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Charles Bethea

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Hit-and-runs, bicycle safety, and ninjas

Q: I’ve been thinking about commuting by bicycle. Are our streets safe for cyclists?

When I was eight years old, I was hit by a car while riding to a
friend’s house in Midtown. It was a bright summer day, and I was
blithely pedaling uphill, beside the curb, wearing a helmet. There was
a noise behind me, a telephone pole in front of me, and then an impact.
I came to my senses next to my bent Schwinn, covered in blood. The car
was gone. I spent three days in intensive care with a fractured skull.
So the short answer: Life happens, and bikes don’t have air bags. The
longer answer is more nuanced.

In 2007, 254 bike crashes were reported in metro Atlanta, which
resulted in 107 injuries and two fatalities. Of these crashes, nearly
half took place in Fulton County. According to the Georgia Department
of Transportation, bicycles are involved in less than a quarter of one
percent of all Georgia traffic crashes, but they account for one
percent of all traffic-related fatalities. But biking—especially
helmeted—remains nearly twice as safe as driving, according to a 1998
study of comparative risk. Rebecca Serna, executive director of the
Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, rides 3.9 miles to work every day on a steel
touring bike. “As a bike commuter,” she says, “I can vouch for it being
both feasible and occasionally more exciting than I’d really like it to
be. Most of my close calls are predictable, though. It’s important to
know your route and the dangers it poses.”

Those dangers, more often than not, aren’t cars: Roughly 20 percent of
bike crashes involve automobiles, according to Serna, while half
involve curbs, potholes, and the like. These can be avoided through
basic safety training, such as ABC’s Confident City Cycling classes,
offered twice monthly between April and June. Atlanta currently has
just thirty miles of bike lanes and twenty miles of hard-surface
trails. Once the Connect Atlanta Plan—which includes a network of 220
miles of lanes and sharrows within the city—is realized, biking will be
even safer.

Q: I saw kids doing a cross between martial arts and freestyle-walking in Piedmont Park the other day. Are they ninjas?

Did they have throwing stars and Chuck Taylors? Or were they wearing
board shorts and calling each other “ninja dudes”? Without a few more
details, I can only give you my best guess. But because ninja culture
has cooled off a bit since Japan’s Edo Period, they were probably
practicing parkour (from the French parcours, which means “route”), also known as “free running.”

Invented by Frenchman David Belle in the early 1990s, parkour nimbly
straddles the divide between movement and meditation by making
efficient, aerobic, improvised use of the urban landscape—think scaling
staircases and jumping between roofs. Most major cities in the U.S. now
have parkour groups with modest followings of traceurs—they
trace Belle’s footsteps—who engage in moves such as the “cat leap” and
the “wall run.” The Internet is rife with stomach-clenching parkour
videos that you can watch if your ninja friends, who might belong to
Atlanta’s Team Parlous, suddenly disappear.

Got an Atlanta question? E-mail Charles Bethea at askcharles@atlantamag.emmis.com.

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The Artful Blogger: Hoopinion’s Bret LaGree

My favorite Atlanta Hawks blogger, Bret LaGree, moved to Atlanta from Eastern Kansas in the summer of 1991.
He graduated from Druid Hills High School and then Emory University, where he figured he’d become a big writer. Around that time he had his short play “Guyworld”—focused on three white middle-management guys in their thirties watching Monday Night Football together at a bar—produced as part of the Young
Playwrights Festival in New York. LaGree, now 32, has since worked a series of “nominally professional and/or seriously menial jobs
in Atlanta, while writing a number of unproduced (in the case of plays and
screenplays) and unpublished (in the case of stories and poems) works
for reasons both good and ill.”

In the Fall of 2004, he and his younger sister Carrie began a
basketball blog called “Hoopinion.” Carrie contributed a single
post before retiring from basketball blogging. Meanwhile, Bret wrote for PhogBlog (about Kansas Jayhawk basketball
and football), HackTheBracket (about the NCAA Tournament), and
CourtsideTimes.net (about the NBA). He put Hoopinion on hiatus to found
Peachtree Hoops in the Fall of
2008 before returning to his online home in January 2009 to provide
analysis and opinion about the Hawks for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. He also writes a film blog called “Film is a Battleground.” Here, in typical style, he takes some questions.

