Wednesday, February 24, 2010

full circle

About twenty years ago Stacey and I started some strange dinning practices. One thing we started doing was every Friday we would go home from work have a beer and go to sleep. We would wake up around 1:30a.m. and go to Sam's Chinese Seafood Gourmet. We also started eating at the worst looking place we could find. Long ago we had learned some of the best food one could ever find was hiding behind a really rough looking building. So nothing stood between us and a good hot dog. Didn't matter what the place looked like, if we thought it was right or had heard good things, we were there. I can remember countless restaurants that are no longer open, hell the buildings they occupied are even gone. That's Atlanta for you. Since we have been living here for the last 25 years or so, much has changed. Property is worth so much that small old buildings are razed and replaced by huge office/condo buildings. Of course you can't have a hot dog stand in a shiny new overbuilt, overbearing building. No, you have to have a very expensive, high end specialty restaurant. So we played along. We bought into all the hype. The bigger the better. The more it cost the better it had to be, right? Wrong.
We traded in the hole-in-the-wall joint for the beautifully appointed, overbuilt, overbearing stupid, stupid building. Don't get me wrong, I know you can't just sit on valuable space that is not built to meet the demands of a neighborhood. So as those cool little food shops disappeared Stacey and I started to learn about the high end restaurant business. One of the first things we learned is that it cost us anywhere from $75 to $125 to eat at these type places. The food may have been of a better quality. Like Berkshire Pork instead of Bubbas Pork. Instead of vegetables we were now served "Heirloom Vegetables". Instead of beer there was now a wine list. Instead of self serve there were waitrons who expected a tip. A 20% tip thank you very much.
So we played and ate along. For years we have eaten this way. Not exclusive mind you, but more times then not our dinners out cost $75 or more for the two of us. That's with the 20% tip thank you very much.
So lately we have regrouped and adjusted our "business" plan. We have left the neighborhoods that demand the high dollar rents which lead to high dollar meals. We returned to Buford Highway where for mile after mile there is one great spot after another to eat. Cheap. Everyone in Atlanta knows of Buford Highway and knows it the place to go for good eats. Cheap.
But, lately, Stacey and I have been looking south. We are spending more time on Jonesboro Road, more time in Forest Park or Riverdale. We are eating great meals at all kinds of Latin and Asian restaurants. Shopping at huge supermarkets, like the Super H on Hwy. 85. At the Super H you can get all kinds of exotic produce and seafood and prepared foods. Cheap. And good.
So now Stacey and I are on a new mission. Well it's kind of new, we have been leaning toward the cheap eats for a while now. We will still enjoy the occasional over priced dinner in the over priced shiny building, but mostly your gonna find us on the South side eating on the Cheap.
Soon I will write about some of the places we have found.

Oh, the photo above? A roasted duck plate from Mings Chinese Barbecue at the Super H Market in Riverdale.


So if you keep up with this blog you have read a few "transmissions" from Dr. John. Maybe not, either way let me catch you up.

Stacey and I met John Duke about ten years ago. He had just taken ownership of a veterinarian practice. After a few years of running a business John knew it wasn't what he wanted to do. He sold the practice and headed to Ely, Minnesota.
John worked in Ely, bought a house there and for the second time didn't get married to a particular woman. While stationed in Ely, John began sending me small pieces he wrote covering what he was up to. He talked about his life and job in Ely. In Ely he was a guide and would take small groups on 2 week canoeing treks from Canada to Ely.
John soon got his self qualified to be a Ranger in the National Redwood Park. He did this for a season, then back to Minnesota. He enrolled in classes in Duluth and has recently relocated back to the south. He lives back in the Atlanta area now and commutes to Auburn University and further to Baldwin County, Alabama. where he studies wet lands.

This is his latest "transmission".

I was standing at the bar talking to an acquaintance and her friend. I had just met them and they wanted to know what I was doing at Auburn. I explained to them that I was studying wetland ecology but with a bent on what you might call “real world” applications – things like understanding how urbanization affects our ability to manage water storage. I also research “at what level of urbanization do wetlands quit providing quality wildlife habitat.” And a 3rd component would be how urbanization affects their ability to cycle nutrients, such as carbon. Then I got “the question.” “Do you believe in Global Warming?” I said, “No mam. Right now I am a practicing Buddhist.”

The next day I went over to the dean’s secretary office so that I could get on payroll. I have a 1200 dollar a month stipend coming to me for all this work I’m doing for my major professor. Right now I have been driving down to Baldwin County, Alabama looking for potential wetlands for the project. The secretary was a finely dressed, fit and trim woman in her middle ages. She had an elegant style to her mannerisms and had all the politeness and cordiality of southern charm. We talked about how many deductions I should claim and so forth. Then I got “the statement.” “I think a lot of people are going to be surprised when they get their tax return back this year.” Except she said the word “year” like Scarlett O-Hara would have – “Yhe-ahh.” It must have been the liberal leanings I have that were emanating across the room in unseen vibes for her to want to prompt a debate with me. I don’t think I had on my Obama T-shirt, however. That would have really pissed some people off – I’m not that stupid. I just smiled and said,“Yes mam.”

So the next week, I had to drive back down to Baldwin County and I found a great spot along Highway 59, the main street through Foley that heads down to the beaches. There was a beautiful Magnolia swamp right next to where all the cars were whizzing by. But, the best access was going to be from the parking lot of a local radio station office. So I pulled into the lot and walked inside. There was a nice elderly lady sitting at the desk, answering the phone. I waited patiently out away from the desk and with my eyes diverted so that she wouldn’t think I was in a hurry or anything. She hung up the phone and asked,“Hi there! Can I help you?”“Yes mam. My name is John Duke. It is so nice to meet you. I am a graduate student at Auburn University and…..” As concisely as possible I went on to explain what my intentions were and that I was requesting access across their property. She was very helpful and didn’t think it would be a problem at all. She gave me the station manager’s phone number and then I got “the invitation.” “Do you have a church? If you don’t I would like to invite you to mine next Sunday.” “Thank you, mam. But you see, I am a practicing Buddhist.”