Reflections on Blue Sky closing

The Athens Banner-Herald finally presented the story on why Blue Sky Cafe closed. The summary it presents is that they did not generate the revenue they expected after they did an expensive remodeling job and began serving dinner and drinks, and so they did not have enough cash to operate. Whereas I and others that didn't like the change might want to say that they shouldn't have fixed what wasn't broken, their impetus to change in the first place was the fact that their sales were declining, so they were in trouble regardless. A remark from one of the owners quoted in the story is that they probably would have benefitted from a name change, so they have realized that the coffee shop's goodwill was not transferrable to new services.

What does this all mean? The article noted strong competition from Jittery Joe's. I also think that Starbucks must have had an effect because Starbucks has indeed served a lot of coffee beverages that Blue Sky could have served. It is also the case that recent economic problems of the last couple of years have caused a decline in travel and consumption of food services, so Blue Sky may have been hit by that. Perhaps if Blue Sky had stayed the course they may have seen their sales pick back up since supposedly the economy is improving now.

In summary, I would speculate that the economy and competition hurt Blue Sky. I would encourage everyone to ask themselves why they ever went to Starbucks instead of Blue Sky, which is asking why you would shun a unique local business run by people with passion for their work in favor of a corporate entity only concerned with profits for their shareholders. (I admit that I have gone to Starbucks for the brighter lighting.) I am also curious if Blue Sky was entering a market that really needed a new player when it began serving food and drinks -- maybe it moved from serving coffee in a saturated market to serving food in an even more saturated market, but I would like to hear opinions on that.


Blue Sky Closes -- WTF?

This is totally surprising, and I wish it were a false rumor: The Day Jobs blog reports that Blue Sky Cafe has closed for good. Maybe everything that touches the north side of the Western Union building turns to crap. I never asked Perry Pledger if it was due to success or failure, but he told me about selling an ice cream business that occupied that unit, and then I think it went downhill afterwards. There was some kind of grill there for a time when I first came to Athens, and generally I didn't pay much attention to which businesses were there until Peter Woodworth started Classic Dogg 'N Deli. Peter seemed really hardworking and friendly, so when he closed for renovations and stayed closed I don't know if it was because of failure or because the Blue Sky people made a good offer. They turned two separate units into one, so if the north side space is bad luck then the whole floor is screwed now. The reason for the alleyway on that side is to provide a fire escape path for Clayton Street apartment residents, and the county requires clearance four feet wide. Anyway, Blue Sky was looking neat and swanky, so I am surprised that there is sudden trouble. I wonder if maybe they should just reorganize the operations, get a new name, and reopen as a restaurant without the coffee shop schizophrenia. If anyone has information about what the deal is, please write comments.


South Campus labyrinth

The Romance Languages department was either sadistic or just desperate for lecture hall space, so I had to go to the Pharmacy Building to take my final exam last night. Yes, last night at 7:00 p.m., a wonderful time to find your way around a new place. A classmate and I approached the building from the west side, walking through the McPhaul Center grounds after which we encountered a massive complex of greenhouses and gardens. This is the kind of place Saddam Hussein used to hide his stuff from the UN.

Each row of greenhouse space is connected by more enclosed structure, and the adjacent gardens have confusing pathways and long landscaping enclosures that impede foot traffic. So we walked past this place only to encounter a fence right against the grounds that forced us to turn around. We eventually found a twisted pathway to the Pharmacy Building, so we followed it, walked up to the building, and found the door locked. College of Pharmacy and Romance Languages, damn you both. Romance Languages, you sent a bunch of undergraduates to a building they've never had any business in before after dark. College of Pharmacy, you can't play host to other colleges and lock them out.

I guess the Pharmacy Building people expect everyone to use the front door, but the front door is also highly inaccessible. I later left through the front door and got lost around the greenhouses again. I guess I was supposed to take the D.W. Brooks Greenway all the way to Carlton Street and then walk back to my car in the S10 lot. Pardon the expression, but that's like going around your ass to get to your elbow. The Greenway is some lofty, ivory-tower scheme to make South Campus pedestrian friendly, but it is blockaded from casual use by labyrinthine sidewalks, greenhouses, and construction fences. I still cannot figure out how to walk straight from a parking lot to that greenway. At least the North Campus quads that inspired the monstrosity have straight sidewalks that reach other straight sidewalks along straight roadways accessible to the public.

