March 10 2006
Sit back, kids. It's time for a little bit of Atlanta history.
Peachtree Street. For those of you who live in Atlanta, you know all of the incarnations that this name has. First we have the original: Peachtree Street; then we have West Peachtree, Peachtree Way, Peachtree Ave, Peachtree Battle, Peachtree Circle, and Peachtree Industrial Blvd. In Atlanta many of the early roads were named after the locations or cities that the roads to you to, or the destination city. Two legends surround the name "peachtree" in our fair city. The first is that the native Indians took pitch from a certain type of tree in order to help build their dwellings. It was called "the pitch tree" and supposedly its name was mispronounced "peach tree" by the early white settlers. The other legend is that the road leading north out of what was once called Marthasville (before its name was changed to Terminus, and then later Atlanta) took you through the "tight squeeze" to a postal stop called Standing Peachtree. This postal stop was supposedly named for a huge peach tree that grew near its location in what is now the Peachtree Battle area of the city. The "tight squeeze" was aptly named because during pre- and post-Civil War times, one was considered to be putting one's life in a tight squeeze getting through an area of that road which was frequented by thieves and highwaymen. The "tight squeeze", as it were, is located near Peachtree and 10th Streets.
Once Peachtree Street crosses West Paces Ferry in Buckhead it turns into Roswell Road, and takes you to the city bearing the same name. Incidentally, "Buckhead" received its name from an ante-bellum tavern whose owner hung the head of a prized buck above the front door. He named it The Buck Head Tavern. How original. I really do feel sorry for anyone visiting Atlanta, what with all of the Peachtrees. And when the Olympics were in town? Forget it! There's no telling how many people got lost trying to find their way around town.
There are many streets in the city whose names change at various points along their courses. Five Points, in downtown Atlanta, is one of those places. Remembering your history lesson from the beach chapter, this was the terminating point of the three main railroads into the city. Decatur Street takes you to.....Decatur. But once it crossed Five Points it becomes Marietta Street, which takes you to....you guessed it. Marietta! South of Marietta is Alabama Street. You get the picture. And for those of you out in Stone Mountain, you'll know how Redan Road turns into Hairston Road, then Mountain Industrial Blvd., then Jimmy Carter Blvd., then Holcomb Bridge Road (after it crosses the river), only to become something else once you hit north Roswell. Good times!
So Atlanta's burgeoning growth was centered around the railroads. Then some guy up in Michigan figured out a way to make building automobiles inexpensive and soon everyone had to have one. Atlantans, too. There was one big problem, though. With all of the trains running into and out of the city, automobile traffic in that area was a constant mishigas (craziness), but a solution was inevitable. The city would elevate the roads so that all major vehicular traffic on the four or five streets nearest Five Points would pass over the trains. It was a brilliant idea. Sort of. All of the buildings on these streets (Courtland, Piedmont, Peachtree, Alabama and Pryor to name several), well, they sort of had a problem. You see, their customers had pretty much become accustomed to entering the buildings and shops on the first floor. I know - a minor thing. To fix this problem, everyone in the area had to raise their shops, offices, etc. to the second floor or higher in order to be at the level of the new streets. The original street levels eventually earned the moniker Underground Atlanta. Cool, huh?
Hmmm. Not really. The original street levels, which were now covered by the viaducts above, became a haven to bums, hobos and criminals. At some point in history (possibly before many major cities experienced the spectacular doom known as "urban renewal", possibly after), it was deemed a good idea to make the area that had become known as Underground Atlanta into a tourist attraction. It worked for a while but from what I understand crime sucked the lifeblood from it. So they tried it again, some time later. Same result. People love cities; they love downtown life, and Underground was definitely downtown in Atlanta. But people also hate to be mugged and raped so they opted for other, safer locations in the city to hang out.