Q: Kansas
is a great college basketball state, and you had the good fortune (from a
basketball point of view, at least) of growing up there. What was the
transition to Atlanta like for a spoiled young basketball fan?

A: I
hadn’t had a professional basketball team to support since the Kings
left Kansas City in 1985. (My Mom brought me out of my concern about an
earlier family move from Kansas City to Topeka by promising I’d get
taken to see a lot of CBA games in our new home.) So I was excited to
be in an NBA city again. I didn’t warm up to the Hawks immediately,
largely because I was, in typical teenage fashion, passive-aggressively
protesting being moved half-way across the country. Aside from that
marginally shameful choice, it was the Dominique Wilkins/Danny Manning
trade that really built up my resistance to becoming a Hawks fan for
awhile. Not just because it was a terrible trade (it was) but because
of the contempt with which Danny Manning’s name was spoken here long
after he’d left in free agency. For someone who was aged seven to
eleven while Manning (in possession of his original knee ligaments,
mind you) played at Kansas, this was an unforgiveable diminuation of a
personal hero. He was essentially Kevin Garnett a decade before. Not
that I ever stopped following the Hawks, but I didn’t get seriously
invested in the team until the franchise committed to rebuilding in the
Summer of 2004.

So is Atlanta as bad a sports town as it’s perceived to be by most of the country?

Not
at all. I think the perception is due more to college football and
NASCAR not counting when pontificating about the quality of a sports
town. The rest is blaming Atlanta sports fans for not blindly
supporting what have been, at times, some really poorly run
professional franchises.

What did you think you’d be doing for a living when you were 12? What about when you were 21?

When
I was 12, I probably still clung to some hope of playing basketball
through college (Golf being my safety sport.) then getting into a
coaching or front office career path. I’m not sure I’ve fully given up
on the possibility of the latter even at the age of 32. At 21 I was far
too confident (in that I lacked any real plan for accomplishing the
goal beyond stunning people with my perceived talent) that I would be a
professional writer of some stripe.


What basketball or sports bloggers do you emulate?

I
lean toward the more analytical basketball bloggers: Kevin Arnovitz at
ClipperBlog, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and elsewhere, Kevin Pelton
and John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus, Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t
Lie
, Ben Q Rock at Third Quarter Collapse, to name just a few I try to
emulate as I resist the urge simply to steal from them. I think the
level of analysis and writing throughout the TrueHoop Network is really
high and I’m proud to be a part of that. I admire and am envious of the
communities at Sactown Royalty, CelticsBlog, Blazer’s Edge, and Blog a
Bull
.
I’d be remiss not to
praise the Hawks blogsosphere (Peachtree Hoops, The Human Highlight
Blog
, Hawks Str8Talk, and The Vent) who, though small in number, are as
vital a group as can be found.

How did you develop your pseudo-footnoted style of blogging?

In
about 2003, with two uproduced plays (one good and one very long and
very dull) weighing on me, I took a stab at writing fiction and tried
to develop an expansive, footnoted prose style in the manner of David
Foster Wallace and, less directly, Jean-Luc Godard. That hasn’t really
coalesced for me yet. When Joe Posnanski started writing his blog and
made use of long asterisked and italicized digressions I immediately
stole it and replaced my long-paragraphed, heavily parenthetical
blogging style with more compact and discrete units of prose.

From where do you draw the bulk of the stats you use to buttress
your blogs?

On
a game-by-game level I might keep track of some things myself then
double-check my work against the game log before publishing anything.
For season and historical stats I use Basketball-Reference.com,
Knickerblogger‘s stats section, 82games.com,
and BasketballValue.com. For college stats, I rely on KenPom.com save
for the Kansas Jayhawks about whom I have a decent home-brewed
collection of game-by-game team and player stats going back several
seasons.

Does interpreting statistics come naturally to you?



