very top is the DeSoto theater. That's just one of 16 bazillion pictures I took of that great building. Fantastic sign, and slightly down-at-the-hell without appearing neglected -- the window shutters look to be original, or at least really really old. The building's still in use by a repertory company (there was a sign advertising "Footloose" in the window).



Haven't seen a barber pole in ages.



Freemason temple. They always look so cool.



One of the charms of a town like this is the feeling that a resident from 1940 or 1970 could come back today and recognize the layout and buildings, if not the businesses inside. That's something that (for instance) Atlanta largely lacks. There's big chunks of main drags Ponce de Leon or Peachtree that are probably unrecognizable from even 15 years ago.

Things seemed to be pretty healthy in Rome -- most of these storefronts were occupied (though a few were vacant, and others looked like they'd been occupied briefly by fly-by-night tax filing shops). It was a really pleasant walking neighborhood, too.



Then there was this place, which looks to be straight out of the 1940s and still open (though not when I was there -- I was all set to stop in). There's a globe on top of the Partridge that looks like it lights up at night; unfortunately my photos of it didn't come out so well. Not to get all James Lileks on you, but all restaurants should have signs like this.



Koman's looked like it had been there for a long, long time -- the look of it sort of reminded me of the Michigan five-and-dime stores of my youth. It's located in the Kress Building, which apparently was a department store chain, and was there a long time itself -- the top of the building and the door handles (as seen here -- scroll down) still say "Kress."



I always have a fondness for buildings like this -- you know that at one point, there was something big next to it, so it didn't stick out like this. Now it just looks kinda sad and orphaned.



Ghost sign! Finally. I'd been getting worried.

I'll post a few more in the coming days. Lots of cool stuff, up there in Rome.

Saturday, March 01, 2008