In the mid-80's another effort was spearheaded by the city to sell bonds for the total renovation of Underground. A development firm called Rouse and Co. had been successful redeveloping Jax Brewery in New Orleans, The Union Station in St. Louis, Union Station in Washington D.C. (or maybe it was the Old Post Office) and several other major urban renovation/redevelopment projects had been selected to rebuild Underground Atlanta. And a spectacular job they did! For quite some time they kept solid, plywood fencing around the perimeter of the site and to the people who worked downtown it was like walking past a giant gift beneath the Christmas tree. You had no idea what it was going to look like, and that was part of the excitement. It was a major project that enveloped at least a half dozen city blocks in an area that was economically decimated. Sometimes if you were on the east- or west-bound Marta train you could catch glimpses of the construction, because the MARTA tracks are at downtown's original ground level, and therefore at the same level as Underground.
So around Labor Day in 1989 the entire project was unveiled, and it was one of the best attractions the city had to offer. Nearly 100% of the stores on the upper and lower levels were leased to every kind of store that you'd see at a really nice shopping mall. Several parking garages were built, and all were very well lighted at night. The Five Points Marta station was across Peachtree Street and a walkway connecting the station to U.A. was constructed at the lower level (again, the original pre-viaduct level). At the corner of Peachtree and Alabama Streets (upper of both) a hotel whose construction had begun before World War One and ceased in 1917 had finally been finished; it was originally designed to have sixteen floors but only the fist six stories had been finished. By 1989 the rest of the 16 floors were finished, and it became one of the only luxury hotels in downtown Atlanta. I should say, in that part of downtown Atlanta.
I always vow never to go to a major event such as the opening of Underground Atlanta, but I always break that vow. On opening day I was down there with Glen and a couple of people from the theater. There were tons of restaurants, both fast food and sit-down, most of which were located in Kenny's Alley. The main entrance into U.A. was entered from a huge plaza at Peachtree and Alabama, and, with all of its benches, steps, plant ledges and founain walls, it was perfect for people watching. The plaza, upper and lower Alabama Streets (which were the main concourses), the Alley, the whole damn place was jam-packed with people, and the city got a major economic boost. It was also a morale booster, because so much of that area was still facing economic decay.
The reason U.A. was important to me was because I started working at a restaurant there called Buck's. The main part of the place was located on Lower Alabama behind an original 19th century facade. Again, Lower Alabama is so named not because it's south of Upper Alabama, but because it's directly below the Alabama Street viaduct. The dining room of Buck's was furnished in black, red and white. A raised part of the dining room allowed people to pass through the original front facade and eat on an "outdoor" porch which overlooked Lower Alabama and all of the passersby. There was a small service bar that also provided drinks for patrons waiting in the lounge for dining room seating. At the back of the building was the kitchen. If you punched a hole in the rear kitchen wall you'd be able to see all of the freight trains (and MARTA trains) passing by which caused Underground to exist in the first place. Every time a freight train came by, the kitchen would rumble and shake. Upstairs had a full service bar that had a smaller kitchen. There was bar seating at tables, and then another large lounge area, both of which opened onto Upper Alabama Street. Two sides of the lounge overlooked the huge entrance plaza to U.A, and the third side overlooked Upper Alabama Street, the fourth side overlooking Upper Pryor Street. There was also a cafe' that was set up on one of the original lower streets, as the restaurant itself was located at the intersection of Alabama and Pryor Streets.
Lots of changes in my life. Alan—well, he ended up making first string at UGA about half-way through the season. That guy was like a monster out on the field. He even earned the nickname "Diesel" because of his ability to plow through anyone. Don was still at Georgia State and bouncing at that bar in Buckhead. What I call my "cancer hair" started to grow back, at the base of my neck. Normally, my hair is thick and wavy; this new hair came in thin and straight. After all of the radiation treatments were over and I'd given my piano recital, I started taking some classes at Southern Tech in January of '90. I was able to get a couple of history classes, a course where they taught basic construction document reading, and calculus out of the way. If I never have to perform another function or look at another matrix, I'll be just fine.
