Making Deals with Mother Nature

When we bought our new home in Atlanta our realtor was surprised that it came with screens on the windows. We were surprised that she was surprised. Coming from Los Angeles, we were used to keeping windows open to let the nearby ocean breeze blow through our house. The breeze was probably saturated with smog, but at least it was blowing. Screens were common in LA, as were window bars in some neighborhoods.

In our area of Atlanta, we didn’t need the window bars, nor, we found out later, did we really need the screens. Our first few months in the home the windows stayed shut anyway, as we were experiencing an unusually cold winter. I had sold Atlanta on Alex by telling her how mild the climate was, but Mother Nature must not have bought what I was selling because it was sub 30 degrees for about 2 months straight.

Alex didn’t own a winter coat, besides a parka, so we had to venture out into the Atlanta arctic to shop: “Where did you move me?” she said through chattering teeth as we walked quickly across the Macy’s parking lot. One soft hooded winter coat later, and at least her teeth stopped chattering.

Coming into spring, I made the bold announcement that springs are the best in Atlanta. I’d lived here as a kid so I was pretty confident. What I forgot was that spring here comes with a yellow dust that pretty much covers everything. It’s like if the smog in LA covered your car and stuck to it like the sugar on a sugar doughnut. Only this sugar in Atlanta makes you cough and sneeze and sometimes makes you feel like you’ve got a cold: So, kinda’ like smog.

Well, that first spring, we opened our windows and reveled at the screens we had been lucky enough to get for free with our new home. The cool Georgia breeze blew through the house, tickling our cheeks and making us feel one with good old Mother Nature again. But the next morning, our white cat jumped down from lounging in an open window sill looking a little less white. “Why’s the cat look yellow?” Alex asked. I ran a hand across a nearby table and looked at my palm which was now the yellowish color of the cat.

The windows remained shut through spring, and the rest of the hot summer. “Just wait ‘til fall,” I assured my wife, “you’ll love it.” Then I quietly asked Mother Nature to make it a good one.

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Songs of a City

Cities have songs and musical genres that match each place: sometimes seasonally, sometimes geographically.

When I lived in LA, a friend of mine asked me to write for a documentary he was doing about famed Brazilian musician Laurindo Almeida. We interviewed him weeks before he died and the documentary turned into a tribute concert. The man was a poet and reminisced about how diving with sea turtles in his native Rio painted his dreams and influenced his musical style. He then moved to LA where he had lived for many years, composing for films like the Godfather.

He told me just before his death, what painted his recent dreams in LA was the freeways, and he wanted to do some kind of musical piece that spoke to that. I guessed he was referring to the cars constantly moving in every direction, reflecting light during the day, and giving off light at night. Maybe the ocean-like sound it all created.

LA does have a vibe that you can feel from the road. If LA were a song, it could be a cool jazz samba, like Laurindo Almeida was known for, or it could be a folky tale about driving 500 miles today and never leaving LA, like in the Michelle Shocked song “Come a Long Way.” I’d say depending on where you are in LA, a different song could relate: maybe the Go Go’s “We Got the Beat” for Santa Monica on a clear sunny day; some Jimmy Buffet for Marina del Rey; Joni Mitchell, CSN or Counting Crows for Laurel Canyon…

If Atlanta, where I now live, were a song it might be a rap or hip hop number by Ludacris or Usher. It could be any number of R.E.M. songs, or maybe an older southern rock number like “Champagne Jam” by the appropriately named Atlanta Rhythm Section. This song talks about partying with some “high class booze” and makes me think of the scrappy upbringing of this always growing metropolis with a chip on its shoulder.

What would your city songs be?

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Going Grinch

In LA, we lived one neighborhood over from a place seasonally dubbed “Candy Cane Lane.” Come December, it’s a Christmas wonderland. Cars line up for miles to drive through. I couldn’t imagine buying a house there say in July with no clue, then December 1’st you open your front door to find yourself in Whoville.

Any other time of year, it looked like any other Valley neighborhood with ranch homes, two-story Spanish redos, and garage conversions… which is what always got me: Without garages (or basements for that matter- LA doesn’t do basements) where did they store all the Christmas stuff? There were thirty-foot Santa’s, autonomatronic elf shops, working trains, and lots of smoke and mirrors. And the amazing thing was that these people did the work mostly themselves. Granted, many of them either worked in the entertainment industry, or knew people who did, so getting all the smoke and mirrors was not that difficult.

Now that we are out here in the Atlanta suburbs, it looks beautiful this time of year. There are classy white bulbs following impossible-to-reach roof peaks, giant snowflakes lit up in giant maple trees, and icicle-lights dripping down many a house. But this stuff is done by professional lighting companies, not homeowners.

Our first year here, Alex said she wanted lights out front, so I put a horizontal strand above our front porch. “Can’t you get them to follow the shape of the house?” she asked after not being too impressed with my first offering. “Well, yeah, if I had a thirty-foot ladder, a helmet, and some climbing gear,” I only half-joked while looking up at our high-peaked roof. So, I did what I thought was the next best thing and wrapped our front trees with lights as high as I could (fortunately they were still young and relatively short trees). A few hours later I proudly showed off my work. “Nice,” Alex said, but I got a whiff of patronization. “Hey, we can’t all afford a lighting crew,” I said.