OK, OK, so am I supposed to park in East Bumble and take a bus? The nearest bus stops are incredibly far away from the Pharmacy Buidling and God forbid you want to take a bus to the ecology department. By building a stupid greenway over an important traffic corridor and closing the cross streets, the architects have guaranteed that the buses are never going to help you in this area and that pedestrians are going to be too freaking tired to look at all those pedestrian-friendly trees and fences that got planted. This is the architectural epitome of a Southern backhanded compliment.

Yes, so the only straight path through South Campus involves wire cutters (for fences) and crowbars (for greenhouses). The fences are blocking off Green Street, which is an important cross street. I called the grounds maintenance director of the Physical Plant, Dexter Adams, and he explained that utility construction has been ongoing for a very long time. (Green Street was closed immediately after the Greenway opened, and it has been closed ever since.) I mentioned I had to go to the Pharmacy Building, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. He said that as soon as possible they will be opening the sidewalks as the utilities project nears completion, so he understands the labyrinth problem. After that, the third phase of the greenway project will be started. The utilities director, John Benca, views his work in the context of the bigger picture of the university's mission, so I'd bet he also understands the frustration that the project is causing. So while it would be nice to rail against the incompetence of some administrator or contractor, I doubt the Physical Plant deserves any blame for Green Street being closed month after month after month.


Radioactive vomit indeed

Jackson Street really was partially blocked for a cleanup of radioactive vomit last week. According to the incident report from the University of Georgia Police Department, the victim of the illness had taken radioactive iodine pills. She vomited into a paper bag and a box and had laid them on the street. Her husband said that her physician, who was contacted by phone, warned there would only be danger if physical contact was made with the vomit. Her husband drove away with the containers. The county fire department's hazmat people declared the area safe, but the university's Environmental Safety Division checked on the scene and detected radiation, so they spraypainted over the residue to contain it, and a barricade was placed over the spot. The barricade is still there today in the southbound bike lane of Jackson Street at Fulton Street.

Big question: What did the victim's husband do with the vomit? I hope the physician had some manner of disposing of it. And what happened to their car? Of course we wonder how radioactive the material could have been since obviously it was safe enough for medical use, probably for medical imaging and diagnosis. I mean, the university was concerned about the residue left after it was cleaned up. An unofficial speculation is that the final steps were taken to protect the institution from liability. (I had assumed Jackson Street belongs to the county, though. Jurisdiction over streets is a little confusing.)


Chris Tucker, WUOG News Director

David: "WUOG News...bringing you the hard-hitting investigative journalism you deserve and asking the important questions of important people."

Chris: "What the hell is this? Who the hell are you? Where the hell are we? What the hell is this microphone looking thing?"

--from a promo script already aired and transcribed on wuog.org

WUOG Newsroom WUOG FM Filing Cabinet Chris Tucker at WUOG

WUOG is the student-run radio station at the University of Georgia broadcasting on 90.5 MHz FM. If you tune in at various times you'll hear a lot of different music -- including rock, jazz, reggae, country, and all kinds of foreign stuff -- as well as a range of talk programs, news reports, various announcements, remote broadcasts, and even live performances by bands playing at the radio studio itself.

I have often heard a mature radio professional reading the news on air, and he identifies himself as Chris Tucker, the news director. But one Wednesday afternoon while sitting in one of our white university vans, I tuned in to 90.5 and caught the show "All Up in Your Grill," which is apparently a regularly scheduled bitch session for none other than Chris Tucker and friends. I was suddenly exposed to the disgruntled, violent, and -- most importantly -- tee-totally hilarious side of the guy. (Hilari-ass would be the appropriate adjective.) Basically, he is funnier than the celebrity of the same name. I decided that you, gentle reader, needed to learn more about him, so I climbed the narrow, winding stairway of Memorial Hall to the fifth floor to talk to him (yes, I could have taken the elevator).