After two and a half years of working at the theater it was time to go. My cancer was treated and behind me and I needed to start making decent money again. Plus most of my friends had gone to greener pastures, and the manager pissed me off by not giving me a well-deserved raise. Buck's fit the bill because I was able to make around $6.50 an hour as a cashier, which was pretty good for a college student in those days. The restaurant itself was going through some management changes at the same time, and our new manager was the same one I'd trained under at the Lennox Square Mall location. It was generally an American grill-type place, with pastas, salads, typical stuff you'd see at a joint where a hamburger cost six dollars. The waitrons (excuse me, servers) wore khaki pants, white shirts with red aprons and real bow ties that were also red.
Day one for me was pretty hectic. The cashier's position was a new one at the restaurant, and so all four of us were hired at the same time. Lucky for me I still had to work out my notice at the theater, which gave the restaurant some time to work out the kinks. The other cashiers were Victoria, CJ and Trent. Our general manager, Monica, had also trained them at the Lennox location. We had a desk set up between the doors leading into and out of the kitchen from the main dining room. We had an iron rack/shelf between our station and the "in" door where the waiters would roll silverware into the white cloth napkins - or we would between cashing out tables. Monica ran a pretty tight ship and you never had time or a reason to be standing still.
With the exception of Victoria, the managers had somehow managed (ahem) to hire all gay cashiers. I was the only fun one, though. Seriously. Ask any of the people that worked there. CJ was quiet and snippy, Victoria was the biggest bitch to hit this earth, and Trent was a thin-skinned, eye-rolling gay guy. Bastard rolled his eyes at everything. Me, I loved the fast pace of the restaurant, the cooks shouting orders for this and that, how problems would be fixed with orders during the busiest of times, the expo woman hollering out "runners!" if the plates would back up waiting to go to a table. There were quite a few people that I didn't see all that much because of the layout of the kitchen, like the people who'd cut up lettuce, prepare meat or all of the other ancillary jobs. Our desk was directly across from the expo line, which was opposite the cooks and their grills. The grills backed up to the train tracks on the other side of the wall.
Many of the employees were gay; I'd say probably 40% were. Gay, lesbian, whatever. One guy's only requirement to have sex with you was whether or not you had a pulse. Makes choosing easier, I guess. But the place was a trip. Everyone working there was a college student, so we were all basically the same age, in our early twenties. The managers were all older, and most of them were gay too. A very gay restaurant. Oh my!
The woman who worked expo was LaSonya, and her mother worked the dessert line. LaSonya had to be loud because you had to be heard over all of the kitchen noises, and the servers had to be sure to hear what was being called out to them. That chick took shit from no one. Because she was right across from me, the two of us were always yelling stuff back and forth to each other, kidding around. The kitchen staff was a blast and I got pretty "in" with them, most likely because I was around them all of the time. The servers could sometimes be prima donnas but it was not uncommon for me to give them their comeuppance if they smarted off to me about something or other.
One of my favorite servers was Arlene. She was a student at Georgia State (as were the majority of the wait staff--Georgia State campus was adjacent to Underground) and working part time at the restaurant. She had a raucous sense of humor and invariably would have me laughing out loud whenever she worked. Sometimes she'd just come into the kitchen, smackin' her gum like a cow, and start clapping her hands singing some Gospel song; or she'd come in saying something that made no sense to anyone at all, but it was always funny how she said it.
Patty was our leather lesbian. I'm not kidding when I say that. She was not attractive at all and could probably throw you across the room, but she had a great sense of humor and loved to kid around. Rodney was a tall gay guy who thought he had bedroom eyes. Please. Anyway, the guy was a bit of a loon, in a funny way, and he was always friendly to me. Will was a country boy who also happened to be gay. In his case, his mannerisms were such that you'd never guess that he was into guys. Don't get all "thin-skinned" on me now. Many of the gay guys at the restaurant had a pretty good flame goin' on. And the drama -- Christ on a bike! Every day could've turned into an episode of "Dynasty" if things got out of hand. But back to the players. I really dug Will. Normally I'm not into red heads, but his hair was fairly dark, almost brown, and he kept it pretty high and tight. At first I didn't pay all that much attention to him, but he was such a goof ball that I couldn't help but be attracted to him. He was about an inch shorter than me and had hazel eyes. A stocky build, but not exactly a beer keg with arms.
