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Is reloville back?

Yesterday was bittersweet. I watched as a ten year old little girl tearfully said goodbye to my daughter. They’d spent one last afternoon together at Build-a-Bear making each other a bear. Then they exchanged addresses and promised to write, call and email. Another weepy exchange and she was gone, relocating with her family to suburban Charlotte.

reloville book coverMy daughter’s BFF will be alright as I’m sure she’ll make new friends. But it was sad to watch the exchange. It brought back the topic that inspired the name of this blog, this New York Times article by Peter Kilborn on the rootless relos of Alpharetta. It was published almost exactly ten years ago but is still as relevant as ever. It later became a book. Both are worth a read.

Each member of my family lost a friend recently to reloville. My son’s best friend from school moved to Florida earlier this spring. My wife’s best buddy is moving her family to Dalton in a few weeks. And my good friend and co-worker left our company for a work from home gig. Having no deep ties here and freedom to work anywhere, he’s seriously considering a move back to South Carolina.

Are Alpharetta’s reloville days returning now that the economy is improving? It’s a possibility. New home construction is on the rebound which suggests people are again moving about. Kilborn called them suburban executive nomads, picking up their families every few years to follow the latest professional opportunity. They don’t establish roots in the community and have no hometown.

Alpharetta’s leaders talk of creating a “hometown”. It’s a word thrown out usually when speaking of downtown plans. It’s a worthy goal to create a hometown feel, but overcoming reloville is tough, something they will not be successful in combating. “#1 Reloville” is a moniker Alpharett’s earned over a few generations now. It’s here to stay, unlike many families.

Or maybe it’s just my family’s coincidence, having the reloville bug bite us like this. It’s just been a bummer of a few weeks in the Guy household. Saying goodbye to friends is never easy.

A Microcosm of Alpharetta

This year I’ve served on my church’s membership committee. Part of that responsibility was helping with several new member classes throughout the year. I underestimated how cool an experience this would be. I’m also surprised I haven’t written about this before. Perhaps Thanksgiving is a decent time reflect on it all.

If you could represent Alpharetta around one conference room table, a church new member class would be it. Sit back and listen as everyone breaks the ice. Hear the stories of how these families came to Alpharetta. Listen to their varied faith backgrounds. Here are a few stories I remember, with details obfuscated somewhat…

As would be expected in America’s #1 Reloville, nearly every family that joined isn’t from this area. I was perhaps most amazed with a couple in their late twenties. Alpharetta was their fourth destination in the reloville lottery, surprising for a career that still seemed new.

I met a grandmother who moved to Alpharetta to follow the relocated grandkids. There were road warrior sales guys with impressive Sky Miles balances. We had doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers and software geeks like yours truly.

A lot of couples were newlyweds. Several were also couples of either mixed race or nationality. Most had young children and mentioned schools as being a draw to Alpharetta. We had folks raised in nearly every mainline Christian denomination – Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and Presbyterian to name a few.

But at the end of each story, one theme seemed to cut through. Many were ready to lay down roots here in Alpharetta. Church membership is a great first step towards that goal.

I’m grateful to have participated in this process and I’m fortunate to have met several families who are setting tender new roots in this awesome community. Be thankful you live in Alpharetta.

Halloween – The Suburban Ice Breaker

Two doors down lives a fifteen year old girl who wants to start babysitting. In the cul-de-sac down the street are a bunch of UGA grads who like to do jello shots. What do these two unrelated things have to do with each other? Absolutely nothing… except that I learned both while trick or treating with my kids tonight on Halloween.

It amazes me how little we know about our neighbors despite living so close. It’s almost like the rows of leyland cypress that separate us have magical powers that keep us from community. Then comes Halloween. This is the only day when it’s perfectly acceptable to knock on a neighbor’s door at 8:00 pm and expect some hospitality (even if it’s just a piece of candy). Each year on this day I learn something about my neighbors I didn’t know. I learn something I ought to already know. I have only my kids to thank for the opportunity.

So the next time I have a hankering for jello shots I’ll know where to go. I’ll even have a sitter for the occasion.

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.

Ancestral Roots

This post continues a discussion on the Peter Kilborn article on being Rootless in Alpharetta.

There is a place in rural North Carolina where a street bears my surname. There are also a few small family cemeteries with my last name on them. I guess you could say this is where my ancestral roots are located. It really is just a place where my family landed in the middle of the 18th century. My line move away more than 100 years ago. But when I hear someone talk about the word “roots”, I think of this swampy place in eastern North Carolina. If I were to pick up my family and settle there, I would be more rootless than I am here in Alpharetta. Sure, the locals would be better able to pronounce my last name, but I wouldn’t know anyone. And I’m pretty sure they don’t have a Starbucks on every corner there. I’ll stick to Alpharetta for now.

Is this the kind of roots that Peter Kilborn is talking about in his article? Maybe. There are streets in Alpharetta named after the original settlers of Milton County. Maybe your last name is Haynes, McGinnis, Mayfield, Mansell or Kimball. I’m not exactly bumping into people with those last names amongst my fellow cubicle dwellers.

I got to thinking about all this when I read this recent article on the Manning family of Alpharetta. It is one of those feel good articles about a very deeply rooted family in Alpharetta. The article has a lot of stories about the old days, when none of this was here, etc. And sure enough, they have a street and even a school named after them (Manning Oaks Elementary). It is a cool article.