Tucker is an international affairs major in his senior year at UGA, and his studies focus on the profileration of weapons of mass destruction. He started at WUOG his freshman year and worked for a year and a half as the public affairs director before moving into his current position last April, so all his broadcast journalism experience is based at this station. He chose UGA over Georgia Tech after graduating from Collins Hill High School in Lawrenceville, the "land of surburban horror" as he described it. He interns at the Center for International Trade and Security, which provides him the chance to expand his studies, visit Washington, D.C., and be apprised of special opportunities. He said, "The funny story is that I was recruited by the CIA, the part of the CIA that doesn't exist ... operations. Operations doesn't explicitly exist -- that's like the spies and stuff. And I wanted to be a desk monkey, so I was kind of confused as to why I was there."

So what does the news department at WUOG do? "I coordinate a small group of journalists. We do top-of-the-hour newscasts, we do a weekly news magazine called Athens Journal Wednesdays at five ... and then we also do special events, like, you know, if another football coach got fired for doing something ignorant, we do live coverage of that, or if someone punched president Adams in the face and stole his wallet. And then we did a seven-hour election special on election night ... I still do a talk show called 'All Up in Your Grill' at six o'clock on Wednesdays, which is just these anger-based rants upon whatever upsets me on any given week. ... You have the crazy version of me. ... I welcome callers that want to argue with me because it's not like Bill O'Reilly where we'll cut you off if we don't like your point. ... Like today, I bashed the Amazing Students thing on the UGA website because I think that's just the biggest crock ever created."

Yes, you'll find that Tucker can be just as opinionated as he can be professional or funny. He was involved in an hour-long bashing of the Red & Black newspaper once: "What a horrible fishwrap crapfest of a paper it was, a giant grammatical deluge, sentence fragments and incoherent ideas. The other thing that I've gotten some flack for is that our news department and our public affairs department will not cover SGA [the Student Government Association] because I do not believe it to be a real organization. And I've gotten some heat from the Athletic Association for calling the addition to the stadium a monstrosity that blocks out the freaking sun." He agreed with my observation that apparently some people take his comments too seriously, which must be the case since the stadium undeniably has grown to monstrous sun-blocking proportions, eclipsing the attractive architecture of Memorial Hall and Reed Hall with its utilitarian concrete mass. He isn't the only WUOG member to complain about the loss of sunlight on the fifth floor. Anyway, because he so often vehemently defends his views on the air, when people recognize him he feels he has to immediately apologize.

He explained more of his position on the SGA: "I feel like SGA is people going for lines on the resume and not making any real accomplishments. If you watch -- and watch -- the president of SGA is always a dopey-looking shaggy-haired frat guy, the vice president is always a very tall, very slim blonde girl -- without fail. Just watch. It's uncanny. I think there are parts of SGA that do great things -- like their minority board, their public works board -- but they never publicize, you never hear about it."

So Tucker really makes an impression on the community. He was recently asked to emcee a music festival held for the benefit of the Athens Justice Project, though back at the station he has made the place a welcome media outlet for student organizations and university representatives to visit in order to share news and announcements. He enjoys talking to a variety of people on the air, the most notable people being comedian Patton Oswalt and the creators of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming.

We talked a bit about the music played on WUOG. "It's a music philosophy that you either love or hate. It's all independent artists. Sometimes it can be just ambient noise ... sometimes you hear what's obviously the next great band. ... Our music philosophy can be described as really hit or miss, and what's interesting about our audience is our audience is not college students at UGA. I mean, yeah, there are college kids that listen to us, but thae vast makeup of our audience, I've found, is the townies of Athens," which includes those into the music scene as well as county employees at work. He said that WUOG is lauded at College Music Journal conferences by other stations for having such an independent voice, which surprises Tucker "because up here to me it's just like we're just a ragtag bunch of thugs doing whatever we do on a daily basis."