Stan. Oh God, Stan! Hotter than hot, and he knew it, but he was so damn nice. It was obvious his looks had no affect on him as it did the rest of the (gay) staff. He and his partner celebrated their seventh year together, and I think he may have been around twenty-five or -six. He easily could've been a model. Again, one of the classiest guys in the joint. Another guy, named Jack, also could've been a model. But he wasn't what I'd call "gay friendly" by any stretch of the imagination. He'd talk to ya, but would never be friends with anyone outside of his own jockdom. He actually played football for Georgia Tech. I'm not sure which position, but it wouldn't have mattered to me anyway. The only position I cared about was up in Athens nine months out of the year.
I could go over the rest of the people I worked with but my memory isn't that great. Typically I wanted to work the afternoon shift (there were two shifts) and was pretty adamant about not working at nights. On the weekends the restaurant closed at one in the morning, which meant the cashier's station was open until around two, and that would put me going home around three. Nope. Not interested. The dining room opened at eleven, but we all had to be there by ten. Actually, I didn't, but I really enjoyed hanging out with everyone as they reviewed the specials of the day and were quizzed on various recipes. Because I got there earlier than I was supposed to, I always started picking up some menial tasks around the kitchen, usually to help the wait staff.
Back then I could do a really good falsetto impression of Aretha Franklin, so whenever Arlene would come into the kitchen we'd start singing to each other, mainly just being goofy. From time to time the waiters would come in and laugh as they ran around, filling drink orders or running food out to the dining room. Luckily for our patrons, our kitchen was fairly loud and so I could get really loud sometimes without disturbing them. Monica would usually just walk by and shake her head. She knew I was the entertainment, if you will, and would only tell me to pipe down if I was getting out of control. But goofy singing is infectious, and there were always two or three other people who'd scurry into the kitchen imitating one of the songs that was piped into the dining room over our p.a. system.
One day one of the kitchen managers, Kylie, was working the grill. He hollered over to me, "Hey Lyons, what's the song of the day." That cracked me up because by then I felt like a human jukebox. People would come to me and either hum a few bars or say the lyrics of a song that they couldn't quite place the melody, and I'd pick up on it for them, or tell them the title they were looking for.
"How about Dancing Queen?" I hollered back.
Just then Danny, one of the bartenders, came around the corner singing, "You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life." Everyone there at the expo line and the grill started laughing. "Queens. How appropriate," Danny said, then flitted back out of the kitchen. We all laughed at that, as well.
I worked a lot and the summer just few by. I never had so much fun in my life. Some times were busier than others. Lucky for me, I had the day off when the Olympic Organizing Committee announced that the 1996 Summer Olympics were awarded "to...the city of...At-lan-ta." A crowd had gathered at Underground, in the plaza, and several large screen televisions were set up. Buck's was jam-packed the rest of the day and didn't close until three hours after its normal 11:00 time. I'd heard that the bartenders made a bunch of money in tips that night.
Summer was coming to a close, and unfortunately I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time Alan, Don or Glen. All of our schedules were really crazy. Don always worked at night at the club in Buckhead. Alan was working during the break for a couple of months until practice resumed at the end of July. Glen had decided not to return to Georgia State, and instead started focusing on a psychology degree at a small school in southeastern Tennessee. It wasn't too far from Chattanooga and was literally up the road (Interstate 75) from where I'd be living at school in Marietta, come the fall.
It was sad because the three most important friends in my life at that time were leading such disparate lives from myself. I guess that's to be expected, in a way. It was hard to believe that I'd only been out of high school for three years. It felt more like a hundred and three. I used to be able to sense when life changes would bring in a new era--now, I found myself so far into a new phase of life that I'd failed to recognize the signs on the wall. Perhaps that happened as a result of my illness, I'm not sure.
