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Cleaning for the Cleaning Ladies

Every other Tuesday night. That’s when it happens. It usually starts with me threatening the children. Pick up these toys or else! Or else what? Or else I’m going to move them all to the basement and donate them to charity. That’s usually enough motivation. Next comes the dishes, picking up two weeks of mail, putting away laundry, etc.

What am I talking about? This is the ritual of the affluent burbs known as “Cleaning for the cleaning ladies.” To an outsider, this sounds completely absurd. It was to me until we hired a cleaning company about a year ago. “Isn’t this what you pay them to do?” Well, yes, kinda. Before we hired a cleaning crew, I used to laugh at my bachelor friend for doing this. His reasoning was that he didn’t want the cleaning ladies to see his bachelor lifestyle. So his cleaning routine consisted of throwing out beer cans and putting away random pairs of underpants that might be scattered around the house. Our routine is a little different… less beer cans mainly.

In reality, this is more of a pickup and not really a cleaning effort. It is amazing to me that in two weeks we’ve managed to cover most of the horizontal surfaces in our home with junk. That junk has got to go somewhere so the cleaning ladies have a surface to clean.

There is some modesty in all this. Even though we don’t know the cleaning ladies, we don’t want them to see anything that might be embarrassing, not that I have anything like that! And I’m sure they’ve seen it all, I just don’t want them to see mine (whatever it may be).

So we clean… for the cleaning ladies… so they can clean for us… and we pay them for this. It all makes perfect sense in the burbs. After all, if we didn’t clean for them, we wouldn’t get our money’s worth out of their service. Thus by paying them, it forces us to clean up our mess, something we would put off for a lot longer than two weeks. The end result is a presentable home, at least for a few days.

What Would Alpharetta Look Like Without the Recession

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine what Alpharetta would look if we were not in the midst of a recession. What do you see? More houses? Probably. More traffic? For sure!

I got to thinking about this recently, specifically in regard to commercial real estate. Sure, there are dozens of half built neighborhoods out there. Many have streets paved and sewer lines sticking out. It will take years for those to be revived again. But there are a bunch of stalled, slowed or just shelved commercial projects. I think Alpharetta would be a very difference place today if these projects were to have come to fruition.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Bob Strader and his blog. He covered this exact topic a few weeks ago, providing an update on some of these projects. It is a very good read (and an excellent blog as well).

Alpharetta City Center

This has been talked about for a long time. It was to be a vast development that would change downtown Alpharetta in a big way. From the little I knew about this, it sounded like a great idea. In my opinion, Alpharetta’s downtown was never a destination in and of itself (unlike Roswell or Marietta for example). This mixed use development would hopefully change that. But due to evaporating credit markets, this ship hasn’t even left port.

Prospect Park

Also known as the mud pit on Old Milton and GA-400. Unlike other projects, this one actually got off the ground before crashing and burning. The developer went bankrupt not even half way into it. What is left is graded land, some framed out concrete structures with rebar sticking out and an unfinished road.

That unfinished road would be the Westside Parkway extension. What a frustration! It is almost complete from Webb Bridge to Old Milton, but a portion is on this property. This nice little cut through road is delayed indefinitely.

Taubman Mall – McFarland and GA-400

This project still has a heartbeat, barely. This is the promised high-end shopping mall to be build near McFarland and GA-400. The economy has delayed this for years, but plans are still moving forward. It is supposed to rival Phipps Plaza in terms of upscale stores. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Last year Forsyth County approved an overlay district for this mall. Within the last month they made good on their promise to extend Ronald Reagan parkway from McFarland to Union Hill. This will provide access to all the multi-use features of this development. So things continue to move here, albeit at a snails pace.

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.

Diversity in the Burbs?

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

Here is a quote from the Kilborn article that jumped out at me:

“The good thing about it is that it is a very comfortable neighborhood to live in. These are very homogeneous types of groups. You play tennis with them, you have them over to dinner. You go to the same parties. But we’re never challenged to learn much about other economic groups. When you talk about tennis, guess what? Everybody you play against looks and acts and generally feels like you. It doesn’t give you much of a perspective. At work, diversity is one of the biggest things we work on.”

That’s Mr. Link speaking about his neighborhood, but it applies to life in Alpharetta in general. Diversity is a big part about life at work, especially if you’re a manager or in HR. Yet here in the burbs, it is practically non-existent. According to stats from the 2000 census quoted by Wikipedia, Alpharetta is 91% white and 5% African American. Forsyth County only has a 0.7% African American population. There are reasons for this difference in Forsyth, something I’ll write about at a later time. But nevertheless, the entire state of Georgia sits at 65% white and 30% African American.

It is pretty easy to verify these statistics by looking around. The congregation I worship with reflects these numbers, as does the pre-school my children attend. Homogeneous is an understatement! We all look alike and think alike. The workplace is a little different, but the vast majority of my fellow cubicle dwellers don’t live here like I do.

What is important to me, as Mr. Link mentions, is that my children grow up with some perspective. I don’t always want them to be surrounded by other white Anglo Saxons like us. I don’t want them to think everyone lives in a five bedroom home, vacations in Colorado and drives German cars.

But at the same time, I don’t think merely looking at white to black ratios is telling the whole story. My block of the neighborhood happens to be very diverse in terms of nationality. On one side of us is a Chinese family. There are Indians on the other side. Across the street is a Dutch family with children in age real close to our own. Catty corner from us is a family from Africa.