So what does Tucker think of Athens, Georgia? "I truly love this town, I love this campus. I bash certain aspects of it because ... anywhere you go there are things that upset people. I seriously want to go to law school here, not because of the law school, but because I don't want to leave here. ... Part of me knows I probably should branch out and get a change because I know the rest of the world isn't like this." He said that the unique character of Athens is revealed by its attraction to national figures, such as when Patton Oswalt came to Athens a second time to record his CD: "He said this place is like no place else, that these little college towns like Athens are like these wonderful sanctuaries, is how he saw it, these sanctuaries of progressive thinking -- which is debatable, but I'd agree with that -- progressive thinking, friendly people, and I agree with that. I'll admit that I despise the really pretentious indie rock alliance members ... I despise the really air-headed drunken Greek system that we have here. I've found very few pluses from those sides. But as far as the townies, the people you meet ... Here's an example: This music festival I was emceeing, benefitted the Athens Justice Project, a wonderful cause -- anyone can go look into it, research it -- and there were literally seven bands donating their time and energy to play. And on top of that there were these professional stage crew people that built a massive, fully functional wooden stage from scratch -- stayed up until four in the morning, volunteering their time for this to make this event happen. I gotta love the people, I gotta love the atmosphere."

Tucker is grateful for the skills the radio station has helped him develop and for the opportunities for fun experiences and interesting interviews, and when I asked what more he like to add to this article, he said he wanted to encourage students to go out and explore. One can do as he did with WUOG and just find a flyer advertising a club or an opportunity and go check it out.


Little Italy

The only Little Italy location I've visited is the one in Athens on North Lumpkin Street. It is a piece of laid-back local college town flavor if I ever did see one. For one thing, it is dirty as hell -- straight up, dog. Furnishings and fixtures are grimy and worn out. There are large globs of dust collected on the ceiling. But the lighting is dim and accented by green neon, so the harshness is subdued. What is really interesting is the way the guys at the counter call out order numbers like they were regular Italians in New York or something. There is also quite a bit of humor and high energy among them. The nicer wooden tables stay packed by college students chattering about their academic pursuits and various activities that they're worried with at the time. The rear section has a mural covering a number of walls illustrating various sports at UGA, and the playing fields all have a Pepsi logo appearing behind them. The front door has a heavily defaced sticker that used to say "RESTROOM IS FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY." Once certain letters were scratched off so that it said "RESTROOM IS FOR TOM ONLY." Now it says nothing legible.


Downtown digs

I just had to write that stupid title. Anyway, last week I asked to see a fellow philosophy student's downtown apartment. He invited me along for my first ever visit to an apartment in downtown Athens. The whole idea of living downtown is very interesting, even though the traffic, parking, and noise could surely be challenging to deal with. The apartment is one of those located on an upper floor above a few businesses. I remarked at the skylight in the living area, and he told me that is their only window. I knew it was a loft apartment, but I was still surprised at what I saw. These lofts aren't wide open spaces but rather enclosed spaces accessed through small openings. Well, there is an open loft and they have a chair on it, but it could also just serve as a large plant shelf since it isn't that wide. I climbed the ladder to look into this guy's loft, and he had a lot of stuff that you would normally see in a bedroom, but the space was only a few feet high. I had to tell him that it reminded me of the seven-and-a-half floor in Being John Malkovich, and he said I wasn't the first to tell him that. One of his roommates uses the loft on the opposite side of the living space, and I saw that it was a bit smaller. His other two roommates have regular bedrooms, one of which has its own bathroom. He explained that they contribute more to the monthly rent, a rent which is vastly inflated for its downtown advantage, but a price worth paying if living downtown suits your needs.


Hot Dog King

A couple sells hot dogs from a cart labeled "HOT DOG KING" on South Jackson Street (the photo is from last week). Their basic hot dog is priced at $2.00. I tried to talk them into selling me my first hot dog for $1.50, but neither of them backed down. I began by asking what size they are, and the lady told me they were regular size, which I tried to use for leverage. I said that I could get a chili dog for cheaper at the Varsity, but the gentleman said the Varsity was far away. (That's evidence that businesses near campus like to take advantage of the captive population of students and employees.) I didn't bother telling him I was going to be at Broad and Milledge in about 20 minutes. I just didn't buy a hot dog. I did buy one weeks later, and though it was decent it was nothing to write home about.