All I know is that by the end of summer I was really looking forward to moving into the dorms, and living on campus full time. The previous two quarters that I'd attended Southern Tech, I drove from Stone Mountain to Marietta every day. All of that was fine since I wasn't taking any studio classes yet, but the amount of time that you spend on campus, and as late as I knew the hours would require me to stay in studio, pretty much demanded that I live as close to the architecture building as possible.
Just before my last week at Buck's, I was approached by one of the kitchen managers, Kylie. He was always asking the song of the day, or putting in a request, just to see if I could fill it. Almost always I'd sing whatever request in an over-the-top version of the original, mainly to hide the disdain I had for my own voice. Kylie was going to be leaving the restaurant to join a couple of other guys in opening up a club of some kind in Midtown.
"Hey Paul," he said one day, "you ever think about singing for real?"
I laughed out loud in response. He and I were in the manager's office—he filling out an inventory report, me counting down my cash till.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
I turned and looked at him. "Why do you ask?" I couldn't quite tell if he was being serious or not.
" 'Cause you're pretty good. At least I think you are, beneath all of the joking around, and all."
I looked at him again for a second. "Kylie, either you're runnin' for office, or lyin' just...runs in your family." I turned back to my cash drawer.
"Look, dude, I'm serious. This club I'm leavin' here to open up, well, we're tryin' to do somethin' a little different."
"Like what. Hire no-talents?" I snorted.
I could feel him looking at me for a moment. "Anyway," he continued, "myself and two other guys are plannin' on doin' things a bit different with this club."
Okay, so I was curious. "Like what?"
"Well, we want to have a karaoke contest now and then-"
I interrupted him. "Big deal. Everyone has karaoke."
"Will you shut up for a second?" He had no problem saying that to me, which was cool because that's pretty much how I was with some people too.
"We want to have some times during the weekends where we feature different singers, each one singing a different style of song."
"Well, I was wonderin' if you'd be interested."
"Singing, dumb ass." He rolled his eyes and shook his head.
I sat back in my chair. "Wait a minute. You're serious, ain't'cha."
"Kylie, I'm not a singer."
"We can have you trained--yo could take voice lessons."
"Kylie, I hate my voice."
"I don't know. Shit, who likes to hear the sound of their own voice? And mine's well..."
"It's different, and that's what we want--different people to sing different types of stuff."
"Ha! And what kind of songs would I sing. My voice is 'different'."
I looked at him. "I'm not sure if that's all that good, dude."
"What, with some training and practice, I think you'd be up to it by next spring."
"Say what? Next spring!"
"Hey, I said I thought you'd need some training."
"What are you," I laughed, "a friggin' talent scout?" I turned back to counting the money.
"Actually, I'm in charge of finding all of the talent."
"Have you found anybody else?" I admit, at this point I was somewhat intrigued.
"We have a few other people that we want to audition, and I thought I'd ask you as well."
I snorted as I counted the change in the drawer. "Craziest thing I've ever heard," I muttered.
"Look, Paul, if you don't wanna do it, that's cool. I just thought I'd ask." He went back to his inventory count.
After a few minutes of silence I piped up. "When does the club open up?"
"We're planning on opening up New Year's Eve. Figured we'd get a pretty big crowd, and that'd help get a lot of people into the place to check it out."
"Would you pay for the voice lessons?" I asked.
I heard him take a breath. "I guess," he sounded kinda tentative.
"It's just that I won't be working during school because of all the time I'll be spending in studio, so I'll have practically no money to speak of."
"Hmmm. Let me talk to the other guys about that."
"I mean, hey, you approached me, right?" I was getting more and more interested.
"True," Kylie said.
"And you suggested, what, six months of voice lessons. That's a lot of moolah, hoss."
