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Darrell Huckaby - Trip to Buckhead turns back the clock

Thursday evening was a drab, bone-chilling night in the middle of January. According to my calendar I was supposed to drive into Atlanta - to Buckhead - at the height of rush hour. I don't like spending time inside the perimeter and would rather go to the dentist than Buckhead.

Actually, that's a bad analogy. My dentist is gorgeous.

I'd rather go to a Hillary Clinton rally than Buckhead - especially on a cold night in January.

But I went anyway, and am I ever glad I did! For a few golden hours it was 1974 again, and 1974 was a pretty good year for me.

Let me explain.

The reason for my excursion into the bowels of the South's largest city was to attend a reading by Julie Cannon - a good friend that I had never met.

Julie is a Clarke County native and writes novels set in the rural South. She and I speak the same language, although she does it with a more fluid and genteel accent than I. She sent me a collection of her first three books, "True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes," "Mater Biscuit," and "Those Pearly Gates," last summer, just before my family and I embarked on a cross-country odyssey. My lovely wife, Lisa, and my oldest child, Jamie, fought over the books from Seattle to Minneapolis, and I had to wait until we got home to delve into the tales of Imogene Lavendar and the good folks of Euharlee, Ga. You may not have actually visited Euharlee, but if you were raised in the South, you know the town and its inhabitants well.

Julie was presenting and discussing her latest book, "The Romance Reader's Book Club" at a UGA Alumni function in Buckhead Thursday night. When I received the notice, a couple of months ago, I decided that it would be a good chance to formally meet the person that I knew so well through her words, so I RSVP'd.

I didn't know it would be one of the coldest nights of the year when I did, or that I would have been wrung through the ringer at work all week. Nonetheless, an RSVP is an RSVP, and when I got home Thursday afternoon, I put on my cleanest dirty shirt and headed for Buckhead.

It was a good move by me.

For one thing, Julie was absolutely delightful. She was humble and unassuming and quite frank in her discussion of her books and her writing process - all the things, in other words, that I am not. And her book was set in 1974, which, I said, was a good time in my life; a simpler time - and with the things I now deal with on a daily basis, simpler is good.

Listening to Julie talk about life in rural Georgia brought back precious memories of my own childhood, and inspired me to work a little harder on my own literary projects this year. But Julie's book talk was only one reason the night was so fanciful.

The Atlanta traffic was lighter than expected and Lisa and I arrived at our destination a little earlier than planned. We had time for a nice dinner. Alone. Just the two of us. A rare treat, indeed. And right across the street from the site of the book signing was "Dante's Down the Hatch."

Shades of 1974!

Those of you who are natives - and I know we are a rapidly dwindling minority - will remember Dante's from the days when Underground Atlanta was in its prime.

Yes, there was a time when you could shop and dine and party at Underground - at all hours of the day and night - and feel perfectly safe and comfortable. I was 22 years old in 1974, and Underground was one of my favorite destinations.

Remember Ruby Red's Warehouse?

Remember Piano (Blind Willie Perriman) Red, the albino pianist who was also known as Dr. Feelgood?

Remember Scarlett O'Hara's?

I saw Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts perform in see-through raincoats and fire engine red jock straps at Scarlett O'Hara's in 1974 - but don't tell my kids or my Sunday school teacher.

And, of course, there was Dante's Down the Hatch, one of the most unique dining venues I had ever experienced. Of course, I was 22 and most of my fine dining had occurred at McDonald's and the Varsity.

But Dante's was special. It had a nautical décor, complete with the hull of a ship, and a lagoon with a live alligator. And they served fondue - which we didn't have in Porterdale when I was coming up. It was a great place for romance. You'd sit at a dark table in that eclectic environment and cook bits of chicken and steak and mushrooms in a pot of boiling oil. It was the place I always took dates that I really wanted to impress.

I hadn't been to Dante's in 30 years. The Buckhead location is just as enchanting as the original Underground Atlanta spot. The alligator died - he has a tombstone in the entrance - but the rest is absolutely classic. Lisa and I gazed into one another's eyes and cooked fondue and enjoyed one another's company - just like a real date.

And then we went across the street and met Julie and then we went home and Lisa started reading the new book and I went to bed - alone.

I told you it was just like 1974.

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