Darrell Huckaby - Taking time to remember a different Atlanta in a different day

Attendance was sparse at Sunday school - hey, it was Spring Break - and while we were waiting to see if anyone else would walk in before delving into Paul's instructions to the church at Thessalonica, the talk around the table turned to the Atlanta of the 1960s. I think someone asked me about a comment I had written about "The Great Speckled Bird," an underground newspaper circulated in downtown Atlanta back when the youth of America - and some who were old enough to know better - were going through their hippie phase.

Some of the younger members of our class - those in their mid-40s - were shocked and awed to learn that others of us actually braved the streets of downtown Atlanta on a regular basis in search of sustenance and entertainment - and after dark, no less!

When I was in high school, believe it or not, the city was our playground. My buddies and I thought nothing of jumping on I-20 and heading "downtown." We would walk around the lobby of the Regency-Hyatt House, mingling with the tourists and taunting the parrots they kept in the gilded cages in the lobby and once in a great while riding the glass elevators to the Polaris and sitting at a table in the little blue dome having a $3 Coke while watching the city revolve below us.

And to put the price of a $3 Coke in perspective, that $3 would buy 10 gallons of gasoline back in the day.

Back then, the Roxie Theater and Lowe's Grand were our multiplexes.

One of my group somehow discovered Black Forest cake and on Friday and Saturday nights, after basketball games, we would head to the Fairfield Inn, which was the restaurant in the ground floor of the Marriott Hotel. Still wearing our Newton Ram blazers, we would have dessert and flirt with the waitresses and pretend we belonged there.

When I was a senior in high school, I went with two of our school's high school coaches, Tom Wortman and Doc Thurmond, who had played for the Rams, I think - the ones in Los Angeles, not Newton County - to scout a future opponent. After the game we wound up at Donn Clendenon's Rib Shack, down on Auburn Avenue, eating rib sandwiches. The only two white faces in the house belonged to myself and Coach Wortman, but this was back in the time when Atlanta was still too busy to hate. We were treated like family and I made many more trips to Donn Clendenon's - and wish it were still open.

I wasn't the only one around the table with fond memories of old Atlanta. Someone brought up the ice skating rink in the Omni Hotel and someone remembered ice skating at Colony Square. I remembered busting my fanny at both. Someone else brought up the 24-hour eateries called the "Dunk and Dine," and someone else mentioned having chicken salad sandwiches with her grandmother at the Magnolia Tearoom in the downtown Rich's.

I bet they couldn't touch the rib plate at Donn Clendenon's.

OK. Here's a big test. The Wonderful World of Sid and Marty Kroft! We're probably getting into the '70s now, understand. It was billed as an indoor amusement park, and you could find it at the top of the world's longest escalator in the old Omni Hotel. Isn't that the CNN Center now? I went to the park, but the only attraction I remember was the giant pinball machine ride in which you sat in little metal cars and "were" the pinball as you bounced around the "table" while lights flashed and bells rang. Mostly it was a chiropractor's dream, because the ride jerked you around like a roller coaster on steroids.

One of our class members, Laura, had actually worked at the Wonderful World of Sid and Marty Kroft, as a strolling minstrel - complete with flowers in her hair and a butterfly painted on her face.

Another class member, Mark, brought up "Burt's Place," a restaurant, also in the Omni Hotel, owned by screen idol Burt Reynolds, he of "Smokey and the Bandit" fame. I loved going to Burt's Place, because the different seating areas were designed to look like movie sets. I always asked to eat in the Twelve Oaks dining room.

Again, we are in the '70s now - which is when, I believe, "Limelight" and disco music came on the scene and, come to think of it, it has been pretty much downhill in Atlanta ever since.

We finally did get around to discussing Thessalonica Sunday and it sounded like a nice enough place, but I bet it didn't hold a candle to the Atlanta of the 1960s.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.