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How Snowmageddon 2011 Justifies Our Milk and Bread Hoarding

That’s right, I’m going to write an article justifying the southern practice of raiding grocery stores before winter storms. I’m ready for all the hate mail you can bring!

Imagine if authorities announced that gasoline would be unavailable for purchase for 48 hours. What would you do? Gas up of course! What if you already had three quarters of a tank? Well, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so why not top off? Makes sense. Pretty soon everyone will get the same notion and there will be a run on gas. Hoarding behavior takes over.

This might not make a great analogy but it happened in September 2008. Remember? I do because I was one of the poor schmucks in an hour long line to gas up.

Predictions for winter weather are similar. Most snows in Georgia are gone in less than a day. Yet many of us can remember 1993 or other times when snow turned into a several day affair. The snowstorm this week certainly did. It means you’re without access to grocery stores for 48 hours, maybe more. Refreshing your stock of perishable commodities is a reasonable thing to do. So yeah, I was at Walmart last weekend buying milk, bread, fruit, (and my favorite beer, Yuengling) and basically any other groceries I would have bought during the week. Now that I’ve been home-bound for two, going on three days, I feel like my hoarding was a completely justified and rational thing to do.

Maybe you’re an Alpharetta resident who relocated from up north. This will be where you criticize southerns for not knowing how to drive in snow and ice. I’m not going to argue with you. (cue the Rain Man quote) I think I’m an excellent driver, having some experience in weather like this. But you’re right, most in the south don’t know how to drive on snow. I’m more worried about them, not me! I don’t want to be T-boned by Bubba who thinks the laws of physics and friction don’t apply to his rear-wheel drive F-150.

Do you think the Snowmageddon 2011 event has justified our milk and bread hoarding? I’m opening myself up to ridicule and mockery but I’m good for it. Let me have it!

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

Christmas in Alpharetta

The other night I was helping my wife with a marathon Christmas gift wrapping session. Something occurred to me while I was stuffing presents under the tree. I was running out of room for presents. They were stacked upon themselves, getting into the limbs of the tree itself and spilling out onto the living room floor. These were gifts for my family and some extended family, but nothing yet from Santa of course. Santa’s gifts are hidden in a closet yet to be delivered on his sleigh.

The sight of presents spilling out from under my tree was a very visual representation of our abundance here in the affluent burbs. We are all very blessed to live here. We’re lucky to be in a community that continues to add jobs in this economy. We’re fortunate to have the means to give generously to those we love at Christmas. Please don’t take that for granted. With everything that goes on in our busy suburban lives it’s easy to lose sight of it all.

Over the past year I’ve come to make some cool new acquaintances through my blog. I want to take the time to wish you all a Merry Christmas. And if you’re an Alpharetta relo who’s off to visit family back home, I wish you safe and grope-free travels on your journey.

Photo Credit: Allie Towers Rice

Attracting and Retaining Relos in Alpharetta

This is the fifth article in a series about Alpharetta’s ten year plan survey.

We’re nearing the end of my little series on the ten year plan survey. If there is a topic I keep coming back to it is that of jobs. There is no way to talk about attracting or retaining the residents of this area without talking about jobs. And more so than that, you have to frame this discussion against the context of Alpharetta being America’s #1 Relo-ville destination. I can’t take credit for that designation, Forbes Magazine bestowed that honor on us last year.

What attracts people to Alpharetta? Many times it goes like this…

Boss: “There is a new opportunity for you in our Alpharetta office.”

Soon-to-be-Relo: “Alpha what? I like living here in Peoria.”

Boss: “You’ll move to Alpharetta or you’re fired.”

Relo: “Um, okay. What’s there to do in Alpha..eat..ah?”

Boss: “Tennis. Oh, and you’re gonna need an SUV… a big one.”

The single best way Alpharetta can attract and retain residents is to maintain our position as the king of the relovilles. It is just about that simple, yes. Thanks for reading… goodnight.

Okay, perhaps not. We also get folks from other parts of metro Atlanta that want to move here. So let’s look at some of the survey’s questions on this issue…

Please rank the top ten (10) challenges Alpharetta faces in attracting and/or retaining residents with one (1) being the most important challenge.

And here is my list in ranked order…

  1. Creating more quality jobs
  2. Traffic congestion
  3. Infrastructure quality
  4. K-12 capacity, financing, and quality
  5. Quality development, planning, and land use
  6. A more vital Downtown
  7. More entertainment and recreation amenities
  8. Appearance of the city
  9. Cost of living
  10. More diverse housing stock (i.e., apartments, more choices of single-family homes)

Jobs of course, followed by traffic/infrastructure, schools, stuff to do, etc. I’ve beat the jobs issue to death. Let’s talk traffic. Over the long haul, the city needs to be careful not to turn Alpharetta into the perimeter area. The surface streets there are a clogged mess. Alpharetta’s GA-400 feeder streets need to be able to handle the longterm demands of cubicle dwellers coming and going. Beyond that, east-west commutes continue to be trouble for many working here. Much of this is beyond Alpharetta’s control.

