Hanfest

(Photo by: Han Vance)

The day I moved from Marietta proper to the more distant suburbs, a punk rocker juvenile delinquent named Chris Damico was building a small wooden skateboard ramp in the street that led to my new culdesac. Though I had never ridden a skate ramp before, I’d picked up street skating about a year earlier as the sport hit a second wave of major national popularity in the mid 1980s.

It was the heat of a Southern summer, and most of my like-aged friends were living closer to the Marietta Square. I was living way out in the vast stretching sprawl of what had been previously rural, then exurban, and finally suburban Cobb County, in what was then known to be the fastest-growing civilization in the history of mankind: greater metropolitan Atlanta.

My siblings were a good bit younger than I, and I found myself with no one cool to regularly hang out with when I was not at work as a fine-dining busboy at The Planter’s restaurant. By mid-summer, my friend Doug got a Chevy Nova and was the first to get a license. He started picking me up, and I was back hanging with my old crew of friends. Before that, I skated with Damico everyday.

We grew apart, Damico and I, but we talked from time to time. Then when I was a senior, his mom moved out of the school district, and he talked my brothers and folks into letting him ride out the school year living with us. I thought it was a terrible idea, but the decision was made before I had any input. He bunked with my brothers.

For the first time, we became truly close friends. My epic high school career was winding down, so we decided to have a huge graduation party as a last hurrah. We set a date and gathered friends from neighboring schools, like Dave Weiss, at my house for a meeting and told them to tell their friends and friends of friends from many of the schools across the county.

A week before the party my parents went out of town for one night, so we threw an impromptu gathering. Hundreds of kids from my school showed up and lined my entire street with cars and trash. I paid my brothers to clean up the mess after, but I was immensely worried. We didn’t have access to enough space for the coming big graduation party, and my folks’ plans to go out of town again were suddenly cancelled. We were screwed.

My mom and stepdad’s yard at the time led to a stretch of woods that eventually led to fields behind a huge western store called Horsetown. Damico came up with the idea to rent these fields, and in a meeting in which the outcome still baffles me to this day they agreed to lease us the property for a night. We paid them a small amount of money and assured them it would be a calm affair.

As the day approached, I distributed flyers amongst the upperclassmen at my school listing my address as the location for an “Adult Graduation Party.” A teacher found one and said I could not go on with the plan, but I scoffingly told him I was eighteen and the party was the day after school ended. It was out of his jurisdiction.

My friend Todd Smalley’s band the Wild Onions agreed to play the event, and I made him promise not to reveal the real location of the party to anyone at our school. He kept my secret at Lassiter; meanwhile we called our party planning colleagues and told them to tell everyone to be at my house by 5:00 p.m.

We hung a sign on my basketball goal on the day of the fest that said: “Go To HORSETOWN.” We were there well off the street and obscured from visibility with the rock band playing as the thousands and thousands of kids began to show up. As the sun set, the traffic continued to stream into the fields. We positioned paid parking attendants in the drive to charge admission for vehicles and made hundreds of dollars over the field rental. Interestingly, Damico and I both later worked for years in the management of the parking industry.

Of course, the cops came that night. We heard it told that for a few hours they could not find the exact party location. When they did attempt to bust the party, it still went on for over an hour as they simply directed traffic out while making very few arrests for underage drinking. When the crowd finally started to thin, we grabbed as many cute girls as would follow us and led them back through the woods to the relative safety of my house.

For weeks after, we were the reigning stars of the county. I began to commonly hear the term “Hanfest” and wondered who’d coined it. About a month later, I was hanging out with my artist friend Mike Tom. He told me he’d hand-painted a sign at the entrance of the Horsetown fields that said: “HANFESTIVAL.”

The BeltLine Is Our Destiny

What The BeltLine

Brings To Mind

Is Integration

Segregation In ATL

Is History, Ancient

And Reality, Present

The Interconnection

Of Distinct Urban Neighborhoods

Makes A Good

City, A Great City

The Perimeter Highway

285, Created The Hive

The Boom Of Growth

That Equated To My Atlanta

Once Being Dubbed:

The Fastest Growing

Civilization In

The History Of Mankind

A Wall Exists, Un-great

OTP/ITP

Outside The Perimeter Versus

Inside The Perimeter. State Versus City

Everything Out Is Suburb, Exurb

Everything In Is In-town

Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead

Remain Three Jewels

Running Up Peachtree

Peachtree Intersects

With Ponce, Representing

Another Wall

Dividing Blacks And Whites

Refuse Flows Downstream

So As In Many Cities

Landlocked Old Atlanta

Was Divided, Still Is Some

Whites North Of Ponce

Blacks South Of Ponce

Streets Change Names

There, Socioeconomics

Here Sits The Quagmire

The City Too Busy To Hate

Has Poor Infrastructure

And Some Of The Most

Stagnating Traffic

In This Great Nation

End The Racial Division

Women And Men In Full

Great Atlantans All

Must Lead Us Out Together

Of This Heart Of Darkness

Rise To The Greatest Greatness

We Can Be A Paris

A Vancouver, An NYC

Or A Birmingham

The Choice Is Obvious

Drop What Divides Us

Build The Beautiful BeltLine

Connect The Conscious Citizenry

Educate The Less Conscious

We Are Better Than

Our Current State

That’s What’s So Great

And Always Was

About Atlanta

A City Built On An Idea

That Idea Being

Movement Of The People

As Those Rocket Ship Buildings

Suggest – Striving, Ascending

Being All We Can Be

The BeltLine Is Our Destiny

(Photo by: Han Vance)

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)

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.

Appliance Smashing Party

I was famous in Cobb County for my graduation party.

Hanfest was – and by all known accounts still is – the largest graduation party in county history, so I understood the spotlight a good party could shine on a host and his host committee before I ever attended the nation’s oldest state chartered public university in Athens. The spotlight has benefits.

We, my three roommates and I, lived in an old rundown grey tarpaper house simply called Chase. In Athens, GA, party houses are affectionately entitled after the streets they are on, and Chase was nothing if not a party house. Chase eventually became synonymous with a row of several houses that shared a common gravel backyard, but back then it was primarily just us: Neilma, Weiss, Boggs and me.

Over a year before, Rogers had brought me by Chase after my first day of classes at UGA and introduced me to his roommates. It turned out I’d met one of them on a previous visit to the Classic City, the former Washington DC diplomat brat Chris Boggs – still to this day one of my closest friends.

For a year, I bounced around from Nantahala to Boulevard, to back home in Marietta with an overdrawn bank account, maxed out Discover card and a myriad of minor health issues stemming from a freshman year of college noteworthy mainly for an abundance of excesses.

Two months in Marietta was more than enough to recover and return in time to collect my financial aid and start back at work with the Tate Student Center Set-Up Crew. Consistently depressed and seeking, Rogers decided he’d had enough of the roommate wars at Chase and moved out, following the lead of his longtime Statesboro friend Kevin. Two rooms had recently opened up at Chase. Mookie had claimed one and I eagerly claimed the other. Boggs and Mookie and I had a mostly good time as roomies, until the collections agents were after the Mookster so hard for his rampant purchases that he figured it best to flee the scene and change addresses.

My good buddy from Marietta, Dave Weiss, was new in town and needed a place to stay, so he took over for Mook. And his friend Neilma desperately wanted in on our fun, so he moved into a large closet behind the yellow couch in the living room. Had to knock to be let out.

That part of town, you see, what is now called the Historic Boulevard District, was full of houses with revolving doors. Roommates moved in. Roommates moved out. Rent was cheap and every situation was temporary.

Resultant, the appliances were everywhere. You weren’t sure if the old toaster worked or where it came from, but you knew it must belong to one of your roommates, so you let it be. Then a funny thing occurred to me. I was watching a video by the Art of Noise called Close (to the Edit), an old favorite where they smash up pianos musically with power tools. Great stuff. We could gather and smash some crap for fun, make a theme party of it.

So we spread the word around the neighborhood and gathered stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Washers, dryers, toasters, microwaves, a whole wall of broken television sets. And we cleaned our house and went out and recruited an assortment of friends and casual acquaintances and hot girls to join in or at least watch, and later perhaps sleep over.

And the Butthole Surfers was heavily cranking through my open bedroom window as the melee ensued. A freak in safety goggles pushed a broken lawnmower through the crowd of exhibitionists destroying the old appliances. An empty keg found its way into the TV screens. I was kicking my thrift store wingtips into this and that hunk of junk until there was nothing left but rubble. Rubble. We smashed it all into tiny bits of rubble. It was pure poetry.

