Transportation Hangover (in Greater Metro Atlanta)

Transportation Hangover:

The T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax) failed to pass across the 10-county greater metro Atlanta region on July 31st. Though it is nearly impossible to deny that Atlanta’s ability to attract new business and commerce is hampered by traffic congestion, the voices of contention around the project list were too loud for the survival of the tax. T-SPLOST was the first vote on a comprehensive regional transit plan in recent history, the only near parallel at any point since 285 was built being the vote whether or not to expand MARTA to outlying suburban counties, which too failed. The Chambers of Commerce in Dallas, Charlotte, Nashville, Orlando, etc. have fresh fuel for fire when negatively recruiting against sprawling, disconnected Atlanta for conventions, students, creative industries and rust belt big business relocations.

The leadership of Georgia may be able to cobble together a statewide transportation referendum for 2014, although nothing in the voting data signifies that it would have much chance to pass. Localizing efforts to increase mobility options is the only viable direction for citizens seeking progress, but the dollars and cents necessary to fulfill any plan is where reality meets the road.

The Atlanta BeltLine’s development will continue incrementally, but the mass transit component of the BeltLine does not currently have adequate funding in place. Regional GRTA busses may meet the scrap heap due to funding reality. MARTA continues to be the largest transit system in any American state not to receive any state funding, and only the residents of Fulton and Dekalb counties will continue to pay a sales tax so that the entire region may benefit economically from our city having a relatively large mass transit rail system. Modern streetcars will eventually connect two of our major downtown tourist attractions, but they won’t be connecting to anything else. And federal transportation funding does not flow to states that show a lack of direction.

A commuter tax collected at the border of 285, scrapping plans for an utterly unnecessary Atlanta Falcons outdoor football stadium, a much stronger managed campaign and a vote in Dekalb and Fulton alone to fund needed city transportation projects…ideas are free. The only good that came out of all of this is it that it did get some Atlantans thinking.

Ponce Crush (and skate and stroll)

CRUSH-CRUSH. So the Ponce Crush – the hot new art crawl that roams in and around Ponce de Leon Avenue in The ATL – unofficially starts with Angel Poventud accidentally redialing me from the International Pillow Fight of Atlanta in Freedom Park. Longboarding down from the high land and then back up Ponce, through the fun seekers, the crack dealers and the cars – way too many cars. Not me. I’m just being free.

First stop is Beep Beep Gallery, fitting since a car just honked at me. I greeted a seated Mr. Poventud, bench outside the cute space on Monroe, right across from where Boulevard is becoming something entirely different, the Old 4th Ward shifting to Midtown. Gallery co-owner Mark Basehore welcomed me with an almost-cold, free can of Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, as Angel made a $2 cash donation on my behalf before being called into work.

Mark’s suit and popping bright tie show the seriousness of expression this growing community has for local art. Allen Taylor and Andrea Sanders display a two-person art endeavor, filling the space with color and energy. And the window has a smoke machine meets art screen video montage that invites and excites, while it moves to the music. Sanders’ work was far too dark in subject matter for my taste, but I did enjoy Taylor’s colorful patterned drawings. Co-owner James McConnell offered a warm smile and firm handshake and dressed the part as did his counterpart. Color me impressed with these guys and this space. I believe in space and movement.

So, I was off again. This time with my girlfriend in tow, and we’ve slipped into ’bout to elope soon land, so she’s my fiance, I’d have to say as of that day. What a balmy spring first Saturday of April it was for an art adventure in the city too busy to hate. Next stop was Kibbee Gallery, behind Fellini’s Pizza off Ponce. Big, beautiful house filled with art and beer and food and people hiving together in a communal bonding of appreciation. I most-appreciated Yana Dimitrova’s check to-do list paintings. We all have these lists, and I couldn’t help but crack up at what Dimitrova had done on a large physical scale, here in a piece called The Greatest Achievements. “HALFAWAKE” was the title of the show itself, and the range of vision expressed in these paintings moved me. I also just adored Sarah Daly’s small, bright cityscape paintings in the back of the gallery, sadly finding the one I wanted to buy out of my current price range.

Finally it was time to get crushed, and no place better for that than Young Blood Gallery, near the Highland Inn on N. Highland. Now, the freaks were out. Now, the crowd was revved. Now, I could hardly find a place to stand with such a long skateboard. Can someone invent a lock for these please? I digress, to here mention that “Medicina” as a show did impress. Kris D, from the Classic City of Athens, GA, has teamed with David Hale to show that “all things are connected, all things are one.” This mostly neutral-colored show was voluminous in prolificness and expressed its soothing message in figure-after-figure and pattern-after-pattern. My favorite were the birds, and they alone were remarkably numerous. Over 300 total works were on display. I enjoyed meeting merchandising entrepreneur Brandon Craig who does the new Medicina shirts on my way out, as I’ve also been known to dabble in lowbrow fashion and the commerce thereof.

