Monday, March 26, 2007

I heart black people

My trip to Atlanta is best described as irritating. It started with small things, like the over exuberant air conditioner in my hotel room; the constant horrifying noise emanating from my laptop, which sounded not entirely unlike the long guttural moan of an old man clearing his throat; the gash on my ear, self-inflicted while tucking my hair behind it. And then of course there was the work emergency that kept me plunking away at the laptop each evening after the last of the conference activities. The first night, I crawled into bed at 3:00 am (only to be jolted awake an hour later by the sound of a construction vehicle backing up - beep! beep! beep! - a sound unfortunately identical to that of my alarm going off). The second night, I was up until 4:00 am.

But, in spite of the annoyances and my exhaustion, I did manage to find a few things to appreciate: the glass elevators in my hotel that dropped fast enough to cause tummy flip-flops all the way down; ceiling fans lazily twirling on front porches; whale sharks at the aquarium; sincerely friendly people EVERYWHERE; and black people, also EVERYWHERE.

Since there's really no politically correct way to put this, I'm just gonna come out and say it. There aren't a lot of black people in Seattle. There are, on the other hand, a lot of black people in Atlanta. I liked it. And, as the days wore on, I began to appreciate the variety even more: black woman in the elevator with me; white woman taking my order at Starbucks; white construction worker whistling at me from the scaffolding; black man offering me his seat in the crowded deli. Atlanta, it seems, is like the proverbial box of chocolates - I never knew what I was going to get. Seattle, by comparison, is dreadfully monotonous, and I greatly appreciated the variety Atlanta had to offer.

The only problem was this: in my delight, the thought that kept running through my head was "I love black people." I tried again and again to manually change my thought process so that the thought was "I love cultural diversity," but to no avail. "I love black people" became my unintentional happy little mantra for the remainder of my trip.

Which is why I was so damn lucky to run into Homeless Eugene. In the last few hours before heading to the airport, I wanted to spend some time walking around the city. I headed off in the direction of the Martin Luther King memorial area, and was just about to get myself lost when Eugene stopped to offer me his directional services. "Lady," he hollered from half-way down the block, "where you tryin' to be?" And thus began my personal walking tour of Atlanta.

Eugene decided that I didn't really want to see the MLK area because it would require me to wander through a drug infested area, and surely I'd prefer some shopping or the university area or Olympic Park instead. And, of course, he insisted on walking me there, and diligently described points of interest along the way. Though I have serious doubts about the historic details in nearly all of Eugene's stories, he was actually quite pleasant company, which made it worth the cash I was sure he'd ask of me at the end of the tour.

After a very unusual 20 minutes (which included being taught the two-step while waiting for a light to change), we finally arrived near the shopping area and Eugene asked if I'd mind checking out one t-shirt stand in particular. It seems Eugene's got himself a deal worked out with the owner, and earns himself a finder's fee for any tourists he delivers who end up buying something. I'm not much of a t-shirt buyer, but I felt obligated to buy something so I dutifully browsed around the cart. And thank god I did because there, hanging from the back corner of the stand was a t-shirt that said...

I Heart Black People.

Eugene thought I should have it but, sadly, they only had an x-large. He held it up to me anyway, trying to convince me that it would make a great nighty. The woman working the cash register came over, shaking her head, and said, "Girl, thas WAY too big for you." I agreed with her, telling her I wasn't planning to buy it, and then desperately tried to figure out the correct response to her next question: "Why not? You don't like black people?" Thankfully Eugene's light bulb went off and, excitedly hollering again, he suggested, "Didn't you say you had a boyfriend you needed to buy something for?"

You're welcome, Tall Guy. Good luck not getting your ass beat.

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