The Olympics was both exciting and a huge joke to us living in Atlanta, Summer '96. The overseeing committees made beautiful judgement calls, like not installing water fountains, since water would be available at $4/bottle and forgetting to order bathrooms & porta-johns.
IBM did an incredible job of lousing up the computer system and the busses were so bad that an olympic soccer team hi-jacked a yachting team's bus to get to an event.
But the spirit was contagious, even for a curmudgeon like me.The throngs of people from all over the world was intense. The Atlanta Police Urban Assault Blimp roamed endlessly in the sky watching over us. Cheers from the venues could be heard half a mile away. For all the problems and havoc it created in our lives, especially the one's that lived in Mid-town, such as I, we were strangely proud and giddy. The last thing we worried about was something going wrong where people actually get hurt.
Atlanta and the FBI took the security very seriously. Weeks before the Games opened, I had to drive down 14th street to work, through the heart of olympic village, there were para-military units lining checkpoints. During the games, helicopters swarmed and occasional sniper could be seen on a building roof. Cops everywhere.
We felt safe. I felt safe.
I had been in Centennial Park several hours before the explosion. To pay a phone bill actually, but I stayed and played, talking with people who didn't understand me and vice versa, watching the zealous throngs of people milling about, our city overrun with the smell of the Games, an intense euphoric smell. I couldn't find a normal local running bus, so I had to eventually hoof it home the three miles or so from the park. It was okay. I was high off the experience. I was up late that night. I heard the explosion. And the sirens.
In my neighborhood, near the corners of Ponce De Leon and Monroe Drive, it had sounded normal to me... Gun shots and sirens were common, especially on a Friday. I was listening to CD's, drank my last beer and went to sleep.
I woke that morning, mistakenly, I had forgotten to kill my clock radio which was set for 6:30 am. I was groggy after only three hours sleep, but before I could turn it off, I caught the words being spoken. It was an NBC news feed. Some olympic gymnast and then... that noise... much louder and screams. Oh god the screams. I felt sick. Something had happened. I got up, turned on the computer and the stereo and listened to 99X. They dropped the news feed and went to DJ Jimmy Barons. You could hear the tears in Jimmy's voice and at once I figured it out. There had been a bomb. I heard Jimmy re-count what he experienced that night. Music, explosion, panic- thousands of people running in all directions, dozens hurt. Unconfirmed death toll.
This wasn't happening. I logged into my ISP and before the CNN page came up, I had three e-mails waiting for me from friends on the left coast asking if I was okay, was I there, please respond. I jotted quick notes back; Yes fine, just learning of it, love you too. Thank you. For some reason I couldn't stay in my apartment. It was stifling. I needed to be int he streets. I got dressed and stepped into the damp crisp morning air and walked up Ponce De Leon to the McDonalds. When I walked in- there were maybe 30 people in there. At 6:55 am. The television was on... employees and customers alike stood there, mouths open, death silence- watching the video and listening to Tom Brokaw. I did order food, my stomach was in knots and I sat near the television and watched and learned and cried. When I realized I was crying, I looked around me. One of the street people that lives behind the abandoned medical building across from my apartment was sitting there with his coffee. He had tears in his eyes too.
We had been violated, these most precious feelings, this communal pride and glory had been ripped from us. There was no "safety" no "protection." Our city had been violated. We each lost our innocence that morning. There was no peace from that moment on.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Robi:
Subject: 'nother atlanta bombing
Sent: 1/16/97 6:48 AM
Received: 1/16/97 11:56 AM
From: bob ramsak, firstname.lastname@example.org
There was another bombing in Atlanta this morning, this time at an abortion
clinic. So far, Richard Jewell is not a suspect.
happy New Year Kurac. Germany/Slovenia was wonderful, snowy and cold.
I'm moving in mid May. I love life.
I waited patiently for NPR to come on. Now that I am in Las Vegas, I get my news late. The abortion clinic bombing affected me in a different way, different strings attached there. Equally as heinous, but unconnected to the Centennial Park bombing. Or so it felt.
This morning, February 22, 1997, I wake to NPR and hear about the "Otherside" lounge.
I sent this off shortly ago:
Subject: atlanta explodes, again
Sent: 2/22/97 2:56 PM
To: Robi Ramsak, email@example.com
nail-bomb in a gay/lesbian club this time... Not far down the road from where I used to live. In the "deviant" section of town. Where the "Chamber" and other clubs I used to frequent are.
I'm more disturbed than normal today.
Things are interesting otherwise. I'll fill you in soon.
Midtown, Ansley and the Cheshire Bridge area in Atlanta, was my playground. It is where I lived, where I went to eat, where I went to dance. I began crying uncontrollably again. The same feeling of violation were back. The abortion clinic bombing, now not unrelated, all into the fold.
I am sick right now. I am concerned for my friends who still are in Atlanta. I saw Tsu on-line last night, he said he had just left the "Chamber", had gone dancing with Fetish Girl. I am sending off e-mail to Anita, to make sure none of our friends were hurt, which I doubt, I would have heard from now, but moreso just to have her spread my concern and best wishes to everyone for me.
I can't explain my feelings right now. Maybe I need another seven months to digest and write them down, as I had waited to do with what I wrote above about the morning of the Centennial Park bombing. All I can say is that I am sick. I fear for myself, my three daughters, my friends. I don't like this world very much. I like it even less today.
February 22, 1997
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