We sleep in, miss breakfast, and afterwards have the thought that we should see a little more of Atlanta before we leave. So we are going to the Five Points area of downtown, to Atlanta Underground, the shopping and entertainment area, and, in theory, tourist attraction. We mention this to the desk clerk, who looks at us, then from somewhere behind the counter finds a couple of packaged banana nut muffins that would have been breakfast and hands them to us. Atlanta Underground has had an up and down career, he tells us. And we may have caught it at a bad time.
It reopened in 1989, then was severely damaged, both physically and in the public’s eye, by the rioting that followed the 1992 Rodney King trial. And though there was a resurgence in popularity of sorts from the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta Underground was near closing once again in 2004, its second Bad Time, when the city rescued it by extending the hours its clubs and bars could remain open, to ninety minutes later than the clubs and bars throughout the rest of the city. Which might have worked, except it mostly didn’t, and anchor stores continued to pull out, and after-dark safety in the Five Points area continued to be a concern, and the people of Atlanta and those just passing through continued to not show up. It is open today, or at least the doors are unlocked and no one tries to stop us, but Atlanta Underground, with its briefly glorious past, has come to have something of a cloudy future.
Not knowing most of this, we park in the garage, hike down and across the ramps, and head underground. It’s just before noon, and the energy the night life possibly brings, what there is of that, won’t arrive till after dark. Which we’ll miss. What we see instead is something that looks like it might have been a shopping mall once, just a dark and dreary and low ceilinged and lightly attended one. The underground charm is here, but people, and open for business store fronts are not. The banana muffins have worn off, and it’s food we’re wanting, but we’ve snuck in at a bad time, and someone should be yelling at us soon.
At one end, though, near the windowed and therefore not so dark, staired entrance or exit that will take you either down into or upward out of the Underground, is a Johnny Rockets. It is our clean, well-lighted and shiny and open place, where they are happy to see us, and where we have burgers and fries and vanilla malts and root beer floats, and play, from our at-your-table juke box, ‘Layla’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. And, before I can stop her, ‘Build Me up Buttercup’. (They give you free tokens to get you started, and have given us one too many.) The juke box selecting thing at our table does not have ‘Satisfaction’. You cannot get that here, the funny one of us says.
Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta