Atlanta is a city of nowheres poured into a collection of somewheres. The collected refugees from small towns across the South come here for the same thing: the privilege of a 45 minute commute, the joys of fighting cockroaches big enough to shoot with no legal repercussions, and the strange satisfaction that persists despite all of this.
Telling someone the exact charms of Atlanta is difficult, particularly if you're talking to a transplanted Northeasterner repeating what everyone outside of Atlanta says: "This is a terrible sports town." They would be right in a certain sense. If I went to New Orleans I could say "This is a terrible restaurant town," since all the typical easy signs of modern food civilization are gone from the landscape of the Quarter. There is no Applebee's sign, no easy Olive Garden beckoning the eater in, only a series of stand-alone cafes, diners, and restaurants where you will not eat quickly, and where you may be denied entry for not wearing the right thing.
This assumes correctly that the outsider has a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation, and bad taste. This is true, since sports fandom in Atlanta is almost wholly dependent on college football, the one thing suturing together the disparate group of people who come here for work, love, or because several months into a lengthy layover at Hartsfield, they decided to just stay and make the best of things. It is one of the few universal binders here along with a love of greasy food, the fear of being eaten in the night by kudzu, and a general curiosity as to Monica Kaufman's real beauty regimen. (Hint: she's a vampire, and does not age. Why do you think she does only the evening news?)
On both radio stations it is possible to discuss college football in June...for an hour. In fact, it's encouraged. Hit the 75/85 connector on a Friday, and the waggling of car window flags turns the odious traffic into a slow moving river of tailgate potential on the move. The flags appeared about a month ago in my neighborhood. Last weekend, wandering around Kirkwood, i turned a corner to find a huge inflatable elephant staring at me from a yard. An Alabama fan had decided it was time not just to shine up the ceramic elephant in the yard, but to deploy the inflatable for the duration of the season. I only notice the inflatables, since the team-themed porch flags never really come down. I can look out my window right now and see the Tennessee flag of my neighbor waving orange in the light wind blowing down the street today, a reminder that football is tonight, and that I need to burn that flag as soon as possible but in the safest manner possible.
(He is my neighbor, after all. Don't want to make a lifelong enemy here, just one on Saturdays.)
Go to Taco Mac in Decatur on a fall Saturday, and you will step into a football United Nations. There is a guy who brings his own Brutus Buckeye doll, plops it on the table, and then attempts to singlehandedly drain the place of its Bud Light. A contingent of Michigan fans usually occupies a table along the wall, including a doctor who treated me for a health scare a few years ago and, in the middle of an EKG, asked me about Michigan's prospects for the year with all seriousness. I have a running, years-long tauntfest going with a Florida State crew who sits by the streetside windows. On the whole, they've behaved a lot better than I have. Then again, my team's been doing all the winning, so it should be that way. Occasionally, on special nights, you will see actual Pac-10 fans there. They're real. I touched one just to see.
This isn't a rare thing: more so than any other city, Atlanta's veins pulse with college football, often at the expense of other sports foolish enough to assume they can steal a significant chunk of attention away from the tribes of choice for Atlantans. The Falcons will always run second to Georgia even the Ray Goff-iest of years. The Hawks have become a basketball excuse to field an attractive and hardworking dance team in Phillips Arena. Thrashers' fans, I admire you immensely, and would buy you all drinks since the total at a cost of five dollars a cocktail would only come to two hundred dollars or so. Wait, you're hockey fans: never mind. I can't afford the size of drink you'll require just to feel a buzz, much less get drunk enough to yell properly at me.
This city's sports soul mate is college football, and everything else amounts to a misbegotten and forgettable fling. It's in the ubiquitous car window stickers, the assumption that fall weddings are verboten, and the empty meat and beer aisles at grocery stores on Saturday mornings. Walk through an intown neighborhood this Saturday. There will be a hint of fall under the heat, and the sound of a television blaring out the sound of football, and the smell of someone cooking meat on a grill. If I could cut this smell up into lines and snort it, I would. As a drug it would have no rival, and as an aphrodesiac would have no equal.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few errands to run, including the purchase of some lighter fluid. No particular reason. Really.
[/eyes Tennessee flag down street]
[/flicks lighter and smiles]