One thing I’ve tried to avoid when I’ve found myself in a new city has been to simply hit the Chamber of Commerce top ten attractions. I find this not only is good for the pocketbook, but it helps give me a perspective on the whole city, rather than simply the parts of town that have been tidied up to give tourists the best possible impression. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to see what city planners feel like showcasing, and two blocks from my hotel is the Centennial Olympic Park, which is a gorgeous urban gem that has been kept up immaculately over the 16 years since it was built, and which is home to two of the biggest tourist attractions, the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.
However, even when I find a place like that in a large city, I know there has to be more to the city than that, and I like to try to see what I can. Regular readers may have noticed that a number of times, I’ve mentioned that a good deal of my time exploring various unfamiliar cities were spent “wandering.” But, because I am wandering in completely unknown cities, I don’t usually get very far outside my own comfort zone. And that’s why I was very glad to have met Ricky yesterday morning. I’d been wandering less than 10 minutes when he introduces himself and starts asking questions about what brings me to Atlanta and what I’d like to see. That’s when he introduces himself as “a homeless tourguide,” who does day labor during the week and shows “wanderers” around on weekends.
Hearing that I was here to see the Civil Rights game, he says, “C’mon, I’ll show you civil rights,” and next thing I know we’re walking down Auburn Avenue to the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District, where he showed me the house in which King was born, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached, King’s tomb, and highlights of the King Center. In all, Ricky spent nearly four hours showing me around. He took me to quite a few tourist attractions, such as the CNN center and the Georgia Dome, but also to places I would not have been comfortable seeing without a guide, such as the Vine City neighborhood, where a large number of the people forced out of the projects that used to be on the site of the Olympic Park are staying now.
After getting lunch at an upscale underground mall where he showed me I could catch a shuttle to the ballpark, he took me a few blocks away to where a number of low-end and bargian stores were clustered together. “Segregation is still here. We don’t have the ‘colored only’ signs any more, but this is where the black folks shop.”