Seen on Herty Drive

Spraypainted message says, "ZELL IS A TRAITOR."
Herty Drive: spraypainted message


No chemistry test today

I was in the Russell Hall parking lot just after the tornado sirens began sounding. The police started driving around with their lights flashing and announcing through their public address speakers that there was a tornado warning and that people should stay off the road. A co-worker and I wandered into Russell Hall for shelter where the staff was instructing everyone to stay in hallways on the first three floors, so we found ourselves in a crowd of freshmen. The nearest activities to pass the time were some guys watching a "Jackass" DVD and other guys playing guitars. After maybe 20 minutes we got the "all clear" message and then went to experience the gameday-style gridlock on the roads that ensued after the university closed for the rest of the day.


Get 'em

I came over a hill on Riverbend Road the night before the Georgia Southern game and found the road at the bottom of the hill flanked with police cars and several cops standing on the centerline. Roadblock? No. Sobriety check? Probably. The officer at the front began waving me and my government vehicle through. As I approached I heard some shouting that ended with "...pickup truck!" Three officers simultaneously sprung into action as if springloaded. It was as impressive as synchronized swimming. I could see the one that darted in front of me grab his hat and hold it down as he began sprinting. A police car from the left also cut in front of me and across the oncoming traffic and then sped away. I imagine they could have scored several DUI arrests and probably a few underage-by-possesion.


UGA is not pedestrian friendly

The University of Georgia has a long way to go to realize its pipe dream of being pedestrian friendly. In some places sidewalks are totally blocked off by shrubbery and fences, forcing pedestrians into traffic before they can access them. Roads have been narrowed, making riding in buses more dangerous due to crazy car drivers that pass in no-passing zones, but buses are essential to helping pedestrians and reducing traffic. The architects have wished away vehicles by turning driveways and parking spaces into sidewalks -- so service vehicles have to park and drive on sidewalks. It's very unfriendly to me as a pedestrian to be on a sidewalk with trucks coming at me from both directions. The Coca-Cola tractor-trailer that makes deliveries has to drive over a curb and park on a sidewalk, which damages the curb. All this sidewalk driving culture also makes some University employees feel they have a license to drive as if they were emergency vehicles, such as the wrong way on one-way streets or over medians to make U-turns. Also, pedestrians are frequently forced into roadways because they can't find the silly sidewalks that make winding pathways across parking lots and lawns because they're placed some distance from the roadways and obscured from vision. And what about how the intersection of Sanford and Baldwin has thousands of pedestrians but no automatic crossing signal? The walk signal is activated only by pressing a button, and on one side it is 20 feet or more from the sidewalk where one would never push it, meaning that pedestrians pretty much have to cross in front of cars with a green light.


Strickland's Restaurant and Catering

I had my first experience with the Athens institution of Strickland's Restaurant and Catering. We went there for breakfast this morning. The sausage patties were close to the size of hamburger patties; I can't imagine what large chunks they must have been before they were cooked. The restaurant is in a simple building with cafeteria-style service. The walls are mostly decorated with artwork about the Georgia Bulldogs, but there is also a watercolor of Strickland's in what looks to be a downtown location that I'm not familiar with. The coffee mugs all bore the name and address of Southern Surplus Building Materials. The restaurant is in an unattractive part of Atlanta Highway with a lot displaying metal storage buildings next door and a giant billboard with one half devoted to pointing to Strickland's with an arrow. The food was good, and I was glad to see that they served Pepsi in this territory dominated by Coca-Cola. I was also glad to see that Strickland's is a place with a broad enough appeal to attract both black and white people, unlike some of the country cafes spread out around Athens.


Lap cat

Here's something my cats would never do well: ride in a car. But on East Campus Road at the red light for College Station Road today I looked to my left and saw this guy behind the wheel with a cat in his lap. He was petting this long-haired cat that was calmly looking around and blinking. It looked out of place because I would expect a cat to claw around screaming bloody murder if let loose in a car. So the guy was petting his cat and the cat was happy and calm, and they looked like could have been in front of the TV or something, but, no, they were in a Mitsubishi Montero.


Coffee on Washington Street

Drinking coffee in front of Hot Corner Coffee evokes memories of days gone by when you could drink coffee in front of Jittery Joe's nearby on Washington Street. The scenery is shifted a couple hundred feet or so -- that's the only difference. Back then would you have guessed that one day you might be drinking coffee in front of Adcock Furniture?

