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Various discarded items I’ve encountered while out walking, between January and March of 2018. To qualify as a discarded item they have to be unattended in a place they clearly don’t belong, with no one anywhere around who could own the item. These are photographed exactly as found, as I am honor bound to not disturb discarded items found in the wild. Date and location are listed before each item.
26 January 2018, Jackson Street, Atlanta, GA.
15 February 2018, Medlock Park, Decatur, GA.
16 February 2018, Medlock Park, Decatur, GA.
18 February 2018, South Peachtree Creek PATH, Atlanta, GA.
21 February 2018, Medlock Park, Decatur, GA.
22 February 2018, Euclid Avenue, Atlanta, GA.
1 March 2018, Medlock Park, Decatur, GA.
1 March 2018, Mason Mill Park, Atlanta, GA.
2 March 2018, Mason Mill Park, Atlanta, GA. The fate of most discarded items.
2 March 2018, Medlock Park, Decatur, GA.
4 March 2018, Stone Mountain PATH, Baker Street, Atlanta, GA.
4 March 2018, Sycamore Place, Decatur, GA.
Occasionally, as I’m out walking, I come across items people have misplaced or forgotten, which I chronicle in a series on my Instagram account (gmatt63) entitled Discarded Items. Typically, I’ll identify the item as “Discarded” then describe what it is, usually with a color, such as Discarded Green Shorts. On 15 September 2017, I first encountered what has become the most daunting discarded item of all, what I initially tagged as “Discarded Purple Warmup Top”, but, which I’ve since been labeling “Discarded Purple Hoodie”. The story unfolds, in pictures and with my original Instagram captions below. I am including alternate shots, when available, which don’t have captions.
My criteria for assessing a discarded item is that it must be totally unattended, with no one around who might be the owner. For instance, I noted a runner one morning stopping by a seat and taking a sip of water from a bottle that had been left there, with two others. I assumed, from this, the runner and a companion left them there for this purpose, so I could not classify them as discarded items.
After the above photo was taken, I witnessed a man skulking around the trail marker, like he was trying to read the information on it. I had a sense, however, he was eying the Discarded Purple Hoodie. If you’re behind this, sir, be assured, I saw you. I can’t remember exactly what you look like, but I saw you. Oh, yes, I did.
While still hanging around, the Discarded Purple Hoodie was, nonetheless, moving in the right direction, that is, toward the dumpsters.
Here’s a short video I made about the most recent sighting of the Discarded Purple Hoodie.
Eleven days, folks. That’s how long this item has been floating around the trail. The first one I noted disappeared quickly and hasn’t been back, but this one just keeps popping up. Maybe it’s trying to make it back to the woods. Who knows? I shall continue to document its progress as long as necessary.
I had the opportunity to see Serial Blackface, a world premiere play by Janine Nabers, at Actor’s Express in Atlanta on Wednesday, 6 April. Serial Blackface is about the struggles of a low income mother and daughter dealing with the disappearance of a younger son, set against the backdrop of what has become known as the Atlanta Child Murders, but which residents at the time primarily knew as Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children. While I found the story to be compelling in its own right, I was somewhat disappointed by the attempt to connect it to the Child Murders. Granted, any depiction of that period in Atlanta’s history is going to fall far short of portraying the fear and confusion which gripped the city those two years, but the events of Serial Blackface could just as easily be set in any period of Atlanta’s history, up to and including the current day without losing the focus of the story.
In most depictions of Atlanta I see or read, I often find it difficult to recognize my hometown and Serial Blackface is no exception. While there were news reports on the television that was on throughout the play which sounded authentic, I felt no connection to the city portrayed in the fictional reality. For instance, in real life, from the moment the killings became well publicized, most, including the media, referred to the killer as the “child snatcher” and of victims being “snatched” because that’s how family members referred to the killer in interviews. The sex industry in Atlanta, characterized by strip clubs and X-rated movies, is mentioned in the play, but I saw no evidence of the consistent and sometimes comical efforts of Atlanta, and in particular Fulton County, to curtail the activities. I also felt none of the conflict between Atlanta’s city hall downtown and the monied interests in Buckhead, represented by the Chamber of Commerce, which was a very large part of the tragedy of the killings at the time. The theme of dealing with the loss of a child and not knowing where or even if to assign blame is universal and only mildly informed by connecting it to the events in Atlanta at that time. While the play revolves around a lower middle class black family, I recognized many of the characters and situations I knew from West End, the lower middle class white neighborhood in which I was raised, before it became a so-called “transitional” neighborhood in the early 70s. The play is less about color and more about class and the desperation inherent in trying to raise a family and deal with a tragedy when resources are taxed beyond their limits.
