George on Georgia – Driving By Downtown Atlanta
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A few nights ago I had an Anthony Bourdain relapse. I really miss him. My wife Sara and I shelled out $8 for the 2013 season of The Layover with his Atlanta visit, when he somehow talked the Clermont Lounge into waiving its no-cameras-ever policy. I was thinking about how easy it would be for me to travel right now if it weren’t for … well, everything.
Three of the 21 restaurants Bourdain visited had closed before the pandemic. Since then, the Octopus Bar is dead, Octane is dead, Holeman & Finch is marginal, Victory Brands — owner of the Victory Sandwich Bar in Decatur — laid off 100 people and Northern China Eatery reopened its dining room just last week.
The little local places that define Atlanta’s food scene have been on life support for six months, and as long as we’re staring at thousands of deaths, still, we’re left to debate how many more we may need to slaughter to save our lives.
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And then I read this simpering litany of personal failure masquerading as a travel column.
This writer from San Antonio visited Atlanta a few weeks ago, and decided that the austerity of the moment — amid a body count of 6,000 dead and counting — was worth noting. But that wasn’t what set me off.
Apparently, a friend picked him up at the airport. On the way to a beer garden, they turned around because they thought going there would be unsafe. Because of the protests. And because they might get shot. (Editor’s note: This information was later removed from the article and a correction added. Here is a screenshot taken before it was removed.)
Set aside the abject stupidity of nonessential travel in the middle of a pandemic for a second. The odds of getting shot at in Atlanta just heading out to dinner are astronomical. The suggestion isn’t just absurd; in context it’s transparently racist.
It raises the same racist fears that Tex McIver did when trying to explain why he murdered his wife — that he had a gun in his hand while driving past Peachtree and Pine because he was afraid someone would open fire on his car.
Did the writer know about that? Probably not. Did his unnamed friend who lives here know about it? Maybe. He should have. An editor should never have allowed that line, or the stuff about being relieved to be eating at a taco stand without hearing gunfire, to have made it into their paper. The editor, Marc Duvoisin, acknowledged as much.
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Just to be sure, I took a look at crime statistics here. I do math like this for fun. The odds of being shot in a week in September, in Atlanta, all things being equal … were about 30,927 to 1 against. Except of course that everything isn’t actually equal: 90 percent of shooting victims in Atlanta are young, Black and local. The guy is more likely to die of a heart attack at the buffet than getting shot — and he was complaining about not being able to serve himself at the buffet because of COVID-19 restrictions.
What the hell is a travel columnist doing, writing this nonsense right now? I can only speculate: the urban-suburban conservative rhetoric, infecting the dialogue.
I had a conversation with the managing editor of the San Antonio Express News about this column and its redolent racism, and the worst parts of it were removed.
But this racist fearmongering justifies disinvestment in Black neighborhoods, or even in racially mixed neighborhoods, suggesting that the infinitesimal chance of being victimized is sufficient cause to cower in fear — which itself creates the problem.
Go watch Bourdain’s take on Atlanta. Get mad at him for thinking Fat Matt’s Rib Shack was worth visiting and not Fox Bros. Marvel at how he managed to get the Clermont Lounge to let a camera crew in. And ignore any travel writer who encourages you to be a coward instead of embracing the spirit of adventure. Otherwise, what’s the point?
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