A guy wearing an open shirt and carrying a duffel bag and a long stick stops in front of the coffee shop and bums a cigarette from some folks. He walks across Hull Street and pauses in front of the Morton Theater to puff away while looking in the window. He drops his stick, bends to replace it in his duffel bag, and slowly continues uphill.


Fahrenheit 9/11

We attended a sold-out matinee showing of Fahrenheit 9/11 today at Beechwood Stadium Cinemas. The ending was met with a round of applause. This theater started showing this movie a week after its release in response to its strong nationwide performance. We knew it was going to be big, so it is amazing that the theater management did not originally think it was worth showing an anti-Bush movie in what may be the most liberal town in Georgia, and that shows how out of touch some people are with reality. This movie was number one last weekend, despite the fact that the number two movie was shown in three times as many theaters.


Middle-aged undergraduates

Freshman orientation and things are going on at UGA, so students' parental figures are visiting the campus en masse. The group of middle-aged people that got on my bus last night were all abuzz about going downtown, and by their talk they did seem ready for a "buzz." I had assumed they were "Georgia moms and dads", but they were acting just like regular young undergrads. Like father, like son, or the other way around.


Blue Sky

Blue Sky Coffee serves lunch now, from 11:00 till 4:00. I was surprised to walk in today and find larger tables, people eating salads, and new smells. The lunch menu lists sandwiches and salads in the six-dollar range. The basement is blocked off with a barricade, so I'm hoping that's temporary. The rumor I heard is that the Blue Sky people are going to open a restaurant next door on the other side of the Western Union building. Indeed, the area where the Classic Dogg 'N' Deli was has been cleared out, and there is a Blue Sky sign advertising the sale of commercial furniture and equipment that was in use there.



As I imagined, the view from the top of the East Village Parking Deck is nothing spectacular. I went up there to check it out this evening for the heck of it since I was already parked on the third level. I did see two people on rollerblades with hockey sticks, though. Perhaps that was a more interesting discovery than the view. Was the top of the deck out of the way of trouble or just a fun place to skate?


Tight spot

The gentleman seems to be in a tight spot. He says he is worried about the fact that his friends are dying off from heart attacks. He also says his wife has knocked out his tooth and scarred his head with a vase, but he is staying with her for the sake of their five children and the fact that leaving and paying child support would be impossible. Despite his worries, he wants to enjoy the nice weather today and is expecting Georgia to beat Kentucky. He shook my hand as he left the bus stop and said that he will continue looking to God.


The Grill

"How do you feel to be the only one in here?"

"I'm going to make a wild guess that this is your hamburger."

So the early afternoon dining population of Athens has quickly shrunk on the eve of UGA's spring break. I've never been the only diner in The Grill.


College of Pharmacy mourns loss

Thanks to Athens World blogger Katherine for alerting us in her blog about a memorial and extended viewing for a deceased cockroach. She writes that the memorial and body have been left in place for over a week, and as of this morning they were still there, collecting quite a bit of dust. They are located in UGA's Robert C. Wilson Pharmacy Building. The deceased is identified as Senor Crocante -- I suppose he was found with a UGACard on him.

Pharmacy Building Memorial for cockroach in Pharmacy Building Memorial for cockroach in Pharmacy Building


Using three colors of chalk on the UGA campus, someone (or more than one) drew a railroad track from the Arch to the side of New College. It was interrupted by a tunnel for which the two ends were drawn with the word "tunnel" written in-between.


Athens Weekly News

I picked up a copy of a so-called rag known as the Athens Weekly News. It is a six-page, letter-size, black-and-white publication that costs one dollar. While I would be quite interested in reading it weekly, one dollar seems quite overpriced, and they have a subscription-only website (subscription price: $25) with no free material, which suggests there is little compelling material overall.


Unification and Hyphenation of Athens-Clarke County

What's the deal with this fancy hyphenation in the name "Athens-Clarke County"? Could the residents not decide what to name it? Did Athens get married but decide on hyphenation so it could keep its professional identity? Is it just cool to refer to both names?