Nothing in the play is firmly connected to the Child Murders except for one or two explicit mentions, one involving identification of a victim — which was very evocative of the times and used the name of an actual victim — and another featuring a victims’ support group. The authenticity of the story comes from the timeless situation of its characters making horribly bad choices for all the wrong reasons, and failing to take responsibility for their actions which exacerbates their suffering. Remove the specific references to the Child Murders or set the action in a different era, and the play would not lose any of its power. The overall plot does contain considerable irony with regards to predatory behavior found in a given segment of society, but again, this could be divorced from the subject of the Child Murders without significantly altering the action of the play.
As an Atlanta native, certain events are engrained in my memory, and the Atlanta Child Murders looms the largest. I got my drivers license the year the first bodies were found and graduated from high school the year Wayne Williams was arrested. I was not much older than the average age of the victims and younger than the two grown men Williams was convicted of killing. While I was not in the demographic most traumatized by the killings, it was impossible to live in Atlanta at that time and not be affected. The killings literally happened all around us. One body was found within a few hundred yards of the elementary school my brothers were attending at the time along a route I used to travel coming home from school when I was in the eighth grade at South Fulton a few years before. Every few days, the front page of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution carried a list and photos of the victims and I still remember the names of many of them, including Lubie Jeter, Patrick Baltazar, Darren Glass, and Jo Jo Bell.
Children were disappearing and bodies being found at least two or three times a month, and the leadership of Atlanta seemed powerless to address the tragedy. Children were abducted from Memorial Drive to Camp Creek Parkway and dumped in places such as East Point and Cliftondale, along Buford Highway in DeKalb County and in the woods on Redwine Road. Oftentimes all that was found were bones and fragments of clothing making it impossible to determine how they died. Just as everyone was affected, everyone had theories about the killings. Among the more prominent was the rumor of a child sex ring involving high level city officials, and numerous reports of a black man and white woman enticing young kids to get in their car. While the official conclusion was that Wayne Williams was the sole killer, it’s doubtful a single person was responsible for all the deaths. My own belief at the time was that Williams had some involvement but didn’t commit all the killings himself.
In his book The List, Chet Dettlinger, a former investigator on the case, also raises the specter of a child sex ring along with other possibilities, and establishes a geographic pattern for the killings. Suggestions in the press that, in some cases, the families were being investigated were met with a considerable outcry from the community, as well as criticism of how long it took officials to acknowledge the problem. Once the leadership admitted something was wrong, many criticized how quickly the killings became politicized. There was also considerable controversy about who was included on the official list and who wasn’t — many believe the actual number of murders was much higher. The national news media largely got the story wrong, popping in during sweeps periods or whenever some high profile national figure showed up to demand answers or express outrage. Local media stuck with the case full-time, from gut-wrenching interviews with grieving mothers to allegations that money from the victims’ fund was being misappropriated for tummy tuck operations and new cars.
In general, Atlanta doesn’t handle high profile crimes very well, whether it’s the rape and murder of a poor Irish girl in 1913 or the deaths of twenty-nine children and adults between 1979-1981. The city cultivates a reputation for being a great place to live and do business, and events which tarnish that reputation tend to get swept under the carpet quickly. Many breathed a sigh of relief when a splash heard in the waters of the Chattahoochee river beneath the James Jackson Parkway bridge led to the arrest of Wayne Williams, and the FBI’s complicated fiber evidence tied him to many other cases with which he’d not been charged. The fact is, Williams was convicted of killing two adults, Jimmy Ray Payne, age 21, and Nathaniel Cater age 28. It was discovery of Cater’s body in the river a few days after the infamous splash which led authorities to focus on Williams as the prime suspect. Since bodies were discovered in numerous cities and counties, there were jurisdictional issues which complicated the trial and limited the crimes Williams could be tried for in Fulton County. The notion that the killings stopped after Williams was arrested has been disputed by Dettlinger among other critics.
