From Los Angeles to Atlanta: a Culture Shock Indeed!
The following is a guest post by Nicole Grays Owens. Her bio follows.
Los Angeles, otherwise known at the “City of Angels.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Alluring even. Angels! It doesn’t get any cooler than that. So who would want to leave such a cornucopia of ethereal beings, an abundance of sunshine, palm trees galore, luxury whips at every red light, ideal weather year-round, numerous beaches and the perfectly tanned bodies to go with, delightful bistros, shopping in Beverly Hills, perfectly capped Colgate smiles, and all the A-list celebrities you can pay the Paparazzi to photograph? Ummm… Me, that’s who.
Desperately needing a change from my familiar routine (the Hollywood sign high in the hills on a clear day during my commute), the regular faces playing chess and smoking cigars (at the Starbucks and TGIF in LaDera Heights), and bumper-to-bumper traffic, not to mention just getting numb to all the trappings that lure others by the droves to L.A., I on the other hand was long overdue for a change of scenery and a different quality of life – a slightly slower pace, southern drawls, men with manners, different architectural structures, restaurants that proudly served fried foods and sweet tea, and actual seasons to boot. So without so much as a visit to check the joint out, I sold everything I owned, packed up what would fit in my car and moved to Atlanta in 2006, sight unseen.
Friends and family alike thought I was half nutty and half courageous for making such a dramatic, life-changing decision without so much as a second thought. But I had thought about it. Weighed it out. Angels in one hand, peaches in the other. What the hell – I decided to take a bite out of life and see what all the fuzz was about.
For years I’d heard that Atlanta was a Mecca of sorts for Black people. I was black and wanted to mecca, so off I went. Excited! What I experienced upon arrival was not at all what I expected. Culture shock set in immediately, and for the first year I got so lost and turned around so easily that the only places I dared to venture to were the offices of Turner Broadcasting where I worked, Publix where grocery shopping is a pleasure, and Macy’s once, because I didn’t even own a winter coat.
Arriving in November to temperatures in the teens threw me for a loop. Who knew it got cold and windy enough to slap you into compliance immediately if you weren’t appropriately dressed? Eventually I had to leave for a few months to regroup – arm myself mentally before returning, this time ready to conquer “The A”!
Atlanta: Take Two.
The four major freeways here are 285, which circles the perimeter of Atlanta, 75/85, which after ten years still confuses the hell out of me, and 20. I’ve mastered 285 and 20. But the thought of 75/85 still scares the crap out of me, and I steer clear at any opportunity. It’s okay if you’re laughing. I invite – no, I double-dog dare you to visit, hop in a car, turn on your GPS, and see where it lands you. My guarantee is this: You’ll be lost long before you’re found. And did I mention everything closes at 10pm? So whatever you’re seeking you better find it by 9:45 or you can consider yourself SOL until the next day.
The Good, The Bad, And The Other
My biggest disappointment thus far has been the lack of southern hospitality. One would be hard pressed to meet someone who resides in Atlanta who’s actually from Atlanta. It’s the ultimate melting pot. You’ll find New Yorkers, Californians, Chicagoans, and for some odd reason a slew of imports from Ohio (still can’t figure that one out). Haitians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Latinos and Asians…all here. Remember those capped Colgate smiles I mentioned earlier? Diamond “grills” and gold teeth rule in the South. Not to insult, just describing the real.
There are pockets of truly decent people, both male and female, who live in the Land of Peaches. And they date by county. You’re probably wondering what this means. Let me fill you in: Every vehicle has a rear license plate, right? Well, in Atlanta your county is listed, so if a potential suitor were to approach, they are quick to check your plate before asking your name. If the county is too far from theirs, you can forget dating. Anything more than twenty minutes is a turn-off and a hassle due to the traffic here. Yes! It’s as bad as anything you can imagine on the 405 in Los Angeles during rush hour, only with eighteen wheelers taking up two of the four-lane highways here.
Atlanta is also a hot-bed of fake, phony, thieving, crafty and shady folks. They talk fast, drive even faster, and will try to get over on you so quickly it’ll make your head spin. Here you are thinking about that slower pace and down-home southern living; but before you know it, one wrong move and you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah before you’ve had a chance to blink. So if you visit or end up a resident, like I’ve been for the past ten years, be on guard. Atlanta has a swingers establishment and strip clubs that rival anything Las Vegas has to offer. And sadly, on a day-to-day basis most everyone wants something for nothing, and that mindset is as common as a seasonal cold.
But don’t count it out just yet. Atlanta offers some good stuff too. This city is thriving, and I’d be remiss to leave the peachy side unexposed. HBCU’s and Emory play a major role in why so many families either move here or send their offspring to further their education. We have some of the most beautiful and exclusive residential communities: Gorgeous mansions on grounds with private golf clubs and water features, more bang for your buck as far as cost-of-living expenses, major household-name companies like Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young and CNN are headquartered inside the Perimeter (that would be Midtown or Downtown Atlanta).
The shopping here doesn’t quite rival that of Rodeo Drive, but Lenox Mall and Phipps Plaza in Buckhead offer as much Gucci, Christian Louboutin and Audemars Piquet as your American Express can handle. Then there is the entertainment industry. Atlanta has quickly become the Hollywood of the South. There are actors, artists, singers, musicians, poets, writers and the like, which gives you a low-key Cali vibe, if you’re into that scene. And if you’re an enterprising entrepreneur, Atlanta is certainly a city you should consider. It’s the land of “the come up” and I’ve managed to do quite well here. Admittedly, after ten years, all these peaches and their fuzz have grown on me; but as they say, there really is no place like home. Los Angeles. I still do miss the fog and the smog. The beaches and the beauty. The mountains and the movie stars.
Home is Where You Make It
Ultimately, opportunities are everywhere you look, and the elusive cool kids of Cali are actually accessible here too, with LA’s six degrees of separation being more like two in Atlanta. If you can adjust and keep your head on straight, it’s easy to make your way into the right circles and elevate your game. And although that southern hospitality is lacking, just about everyone here is about networking; in Atlanta it’s not what you know but who you know.
So if “The A” is calling your name and it seems as if someone is shouting “hey Shawty,” then gear up good people and put your reservations to the side. The dreaded 75/85 await your arrival. Should you see me rolling along, toot your horn and wave. I promise to smile and point you in the right direction if you’re lost. But if you want the fuzz, that’ll cost you extra. I told you, the hustle is real!