Traffic. Always the traffic. If tourists spend more than a few hours in Atlanta, the traffic is the main memory they will take home with them. Its preposterous volume, its aggressive participants, its incessant need to be ever backing up, ever clogging, ever inconveniencing; all things that will override memories of the top notch aquarium, eccentric folksy communities, or beautiful gardens and parks when visitors try to recall their experience in the city. The city's road maintenance schedule doesn't help much, often choosing horrendous times to close multiple lanes of traffic for road work (like, let's say, 8PM on a Friday night in the middle of downtown with at least one major event going on). Most of the stadiums are right off major thoroughfares so if you happen to live inside the perimeter, good luck getting around if the Hawks, Falcons, Braves, or Yellow Jackets are playing.
Atlanta is a town defined by its mobility and its citizens' absolute need of some form of motorized conveyance, despite many areas being excellent but cardio-centric walking boroughs. Despite its compactness (the 75/85 connector is, let's be honest here, 11 miles of traffic hell), Atlanta's denizens spread themselves out in a web-like shape of Urbs and Suburbs. These communities connect, however loosely or tightly, to the city and feed off of it; little clusters of parasites that gorge themselves on the money pouring out from the three main financial hubs, using the plaque-ridden arteries of 85, 75, 20, and 285 to aid in their hunt for sustenance.
Atlanta is more than just Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Cobb, Dekalb, and Fulton. Atlanta is everywhere, on all roads, in every nook and cranny of the greater metro area, from the metro-ringing 706 to the clumps of 770, 404, and 678. Atlanta is a "we", not a "me." We are Atlanta. All of us. Yes, even those of you who have yet to set foot inside the state of Georgia. Atlanta is a state of mind. It is a music genre. It is a flavor of beer. It is a soda. It is a basketball team. It is a football team. It is a college. It is a home. It is a business. It is a fast food chain. It is an airline. It is you. It is me. it is the red, black, and white jersey you don when Sunday arrives. It is a Julio Jones touchdown catch, a Matt Ryan "make something happen" scramble, a Willy Mo tackle that rattles the stands in the Dome and grounds planes at Hartsfield International.
Atlanta is a mewling, cooing baby, being held in my arms for the first time, looking up to me as I speak to it. It opens its bright blue eyes and stares deep into my soul, forever placing a mark on my heart that no force shall ever rend. Her name is Mary and she's my daughter. Her favorite color is red. She likes to sing. She likes to watch daddy play guitar. She wants to watch football but can't stay up late enough just yet because she's only two. She likes to kick around a soccer ball at her Nana's house. She likes to throw the football around with her daddy.
She doesn't know who Mike Smith is, or Matt Ryan, or Julio Jones. She doesn't care who the next head coach is going to be. She doesn't care if her football team doesn't win but "did they have fun?" She is only two and is already a better fan than I am. She worries about when they play, if she can watch it, and if they have fun. That pure, innocent fandom. They're the team in red, so they're the good guys. They have fun. We have fun watching them. And that's enough for her.
I wish it was enough for me.
Atlanta is the gentleman behind the counter at a local sub shop, just two blocks up the road from the Midtown skyscraper in which I put in my 9 to 5. He's got on an Auburn hat, a Falcons shirt, and a Hawks sticker on his name tag. He banters about football as he makes and serves me a Reuben that should be served with its own paper towel roll.
"Think we'll nab Rex?"
"We don't want Rex," I respond.
"Self-centered, history of bad decisions. We've had enough of that in Atlanta."
He shrugs. "Hawks are great though."
"What college you root for?"
Being an Alabama fan, I deftly steer the conversation elsewhere. "Let's talk about the Falcons some more."
"Think Weatherspoon stays?" he asks, handing me my dripping Reuben.
"Not sure he's long for this team, sadly enough. When he was healthy, he felt like the glue for the defense."
He nods. "Yeah, know what you mean."
The conversation dies but it was there. It happened. Just a few years ago, I was lamenting on a long-forgotten Falcoholic podcast that the Falcons were not being talked about in Atlanta.
They are now and it's glorious.
Atlanta is the son that will arrive for the Schultz family in just a few short months. He is already the apple of his daddy's eye and the brightness in his mother's smile. He has a long tradition of Rolling with the Tide and Rising Up to carry on.
I cannot wait.
Atlanta is the two construction workers arguing at the corner of MLK and Northside. I can't quite catch the thread as I move along Northside, heading to work, my car's speed just a hair over five miles an hour. They're animated and loud but oddly unintelligible. They're two workers for the contractor that's helping build the new Atlanta stadium. It's starting to shape up, its concrete base hinting at the sprawling, technologically advanced campus that will be opening for business in roughly eighteen months. It's odd to see such a large area closed off and in an utter mess. This is the same area that once held tailgates and parking spaces and a church. It was an area I came to know when I spent the 2009 season as a season ticket holder and game re-capper for Dave (Choate, our Fearless Leader). And now? Just dirt and rubble and porta-potties and huge concrete slabs and columns and rebar. It resembles a warzone more than a future place to come enjoy some Falcons football.
I cannot fathom not seeing the Falcons play in the Dome. Some say the product on the field does not deserve a new stadium. Yet others say that the PSLs are going to remain unfulfilled until the team can start stringing together wins again. Yet even more others are saying it's a waste of time. Why bring something that big, that expensive, that unnecessary to an area that's about to lose its baseball stadium to Cobb county? Still others just call it the future home of the Falcons.
I call it heartbreaking. Times are changing and despite the failures amassed by the Falcons this year and last, the new stadium is a thing that's happening. Time will tell if the investment will be worth it. No use in speculating on that now. It will likely be the place I will take my daughter and future son to see the Falcons play. The Dome won't be there for them like it was for me. The Dome holds a lot of memories for me, a lot of firsts, a lot of wins, a lot of losses. It once held my dreams. And it only has a year left to live.
Atlanta is the Falcoholic. Just as it moves and grows, as do I. Just as it is left and returned to, as do I. This is my first collection of thoughts on the state of Atlanta Falcons football since August of 2013. Since my self-imposed hiatus, I have seen this site grow, mature, and become something Dave, Jeanna, Caleb, James, and the others can be truly proud of. I don't know many of you and most of the great users during my co-writing stint with Dave those many years ago are now writers themselves. While I cannot guarantee that this return will last or that my content will vary much from this current long form, I can promise that I intend to ingrain myself upon this community once again.
Rise Up, Atlanta.