So you're going to Atlanta for the Olympics! Well, Atlantans traditionally have been hospitable folks, happy to oblige visitors who have questions about the city. If you're thinking of going to Atlanta for the Atlantans, however, this is hardly the time. You may well not meet any, except in passing as they escape Atlanta for the Olympics. And since they will be busy brushing the Olympic construction dust off their clothes and counting all the yen and deutsche marks they've received for renting out their homes, they may not be disposed to explain Atlanta to you. In fact, they may be more inclined to ask you questions, such as, "How would you feel if people came to your town and wrapped a 1,996-foot-long weenie around and around inside your Georgia Dome and called it the official Olympic hot dog and then had to throw it away—no one knows where—because it went bad? Where can you throw away a 1,996-foot-long weenie?" Or, "Who would've thought that the capital of Georgia would become—even before the Olympics—the kind of town whose best-known residents include Elton John and John Ehrlichman?"
The truth is, anyone who thinks he can come up with any kind of unified theory of Atlanta hasn't been paying attention for the last 20 or 30 years. I grew up in the Atlanta area, and I went back recently to look around and ask Atlantans whether there is any there there. The most frequent response I got was most succinctly put by a young woman standing outside a club called Oxygen at two o'clock one morning:
"Oh, you're looking for the there here. Let me know if you find it."
On that note I open the floor for questions.
Will I be able to understand the Southern lingo? Should I try to speak Southern myself?
When I flew into Atlanta last month, the first voice I heard at the airport informed me, in an entirely unregional accent, "Please excuse the inconvenience. The train system is not completely operational. Please observe signs over the train entrance door for information involving train destination. The trains should depart at approximately 10-minute intervals." This was followed, after a just-under-five-second interval (I timed it), by the same announcement. Altogether, as I walked a good mile and a half and saw no signs over train entrance doors, I heard that announcement 39 times. I daresay that by now the airport train system has been fixed, and that voice has been throttled.
The next voice I heard was that of my cab-driver, sure to be a source of grassroots skinny. I said, "You looking forward to the Olympics?"
He made an incredulous noise, like "Hoonh!"
After a pause I chuckled and said, "Does everybody ask you that?" He didn't make any noise at all. After we drove in silence for quite a while, I asked him where he was from.
"Ghana," he said.