Alpharetta also need to be careful not to sacrifice traffic flow for the sake of appearance and beautification. I’m thinking about their plans for Main Street and Milton’s thought on GA-9. But this is a topic for another article.

So I’ll turn the question to my readers… As a resident of Alpharetta, what can the city do to retain you as a resident? What can the city not do that might cause you to move?

Will Young Professionals Move to Alpharetta? OMG! Like, No Way!

This is the fourth article in a series about Alpharetta’s ten year plan survey.

I moved to Atlanta when I was 25 years old, very much a young professional. I had a nice cubicle job in the Peachtree Corners area, a decent income, a girlfriend but certainly no family. Where did I choose to live? Vinings. It was a terrific spot, close enough to 285 for my east/west commute yet right on I-75. I could be in Buckhead in just a few minutes. And oh did we go to Buckhead (it was a different place back then). All in all, this young professional was living it up in Vinings.

It’s clear that the authors of Alpharetta’s ten year plan survey have young professionals on their minds. I counted six questions on this topic. Here are a few…

Is Alpharetta an attractive and desirable place to live for young professionals? Would you recommend Alpharetta to single young professionals looking for a place to live in Metro Atlanta?

The answer to both questions is a resounding no! Don’t get me wrong, I like Alpharetta and I encourage people to move here. But let’s not kid ourselves, there is little to nothing to excite young professionals in the burbs. It is the reason I didn’t live in Gwinnett County when I moved to Atlanta. There are no hot clubs, no concert venues (save Encore Park), few trendy eateries, etc. And as much as I like my minivan today (indeed I do), our modes of transportation are ridiculed and scorned by Gen-Y types.

Young professionals desire urban environments. Were Alpharetta to want to attract this demographic, we would need to make dramatic transformations. We would need more mixed-use developments, more high-rise condos, more late night bars, etc. They’re not exactly politically popular things for city councilmen to consider. On top of that, the northern burbs don’t have a great track record when it comes to stuff like this. And even were we to be successful in creating a desirable environment for young professionals, what’s to say they will take the bait and move here? We’re competing against trendy Atlanta neighborhoods.

Young professionals will move here, eventually. They’ll move here once they get a bit older and grow tired of the commute up GA-400. They’ll move here once they have kids and realize that the Atlanta schools suck. Alpharetta has no problem whatsoever in attracting 30-something families. So who cares that we can’t attract young professionals?

The survey touches on another similar issue with this question:

Do you feel there will be job opportunities available to your children locally upon graduation?

Of course. Alpharetta’s largest employers will continue to seek skilled employees, many directly from college recruiting drives. Is it important to me that my children return to Alpharetta after they finish school? Again, let’s be realistic. Our kids aren’t gonna live here and that’s fine. This town was build on corporate relos. I don’t know if being a relo is hereditary, but I’ll bet that our kids will move around just as much as we do.

So let’s review… If you’re a young professional, Alpharetta is a total snoozer. This is not a problem. The city shouldn’t waste energy or money trying to change this. 20-somethings will move here once their tricycle motors get older and start school. Relos beget relos.

Kindergarten Friendships

The inspiration for the name of my blog came from a 2005 New York Times feature story about a rootless and relocated family in Alpharetta. New readers of my blog might not know this. If you have a few minutes, you ought to check out the article. It is a fascinating read.

My daughter started kindergarten this year in public school. She spent the last three years at our church’s dayschool program and did well. But kindergarten was a big change. It represented a new school, bus ride, larger class size and a more structured environment. I was confident that she would do well in the transition and she did.

What amazes me about my little sweetheart is her ability to meet new friends. It didn’t take long for her to buddy up with someone new. Often the first thing she talks about when getting home is her friend and what they did.

Why do five year old kindergartners make friends easier than 30-something relocated professionals? In the article I mentioned earlier, the wife laments that she has no close, lifelong friends in Alpharetta. In some respects I’m like this. How is it that we can work with people for 40 hours a week and not get to know them? How is it that we live very close to neighbors just like ourselves and almost never have a meal with them?

Maybe kindergarten friendships are based on a shared love of Barbie dolls, Disney princesses and other simple pleasures of childhood. Or maybe we have something to learn about how young children socialize. Nevertheless I’m proud of my daughter. She’s a better people person at five years old than I am at 36 years. I admire her more than she knows.

