Because I work in the public health field, I spend a lot of time in Atlanta due to the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is located there. I go for funders meetings; summits, consultations where I am ostensibly the expert and for national conferences. Let me tell you that’s a lot of peach pie, peachstreets and Delta miles. Many of the health officials I get a chance to meet with are quite pleasant, knowledgeable and dedicated to creating a healthier community. It is one of the few government agencies that I actually respect. When I was much younger I worked for another government agency in Washington DC and let me tell you taxpayers should be really really livid! Now, just because the CDC has a cadre of good, dedicated and competent staff, it does not mean they are all so. There are always a few rotten apples, eh? For example, one CDC official, demanded that I attend a fairly useless meeting while I was on maternity leave and they provided me with a closet in which to pump (while acting as if I were a diva for asking for some privacy). That person has since had a baby, and I truly hope she got to enjoy her maternity leave without interruption and if she is breastfeeding may she enjoy the joys that come with it. (I will leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out if I have a facetious tone in my head voice at the moment).
I actually kind of like Atlanta. For a die-hard New Yorker like myself (who has never driven a car) I have been able to not only survive in Atlanta (for 6 months) but also thrive—albeit, oftentimes on the kindness of strangers. Colleagues with cars, for example, have been so kind to transport me about. However, their public transportation system called Marta is quite efficient even going directly into the Airport. If only they would approve that increase in taxes to bolster that transportation system but alas tea party politics and just the politics of public infrastructure are quite ferocious. Thus, people prefer to drive 50 minutes each way in there car instead of paying a few extra pennies in taxes and expanding what is already a fairly good public transportation system. If you are ever trying to catch a flight out of Atlanta around 6pm: beware! That traffic will cause you exhaust-fume dizziness from being stalled for long periods of time on the highway. But, hey, I’m a New Yorker and I walk or train it and I mostly walk which is why all my health indicators are in very good standing.
Ethnicity and race are interesting issues to reflect upon in Atlanta. As a true southern city that rightly and beautifully memorializes Martin Luther King Jr., a lot of racial issues are Black and White. But that is rapidly changing. From 1980 to 1995, the Hispanic population in the state of Georgia grew by 130%. By the time the 2000s ended, Georgia was the third largest state for migrating Hispanics. There is even a “Festival Peachtree Latino” event that occurs in August for the past twelve years in Midtown Atlanta. When I worked briefly in Atlanta for six months, I would take the bus from Lindbergh Station. Everyday, I saw tons of Latinos boarding those buses. What was cool to watch was how there was a sense of camaraderie amongst the Latinos even if they didn’t personally know each other. Sometimes when individuals didn’t have the required change to board the bus, other Hispanics already seated on the bus would stretch their arms out the windows and hand money to those waiting outside so that they could board the bus and go home or their jobs. There was no expectation of getting the money back. There was just the sentiment and belief of paying it forward. One time, I was seated at the station for a while as I waited for an out-of-town guest to come via marta. Several people had noticed I was seated there for a while and came over and handed me money to board the bus. They believed I had run out of money. I was so touched by that Hispanic camaraderie blended with southern hospitality. Now, on those buses weren’t just Hispanic riders. There were also many Ethiopians and other Africans. The buses up and down Buford Highway, at times, seemed like a rolling United Nations. . I once went into a store in underground Atlanta and the cashier came over to me and asked me if I was a Nuyorican. I was a little taken a back. What signal was I emitting?
Last time I was there (just last week) a Sudanese cab driver invited me to a restaurant to sample his country’s cuisine. I did not take him up on the offer. But how cool is it that in Atlanta, you have such diversity of restaurants and cuisines. On Buford highway alone, that cuts through a certain part of Atlanta that is near the CDC (and the pink pony) you can find Cuban, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Greek and Mexican to name a few cuisines. No wonder Ms. New York here likes Atlanta. I absolutely love Ethiopian food and cannot get enough of that injera soaked with dora wat.
Now, of course there are things that can be improved. Silly things such as the AC system. What I don’t like is how every building is air conditioned to the max; yet another place where you have to wear a parka indoors in the summer. And while, I appreciate the great work that the CDC does, how is it that it doesn’t have a true impact locally? High syphilis rates as an example. Sometimes you got to take care of your own issues before you tell others how to address theirs. Credibility and empathy (not sympathy) can go a long way. Also, while Atlanta is becoming diversified its infrastructure including public policies has yet to catch up with the growing population and the growing diverse population.
They say the South shall rise again—when it does; it will be because of the diverse new group of individuals, Hispanics included, who are changing the landscape and adding to the yummy food choices.
So, serve me up some of the peach pie, with some fried chicken wrapped within injera and top it off with some salsa and add some tres leches on the side.