Jewel of the South

Center, City Center Heat

Buildings Are Neat

Buildings And Food

Was The Name Of A Talking Heads Album

And I Have A Friend In Town

From SoCal

Plus My Girl Is Out Of Town

In SoCal

We Are Down On Ponce

Returneth

The Rhetta, His Folks’ Place, The Frat

Then Back To The City

Listening Of Montreal (Of Athens)

In The ATL

After We Saw Her Architecture

Stretch Along The Connector

Rocket Ships Of Virtual Explosiveness

Through The Urban Forest

The Words Came To My Mouth

Center Of The South

(Photo by: Han Vance)

Ode to Oakwood

We were never Cobb County run of the mill

Nor cul-de-sac shackled kings of the hill

We came to Oakwood to look and act weird

And be accepted, schooled, heard, cured

In effect, of that staid duality-reality

Education and thought in the mindlessly numbing suburbs

Near a great city in the making, rising to thrive like us

We weren’t necessarily the best and brightest

More most likely to be voted absurdest

In fact, you detested the sight of many of us

The mess and muss from the back of the bus

But we came together and got our learn on

Life lessons mixed with fun in the sun

Earth is zesty, an unpeeled onion

I’m glad I was born American-clever

A proudly freaky Unicorn, forever

Keep Oakwood High School alive

The only alternative to the hive

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)

Wisteria – Great Southern Restaurant

Today, I have late dinner reservations at Wisteria in support of Inman Park Restaurant Week. My friend, Chef Jason Hill and I grew up together in Marietta, and he is Proprietor. The place is well-entrenched among the Atlanta acclaimed for his command of Southern food: modern and gourmet while at the same time classic. The fried chicken is bar none the single best in town, somehow lapping in my love the bird at Watershed in Decatur. The pork dish could be from Faulkner or Cold Mountain. And the shrimp and grits is no low, but dern if I did not feel like I was in the low country when they reached my jowl last time I was in, a couple of weeks ago, for my one year anniversary. Jami was so sweet and the mini-desserts are larger than thought and easily, so easily, made multiple. We enjoyed the pairing of Ice Wine and Coconut Pie the most. The bar and staff and building and wine and art are all just right. Right up the street from me, Jason has delivered the perfect blend of Atlanta and America -which is where we live my friends. America.

Keep URBAN GRINDing

I performed spoken word poetry at Urban Grind (coffeehouse) on Marietta Street on a recent Thursday. On the Westside of Atlanta, GA (not in Marietta), Urban Grind is located in the M Street Lofts and is my favorite spot to read in The ATL, bar none. The event is free each Thursday night with a purchase. It was a great read for me and a bunch of my friends on the scene were, you know, on the scene.

FIT was a hit with “Three to Six Minutes;” Imani from Grambling University read a lovely piece about her ass; Guilty Penmanship is a trio fronted by the vivacious Spenecia – they were high energy and their timing was perfect; Arcane Thoughts has switched seats and is now DJ Arcane; Cambridge is a real word-writer; the host this week was Sphinx and his weed humor and closing poem were appropriate; Cassandra owns the joint and sells a mean veggie burger on Ciabatta bread with skim latte; and my delicious girlfriend Jami Buck was there (kisses).

Twas a real solid mix of love poems, edge energy, musical interludes, live guitar and singing, and intelligent charisma. Urban Grind is an institution, and Thursdays are now sponsored by Douglas (of FLOWETIC – Wednesdays on Boulevard and North at the unnamed spot).

Your host at Urban Grind the following week would be my friend, InfraRED. On this night, InfraRED’s eyes lit up in the audience, when I busted out “White Face” for the crowd like so:

in white face

me the

first white

sambo pickaninny

me

your

wigga in white face

i steppinfetchit

on stage

to amuse

as social commentary

as jester joke

on white folk

in bespoke

or haute couture

saying “for sure”

for show

so throw dough

at me

your cracker

cube boy

mr. dynamite

your ice toy

only honkey

tonkey enough

to wear white face

in this place

get yourself together

get yourself together

lynch this

mob me

i sob see

don’t cry G

be glad

thankful

be mad

crank crazy

geekin’ freakin’

if you like

to get funky

not anymore

not this flunky

pale-faced

milk chocolate

yet i rock it

when i talk it

surrounded this place

by white

towers of power

while i shower

you glower

and glare-stare

while i climb-rhyme

one time

in white face

To book Han Vance to feature perform at your event please e-mail: www.hanvance@yahoo.com