But even this Manning family didn’t completely stay put. The article talks about some living in Duluth and Winder. So where am I going with all this? At some point Alpharetta went from being a sleepy little town to a place with one hundred thousand cubicles. These cubicles need to be filled with skilled technical people with advanced degrees. It is very unrealistic to expect the Manning families of the world to be able to supply all those workers. And plus, I’m sure many of them found reasons to move out of Alpharetta too.

So yeah, there are going to be rootless people that come to Alpharetta and a lot of them. Human beings will always be somewhat nomadic in nature. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I’ve said it before on this blog… this is where I want to be. I’d rather be here than the swamps of eastern North Carolina. That means I’m not gonna get a newspaper article written about five generations of my family staying put. Then again, maybe in seventy years they will interview me talking about how I remember when Windward Parkway was only four lanes and we didn’t have flying cars.

Getting Your Just Desserts

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

In last week’s food article, one of my readers mentioned this topic. Alpharetta’s food scene is lacking in dessert-only options. Down in Atlanta there are numerous choices available. I’m talking about somewhere to go late on a Saturday night to grab a cup of coffee, maybe a cocktail and some over-the-top dessert to share with your sweetheart.

This is a very relevant topic for my blog’s theme too. Here’s the scenario… You’re the rootless relo family. You have no one around that will baby sit your kids for a long Saturday night so you and the spouse can have an upscale dinner. Sure, you can hire a sitter for this, but that will add 40 or 50 bucks to the cost of your romantic evening. Ah but what about the in-laws? They come to visit a few times a year and stay overnight. You’d feel bad ditching them for dinner (even though they would probably let you). The alternative is to sneak out after the kid’s bedtime for a romantic dessert for two. But where to go? Here are my suggestions.

The Melting Pot – Roswell

Fondue restaurants are way past their prime. But I’m not suggesting Melting Pot for dinner. I’m suggesting you make a dessert-only reservation. The quality of the food and chocolate really isn’t all that great. What I enjoy is the seating arrangement. You can snuggle up next to your sweetheart and feed each other sweets dipped in molten chocolate goo. Sexy!

Cafe Intermezzo – Dunwoody

A bit of a drive down from Alpharetta, but it might be worth it. The coffee here is terrific. The dessert selection is vast but the service is lacking. It was hard for me to get a decent overview of their offerings. It is also as loud as a rock concert. On the night we went it was more like a nightclub filled with 20-somethings. These suburbanites were way out of their element!

Other Choices

I don’t really know of many other options. There are a lot of terrific bakeries in town, but that doesn’t really fit my topic. And some of these bakeries (Alpine Bakery in Milton for example) make the cakes and pies you might order at a restaurant.

At times we’ve just picked a random upscale restaurant that has a dessert menu. Go sit in the bar area, order a cocktail and ask for that dessert menu. Some suggestions here might include Cabernet, Milton’s, Vinny’s, Sage Woodfire Tavern, Killer Creek or Stoney River. Again, you might just be paying a premium for an Alpine Bakery cake on a fancy piece of china. But you’ll at least get the experience of being in a somewhat swank restaurant with your spouse. I’ll take what I can get!

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?

No Deep Connections Here

This post continues a discussion on the Peter Kilborn article on being Rootless in Alpharetta.

This has been a tough topic for me to write about. I’m a bit of an introvert. Talk about making deep friendships in the burbs? I’m hardly an expert. Yet can you truly set roots somewhere without a close, deep friendship to rely upon?

Shortly after moving to Alpharetta, I recall my wife lamenting that she didn’t have any true friends in the area. I was reminded of this while reading Kilborn’s article. She worked on building friendships with our neighbors but nothing really developed beyond mere acquaintances. It really troubled her back then.

Today is a different story. She’s got a pretty close friend a block down the street in whom she can confide. She’s also in a fairly tight knit group of mothers with children the same age. We discussed this the other day, remembering back to our relo days. I believe she’s overall happy with her friendships here in Alpharetta, but hasn’t found that lifelong friendship she’d hoped for.

How do you development deep connections or friendships here in the rootless burbs? The first bit of advice I’d give is to be patient. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Thinking back to the Kilborn article, Mrs Link was here for four years, involved in a ton of activities, yet nothing took hold.

Secondly, I believe deep friendships grow when those involved experience something significant together. My closest friends are from my college days. In my wife’s case, her mom’s group buddies were all having their first children only weeks apart.

Here are some ways I think rootless relos in the burbs can get to know folks with common interests.

Volunteer Your Time

Okay, this is the textbook answer on how to meet friends. But before you just show up at a volunteer event, do some research. Find something you are truly passionate about. Immerse yourself into the charity and find others who feel the same way.

Moms Club

I talked about this above. But there are a lot of organizations like this in the burbs. Find one that will pair you up with parents of children the same age. Try to get into a small group if possible. Make the most out of it by attending events as often as possible. Be supportive of the other parents and watch what happens.

Knock on Doors

Yes literally! I don’t know my neighbors nearly as well as I ought to. But if you see them out in the yard, walk over and chat. Or did you notice that the house across the street has empty diaper boxes at the street on trash day? Go over and introduce yourself! Offer to babysit or something.

Happy Hour After Work

Don’t know anyone at work? Organize a happy hour. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Find a place with a good variety of adult beverages and show up. Or better yet, organize a monthly poker night.

Don’t Be a Flake!

I’ve seen this happen so many times. You’re getting to know someone and make plans to get together. The next thing you know, the other person either cancels at the last minute or is a no show. Deep friendship should be more dependable than the weather, that’s for sure. It should be common sense, but do your best to honor your commitments, lest you remain rootless!

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