Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Adventures at City Hall

My friend Edward laughed when I told him I'd been down to Atlanta City Hall to look up permit records for the house the wife and I are buying (note: the era of Cap'n Ken's house-buying blogs starts now).

He laughed not at the amazing anal-ness I was displaying in wanting to see what documents related to the house's construction were filed away at City Hall, but because I believed what I was told by the folks in the permits office - that they'd call me in a few days after they retrieved the records from off-site storage.

"Months" was Edward's prediction on when I'd hear back; if I heard back at all.

This thought had, of course, crossed my mind as I walked out of the marble palace on Trinity Ave. But the folks in the permit office seemed very professional and looked like they had their shit together. The permits office, after all, is where all the city's property tax money originates - you can't tax if people don't build, and people can't build without permits; therefore the city should run a professional and efficient permits department.

Sound logic, indeed. But this is Atlanta, not Alpharetta. When - and if - they called back would be a good test of this logic (and no doubt blog fodder either way).

The permit office promise was that the records would be retrieved in three business days and I'd get a call when they were received back at Trinity. I was there on a Friday afternoon. The next Thursday (the 4th business day after), I came home to an answering machine message saying the plans were available for my review.

So there, Ed. The city actually came through.

I trotted back down to City Hall to check out the plans. Again, professionalism was the rule as the receptionist was able to find the person who had called me; that person was able to find the file and I was escorted back into a room to view the plans.

I took a bunch of notes - exact lot size, square footage, amount of dirt disturbed for construction, etc. and hoped to make a copy of the floorplans. But, alas, it was a copyrighted design and city officials aren't into the whole file-sharing vibe, so no duplicates were allowed.

But a good use of my time, nonetheless.

In addition to my stated task, the City Hall trip also included free admission to a very amusing homeless people demonstration on the front steps. Under banners reading "hospitality not hostility" - which I thought was a very clever slogan for people who lived under bridges - the speakers talked about the pride of people who live on the street and ticked off a kind of Bum Census - overpass-by-overpass tallies of how many people live where.

One of the bridges mentioned, by the way, was the old Bankhead Highway bridge behind my former office on Means Street. One time there was stuff stolen from our lobby, and the cop who showed up said it was probably the people who lived on the bridge. He advised us to never, under any circumstances, go up there and, in fact, declined to do so himself. Hospitality, indeed.

I watched the demonstration for a few minutes, declined a leaflet offered by the guilt-ridden, home-having white man who was part of the group then headed back toward my car. Not 50 feet away from the demonstration I was approached by a man - not part of the event - who asked me for change so he could buy lunch.

For about two seconds I thought about grabbing the guy, marching him back over to the demonstrators and explaining to them that the "hostility" they are protesting is a result of people like this. I also thought - ever so briefly - of offering him the "hospitality" of the change in my pocket.

In the end, I gave him what I give all street people (except for the legless guy who hangs out near the cars on Georgia Avenue when I park on the street for Braves games - I give him $3 as incentive to watch the car) - nothing. I didn't harass, and I didn't reward.

I came across the demonstrators one final time as I was driving home through Downtown. Seems they had gone mobile; apparently heading toward Underground Atlanta. They'd formed a small Bum Parade, with the homeless folks up front looking pretty-well ready for lunch and the guilty white folks bringing up the rear, still shoving leaflets at people.

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