Serial Blackface is a compelling play which presents the audience with a family spiraling out of control and a mother’s misguided attempts to regain stability at any cost. It shows us that all actions have consequences and by failing to consider those consequences, bad situations can quickly become much worse. While I was not always certain of the motives behind each character’s choices, I found the characters believable and relatable. I believe the play suffers by tying itself to the events of the Atlanta Child Murders, because it adds a good deal of weight to the play that the story is unable to support. That being said, I do applaud the playwright for reminding us of this dark time in Atlanta’s history and providing us with a stark lesson that there’s still much work to do if we’re to become a truly egalitarian society. If this work helps to get the conversation started, it has served its subject matter well.
“The world is coming to Atlanta!”
—Ad for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
For seventeen days in the summer of 1996, Atlanta entered the Bizarro World, where the downtown connector was clear, MARTA was packed, and the world stopped by for a visit. Less than a year before, Atlanta had been thrilled when the Braves brought home their first and only World Series pennant since coming to town, so spirits were high as ’96 dawned. Atlanta had worked hard to get the Olympics, under the watchful eye of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, or ACOG as it was more commonly known. They were responsible for everything from seeing that the city was ready for the influx of international athletes and spectators, to giving the Atlanta Games the worst mascot in the entire history of sports in the form of Whatizit, or Izzy, the blue blob in sneakers which had absolutely nothing to do with the city’s past, present or future. The Paralympics, held a month or so afterward in the same venues, got it right with their mascot, Blaze, which was based on Atlanta’s symbol, the Phoenix.
At the time of the Olympics, I was serving as Membership Vice President for the Atlanta Junior Chamber of Commerce, or Jaycees, to which I had been elected a few months earlier. Like everyone else, our activities were somewhat hampered by events around town so most of us contented ourselves with accomplishing what we could while taking in as much of the Olympics as possible. Apparently, I tried to get a job working concessions at one of the venues, as I have an ID badge from Aramark. I remember going somewhere to get the ID but don’t recall why I didn’t follow through on the job. It’s possible it was a volunteer fundraising opportunity for the Jaycees — where we worked and the organization got paid — that didn’t work out.
Authorities had been warning residents of potential traffic problems for months so the terrifying specter of twenty-four hour gridlock haunted the waking hours of most commuters, sending them to seek out suburban park and ride lots to hook up with public transport while the Games were in progress. This brought about a completely different reality than the one foretold, as suburbanites, frightened into not driving, crowded onto MARTA, leaving the highways far less crammed. I lived in East Point at the time and had to commute through town to North Druid Hills for work. To say I was pleasantly surprised to encounter rush hour traffic in downtown Atlanta that was moving fifty-five to sixty miles an hour is putting it mildly. Driving through town I passed the Olympic Stadium every morning and evening, making it one of the few times I’ve driven in town as an adult where I actually enjoyed the trip.
To finance the building of Centennial Park, ACOG sold bricks where one could have his or her name imprinted. I purchased one in memory of my father, who died in April, 1995. The brick is located in Section 63, making it easier for me to remember where it is, as that’s the year I was born. Right next to my father’s brick is one commemorating Jim Morrison.
The relationship between city government, ACOG, and the International Olympic Committee was often tense. A number of construction projects were being finished just as Olympic officials started arriving and news reports were full of stories about haughty officials or their families demanding special treatment or otherwise being rude. Other countries’ delegations complained about the rampant patriotism on display at venues, particularly the indoor gymnastics events, where deafening chants of “USA, USA!” made it difficult for athletes to concentrate. Despite all the hiccups, the mood around Atlanta was festive and lighthearted as everyone looked forward to the best Games ever.
All that changed on the evening of 27 July when a bomb went off in Centennial Park, killing or contributing to the deaths of two people and injuring a hundred and eleven. The death toll would have been much higher, had it not been for the actions of a sharp-eyed security guard named Richard Jewell. While 911 operators argued over the address of Centennial Park after receiving an anonymous bomb threat, Jewell spotted a suspicious backpack, notified his superiors and began evacuating the area. His reward for what may have been the most remarkable achievement of his career was to be crucified in the press after an overzealous FBI leaked his name as a suspect. While he won a court case against the news network and was eventually vindicated with the arrest and conviction of Eric Rudolph some years later, it’s doubtful his reputation ever fully recovered. He died on 29 August 2007 at age forty-four.