"Yeah. I'll bet we could swing something. You're not the only person who, if the other two guys like what they hear, may have to take some coaching classes. I guess we should spring for them, too, if they're going to be working for us." He said this more to himself than to me.
"Shit. Audition. When do I need to do that?" I was starting to lose interest. It was hard enough singing for my friends back at the cabin, let alone singing seriously for three strangers. Well, Kylie wasn't a complete stranger, but it's not like we were close or anything.
"I dunno. We can figure that all out as we need to."
"Well, if I need coaching, shouldn't we have me audition soon, so I'll know whether or not I'll be singing there?"
Kylie turned and looked at me. "You mean you'll do it."
I shook my head and rolled my eyes. "Probably against my better judgment, but yeah, I'll audition for you. But if I make it, y'all have to pay for the voice lessons."
Kylie smiled a bit. "Not a problem. I'll find out when everyone can get together, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Then we can audition everybody at once."
* * * *
My parents thought that it sounded like a good way to make money over the next summer, but were cautious about the time I might spend on lessons as opposed to my studies. Don thought it was awesome and reminded me that he always thought I should do something with my singing. Because he's a goof ball, Glen just laughed when he heard the news, and wished me luck. He didn't laugh, like "ha-ha you're nuts," more like "holy shit, that's unbelievable." Alan thought it was pretty cool that I'd be asked, and was pretty impressed when I decided to go along with the audition.
The week before the actual audition I kept telling myself, "Paul, you're not nervous, you're not nervous." I just wish that somebody would've told my bowels that. Damn, that was a rough week. I was told to prepare three to four different types of songs, and provide the sheet music for the pianist, if possible. That wasn't quite as easy to do. I picked Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm" because there was a part where I could sing some scat, Etta James' version of "At Last", Patsy Cline's version of a song called "Crazy Arms", Kay Starr's version of "Singin' The Blues", none of which I had a problem finding the sheet music for. It was the fifth song, "Smile One More Time" by Toni Tennille, that was impossible to find the chart for. That meant I'd have to sing it a cappella.
By the time the actual audition day had arrived I had about chewed the skin off the sides of my finger nails, a horrible habit I'd started back in grade school. There were six of us auditioning, myself, another two guys, and three gals. I was set to audition last, and the wait was really getting to me. After hearing them sing I wondered what in the hell I was doing there in the first place. I paced around the back of the room, which at this point was almost completely vacant, save for some chairs and a couple of tables. The contractors were set to begin construction the following week, and the place was to be part bar, part night club, part dinner theater. But at this point the place was only decorated on paper.
Finally it was my turn to sing. I wanted to puke my guts out as I handed the charts to the accompanist. I picked "I've Got Rhythm" to sing first because I could really swing into that song and relieve a lot of the stress and nervousness of the audition. "At Last" turned sort of bittersweet, because out of the blue I started thinking about Alan, and how much things had changed for us. I'd instructed the pianist to give "Crazy Arms" sort of a calypso beat. He thought I was nuts at first but it really worked out. I had to stop him on "Singin' The Blues" and tell him to slow down a bit. Guy Mitchell and Bobby Hinton had sung that song, but I always thought their versions too peppy to sound like you were actually singing the blues.
Finally, I sang "Smile One More Time." I was really nervous again and kept my eyes shut for nearly half of the song. It has sort of a bluesy-pleading-belty sound to it. Not sure how to describe it, but it's a far cry different from "Muskrat Love," if that's how you remember Toni Tennille. When I finished, Kylie and his partners, Jim and Rob, all leaned in to discuss the auditions. After a few minutes of whispered discussion they all looked up at the same time and said, "Torch."
My eyes looked from side to side, then back at them. "Excuse me?"
"Torch songs," Kylie said. "You'll be our torch song/blues song guy."