Night was complete with a snack and cocktail from the pretty patio of Cafe’ 640 next door, while I stared into the face of my true love. Thinking to myself: I have to agree with Mr. Poventud’s earlier gruff-voiced whisper of a statement to me, “I love my life.”

Next Ponce Crush is May 7th (FIRST SATURDAYS!), when I’ll be a bit busy – day after I get married in the American Riviera, Santa Barbara, California. But I’ll definitely be there for June 4th. Please help support local art and this movement that matters.

(Photo by: Han Vance)

Two poets meet

‘Twasn’t Merely Happenstance Nor Chance

These Two Poets Crossed Life Paths

Belsky and Vance

The Traveler, A Mid-Age Tex-Georgia Fellow

The Elder, A Sage New Jersey Aloha’n

Belsky Bellowed A Hilo, HI Hello

Vance, The Younger, Performed Mic-Free

Filled With Big City Hunger, He

Spewed Sonic Almost-Ebonics

Bought Belsky’s Beautiful Book

About This “Upside Down” World Be Free

Back Home He Had A Look-See, HV

And Knew For Sure – Sold

Belsky Was The Real Deal – Behold

Vance Peeled Precious Pages

That Spoke Of Oil’s Greed Rages

While Big Bad BP Bombed Our Gulf

With Black-Gold, Greed Indeed

And Nashville Near ‘Bout Decreed

Itself All Floated Away

Back In The A, Where He Stayed

Vance Said, After He’d Had A Cry And Prayed

Mr. Tomas Belsky, Sir, You Are A Okay

(Check out: www.tomasbelsky.com – Hilo, Hawaii)

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

Rare Edition

I initially, mistakenly thought Rare on Piedmont was a steakhouse, until I walked into another dimension. Recently reopened after a fire two years ago, this place is a fancy lounge that serves “soul tapas” and is lusciously decorated with classic African-American historical photographs and glowing chandeliers that suggest a bygone era of bespoke fashion and roaring Harlem nights.

Deceptively calm due to the currently underused patio, an outside cloaked with lush curtains, and with a prompt valet service that meets you at front and then satellites your vehicle to a nearby parking location – nothing indicates the level of activity inside. And the place was somewhat hiving on a Tuesday for an informal networking event established by local auto impresario and Midtown high-rise apartment  “Mayor” Ken Jones.

Plenty of couch space and a hip bar with smiling service showcases the front half of the space. While the friendly servers please with prompt and thoughtful attention in the back half, which even has bed-type “tables” for dinner service. That is one thing we have been unable to find in Atlanta for that special one-on-one or slightly larger intimate dinner since BED closed down. Highly-charged energy amongst the networking pros up front where the shots were flowing; ambient and romantic in back where the fresh cocktails fit the mood just right for the couples I noticed gaga-ing to their own grooves. It made for a fun event.

The food is thoughtfully-prepared by Chef Wesley, a Hilton Head native and former Justin’s employee. His most popular item may be his rich and velvety lobster macaroni and cheese. I could have been completely satisfied to just eat three servings of that gourmet concoction – topped with a lightly-fried, large bay leaf – it left me somehow missing my grandmother’s cooking and simultaneously anticipating a trip to the ocean.

Before that, an Egyptian salad started me off on my path to fulfillment. Mixed greens topped with creamy Feta cheese, complemented by a perfectly pungent red wine vinaigrette and nicely offset by sweet golden raisins. Crisp tomatoes and cucumbers with the seeds removed, balanced by the intensity of kalamata olives and red onions. The surprise ingredient that set the dish off for me was the addition of fresh mint leaves – refreshing and satisfying.

My final dish of collard green pot stickers may have stolen the show – if that macaroni wasn’t so incredible. Chopped collard greens like your Deep South mamas made, inside delicate fried pot sticker dumplings also containing diced tarragon mushrooms, over a small boat of savory potlikker with aromas of brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. I was transported to a place where Gone with the Wind meets Top Chef.

And they are open and serving food until midnight, for that busy from hard working/partying set that gravitates to the pulsing energy of Midtown. As I contemplated the towering Bank of America building aglow in the night sky from the patio, I realized home really is where the heart is. We love ATL.

Spectacle: Of Montreal and Janelle Monae

I was in rewrite of my memoir and working as a late night server at Cafe’ Intermezzo on Peachtree Street in Atlanta when first I saw her. Her image immediately captivated me: pompadoured hair I adored and a cool cardigan framing her perfect pixie face.

