We are champions, my friends

I have one ring. Well, not really a ring but one team championship. And I won it as quarterback of the Cowboys.

When I moved from the great Empire of Texas to the Southeast, Dad initially settled us into another state with great pride, South Carolina. South Carolinians, like Louisianans and Nebraskans, place value of state above most else.

Scary to think that I could’ve been a USC Cock and never a UGA DAWG. But we stayed in Carolina only one year, netting me my first little brother and Dad a YMCA basketball championship as head coach. I was around that team throughout the season and remember the oversized maroon jersey I wore to their games, and the pride I felt when the title was secured in a close final contest.

Both of my personal sports titles came the next year when we moved to a sleepy suburban Atlanta town called Marietta, GA. I hung around the Boys Club there all the time and won a basketball shooting tournament for my age group. I am and will forever be the 1976 Shooting Champion, and I still have the trophy to prove it – although the ball is no longer attached to the hand.

Before that, I played for the Cowboys. I’m a third-generation, diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, and I planned to play for them up through 8th grade, when I started exploring a few back-up options and stopped practicing twice a day year round. Wide receiver has always been my natural position, but in 1st grade the ball is not thrown much if at all, so Dad suggested I play quarterback that year in football. I did, and we ran the option and won the league. When the season started, Dad must have lobbied to get me on the Cowboys, but he never admitted it and only twinkle-eyed as he – I reckoned – lied in denial.

My best friend in the whole world and sandlot football buddy was an outrageous kid named Duke Lee Sharp Jr.; he went by Boomer. I saw him on weekends, when he visited his (practically our) Granny, in my neighborhood.

During the week, I went to Fair Oaks Elementary where I had two best school friends. A triangle of friends that were by far the top athletes in our grade. Lester Maddox was a descendant of the infamous anti-segregationist politician by the same name. Champ was the nephew of Larry Holmes, then the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world. And I was the offspring of wealthy hippies whom had only recently spent all the money my father inherited from my grandfather.

Dad asked me about my buddies at school. He knew those names and guffawed, then he sang to me: “The times, they are a changin’.” I’d never in a cognizant way heard of the champion of freedom named Bob Dylan, because my parents only listened to the Beatles and classical music. I liked that and much later became a poet myself.

(Photo by: Han Vance)

Athens Burning (and rising)

Man, I saw the Pixies – my favorite band at that time and still one of my all-time favs – at the GA Theatre. And I saw rapper Ice T and the legendary Colonel Bruce and a quirky band called Phish (for $4) and those intense Austinites called the Butthole Surfers and a little hippie band called Widespread Panic. I saw the DAWGS lose and win on the big screen there while Larry Munson gravel-spoke to rally the troops and intensify the pain of the fans. I danced and sweated and laughed and loved. GATH was part of college, and college was a big part of my life. And tonight I walked up the block and saw a great little documentary at the historic Atlanta movie theater, The Plaza, on Ponce. This piece of art, entitled ATHENS BURNING, documented the rise and fall of that classic venue in the Classic City. When it burned, nearly to the ground, a piece of ourselves died. But the Athens community and the dedicated will of those whom would not stop believing have made it happen. Georgia Theatre shall rise again, to new heights. Any fan of the heralded Athens, GA music scene should see this fun film.

My 1st Critical Mass

I used to be a super-sharp dressing and fast-talking parking and transportation regional operations manager, planner and staff writer. Did that relatively obscure mess for eight long years, until I suddenly walked the F out and then wandered Cali for half a summer and wrote a book about it.

I came to know and love trains in that former line of business and had always envisioned myself as this New York-San Francisco-type urbanist, who had never lived outside of the Southern United States of America and lived periodically in suburbs, country, small cities. I’d always liked the notion of not driving everywhere, never drove until I was around 25, and don’t drive now again and am simply much happier and calmer because of it. I guess you could say that I dance to the beat of a different drummer than most of y’all around here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I moved to the Classic City of Athens, GA for school in 1990, I finally found a society where I could fully thrive without getting rides. I walked or rode my bike everywhere I went, and I was constantly on the go and in the know, you know. I managed the Tate Student Center Set-Up Crew, threw epic parties, played basketball everyday, ate at T-stand, lived off campus, watched the Dawgs, met a few cute girls and Michael Stipe, made some new friends I’d always cherish, even studied some. More than anything, I had fun.

At age 40, I’ve finally seen my ATL gain some ground on the rest of the world in terms of becoming a bike-able city. I recently purchased a new-used bike myself, and on my first free Friday in, like, years, I joined up with my dear buddies Angel Poventud and Jason Jarrett and a cast of hundreds at Downtown’s Woodruff Park for my first ever Critical Mass.

My bike’s back wheel didn’t hold up as well as my rickety-old-still-an-athlete body did, as we rode long and far and saw nearly every neighborhood this urbanity has to offer. Beautiful homes, rundown shacks, smiling faces, confused stares, honks, children greeting us warmly and feeling a part of something big while watching from their yards. Happy Friday is the call and the response is universally pretty good, though some people did want us out of their always SUV automobilized wrong of way. Even that’s okay; they are getting an education at least. We are here. We care. We ride. Happy Friday, indeed.