We used to make fun of Candy Cane Lane. It was tacky, but I kind of miss that “do-it-yourself” spirit. In fact, after realizing I’d never be able to keep up with the Jones’ out here, I asked Alex if we could go the opposite direction and steal a page from the Candy Cane Lane playbook. There was a family there who was either really fed up, or possibly Jewish and didn’t celebrate the holiday, who simply put a Grinch in their front window and lit it up with a spotlight so it was the only thing you saw at that house, sitting amongst all the crazy colored lights and moving giant objects of a Candy Cane Lane Christmas.

We bought a Grinch and everything, but Alex said no, not going to happen. I’m keeping the Grinch just in case she changes her mind though. Better shop for a good spotlight too.

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Sounds of the City

The freeway hums 24/7 like a swarm of bees, dogs bark in staccato, and leaf blowers whine like mobs of Italian mopeds. Add an occasional helicopter chasing a criminal or circling a freeway accident, and this is the LA soundscape. Sure, you can drown it out with the ocean waves at the beach or maybe high up in the hills, but that’s just temporary for most.

When we moved from LA to Atlanta, we thought it would be more quiet, and it is in some ways- it’s not as 24/7 like LA- but Atlanta can have all those LA sounds and more; even in the outer suburbs where we are. We’ve got volleys of gunshots (probably deer hunters, but who really knows), dirt bikes and ATV’s roaming the woods, and the constant beep-beep-beep of construction crew vehicles creating new subdivisions and doing roadwork on seemingly every road in every direction.

Paris has its strange police sirens; Chicago has the noisy L-trains; and New York its Taxi horns (or did that go away with the advent of Uber?). If I were to pick one sound that stands out in Atlanta and its suburbs, it’s that beep-beep-beep. Even at the airport at 8am when you’re trying to calm down after fighting through traffic, parking shuttles, and TSA attitudes, you can’t escape the beep-beep-beep of airport carts.

Atlanta and LA have a lot in common: both are sprawling, car-centric places, with their own music, sports and entertainment scenes; both can be loud in their own ways. Hopefully, there’s just enough quiet to be found in either place for someone to remain sane. That, or I’ll just go deaf from the beep-beep-beeps—then my noise sensitivity won’t be an issue at all.

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Southern Fried

Living in LA we had some of the best and most diverse food anywhere, and we are foodies so we were in heaven. In fact, Alex is such a good cook and home-stylist, that at one time I wanted to pitch a TV show called “Move Over Martha” with Alex as a younger, hipper Martha Stewart.

Moving to Atlanta, I’m sure Alex had her reservations (no pun intended) but she was quick to realize that Atlanta takes its food as seriously as any major city. Just like LA, it has trendy spots with the latest crazes, like farm-to-table; different ethnic areas with signs and menus in other languages; giant world markets like Buford Highway and Decatur Farmer’s, where regular Joes and Janes, and Joses and Juanas, can shop alongside chefs in double-breasted jackets and Crocs who are picking up last minute items for their evening menus. And of course Atlanta has southern food.

In LA, there are a few places that claim to serve southern, but they tend to lean more toward the soul aspect, or the southwest rather than southeast. Tex-Mex is good, but it’s not southern.

In Atlanta, they have southern down: They’ve got shrimp and grits; variations on anything fried, like the green tomato, and of course chicken. In LA, the meat aisle of most local grocery chains is probably half chicken, half beef. In Atlanta it is chicken 60-40, maybe 70-30.

There is great fried chicken at most good restaurants in Atlanta, like Table and Main in Roswell, but the local Kroger grocers have some that competes with all of these. The first time we ate Kroger fried chicken we were in the middle of our move, so an unfair advantage I know—Pizza Hut can almost taste gourmet after you’ve moved a thousand boxes and haven’t eaten all day—but the second and third time at Kroger was unbiasedly just as good. We were so impressed, we started using a soft ‘g’ when saying the name of the place to make it sound more fancy. “Where are you eating tonight?” our friends from LA would ask. “Krozhay,” we would say in our best French accent.

Who knows, maybe “Move over LA” will be my next TV show pitch?

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A Long Commute

Ventura Boulevard is like the spice trails of old on steroids. It’s a world bazaar with authentic Thai food next to not so authentic Thai massage; a Jewish deli sharing strip-mall space with a Palestinian grocer; a hand-made baby carriage shop two doors down from a hand-made sex swing shop.

I was driving down this paved stretch of paradoxes after a day of collecting signatures, and not the celebrity kind. I was a pharmaceutical rep with a daily quota of Doctor’s signatures to acquire: Proof that I had been there. I was bored and relatively underpaid compared to how these companies profit from something that may or may not cause loss-of-limb.

My cell phone rang and I fumbled with the required-by-law earpiece, almost swiping the car in the next lane while noting how much the passenger resembled Oprah—this was LA, after all. On the phone was the manager from Easton Hockey, who I was hoping to get a job with so I could leave the drug-rep grind and do something fun.

He had good news and bad: the good—I got the job; the bad—it was not in LA. “Where?” my wife Alex asked when I broke the news. “Atlanta” I tried to say as cheerfully as possible. “Well, that’ll be a long commute” she retorted.

We had been in LA for fifteen years. Five of those years were just getting settled. LA is a city that is not easy to get used to, but once you do it’s hard to imagine anything else. It’s a city of extremes: A lot to hate, but just as much to love. But like on a surfboard, we had found our balance and we were riding a good wave.

That night though, we did some surfing of the internet kind and the conditions suddenly changed. “Where is Alpharetta?” Alex asked. “Look at these houses.” “You couldn’t get a decent condo in LA for these prices. Three acres, and a pond!?” I’m not sure if it was the nesting instinct in her, the bargain hunter or what, but our LA home was on the market the next week.

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