A few weeks later, I waited on her and her entourage, including Nate “Rocket” Wonder – the man of sound behind her veritable wall of sound. We shared our stories of forays into art, of our efforts to bloom in an ATL that boomed around us.

Many years earlier, as I waited for takeout at The Grit restaurant in Athens, GA, I overheard Kevin Barnes speaking of his band, Of Montreal. The name struck my fancy, and I vowed to give them a listen and did.

A few years later while visiting a friend in Athens, I became acquainted with Of Montreal bassist Davey Pierce due to a collective affinity for scooter/moped crews and was inspired to dig further into their vast repertoire of recordings.

In Atlanta on November 6, 2010, my fandom of both acts culminated in a live show in Little Five Points that confirmed Georgia’s artistic musicality. Variety Playhouse was the venue, and never has that name been more fitting.

Janelle’s sharp looks and frenetic dance moves accentuated rather than overshadowed her music: an invented modern neo-soul meets songbird eclecticism that seemingly explains the rich American history of black music, while searching for the future. Even those unfamiliar with her in the audience recognized her rhythmic power and were awed by her singular voice – Janelle can really sing. Backed by tight musicians, she wound up the taut set with the stripped down single “Many Moons” and the romping hit “Tightrope,” as I tipped to the dance hook.

Deserving of an encore, there was one, a “La-La-La” singalong performed from stage to floor, reminiscent of the party energy of The B-52’s “Rock Lobster.” As Janelle’s rocking band crescendoed, she departed and the lights came on. I gave a shout out to Nate Wonder on the intermission and met some cute Chattanooga college kids in the big city South for the show.

The spectacle reached greater proportion as the headline act took the stage, seven musicians accompanying the lanky, fey, practically pansexual Kevin Barnes. The set started with the new album’s debut single “Coquet Coquette”, followed by an old fav of mine, “Suffer for Fashion.”

(Photo by: Han Vance)

Multi-costumed dancers, incredible video montage and the unbridled bouncing energy of Mr. Barnes pushed the show into the stratosphere. I was more overstimulated than a cokehead, more tripped out than an acid head, full of punch drunk love – as lifted as a sober man can be.

The theater only intensified as the band played good songs old and new. Kevin is a character on the level of Bowie or Prince, and he lives to push the envelope. At one point, his face broadcast from a giant cardboard TV set aliens assembled to watch. At another, he encouraged two feuding skeletons to kiss and makeup.

As the dream of a set ended, feathers filled the air, propelled from an alien’s head. I thought to myself: Earth is a pretty far out planet.

The band returned – beers in hand – to satiate the raucous crowd, while Kevin popped bubbly. I wondered what they could possibly do next. A Michael Jackson medley met and exceeded my encore expectations, especially as Janelle and the rest of the Wondaland Arts Society joined the fray, with my mate Nate on sticks, resplendent in his signature look of perfect dreads and a tux.

This lovely art was created here; Georgia as epicenter of modern music.

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

David Engelhard Senior Jazz Recital Reviewed

I had no preconceived notions that might steer me to like David Engelhard’s Senior Jazz Recital at the Highland Inn Ballroom on March 29th. Though my girlfriend knew David from her past associations in the local music scene in Atlanta, I’d never met him.

Jordan is a mentor to David and filled the second set with smooth sax notes while David took to the keys. Tightly orchestrated and well played by a sax, keys, stand up bass, guitar, and rotation of two silly-good Jazz drummers, what a set. A graduate of Georgia State’s stellar music program, David’s first set was powered by his excellent sax playing, to an assortment of accompaniment. Very nice.

The aforementioned set two was solid Jazz until it ended with the PIXIES’ tune,”Where is my mind” and Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” Two haunting and memorable rock songs, they translated perfectly to classic extended play.

That set one was Jazz, in layers, smooth assorted layers of thoughtful Jazz including Coltrane.

The show was entertaining and packed with class musicianship, in a great venue where I once fell in love. So overall, I give it a huge thumbs up! Great Job and Congratulations to David as he embarks upon professional life after college.

World’s Longest Oyster Po-Boy

Marietta-native and chef, Rob Vance of La Bayou restaurant, worked with many others to build the World’s Longest Oyster Po-Boy on March 27th in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOLA is home to the aptly-named New Orleans Oyster Fest, after all.  The 340-foot sub extended down Bourbon Street in yet another indication of the strong culture of New Orleans, the South … and America as a whole

When staying in NOLA, I highly recommend Hotel Monteleone for its location and ambient charm, Brennan’s for the best breakfast, and Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for the strongest fresh Hurricanes. Jean Lafitte’s is the oldest bar in the USA (1772) and one of the few bars older than my alma mater, the University of Georgia (1785).