Monday, September 09, 2002

The True Face of Cobb County.

When I made the move down from Boston to just north of Atlanta a month ago, I confess that I harbored some pretty bad views of Cobb County. After all, this is the place that made some pretty nasty official statements about gays, costing them any participation in the 1996 Olympics. Cobb is also the county that harbors the town of Kennesaw, infamous for a law stating that all residents must have guns, following the NRA logic that if all residents were armed there'd be no crime. I could go on about how Newt Gingrich was from here, about the creationists trying to kick Darwin's theories out of the public schools, or about how they disallowed the MARTA rail system from expanding northward out of some petty racist concerns. But I think I've given everyone a pretty good idea of why I didn't think I'd be staying in Cobb County very long.

I moved here because my relatives are here. Of course, the relatives I have living in Cobb County are atheist, or libertarian, or environmentalist, or Catholic, or all of those things at once, but I figured them for the loveable oddballs they are. I mean, as an atheist and a person who loves urban environments, how could I set up my life in Cobb County? I reasoned I'd have to move into town, especially since the first week of my move was marked by an ACLU suit against the county school board.

So last week, while I was out at my version of Mardi Gras downtown, I struck up conversation with some intelligent women around me at a discussion of J. K. Rowling's work.

"So, I just moved here and I was wondering - where should I get an apartment?"

The girls answered without any hesitation. "Marietta."

These girls were mostly punks and wiccans in their mid to late twenties. They were counter-culture, decked out for DragonCon with bright unnatural hair colors, piercings, tattoos proudly displayed on a few.

"But I thought Cobb County was super-conservative."

One of the women laughed. She had come to the discussion with a great deal of knowledge about both children's literature and censorship. Without the black fishnets and pentagram, she could have easily been an elementary school teacher.

"Marietta's cheaper than Atlanta, and downtown, quite frankly, has a huge drug problem. Marietta's safer and has a lot more freedom than you'd think."

"So are all the crazy religious people just out in the countryside? It's just that I'm an atheist, and…you know…"

"I live in Kennesaw." said one girl with bright pink bangs and a jet-black ponytail. "There are some crazy people, but they're just really vocal. Once you move there, you find that most people are much more accepting than you'd think."

I was amazed. Okay, I thought. So if these women can live in Cobb County and not be frightened or threatened, maybe I can too. After all, I've found that I really enjoy hanging out with my family here. If I moved into town, maybe I wouldn't see them as much - so maybe I can find what I'm looking for in Marietta.

So this weekend I went to the Marietta Square to scope things out a bit. It's a small version of everything I've been looking for - a place where I could walk to the post office, a bakery, some little shops and a movie theater. Also, there's a small art museum and the main library I worshipped as a teenager. The Marietta library was the first big modern library I ever visited as a kid, and I have happy memories of discovering Anne MacCaffery's Pern series and Dean Koontz's The Watchers there.

I was feeling pretty good about the whole vibe of the place until I realized that there really weren't any apartments on the square. And despite its seemingly beautiful upkeep, a rat ran right across my path in broad daylight. Still - the Gone With the Wind museum just moved to the Marietta Square, and it's got most of what other things I need around. I dreamed about winning the lottery and buying one of the old storefronts as a bookstore for my friends Christi and Skeet to run. And then, remembering that if I lived there I would have to keep an eye out for those things that scamper at night, I decided I might as well stay.

The true face of Cobb County has yet to show itself to me. Is Cobb County really the conservative Southern Baptists intent on making all of Atlanta uncomfortable, or the Wiccan young women who assure me Kennesaw is all right? Does Cobb County belong to the people who grew up here, or the people who moved here in the last decade who now outnumber them? Is Cobb County part of Atlanta like the phone book and newspaper say that is, or is it the last rural holdout inside Atlanta's urban kingdom? Maybe the true face of Cobb County looks a lot like the people in my family - we're from here, but we're not from here. We consider ourselves Southern, but not a one of us fits into any of the stereotypes associated with that title. We argue and hug and take care of each other. Last week the toddlers turned up with pinworms but by the age of three they can all use a computer. We live in Atlanta but we don't live in Atlanta. Welcome to Cobb County.

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