Nomadic Hermits of Alpharetta

One of my good friends lives in Gwinnett County. We were roommates in college and for a year after college. I consider him a pretty close, lifelong friend, yet I haven’t seen him in probably seven years.

When I first moved to the Atlanta area I didn’t know anyone here, except one person. I had a cousin who was working on his MBA at Emory at the time. Over the two years he was in Atlanta I got together with him exactly once. That one time was for my wedding.

My wife has a friend who moved to Cherokee County several years ago. They grew up next door to each other for a long portion of their childhood. We have never met up with this friend, even though he has children the same age as ours.

Being a rootless relo is a concept that I try to come back to from time to time. People move to Alpharetta and have no friends, close confidants, no one to watch their kids, etc. But is that really true? I share the three little stories above to illustrate a paradox. There are five million people living in metro Atlanta. The chances are real good that you already knew someone before moving here. At a minimum you’re one or two degrees of Kevin Bacon from knowing someone close by.

So why is it hard to reach out to the people we already know? Is it traffic? Are we just too busy to make time for friends who live 30-45 minutes away? Or are they too far away to be considered close by? Or am I just strange for not getting together with my friends?

Peter Kilborn, the writer who inspired the name of my blog, called the rootless relos of the affluent burbs modern-day executive gypsies. Sometimes I think we’re closer to nomadic hermits.

Karen Handel was a Rootless Relo

New readers of my blog might not know this. The inspiration for my blog’s name came from a New York Times article written years ago about Alpharetta’s rootless relos. You can read the entire article here. It also spawned a book.

So before you draw any conclusions from the title of my article today, understand that being a rootless relo is not a negative thing to me. I should know, because I’m a rootless relo who’s working on deepening my family’s ties to this area.

It occurred to me the other day that Karen Handel, the candidate for Governor, also fits into this category. Well, at least she used to. I think it is safe to say she’s established a few roots in Georgia by now. I give her an even money chance at becoming Georgia’s next Governor.

Check out her bio page on her campaign website. She grew up in Maryland and worked in Washington DC for a while before moving to North Fulton to follow a corporate job. Sound familiar? Her story is not unlike thousands of others from North Fulton in that regard. I guess what I’m trying to say is that she’s one of us!

I haven’t completely decided who I’m voting for in the primary, but I’m certainly leaning towards Handel at this point. There are other reasons of course. I just thought it was interesting to point out this little connection between her past and my blog’s theme, for what it’s worth. I’ll write again on why I like her as a candidate.

The Dentist Relo Scam

I went to the dentist this week for a filling. That in and of itself isn’t worth blogging about. My dentist and I have been watching an old silver filling for a while, knowing that one day it would need to be replaced. Yesterday was the day.

But I got to thinking while I was getting my cheek jabbed with a needle… I started going to this dentist several years ago. On my first visit, he could have suggested removing this older filling right away. He could have insisted on expensive gum treatment for my near-chronic gingivitis. He didn’t. He worked with me to get these problems fixed over time.

Many other dentists in the northern burbs are not like this. I believe there is a concerted effort by some less-scrupulous dentists to take advantage of relos. Want an example? Check out some of these reviews of dentists around town. Here is the scenario I’m talking about… You’re a young office worker who’s been moving around a lot. Reloville calls and you land in Alpharetta. Your crazy job and moving might have kept you from regular dental visits. Wanting to change that, you find a dentist accepting new patients and book an appointment for a cleaning. Everything is going fine until the end. The dentist says four or five teeth need fillings or maybe a crown. On top of that, he suggests that you need expensive gum debridement that isn’t covered by insurance. You’re looking at maxing out your insurance for the year and upwards of a grand out of pocket.

This happened to me after going to a larger practice down near Roswell. Something didn’t feel right so I got a second opinion. This second dentist wanted to do only one filling.

So what gives? I’m no expert in dentistry, but I think this stuff is very subjective. Maybe my tin foil hat is on a little too tight today, but I think some dentists here take advantage of relos. They have no interest in keeping you as a long-term client. Why should they? You’re gonna be moved to another suburb in a few years anyway. So they do what they can to bilk you and your insurance for as much as they can for a year or two. Old silver filling? Yeah, that’s gotta come out now. Bad gums? Yeah those need a deep cleaning. Expensive toothbrushes? Yeah you should buy them from us.

My best advice is to get second and third opinions. This can be a pain in the ass since you’ll have to purchase a copy of your X-rays. Most insurance plans only pay for one a year. Paying for copies tells an office they are about to lose you as a customer. They might not be tremendously helpful when you ask, but you are entitled to them. Get your copy and run! Start shopping around pronto.