I
don’t think an interest or facility with stats comes naturally to me.
It was more a product of environment. My math skills topped out at
Algebra II but I was exposed to Bill James at a young age (3 or 4 when
Dan Okrent’s article in Sports Illustrated was published, 5 when the
first Ballentine-published Baseball Abstract came out) simply because
my Dad lived across the hall from James at KU. I couldn’t understand
the math
at that age but the skepticism and the belief in the value of finding
answers to questions made a big impression on me and as sabermetrics
was my first exposure to that sort of questioning statistical analysis
has retained its appeal for me to the extent that I can understand or
utilize the relevant data and methods.


Sekou Smith
obviously has limitations on what he can say, and how many words he can use, in his print coverage of the Hawks for the AJC. What limitations, if any, do you have?

My
access to the team is limited and, because I don’t write about the
Hawks for a living, the time I can spend studying game film or
attempting more in-depth stuides is limited.
I
rue the latter more but that may be because I’m largely ignorant of
what the former might add to my work. Plus, I’m seriously introverted.


You occasionally take a sarcastic tone with folks who make what
you perceive to be dumb or misinformed comments on your posts. Do you worry about alienating anyone?

I
want the commenters to take the subject as seriously as I do. Luckily
for me there are several intelligent and insightful people who
contribute comments to the blog. I don’t have a problem with alienating
someone who demonstrates they have little to add to the discussion. I’m
much more concerned that my own limitations (or repetitions) as a
writer and analyst alienates informed readers.


What kind of following has Hoopinion developed thus far?

The
traffic has grown consistently from the TrueHoop Network launch in
January and (quite naturally) peaked during the playoffs. It’s my goal
to create enough interesting off-season content to retain the interest
of both new and long-term readers through to next season. It’s a far
more rewarding enterprise the more feedback (both positive and
critical) I receive.


Cute name, by the way. Who came up with “Hoopinion”?

I
did and I think “cute” is probably the best that can be said of it.
Originally, this was going to be a basketball blog written by both my
sister and me. That brother/sister, sibling rivalry thing was going to
be our hook. We spent months trying to come up with a name for it. She
didn’t have the time to do it in the end, but I don’t think that’s
strictly due to any aversion she felt regarding the name.

What similarities do you see between film criticism and sports criticism? Important differences?

I
think that, if you take the respective subject matter seriously, in
both cases you’re examining how and why something does or doesn’t work.
Basketball, of course, has the complementary or contradictory
relationship between results and aesthetics working or not working so
that’s another layer of tension between your objective and subjective
reactions to the material. Film criticism has the benefit of not
subjecting you to 82 movies a year made by the same group of people.


How do you generally write a game recap?

It’s
tough to time because I don’t have the opportunity to sit down and
write the recap straight through. Typically, I take a lot of notes
during the game some of which are worth something at the end of the
game and some of which are not.
I complete all the post boilerplate (boxscore and gameflow links, four factors table, etc.) after the game. I
try to write something after the game that night. Sometimes I manage
whole, usable paragraphs. Sometimes I manage just the sketchiest of
notes. I usually fall asleep and/or wake up thinking about whatever I
haven’t successfully communicated about the game yet. I write and
re-write as necessary in the morning, double-check any stats I use or
suppositions I make, add the links and quotes and publish the recap as
early as possible.


Do you have other plays, poems, or stories in the works that you can talk about?

My
plays, poems, and stories are in a perpetual morass of being in the
works. I hope to finish, or at least stop working on them, and send
more of them out this summer. I feel good. The blog has really helped
my self-confidence as a writer and I hope that translates to these
other types of writing.
If
I have a novel in me I suspect I it’s about the three years I caddied
at East Lake. At this point, all I know for sure is that I have a
really bad screenplay in me about that time.


Where’s the best place to watch a basketball game in Atlanta?

Though
I understand why people are partial to Alexander Memorial Coliseum (and
it is a nice place to watch a game), when your formative years are
spent attending games at Allen Fieldhouse or Ahearn Field House it
creates a powerful, prejudicial view of what constitutes a proper
college basketball viewing experience. Factor that, and my greater
emotional investment in the Hawks into the equation, and Philips Arena
stands as my clearly preferred basketball arena in town.