"Actually," Rob said, " you all are." The six of us looked at each other. I couldn't believe it. About myself, I mean. The other people were pretty good singers. I was just some shmoe who was trying out at Kylie's request. I know I should have felt elated or happy, but suddenly I felt quite the opposite. Much like Stephen King's Carrie when the bucket of pigs blood was tumped (that's Southern for "tipped") over on her, I expected someone to holler "NOT!" at me. But Rob continued. "We originally only wanted to hire four, but thought it'd be a good idea to rotate y'all's singing schedules throughout the week, keep everyone fresh. So we actually could use all six of you."
Okay. I guess. I approached Kylie after the announcement was made and asked him when I should start the voice lessons. He gave me two cards and told me to set up appointments with each one to see who I'd be more comfortable with. I was still a bit stunned. Never in a million fuckin' years would I have guessed that I'd be singing in front of a crowd of people. But the money was good, right? Wait. I had no idea how much it all paid.
"Um...how much...what do we get paid?" I asked.
"Each gig that you sing at pays fifty bucks."
Wow! Not bad for twenty minutes of singing. But it wouldn't pay the bills. Oh well, I'd just get a second job, no big whup. That wasn't exactly uncommon for college kids. Shit. I was still dumbfounded at the idea of singing for people. Well, I had plenty of time before I'd have to start singing--plenty of time to take voice lessons. Surely, that would help alleviate any bit of nervousness and increase my comfort level. Right?
"Oh, and Kylie..." I said.
"What's the name of this place gonna be?"
"Rhett's," he replied.
* * * *
"Everyone take a second and look at the people around you. Statistically, two people on each side of you will not graduate with you." Damn! That's one helluva a way to introduce yourself to the next class of freshman architecture students. I checked out the rest of the class. One hundred and sixty-three students in all. A few people I recognized from a couple of my classes earlier in the year, but most were complete strangers to me. I was twenty—soon to be twenty-one—and among the older people in the class. The vast majority had just graduated from high school.
After he finished describing, briefly, the curriculum for myself and my fellow architecture students, the lot of us were dismissed by the dean of architecture to go to either our perspective studios or our core classes. Each studio course was filled to capacity and lasted three hours each meeting, three days per week. I think that there were a total of nine or twelve sections, beginning at 9:00 in the morning, and the final one ending at 6:00 in the evening. The bitch of it was that until you were a second year student or higher, you had to share the studios with other classes. So if my studio was from twelve until three and I wanted to stick around to do some drawing afterward, I had to make sure there were plenty of seats for the three to six class before I could claim a table. After the last section ended it was pretty much a free-for-all for the freshmen students to claim a drafting table.
And how I felt bad for those freshmen. By this point I had been in college for three years, and the majority of my core classes were already completed. These other poor saps had to take their algebras, English, history, poly-sci’s and whatever else. Technically, with all of the hours of coursework I'd already taken, I was somewhere in my junior year. Architecture school had just added five more years of college to my life! But, all I had to take that quarter was studio, a history and a literature class. Not too bad, and it gave me plenty of time to study, when I wasn't working on a studio project.
For those of you not familiar with architectural education, here's a brief synopsis: it can sometimes be a living hell. In fact, at Georgia Tech one year, some enterprising student changed the name "architecture" on the building to "architorture." The architecture building never, ever, closes. There are always lights on in studio. The only exception is between quarters/semesters or maybe during the first day when the professors seldom dive head first into a project.
The first few weeks the professors start gearing up by taking their classes around campus and having us draw whatever in the hell we can find, whether it be a sewer grate or a dogwood tree. They really wanted you to focus and try to get that inanimate object to look right. Telling your hand to follow your brain isn't really easy. Every studio we'd practice sketching some sort of still life, or maybe a person from class, until we went nuts. In the evenings our homework would usually be something along the lines of drawing twenty or thirty sketches of objects either as you're viewing them or as you remember them. Sketch, sketch, sketch! Charcoal sucks and it's messy. Pencils, or lead, can be a bit of a pain in the ass unless you use the correct softness of lead. Ink? Don't even go there.