The best way to beat the relo dentist scam cycle is to establish a longterm relationship with a dentist. I like smaller practices with only one or two dentists. Ask for referrals from any non-relos you might know. Also ask those who give you the referral if they’ve been patients for a while.

When will this novocaine wear off?

This is Where I Want To Be

I realized something after reading my first few blog posts. It is easy to come across in a negative tone about living here. A lot of people curse the burbs. Folks despise the relos, traffic, strip malls, chain restaurants, soccer moms, etc. I don’t want to come across as one of those people. To put it simply… I like it here. Yes, seriously I do.

Alpharetta Chose Me

I don’t like to think of myself as a relo, but I suppose I am. I sorta ended up here by accident. About twelve years ago I was a young bachelor living in the upstate of South Carolina. I enjoyed the pace of life up there and the job I had. But after getting a few years of work experience under my belt, I began to realize something. There were only a handful of companies up there that would hire someone with software experience. If I switched jobs every several years, I would simply run out of places to work before long. So I interviewed with a company in Atlanta, got an offer and moved down here in 1999.

Since then I changed jobs just twice. My work location moved from Norcross to Duluth then finally to Alpharetta. Not wanting a long commute, I moved here. I eventually married my sweetheart from South Carolina, cranked out a few kids, and here I am!

There are a lot of things I love about this area. Here are a few…

Jobs

As I mentioned recently, there are (still) technology jobs here. There are more high-tech jobs on Windward Parkway alone than in all of the upstate of South Carolina. Add to that Johns Creek, Duluth, Norcross and the Perimeter area (all within an easy commute). Even in the recession, this is a great place to be.

Traffic

Yes, this is a positive on my list! Most people around here won’t admit to this, but… you choose where you live and you choose where you work. I choose to have both of these in Alpharetta, and both fairly close to each other. I have a five mile commute; very atypical for an Atlanta commuter. I can come home everyday for lunch but I usually choose to eat out with my family. It is nice, and something I don’t take for granted.

Strip Malls

I love ‘em. Seriously. They have stores, dry cleaners, restaurants, veterinarians, and barber shops to name a few things. I like these things. I like that I have literally one hundred restaurants within range for lunch. I like that there are new Targets and Walmarts nearby. I like having a Home Depot open until 10:00pm. I like Chinese takeout. I dig all of this. You might call it sprawl. That’s fine. I call it stuff I like. I call it a job for someone, a business or entrepreneurial endeavor. Yay capitalism!

Schools

The schools up here rock. I would gladly enroll my children in the worst public school in North Fulton or South Forsyth over the best public school in the city of Atlanta.

Crime

…or lack thereof. Let’s face it, the streets are relatively safe here. Sure, someone is going to occasionally get a purse snatched at the mall. But violent crime is almost nonexistent here.

In my blog I’m going to write about all the craziness and contradiction that exists out here in the affluent burbs. But don’t take this the wrong way. I love this place. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to move here. But now that I’ve been here for ten years, I’m diggin’ it. If you don’t like our pace of life, our standard of living, our “sprawl”, our five bedroom homes and large SUVs, that’s fine. I’m open to all the good-natured ridicule you can throw at me.

The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life

I’ve used this New York Times article as inspiration for the name of my blog. Yeah, I know, it is four and a half years old. Even so, writer Peter Kilborn completely nails how life is in Alpharetta. I can remember shortly after this came out, our minister at church made it the topic of a few sermons. And from what I understand, Kilborn has written a book on the subject (something I need to get my hands on).

The article is a little dated now. It followed the Link family, who lived in present day Johns Creek (not yet incorporated in 2005). The family of five moved from burb to burb to follow the executive career of the husband, all the while never really fitting in anywhere.

Rootless

Are the Links rootless? I’m not so sure. I think Mrs. Link is desperately trying to establish roots, knowing full well that in a few short years (or months) they will be quickly uprooted and planted elsewhere. She willingly goes along with it, accepting all the costs and consequences, in an effort to further her husband’s career. But to call this family completely rootless is a little much, and something I’ll get into in later posts.

Nevertheless, the story covers many interesting themes. It is a study in suburban sociology written by a gifted journalist. He makes some very valid points yet at the same time pokes fun at our standard of living.

So thus my blog’s theme, and thus begins a series on this specific article. It contains so much juicy blog fodder that I just can’t resist! It also gives me the opportunity to create a quasi-fictional (yet real) poster child for the rootless relo family… Mrs Link. Congratulations, ma’am. You’re now a category on my blog!

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