The worst?


I
haven’t really felt connected to any of the basketball (NBA, regular
season college, Final Four, Olympic) games I’ve seen at the Georgia Dome and
would, were I allowed, ban all manner of basketball from domes for the
duration.

Hawks’ Josh Smith, Broken Down

Not injured, or delinquent on the court—though he was, for a time, both of those things this past season. But rather broken down, statistically and existentially, by the estimable blogger Bret LaGree, of Hoopinionblog.com. LaGree, an Atlantan whom I’ll be interviewing here later this week, is one of the finest basketball bloggers around (as evidenced by his recruitment earlier this year by ESPN’s excellent TrueHoop Network), as well as a playwrite and film critic. He’s made blogging about the Atlanta Hawks into an unusually high art, which is no small task considering “Coach” Mike Woodson’s penchant for both labyrinthine and clichéd statements, and the Hawks’ repetitive and simplistic offensive schemes. Not a lot of new things to say, in other words, over the course of a season. I point your attention to LaGree’s breakdown of Josh Smith, in particular, because he is the player that most typifies the Hawks’ strengthes (athleticism, youth, and open-court virtuousity) and weaknesses (chaotic play, youth, and a disconnect between player and coach), and therefore paints the clearest picture of the team’s future.

The Curious Mouth of Mike Woodson

Say what you will about the grooming, player relationships and strategic idiosyncracies—okay, flat-out, self-admitted errors—of Atlanta Hawks’ coach Mike Woodson. The man with the Just For Men goatee has a Yogi Berraian way with words. Now, as his team’s frustratingly successful (or successfully frustrating?) season falls away like Josh Smith after a wild jumper, let’s re-examine a few of Woody’s finer points of oratory, which I’ve collected, mostly without context, in a small notebook titled, “Huh?—Woodyisms.”

“We can’t sit here and say he’s not in our future plans, because the reason he’s here is because he’s in our future.”

“We made them play their starters big minutes. That’s what you want, but their starters are as good as anyone in the league.”

“I thought we had enough guys on the bench to win this game.”

“I can’t fault our guys and their effort. We were our own worst enemy tonight coming down the stretch.”

“Again, when we won the first game, I’m sure they were down after that.
They had to be thinking we had to win three more to get to the next
round. I’m thinking the same thing. I have to get these guys thinking
the right way.”

“That’s why he’s doing what he’s doing and we’re doing what we’re doing. What he says don’t amount to nothing. Again, I don’t even know why I’ve wasted my words on Jon Barry.”

“Last year we would have cringed when he shot the
basketball. Now his shot looks like a shot. He’s 100 percent better
than he was last year, but he still has a long way to go.”

“Do we throw in the towel for Game 4? Hell, no, we shouldn’t do that.
I’m going to push our guys to make sure they don’t throw in the towel.”

“I’m somewhat surprised, but I’m not the guy making the decisions.”

“As the head coach, I’ve got everything under control.”

As much joy as I get from these strange strings of words, I hope the Hawks have a new coach next year who makes more sense—with his words, line-ups, and plays.

A Straight Man’s Ode to Ansley L.A. Fitness

The twenty-first-century gym is a burlesque under bright lights: lathered bodies, spandex, inner-thigh machines, and wall-to-wall mirrors offering intimate angles and startling curves. It follows that these facilities often function as meat markets. The L.A. Fitness at Ansley Mall serves as such for chiseled gay men. But I began going there for a different reason: It’s the closest gym to my house.
As a kid, I bought baseball cards at the ancient Woolworth’s that would eventually make way for the slick-looking gym chain. I was sad to see my childhood haunt disappear, but three years later, after my mother joined, I gave the place a shot. I was back from college, jobless, and capable of forty-five minutes of daily self-improvement. Also, I could walk there. Without quite realizing it, I’d joined a healthy reincarnation of Studio 54; protein powder, chin-up bars, and techno had replaced coke, showgirl swings, and disco. The hot pants and affectionate ass-slapping remained.
It was a shocking place for a straight young man with a pretty face. I felt, for the first time, like a piece of meat. Early on, catching a few furtive looks, I assumed a defensive posture. I’d put my earbuds in, keep my eyes down, and stalk around the back where the free weights are kept, only glancing up at the rare woman—she was a woman, wasn’t she?—who braved the sea of massive, mingling, unseasonably bronzed males.
 
