I’ve tried to leave Atlanta twice. The first time was after just one semester here, right around the time Y2K didn’t happen. The second time was when I returned to my hometown of Baltimore for three years in the mid-2000s. Both times I found my way back. All my family is still up north, but all my friends are here. This is my home now, but it might not always be. Before you tell me not to let the door hit me in the ass on the way out, let me explain.
You know that saying, “You’re not in traffic. You are traffic?” Well, that’s how I still see my situation here in Atlanta. I don’t ask myself why we can’t get our shit together with a decent transportation plan (speaking of traffic). I ask myself why you can’t get your shit together. It’s a problem, I know. Another problem is that I’m not alone.
It’s hardly news that this is largely a city of transplants from other cities. This is great for its overall melting-potness, I suppose, but it does very little for allegiance, for loyalty. Baltimore had its own football team stolen away in the dead of night and shipped off to Indianapolis. Still, no one moved out of town. That was unheard of. We all just griped for 15 years and drank a little too much until we got another team.
But in Atlanta? Oh man, in Atlanta I hear people talking about moving back to Cleveland (or wherever they’re from) over the baseball team moving to another county. And that’s the problem with a city of transplants. We’ve all got an exit strategy. It’s got to stop.
Until that happens, this will only just be a city of visitors—fair-weather fans, tourists in our own town. What we need are citizens. We need residents who are locked in, who are ready to do the work.
A friend of mine once told me, after he’d been stuck behind a car that was skidding out after an ice storm: “There are two kinds of people. The ones who sit there and honk, and the ones who get out and push.” We’ve got to decide who we’re going to be, and soon.
I say “soon” because this city is in the midst of a massive transfusion of new residents. The apartments are going up faster than people can rent them. I’d like to think that they’ll look to us to get the lay of the land, for some indication of how to act. That means the senior class needs to have its act together. That’s us.
I’ve seen some of my most talented friends leave Atlanta in the past five years, mostly for Brooklyn and San Francisco. Good riddance, you say. Who needs ’em? We’re better off without ’em. Well, no. We need them. We are worse off without them.
They left because they saw more opportunity in those other cities, and because they were tired of watching their own city culturally gut and otherwise cannibalize itself. They left because Atlanta couldn’t get it together, and I don’t blame them. Divorces happen. The Colts are still in Indianapolis. But what the people didn’t do is piss and moan and threaten to leave without doing anything about it. That kind of crying “wolf” is murder on a city’s morale. It’s time to get out and push.
The developers are here, and our new neighbors are coming, like it or not. Don’t worry, they’re probably charming people just like the rest of us. They’ll be turning to us to show them how to leave work an hour early, where’s the best patio for a beer, which $20 pizza to invest in. These are all things to love about Atlanta. Atlanta deserves our love. But as long as we’ve all still got half a mind to jump ship, it’s not love—just an extended one-night stand.
Paul Cantrell is on Twitter.