Yes, Athens got married. The City of Athens and Clarke County became one flesh in January 1991. Happy thirteenth anniversary, guys! Seriously, that's what they did, except that their identities fully merged and there is no individual Mr. or Mrs. to speak of. (If there were, I assume that Athens, being named after a goddess, would be the Mrs., and she could use her hundreds of restaurants to cook for Clarke. Clarke would use his landfill to take out the trash.) Yes, this is like Gokou and Vegeta fusing to become a more powerful individual, except the fusion dance took over 24 years. The city and county, like many of their residents, were trying to be cool and trendy so they identified city-county consolidation as the "in"thing to do, although Columbus-Muscogee County beat them to it 20 years earlier.

The consolidation of these two local governments was total, meaning that any organization that bears the name Athens-Clarke should not be confused with the type of jointly operated services that may be found in other counties. For example, both the City of Macon (in Georgia) and the unincorporated areas of the county in which it lies, Bibb, are served by a single fire department, the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department. In this case, the department essentially belongs to Macon but Bibb County pays them to extend their services. So the joining of a city name with a county name could indicate a joint operation or a single operation, leading to the confusion that hyphens are cool.

The lack of hyphens can also be confusing. For instance, why does the sheriff's department call itself the Clarke County Sheriff's Office even though there is no such entity as Clarke County? I do not know, but I can only speculate that the sheriff wants to appear conservative and not wear hyphens. The courts changed their names, however: the State Court of Clarke County became the State Court of Athens-Clarke County, for example, and the Municipal Court of the City of Athens became the Municipal Court of Athens-Clarke County. The Clarke County School District did not hyphenate its name, but it was not part of the county government to begin with since it is a subdivision of the state, and the Athens-Clarke charter didn't mention the school system. The Athens city school system merged with the county school system in 1955, back when hyphens were barely beginning to creep into youth culture.

Athens-Clarke County is both a city and a county, so that totally blows your mind. It is common for people to write "not applicable" in the "city" blank of a legal document, then "Athens-Clarke" in the "county" blank. Yes, the "county" part of the nomenclature is dominant for some reason, maybe because it would sound stupid to say "City of Athens-Clarke County." (However, City Hall was not renamed County Hall.) What did this mean to anyone who lived in Clarke County but inside Winterville's or Bogart's city limits? Those governments wanted to keep their own cityhood, so they kept their previous incorporated territory and their relationships to the county stayed the same, even though the county also became a city.

One idea that was discussed to explain why some residents of the previously unincorporated areas of Clarke County resisted unification was that they might lose their identity. Yes, that's a big issue in Georgia's smallest county (in terms of land area), isn't it? Yes, that's exactly like, say, Britain taking over those six northern counties in Ireland and ruling them from across the Irish Sea. Imagine the dramatic symbolism in replacing the Clarke County flag with the Athens-Clarke County flag! I'm surprised that violence didn't break out.

What significance did the old Athens city limits have after consolidation? A lot, I tell you. They formed the basis of taxing districts. You didn't think hyphens were free, did you? The area inside the former city limits is designated the Urban Services District, and the area outside is called the General Services District. This actually means that the old rule about not firing a gun in the city limits now says not to fire a gun in the Urban Services District. There are no road signs showing where these boundaries are, though. The Solid Waste Department publishes a picture of what the USD looks like. (The boundary seems to go east along the North Athens Perimeter Highway from Jefferson Road, then south and southwest along the perimeter system from the interchange at its northeast corner, then north along the Middle Oconee River until it reaches the North Athens Perimeter Highway again, then east along the perimeter until it reaches Tallasee Road, then northwest along Tallassee until Quailwood Drive, then northeast along Quailwood until Whitehead Road, north along Whitehead until Jefferson Road, and finally southeast along Jefferson until that first point at its interchange with the Perimeter Highway.)

So what is "Athens" now that there is no such named city? It may only be a geographic name. Damn good geographic name.


ACC Online. "Athens-Clarke County Unification History." Athens, Georgia: ACC Public Information Office.

Athens-Clarke County Code of Ordinances (2003). Tallahassee: Municipal Code Corportation.

Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division (2003). "Athens-Clarke County Urban Services District" (map). Athens, Georgia: Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department.

Bibb County Code of Ordinances (2003). Tallahassee: Municipal Code Corporation.

City-County Government Commission of the San Antonio City Council and the Bexar County Commissioners Court (1996). Report and Recommendations. San Antonio: MySanAntonio.com.


