Josh Parker was born and raised in Atlanta, and lived there for 22 years until he moved to New Orleans for graduate school. Currently a social worker in New Orleans, he hopes to move back to Atlanta someday to be closer to his entire family, who still lives there.
I have not always loved you. As a child, I longed for the cities of the world: London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles. Eventually, I travelled to those places and found that, while beautiful, they do not compare to you. They don't have grandma's biscuits and sweet tea. They don't have your lakes to jump in during the summer and your woods to run through during the winter. They don't have my Momma and Daddy. They are not my home.
You don't always get the best rap. It's not easy to have a past like yours and be able to look confidently into the future. I grew up under the shadows of slavery and the light of liberty. You're the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Scarlett O'Hara. The home of "Gone with the Wind" and "The Souls of Black Folk." This constant dissonance is what continues to propel you forward. Your turn towards modernity has not forced you to forget your past. We can't look forward without looking back, and a fusion of all of your best aspects is what makes me truly love you.
I did not fall in love with you, however, until I left you. First for Baton Rouge, then Macon, and finally New Orleans. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and my heart sure has grown fond. Your unbridled passion for rising from the ashes embodies the image of the phoenix city. No other Southern city can boast your accomplishments. The 1996 Olympics brought you to the world stage, and you shined.
The best days of my life have been spent with you. Driving down Peachtree Street with the windows down is my definition of bliss. On one end is Centennial Olympic Park - the pride of our city. On the other end is Lenox Mall, where I have spent way too much time (and money). You have embraced me with your spring breezes and summer rays. I have fallen deeply in love with your diversity, your culture, and of course, your food. Where else can you find Waffle House, home-grown Tex-Mex, and high-end restaurants all on the same block?
But let's not forget the airport. Every Atlantan has laughed at a non-Atlantan who thinks that their airport is crazy. Hartsfield-Jackson invented the word crazy. And yet, we love it. It's uniquely ours and uniquely Atlantan. If you don't know that you should hold on to something when the Plane Train is stopping, we'll kindly remind you.
It is easy to maintain that networks like Bravo have co-opted your culture. But we are not those people caricatured in over-the-top shows. The thing I love most about you is your people. I smiled at a stranger in LA once and probably scarred them for life. But in Atlanta, not smiling at a stranger is right up there with choosing Pepsi over Coke (the unforgivable sin).
The great scholar and eventual Atlantan, W.E.B. DuBois, summed up this beautiful city in my favorite way: "Such are not men of the sturdier make; they of Atlanta turned resolutely toward the future; and that future held aloft vistas of purple and gold: Atlanta, Queen of the cotton kingdom; Atlanta, Gateway to the Land of the Sun; Atlanta, the new Lachesis, spinner of web and woof for the world. So the city crowned her hundred hills with factories, and stored her shops with cunning handiwork, and stretched long iron ways to greet the busy Mercury in his coming. And the Nation talked of her striving."
I still talk of your striving, Atlanta. I'm sure my friends are tired of hearing about you. But that's what love is. I believe in your future like you believed in me. You've given me confidence and happiness. You've given the South hope for a brighter future for all. And you've given the country an example of what it means to rise up.
I love you, Atlanta/Terminus/Marthasville. Whatever you're called, you'll always be my one true love. You keep me coming back to you.
Josh Parker, CSW