The morning after the attack, I had a ticket to see Olympic tennis at Stone Mountain. I woke up, dressed, and hopped on MARTA without turning on the television, and did not learn of the details of the bombing until I arrived at Kensington station and saw the front page of the Journal/Constitution. I had been hearing rumblings along the way of beefed up security, due to an incident, but didn’t know the full extent of it until I saw the paper. In addition to that one morning of tennis which stretched into the late afternoon due to several lengthy rain delays, and which featured Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, other events I attended included one night of track and field at Olympic Stadium, and one afternoon when I drove to Athens to see the finals of rhythmic gymnastics. I had been invited by a colleague to see the first match-up of the US versus Cuba in baseball, but we failed to hook up at the venue and since he had the tickets, I couldn’t get in.
Before the Games began, I managed to see the torch relay at three separate locations around town but only specifically recall two of them, once on Roswell Road one evening with some friends, and once on Clifton Road in the afternoon, in front of the CDC, where I was working. Someone who worked on my floor was one of the torch bearers and I was able to have a picture taken with the torch. I believe the third was on Peachtree Street close to the intersection of West Peachtree, near where the Jaycees had their offices. This one was by chance, as I’d gone to the location for another purpose and just happened to find myself in close proximity to the relay.
One of the enduring landmarks from the Games is the statue in Midtown entitled The World Athletes Monument but which I’ve always called The Statue of Five Naked Guys Holding Up the Globe that Prince Charles Gave Us During the Olympics. A few years later, when Princess Diana was killed in a car accident, the statue became the focal point in town for remembrances of her, which is ironic considering she and Charles had been divorced for a number of years by that point. There were numerous other arts projects, part of the Cultural Olympiad which coincided with the Games. Plays were written and performed, statues erected, giant murals were painted, many of which were painted over in the intervening years or demolished when the buildings on which they were painted were torn down to make room for something else. There are, still, a few remnants of the Games around, Centennial Park and Turner Field the most visible, but many of the venues were broken down, packed up and shipped elsewhere once the Paralympics were over.
The Atlanta Jaycees had a membership meet and greet scheduled for Lulu’s Bait Shack in Buckhead for the Tuesday after the Olympics closed and it evolved into our “Farewell to the World” party. I recall that Tuesday evening in Buckhead as being packed like a Friday or Saturday, as residents who’d had to stay home to avoid the traffic and hassles of having the Games in town turned out to let off steam once they were gone. A festive atmosphere was evident as we reveled in the fact that we’d survived it all. It must have been reminiscent of how folks reacted when Sherman packed up and headed off to Savannah in 1864, notwithstanding the fact that for us, most of the city was still intact which was one thing for which we were all grateful.
As an Atlanta native, I always find it interesting to read lists of places or activities which characterize denizens of the city, many of which I have little or no familiarity with. Lenox Square Mall, for instance, is cited as the place Atlantans shop, but it wasn’t until I was in high school or college and driving places on my own that I went there on a regular basis, and then it was largely to buy records. Living in West End and East Point, I frequented Lakewood and Greenbriar Malls, later Southlake, and, to a lesser extent, Shannon Mall. The same is true of Buckhead, where I didn’t hang out regularly before mid- to late-college. Virginia Avenue and Old National Highway were the party spots for my friends and I in high school. To the best of my knowledge, I have never been inside the Clermont Lounge. At the time I’d have been most likely to go, in college in the eighties, that part of Ponce was considered very dangerous, particularly for foot traffic. I also cannot recall eating at the Mary Mac, even though I’m distantly related to the family of the former owner of it and despite the fact that I have been to the Krispy Kreme doughnuts across the street. Living south of town, it always required a special trip to get to that part of Atlanta, and there were lots of southern style eateries in between.
When I was born, Carl Sanders was governor of Georgia and Ivan Allen, Jr. was mayor of Atlanta. It was against the law for blacks and whites to eat in the same restaurant in town; desegregation didn’t happen until July of that year. In sports, the Atlanta Crackers was the main professional sports team in town. Within my lifetime, Atlanta acquired the Braves, the Falcons, and the Hawks; acquired then sold the Flames and Thrashers. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was built, then demolished, as was the Omni. I also experienced first hand the “white flight” of the early- to mid-seventies.
While not much of a sports fan, I followed the Braves as a child. Despite all their success in the nineties, in my youth the team had a reputation for being lovable losers. They had great individual players such as Dale Murphy and Phil Niekro, but were rarely able to pull together enough wins as a team to make it to the post season. I attended games in the seventies where we were happy if they won that particular game, let alone the pennant. An entire generation of Atlantans has now grown up with the Braves as the powerhouse contenders they were throughout the nineties.