Coffee houses

Athens is "eaten up" with coffee houses. (That's another way of saying that you can't swing around a dead cat in the air without hitting a coffee house.) To name a few, Athens has Blue Sky, Jittery Joe's Five Points, Jittery Joe's Eastside, Jittery Joe's Student Learning Center, Espresso Royale, Starbucks, Cups, Favorite, and so on. I'm calling them coffee houses because an Athens Banner-Herald article alerted me that it's so not cool to call them coffee shops, but I do so anyway. Cafe is also problematic since that could refer to a diner.

Coffee shops/houses are special because they have an "atmosphere," and that atmosphere is not lacking in Athens. Blue Sky even had two layers of atmosphere recently: they had the regular troposphere at street level, and in the basement there was a smokosphere with an air purifier (Smokeeter) to eat cigarette smoke, but the management decided to make it non-smoking and promote the dingy basement as a meeting room. Blue Sky, like other cafes or coffee houses, displays various kinds of artwork, usually in the form of a related collection for a certain period of time. Upstairs you may see colorful oil paintings priced for hundreds of dollars -- "I wonder what would happen if I splashed coffee on one while trying to navigate the cramped tables" -- and downstairs you'll see crazy stuff that they probably hope will get vandalized, like scores of identical figures painted different colors on each repetition (like a kindergarten Andy Warhol) or sculptures made of random odd items (like Claes Oldenburg on crack).

Atmosphere is expensive, however, and "gourmet" coffee demands a premium price anyway. If your only expectation of coffee is "hot, and a lot of it," go to a Waffle House (not the Waffle Shop or a wafe). If you want to know the name of the roast you're drinking, go to an atmospheric coffee house. The way I see it, if you drink your gourmet coffee in the coffee shop, the price is OK because you're renting atmosphere for half an hour or more. Considering that students like to pack coffee shops houses and study for hours on end, it is no wonder that coffee shops houses charge the price of a fast food meal for a cup of coffee. If you want to eat a snack with your coffee, you'll have to cough up another two or three bucks. Do you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Blue Sky has them for $2.25. McDonald's has hamburgers for 89 cents, but I don't suppose they really have atmosphere.

Espresso Royale Cafe (known as ERC to those of us in the know) deserves special mention because they recently put the smack down on the high gourmet coffee prices, making a small cup of coffee -- gourmet coffee -- available for 86 cents (including tax). If the ERC was the U. S. of A., then the other coffee houses' high-price menu boards would have boots in their a**es* (assuming menus have a**es). ERC's downside is that their seating area is designed for unnaturally small people (or perhaps children). ERC can claim Athens' only smoking section in a coffee house, but it is a small, dirty room accessible from the outside of the building. ERC also has a new outdoor sign that no one likes. But if I want coffee to go, or if I want to find philosophy instructors, then I'm going to ERC.

Let's mention a couple other unique places. Starbucks downtown has an upstairs seating area where you can feel superior and look down upon pedestrians, cars, and the Arch. So Starbucks would be an excellent place for cats. Cups is a neat place on the east side; it has the appearance of a store because on the wall it has framed posters for sale and there are all kinds of merchandise sitting around trying to entice you.

So much, then, about coffee houses in Athens.

* I apologize for the use of the word a**, but this is a random, out-of-place cultural reference to Toby Keith. Sorry that I couldn't restrain myself. Please carry on.


Dearing Street

Dearing Street and its neighborhood have narrow streets with sharp stone curbs. There is a good bit of street parking allowed but not sufficient room, so drivers must negotiate with oncoming traffic. Of course, it's a residential area, and quite attractive, too. The houses are stylish and old with an ample canopy of large hardwood trees. I've read the suggestion that one should take a walk and not just drive along Milledge Avenue; I would extend that suggestion to Dearing Street, which is much quieter.


Dude, steal my car

One late afternoon last year, while working downtown, I parked my car on Hancock Avenue at City Hall. When I returned half an hour or more later, I found I had left my keys in the ignition. Since I have an anti-lockout feature, the door was left unlocked, too. I was glad to find nothing stolen (like the car) since that was practically an open invitation in the light of things that happen downtown, such as the time one guy left his car overnight and found it turned over upside on its roof later.