And speaking of ink, get this. Every week we had to take a twelve inch by eighteen inch sheet of vellum (fancy word for strong paper) and fill it with lettering. Architects don't write, they letter. It didn't matter if you wrote the alphabet or copied "Gone With The Wind," the profs wanted to see that you'd filled the page each week, until the end of the quarter. I've still never perfected it. Some schools require that you turn in lettering sheets until you have perfected the style, regardless of how many quarters it may take you. Good times!
If you see a zombie, or a group of zombies, walking aimlessly about a college campus, chances are you've identified a first-year architecture student. The projects always increase in their level of difficulty, and during the final two to three days of the project you seldom get much sleep, if any. At first it's kind of exciting, because almost your entire class is in there with you, three radios are blaring three different stations, people are bitching about being cold or hot and nobody can get truly comfortable. Then at about four in the morning, six or seven of you head out to IHOP or Waffle House or Steak 'n Shake for a food break. Most people are broke and artsy - some guys would be wired on enough drugs to jump start the 60's.
And that's just in the first quarter.
By the second quarter staying up all night becomes a bit of an annoyance, but by then you're working on actual building projects—party cabańas, bus stops, whatever. Also, a few people have dropped the program so it's easier to find an empty studio table. But you can't wait until the second year, when you don't have to lug your projects around with you in a cheap-ass plastic art bag, your supplies in a tackle box, between the dorms and the studio building.
Third quarter of first year finally comes and staying up two to three days in a row without sleep is becoming old hat, and your body gets used to the deprivation. More students have dropped the program and it becomes like one enormous family. Now you're designing projects like recycling centers and public libraries. At my school we were fortunate in that the professors always picked an actual site within an hour of the campus before handing out the design program to us. This way we could always design a project knowing the context which would be surrounding it.
I'll get more detailed with the studio stuff later. Back to the second week of studio.
I'd had my professor earlier in the winter--he was the one who taught the course on reading blueprints. I think there were around fourteen students in my class, so it was pretty full. The prof would often pick something in the room and have us all sketch it for ten to fifteen minutes. Sometimes we were not allowed to look at what it was we were sketching. Yeah - that's easy! Anyway, I was sitting at my table sketching some object or person, minding my own business. I would usually sit at the back of the room if I could because I'm the consummate people-watcher. How this guy escaped my notice is beyond me, but I was into the second week before I really saw him. So as I'm sitting there sketching a live model I happen to glance down towards the right of the model.
That's when I saw this...dude. He was looking up at the model and I couldn't take my eyes away. From him. I finally forced myself to focus on the model but since this other guy was in my periphery, I couldn't ignore him. In my gut I had a feeling so strong telling me that I needed to meet this guy. Not necessarily to jump his bones, but to meet him. The feeling was so damn strong that I grabbed my sketch pad and charcoals (I was still using those) and headed over to his table. I placed them a couple of feet from where he was drawing and said, "How ya doin'? Just comin' over to get a better angle to sketch from."
"Hey. Sure, just...help yourself."
"By the way, my name's Paul," I said, still focusing on the model.
"I'm Greg. Nice to meet you."
We chatted just a little bit and before long it was three o'clock. Time to go. I decided to force the issue and see if he wanted to go grab a bite to eat, if he didn't have any other class. He said he didn't have anything else that day and I gave him my phone number. Apparently it was up in the air where he worked whether or not he'd have to work that evening, and he needed to go home and check. He didn't live in the dorms as I did.
About a half an hour later he called. "Um...hey. It's Greg." I could tell instantly that he'd forgotten my name, and laughed inwardly.
"Hey man, how's it goin'?" I asked.
"Alright. You still wanna grab a bite?"
"Yeah, man. How about American Pie? That sound good?"
"Sounds great. Do you wanna drive, or meet me there?"
American Pie was on Roswell Road just north of the perimeter (I-285), but still about thirty minutes away.
"How about I come get'cha."
"Sounds good. Lemme give you directions..."
And boys and girls, that is how I met Greg.