Some years ago, a few friends and I decided that in our old age it would be a good idea to start playing basketball again. Thus was born the “Dunks for Drunks” crew. The group consists primarily of architects (practicing and recovering), and others who dabble in the built environment. As the name suggests, the couple of hours of basketball was also an excuse to meet for drinks afterwards. After a several year run, the game waned over the last few months before my diagnosis. Immediately afterwards, the group pulled together for what proved to be one last game- it did not end well as a number of us succumbed to injury and old age. Due to our friendships and profession, however, we all keep closely in touch. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by one of the boys to reserve a Friday night- the Dunks for Drunks crew was going to have a night out in the ATL.
|Now that is a talented crew.|
I’ve always had mixed emotions about Atlanta. Having grown up in Montgomery as a competitive young man, I made a rivalry of everything and as such my city was better than theirs. This changed when my mother and stepfather married and we moved to Colorado. Atlanta became a symbol of all that was good and righteous in the South. Despite not particularly caring for them before I left, being away from the South precipitated a love of all Atlanta sports teams- in particular, the Hawks. It was during this time of homesick outreach that I came to embrace my boyhood hero- Dominique Wilkins. (I’ve written about this before.) There is no point in delving into the details of my fandom, but in addition to patterning my game after him, every square inch of my walls were covered in ‘Nique posters and newspaper articles, I wore hawks gear or clothing lines that he endorsed, and I even drank Minute Maid Orange.
Upon moving back to the South, I made many a trip to Atlanta- invariably to visit a museum or see a sporting event. During these visits Atlanta also provided an education on the nature of cities. The most obvious example of the dark side of American urbanism was the horrible traffic- enough said. The other examples I remember most had to do with humanity.
One story in particular is illustrative of my ATL experience. In the mid-eighties, Mom took my brother and I to see the Hawks. Having arrived early, My brother and I decided to take a stroll around the Omni/CNN Center. At some point a “homeless” guy approached us, told us a heartrending story and asked for money. Having never experienced a situation like this before, I was devastated for the guy and turned out my wallet to give him what few dollars I had earned and saved to spend at the game. I was saddened to not be able to buy Hawks swag, but felt great that I was able to help someone. Two years later, I was back in town to see the Hawks. The same guy approached us and told us the same heartrending story. I reminded him that we had met before under similar circumstances, he turned on his heels and bolted. That incident not only made me feel foolish for getting duped, it negated the feeling of having done something to help someone. Years later, while at UNM, the architecture school was literally on Route 66- I got a much more expansive education in the nature of panhandlers, homeless, and “urban grit”. That first experience in Atlanta, however, has always stuck with me.
Fast-forward to my adulthood, and Atlanta was again a place of significance for me- it was my last “normal” trip. Last spring, the youngest and I escaped for a weekend away together- it was a great trip, we went to some fun restaurants, spent too much time at their Aquarium (ours is better), rode the Ferris wheel, and enjoyed walking around. Of course, his favorite memory involves us sleeping in at the hotel, watching a couple hours of Teen Titans Go, and eating skittles for breakfast (in my defense, skittles were consumed during breakfast hours, but were not technically our breakfast). While we had a great time, I felt a bit under the weather during the trip. The Monday after our return, I went to the doctor and that led to the discovery of my cancer.
All of this is to say that I’ve had a long and complex history with Atlanta. While most of my stories have negative connotations, I have had my share of good times there: many a concert (including several Oasis and Noel Gallagher shows); the ’96 Olympics; a fair few Alabama football games (those would be SEC Championships); and my last few years of following the CFC Academy 05 Boys team to tournaments in the metro area.
On this most recent trip, twelve friends made our way down I-75 for the evening. After arriving mid-afternoon, it was “game on”. I suppose it is good fortune that I am unable to drink these days, as I probably wouldn’t have made it to dinner otherwise. The call was put forth to dress for the occasion, and having just finished watching Skyfall and Legend back-to-back on a flight, I pushed for tuxedos. Looking rather smart, the crew headed out for dinner at Marcel. This was a perfect place for a guys’ night out- think steak and bourbon. Our boy picked a set menu that was essentially my bucket list of my favorite steakhouse fare- shellfish towers, escargot, foie gras, steak tartare, and Cote de bouef. (I think there was also salad and vegetables, but I can’t be sure.)
|Just shooting the breeze with my boyhood hero.|
The toasts were flying fast and furious- until the steaks arrived. (Mine was a feeble attempt- I couldn’t quite get everything out.) The final toast noted that the night had a secret in store- the group had managed to pull some strings to get me a meet and greet with Dominique before a Hawks game. After dinner, I hopped an Uber with a couple of the guys and we made our way to Philips arena. Upon arrival we met with some Hawks officials who led us down to the bench, where shortly thereafter, Dominique and Grant Hill came over and introduced themselves. We probably spent five minutes with those two chatting, reminiscing, and shooting the breeze. I've chatted with Dominique before, but this time we actually spoke long enough to have a conversation. We compared notes on our children, talked about the Hawks run in for the playoffs, and their relative lack of action before the trade window. He had been told about my situation and seemed sincere in wishing me the best. It was a truly awesome experience- and even more meaningful since my friends (and their wives) so thoughtfully helped bring that full-circle for me. On this trip, Atlanta did not disappoint.
|That's a tough starting five right there.|
Part of why I had a tough time making my toast during dinner is that I was choking up and feeling a bit emotional. The more pragmatic reason was that I simply lack the words to describe how appreciative I am to count each of them as friend. This group obviously has things in common- notably professional endeavors- but there is an underlying love and friendship in the group that transcends architecture and basketball. One of life’s tragedies is that I wasn’t able to spend as much time with each as them as I would have liked, nor was I able to love each as much as I should. I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet- I believe there is some silliness for us to share yet. However, I am of the belief that it’s never too early to acknowledge the people you love. Boys, you already know it, but I love you. (Now somebody get that man a gen jiblet!!)