Why continue this masochistic ritual? Despite my best efforts, I found camaraderie. Sure, it was mostly limited to grunts of “Done here?” “Can I work in?” and “Mind leaving those weights on the bar?” But it felt nice. Nonverbal communities are communities nonetheless.
One day I was benching too much weight without a spotter. I went for an extra repetition and couldn’t push it up all the way. Seeing this, a man wearing a shirt that said “Tight End” came to my rescue. He didn’t look like a football fan. But he helped me extract myself from the vise of my own weighty ambition. When I sat up, my face was beet red—both from oxygen deprivation and embarrassment. “Oh, don’t worry, sweetie,” he said, smiling. “Sometimes a spotter is just a spotter.”

Illustration by Scott Garrett

Love and law at the drive-in, kissing, and telling

Q: Is heavy petting legal at drive-in theaters? What about making whoopee? I hear they look for rocking cars at the Starlight.

Having fogged up a few windows in my day, I share your concern—though
not your fondness for outdated sex slang. I’ve consulted three lawyers
(well, two eager law students and one retired attorney) and have
concluded that, as one member of my crack legal team says, “It looks
like you could get away with a fair bit.”

The key is determining whether or not what you and your sweetie plan to
do is “lewd” or “indecent” (sexual intercourse, genital exposure, and
mere fondling all qualify in Georgia), and then whether that act will
occur in a “public” space. The latter condition is the heart—or loin—of
the matter here, since I assume you intend to do more than neck in your
Nissan at Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
According to the Georgia Jurisprudence encyclopedia, the following
places have been deemed “public” by court of law: massage parlor
cubicles, shopping-center parking lots, and the visible interior of a
car. It’s a distinction the jury will decide, but be warned: No matter
how much tinting you’ve done to your vehicle, the front windshield
remains transparent.

“I’m not voyeuristic,” says Jim Stacy, manager of Atlanta’s Starlight
Six Drive-In, the last of its kind in the city. “And we’re pretty
laid-back here. But this is still a family-oriented place.” To that
end, Stacy employs a few off-duty DeKalb County cops to patrol the
Starlight, to make sure that everyone has “respect for those next to
you.” But, he says, he rarely runs off foggers. “They’ve been doing it
since your folks were kids.” I wouldn’t take a convertible, though.

A member of my legal team concludes: “If the [experience] is worth a
misdemeanor . . . go for it, buddy! Chances are you can get it thrown
out with a pimp-ass attorney on your side.” Contact me for this
soon-to-be pimp-ass attorney’s phone number. He graduates from law
school this May.

Q: Where is the best scenic make-out spot in Atlanta?

Conventional wisdom says that our gently rolling piedmont landscape
doesn’t offer classic “lookout points” like in the Hollywood Hills. But
there are a few semiromantic vistas I discovered in high school that
I’m willing to reveal. The Dusty’s Barbecue parking lot on Briarcliff
offers a view of the Atlanta skyline. More importantly, it emits the
arousing scent of pulled pork. It’s also a bone’s throw from the Pitch
and Putt where I bought my first underage booze, which led to my first
. . . well, enough about me.

A casual poll reveals these amorous locales: the hidden bench by the
lake on Piedmont Park’s east side, the Carter Center pond (“great for
skinny-dipping at night”), the gardens of Decatur’s Columbia
Theological Seminary (blasphemy!), the upstairs terrace at the
Virginia-Highland Ben & Jerry’s (“take the stairs from the terrace
to the top of the building, which is secluded”), the Stone Mountain
Park hayride, the lower canopy of the magnolia at the north end of Winn
Park, and the red light at the west end of Freedom Parkway (“view of
the city, and the light stays red for a real long time”).

Got an Atlanta question? E-mail Charles Bethea at askcharles@atlantamag.emmis.com.

>> READ ALL CHARLES AT LARGE COLUMNS

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