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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Bubba Yum? : Ready for It or Not, the World Is About to Chew the Atlanta Fat

July 14, 1996|DOUG CRESS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Item: Spotted on North Highland--a car with a stuffed Izzy doll strapped to its hood, legs dangling over the grill like a bagged deer. . . .

--Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 9, 1996

"Sir, New Mexico, old Mexico, it doesn't matter. I understand it's a territory, but you still have to go through your nation's Olympic committee. . . ."

--Olympic ticket sales supervisor, Feb. 28, 1996

Let the Games begin, indeed.

Atlanta has come a long way since it was awarded the 1996 Olympics six years ago, but the ride has not been smooth. The euphoria and laughter quickly gave way to insecurity and dread, as the city struggled with its new-found status among the world's elite and groped for the proper pose.

Gracious Southern host? Futureworld? Corporations-R-Us? Tara-ville? The Little City that Could? Or, as one wag put it years ago, "Spartanburg with Skyscrapers?"

Well, Atlanta's still struggling with its identity, and it's a sure bet nothing will be decided before the Olympic Games have come and gone. But the easy-goin', slow-talkin', porch-sittin', okra-eatin' lifestyle that has kept Atlanta patiently humming for decades continues to persevere, outlasting all the spin doctors and city slogan campaigns, and figures to last well into the next century.

So let Olympic organizers fiddle with their traffic patterns and ticket sales all they want. We got a mess o' collards and some boiled peanuts on the stove, Hank Williams is playing on the stereo, and Junior's comin' round later in his pick-up so we can all go to the drive-in. And get yourself an Ale-8 while you're up.

Nobody's officially christened these the "Bubba-lympics" yet, but there's more than a week to go. And that's pleeeenty of time.

*

"I have a message for Canada: Stick a hockey puck where the sun don't shine."

--Columnist Lewis Grizzard, Oct. 21, 1992

To say Atlanta has struggled to find its place among the great international cities is an understatement, especially since it's not too sure where most of those cities are.

When the City Council passed a proclamation in 1994 inviting Bucharest to become a sister city, the resolution read, "Bucharest, Hungary." But Bucharest is the capital of Romania, while Budapest--which does sound similar--is the capital of nearby Hungary.

What's amazing is that nobody in the mayor's office or the City Council caught the screw-up, even after it was read aloud and passed on a unanimous vote.

Finally, an aide to Mayor Bill Campbell realized the error moments before he signed it. But Atlanta is not exactly a city steeped in heritage, especially since most of it was burned to the ground during the Civil War. Nothing is much more than 100 years old as a result, and the city now exists primarily as a way station for carpetbaggers and conventioneers. Many Georgians who live outside the Perimeter--the highway that encircles and defines Atlanta--never venture downtown for fear of getting lost.

But how can it matter where you're going if you don't know where you're from? Unfortunately, most of Atlanta's problems with geography have made big news.

Flying the Canadian flag upside down at the 1992 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Toronto Blue Jays--technically the fault of the U.S. Marine Corps--caused such a flap that President Bush issued a formal apology to Canada, while an Atlanta Olympic official prompted stunned silence when she stared at a map of a proposed torch relay that began in Olympia, Greece, and wondered aloud why it was starting in Italy.

Then there's the poor ticket seller and her supervisor who made headlines earlier this year by insisting to an out-of-state buyer that New Mexico was a foreign country. That controversy refuses to die, so much so that Atlanta resident Bob Romano turned his Midtown house into the Unofficial Consulate of New Mexico, compete with flags and posters supplied by the 47th state's tourism office. Romano offers nachos and cool drinks to anybody who stops by to sign his petition--to make New Mexico a state.

'We just want people to have a positive Olympic experience," he said.

*

"Bubba's Hair and Nail Salon"

--Atlanta BellSouth telephone listing

It was Julius B. "Bubba" Ness, the former chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, who once stated, "When somebody doesn't call me Bubba, I know they either don't know me or don't like me," but it might just as well have been a Georgian. From Bubba & Son Diesel Repair in Conyers to the "Bubba-palooza" music festival at Stone Mountain to former Congressman Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, the state is rife with Bubbas, the nickname of brotherly affection that has come to define the Southern redneck lifestyle.

There was a time when everybody was a Bubba, whether openly or just around the gas pump. But those days are clearly numbered. Even with a Southerner in the White House, Bubbas are a dying breed, done in by a lifestyle of pickin' and grinnin' that couldn't keep up.

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