Growing up in Atlanta, I learned not to get too attached to specific places because they might not be there next time I visited. The Atlanta that people who relocated here in the seventies remember was built over top of the Atlanta I knew as a young child. At one point, the Polaris restaurant, the blue dome at the top of the Hyatt Regency, was one of the tallest structures in the city; now, one must be downtown to see it. Whenever I was traveling South on Peachtree Street in high school or early college, I frequently used the Coke sign at the intersection of Ivy Street to navigate. Once, I got a friend home from there to East Point within ten minutes, despite the traffic. Now, not only is the Coke sign no longer there, Ivy Street was renamed Peachtree Center Avenue in the nineties.
I attended Georgia State University from 1982 through 1987 and usually commuted by bus, as the south line of MARTA was under construction during that time. Before I graduated, Lakewood station opened and my bus, 72 Airport, was rerouted there. At the time, GSU was confined to the central campus downtown. We didn’t have a football team, and the basketball program wasn’t much to speak of either. There were no dorms, and the now heralded law school was in it’s infancy. Since I graduated, the university has expanded throughout the city, has a football program and the campus downtown has added numerous buildings either through purchase or construction. Riding past it on MARTA, I’m still able to recognize most of the campus but there are many new buildings I don’t recall from my time there.
I moved to New York in 1989 and moved back to Atlanta in 1994, two years before the Olympics were held here. In those five years, in preparation for the Games, the city changed greatly. Streets were renamed, businesses closed, buildings were demolished and replaced by new ones. MARTA completed the line out to the airport and rerouted, renamed, or discontinued several bus lines I had used. Even though I visited during the holidays, I wasn’t spending much time traveling around mapping out how the city was changing. By the time I got back and started looking for work, I hardly recognized the place. When I left, for instance, Rio Mall had just opened with much fanfare, and by the time I returned, it was already in decline. Once the Games were over, many of the sporting venues were packed up and moved elsewhere. People who knew me around that time found it amusing that I’d sometimes get lost navigating around town, mainly because of all the changes to a city that was already difficult to navigate in the first place.
I served as president of the Atlanta Junior Chamber of Commerce, or Jaycees, from May, 1997 until April, 1998 and in my plan for the upcoming year, I noted that one of the problems we faced in maintaining a community service organization in Atlanta was the transient nature of our population. Most members at that time had been in town less than five years and would not be here five years after. Most were unmarried, apartment or condo owners, with no solid connection to the community. Most were upwardly mobile professionals, who spent a lot of time at work and in their off-time didn’t want to manage projects, an activity which characterizes many Jaycee chapters. When I joined, I heard the chapter referred to as Atlanta’s largest dating service, and found this to be an apt description in some respects. Our members were more interested in social outings which introduced them to places or activities where they could unwind, enjoy themselves, and meet new people. While we did have a contingency of members with roots in the community, and those who were interested in community service, this did not represent a large segment of the membership. A fair number of people attended a function, joined the chapter, and afterward we never saw them again, or they joined, became active, then were relocated by their employers to another town. Needless to say, membership turnover was always a problem.
Transition has always been a central part of Atlanta’s story. Perhaps the most infamous example of this was in September of 1864, when Sherman’s troops set fire to it as they were beginning their march to the sea during the Civil War. At that point, the city was not much more than the confluence of rail lines which made it an important transportation hub. Now three major Interstates converge in downtown Atlanta and its airport is the busiest in the country. In his speech, The New South, Henry W. Grady extolled the virtues of Atlanta, “…we have built a brave and beautiful city; that somehow or other we have caught the sunshine in the bricks and mortar of our homes, and have builded therein not one ignoble prejudice or memory.” Very good propaganda for northern financiers looking for reliable investments. It also highlights Atlanta’s place as a slightly different southern metropolis, the cultural and economic regional hub it would be for the next hundred plus years. Looking at archival photos of Atlanta throughout its history, one is immediately struck by its radical transformation throughout time; from the railroad lines which gave Five Points its name to the sprawling economic center which gobbled up its former suburbs as it expanded. When I was in high school, people in Marietta and Sandy Springs bristled if one said they were from Atlanta and now, people born there regularly claim to be native Atlantans. With the influx of outside the perimeter (OTP) folks into town, not to mention transplants and immigrants from all over, the development of the Beltline, and the rise of the film industry in Georgia, it seems the only constant in Atlanta is change.