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Growing up in Columbus

When we arrived in Columbus in 1973, my Michigan-bred parents and I were greeted by fourteen inches of snow. As a result, for the first few months we were there, we were all under the impression that this place was "normal" (read: Midwestern). We quickly learned otherwise.

Columbus, back in the '70's, was a town at odds with itself. The second-largest city in Georgia, grown rich on textile money and the sale of sugar water. Columbus had a quiet rivalry with Atlanta in many ways, not the least of which had to do with Coca-Cola (the local historic district is proud to show you the house where Dr. Pemberton really invented the Real Thing - it's right there on Broadway, three blocks from the courthouse).

But there were other tensions as well. Columbus sits just north of Fort Benning, the Army's infantry and ranger training base. It seemed to me, growing up on the south side, that there were a whole bunch of folks on the north side trying to cover up, live down, or completely forget that the base even existed (and eventually, when my family moved to the north side, that included me, too). In the '70's, it was hard to tell whether Columbus was a small town with big town aspirations and the economic clout that goes with them, or a big town trying to pretend it was still a small town with a secure sense of moral outrage and propriety.

Just two examples of the nascent weirdness of my early environs:

First, the south side of Columbus was home to, among other things, The Municipal Auditorium. Now you may have never heard of this place, but through my childhood, it had quite an infamous history. World Championship Wrestling, the "sport" that ended up strangely ruling the '80's and MTV (remember the Hulk Hogan/Cyndi Lauper connection?) got its start there. This is also the location where (at various times) Gene Simmons, Ice T, and Bobby Brown have been arrested for "lewdness."

The second matter deals with the curious warp of language to which the residents of Columbus seem oblivious. First of all, Columbus has no downtown. Instead, the Chamber of Commerce decided, sometime in the late '70's, to start calling what used to be downtown "Uptown." (This was, remember, the time in our culture when things like the show "Up with People" became popular. "Up," it seems, is the new "Down.") Don't think of this as an isolated occurance. Columbus for decades has also been referring to itself as "the Valley Area" or "the Chattahoochee Valley." Believe me, I have tried in vain to locate the mountains - on any side, in any direction - to which these monickers refer. Calling Columbus a "Valley" is analogous to the way in which one might refer to Bill Clinton as a "Left Winger." (Well, except if you listen to these folks. )

Next: The Tender, Formative Years

(last modified 2005-06-28)       [Login]
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a biography, of sorts.