20 great things about The South:

1.Southern Girls (and other friendly folks)

2.ATL’s ROCKET SHIP Architecture

3.College Football, y’all

4.N’awlins’ Food

5.Charleston Flavor

6.”30 A” Beaches of the Florida Panhandle – especially Rosemary Beach

7.The Smoky Mountains in autumn

8.Sweet Tea, Grits, Biscuits, BBQ

9.America’s Teams: (the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves)

10.Southern Literary Tradition: William Faulkner, Tom Wolfe, Gone with the Wind, the Decatur Book Festival, Grisham, urban ATL poetry scene, me

11.ELVIS (Memphis, Tupelo)

12.The BeltLine (Atlanta)

13.ATL and Athens Music Scenes – from Outkast to Mastodon to Rhianna to REM to SVA to Of Montreal to the B-52s, from the Tabernacle to Chastain to the 40watt club to TI to Music Hates You, from Pylon to Black Lips to “Superman those hos.”

14.Twilight Criterium (Athens)

15.Lowtide at Tybee Island (GA)

16.The Live Music Capital of the World  (Keep Austin Weird)

17.Mommas

18.Vulcan (Birmingham)

19.Deepdene Park -of the Olmstead Linear Parks (Atlanta)

20.Taco Stand (Athens)

MetroFresh Likes You

I had a super-fresh late lunch today at MetroFresh, while I was walking around Atlanta In-town East. They’ve been open about four and a half years in the Midtown Promenade, behind Piedmont Park.

I have decided that not only shall I rise up by reverting to the previous level of niceness I had before I became jaded, I will also revert to my previous level of healthiness in diet. I was raised vegetarian by a health food caterer/gardener mom and a Chiropractor/nutritionist/deep muscle therapist dad.

Anyone that knows my siblings and I well knows that we are a seriously athletic and strong clan of handsome people that rarely get ill without provocation. This physical prowess is a result of both our healthy upbringing and our lineage: Dad was a young professional water ski jumper who also boxed and played football; Uncle Griff was the dominant SouthWest Conference football player of his day.

I slam dunked a basketball as a thirty-five year old white man who can’t palm a ball, and my three little brothers are all literally huge now and still super-athletic for their size. Your family simply could not cover or guard my family. And we can definitely out dance you – our nickname is the Dancing Vances! Even my little sister could beat many of my male friends up.

I attribute much of this to the fact that we all ate so well growing up, and we still eat our homegrown veggies. My much less health conscious friends are constantly getting sick, so I now revert.

I now digress: They change the menu daily at MetroFresh, where the slogan is “Fresh Food Fast.” It’s not cheap, but it is well worth it.

I had a Coke Zero and a deliciously melting lemon bar on the not that healthy tip. But I also had a rich and wonderful broccoli and cheddar soup; perfect soba noodles contrasted with colorful green edamame and snap peas; and an apple and cauliflower salad with crisp purple cabbage. It was almost LA-like, almost Cali-like, except the portions were American grownup-sized.

They do serve some meat dishes, but the focus is soups, salads, sandwiches.

The counter help was actually helpful … and fun to talk with.

Here is the real test of healthy food: I felt great when I was completely full from it. Full and walking, up a hill, in the heat. My mom would like this place; I loved it.

Check it out: www.metrofreshatl.com

Seven Atlanta Favorites:

1. Deepdene Park – The last of the Olmstead Linear Parks to be finished, it offers a duality of coin to the other parks in this chain, which are pastoral in park type and on the opposite side of Ponce de Leon Avenue. Deepdene is walking through the woods, and in the Deep South of The ATL that is a truly gorgeous thing. Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park in NYC and Piedmont Park in Atlanta. Olmstead Linear Parks was incomplete at the time of Frederick’s passing. However, his descendants and strong neighborhood and community support ensured that the task saw completion. This is what an Atlanta park can be at its best.

2. Flux (in Castleberry Hill) – Rock out to this most important of all ATL art neighborhoods, all done up in light, for one night per year. Previously entitled Le Flash, Jami and I vow not to miss this annual event.

3. HAWKS games – See and be seen amongst the Atlanta elite in the floor seats; catch a drink at the Absolut bar and Headliners. Then watch 6th-man-of-the-year-Jamal Crawford score at will off the bench, Joe Johnson be unstoppable on offense, Josh Smith (“J-Smoove”) soar and dunk and swat, Marvin for “3” and steady vet Mike Bibby running the floor. Throw in a Za Za for good measure – he is from the country of Georgia and also owns wine and food spot Eno (Midtown on Peachtree Street), now called Eno by Za Za. The Playoffs Are Coming. Take MARTA directly to the arena, 2nd stop on the westbound trains from Five Point’s Station. My girl is into it too.

4. COLLEGE FOOTBALL – From watching the SEC Championship Game live to sitting at home and watching on our TV sets, Atlanta is the undeniable world headquarters of American College Football and a short drive to ATHENS, home of the Georgia Dawgs and my alma mater, UGA, the oldest public college in the USA. My fellow alum girlfriend is really getting into it.

5. FOOD – Atlanta has become a major foodie restaurant scene – and I love to eat out, with my girl, of course.

6. LongBoarding Freedom Trail – Thank you, President Carter and MLK Jr. – You built this road and trail with your words. When I’m flying free on the trail, I feel so alive and awake and in love with life in Atlanta, y’all.

7. Pub Crawls on Ponce – See my boy Ed at El Bar for a shake-shake-shake after a few pops at Righteous Room, maybe a grilled cheese with sprouts and a side for $5 at the Righteous and a PBR with lime or mixed adult beverage while I play Joy division on the jukebox. After El Bar gets too crowded to dance, The Local and Bookhouse Pub can both be good hangs. Friends is probably the best gay hangout for straight people to gain education via jukeboxation. MJQ is still a great Wednesday dance spot for the best DJs. Dugans has great wings if you want them. And the Clermont Lounge is still open, although they finally closed the Clermont Hotel itself to the public. Still hungry as I walk home after maybe skipping those wings? The Majestic has been open 24-hours a day since 1929.

(Photo by: Han Vance)