The technology jobs available here in the burbs attract a diverse nationality of people. There are small Indian communities all over the northern burbs, especially in Johns Creek. Duluth has a HUGE Korean community, complete with unique restaurants and Korean churches.

The lack of diversity in the burbs will correct itself over time. I’m encouraged to see places like St. James United Methodist Church on Webb Bridge Road. This is a predominantly African American congregation right near the heart of Alpharetta. They have a deep and rich history as a congregation dating back to 1867. They seem to be a vibrant and growing church, and they’ve certainly been around longer than nearly every other church in town (including my own).

So diversity in the burbs is here in some respects, and isn’t in a lot of respects. I think as a parent I’m going to have to be deliberate to expose my children to more. Just an unfortunate trade-off of living here.

Would it Kill You to Say Thank You?

My momma raised me right. Please and thank you? Of course I say these things. We’re civilized people, right? We appreciate when someone does something for us and we respond the way we were taught as preschoolers. Or do we?

I find that I tend to thank those who work for me. Or perhaps more correctly, I say thank you for service I’m paying for; the waitress or the folks at the dry cleaning place for example. I even go out of my way to thank the cleaning ladies when they are here every other week. Yet here in the burbs, we never seem to thank the people who serve us in a volunteer capacity.

Who am I talking about? The list is long. It is the den mother at scouts, the Sunday School teacher at church, the PTA leaders at school, etc. And as much as it pains me, I’d throw the homeowners association board members into the mix. Yeah, I curse the HOA as much as the next guy, but these folks volunteered for the most thankless job in the burbs. Build up some brownie points and thank those guys. Maybe the pine straw police will overlook your weed-ridden flowerbeds next month!

We tend to take people in these roles for granted. They are always there, always serving us. In many cases we criticize them more than we thank them! If we’re not critical then we’re asking these folks to step up and do more. After all, no one else will! It is this kind of behavior that creates resentment and builds apathy in an organization.

So take a moment and offer up sincere thanks to those who serve you. Be genuine and be deliberate in your thanks. If you can’t do it in writing then go out of your way with a warm and sincere handshake.

Addicted to Intervention

Okay, I’m certainly not the first person to come up with this line. But A&E’s documentary Intervention is a riveting show that I’ve been hooked on for several seasons. Tonight’s episode hits home for those of us living in the affluent burbs.

Imagine the beautiful wife of a doctor. She graduated with honors from UNC Chapel Hill and married young. She lived in a beautiful home in a gated country club. Sound familiar? There are probably a thousand women like this in the northern burbs of Atlanta.

But behind the facade of her gilded country club life, she’s dealing with long held grief. The loss of her father at a young age and a miscarried baby moved her toward alcoholism.

What I find amazing about the stories on this show is how they cut across all parts of Americana. You’ll find toothless rednecks on meth one week, cocaine crackheads in college the next week, inner-city heroin users on skid row, and Oxycontin addicts in the burbs.

Addiction is everywhere, even here in the rich burbs. The show has really opened my eyes to this. Thankfully I’ve never been exposed to this kind of hardcore addiction, and I hope I never have to be.

I’ve noticed a few common themes to this show. The first is the lack of a father. Tonight the addict’s father died unexpectedly during her childhood. Other times the fathers are abusive to their children. In 99% of the episodes I’ve seen there are father issues.

Second, drugs and alcohol make you ugly. I shouldn’t make fun of that, but it is true. The drugs take an unbelievable toll on physical appearance. Just take a look at the folks who are successful in treatment. At the end of the show you’ll find a beautiful person underneath. It is amazing.

The show is heartbreaking. But it also wakes me up as a parent. Addiction is everywhere. Hug your kids. Tell them you love them. Be there as a parent today so you’re not on this show in a few years.

Too Much Hype? Snow Day in Atlanta

When I was in college, I distinctly remember a picture from a campus newspaper on a snow day. The scene was completely staged, yet still funny as hell. Two fratboys are in the bread aisle of a grocery store. The shelves are bare. One has a loaf of long french bread, presumably the only thing left in the store. He is wielding it like a sword, beating the other fratboy over the head in an epic struggle.

Okay, my explanation of the picture will never do it justice. But the satire was spot on. People in the south go absolutely nutty over the mere chance of frozen precipitation. Is it justified, or all hype?

Fast forward to today… I’m on a daily conference call with colleagues in our Michigan office.  Do you think they want to hear about our 40% chance of a dusting of snow? I’m sure the phone is on mute on their end, laughing their asses off.

So let’s go point/counterpoint on the snow day hype machine…

Hype – Stocking Up

The need to stock up on perishable kitchen items is silly. Unless there are blizzard conditions, you’re not going to starve. I can survive on out-of-date canned water chestnuts in my cupboard for at least a week.

Not Hype – Ice

Typically in the south, snow or sleet occurs when the temperature is at or near freezing. The stuff thaws, then refreezes on the roads. Up north, snow falls, sticks, and stays as powdery stuff for day/weeks.

Hype – School and Office Closings

Schools these days close at just the mention of snow. Sometimes they will close an entire school system if only part of the county has snow. The effects of kids out of school and parents having to cover for them has ripple effects in the work place.

Additionally, office closings are stupid. Here in cubicle land, most of us have the ability to work from home. Smart companies treat their employees like adults and will let them make decisions. If travel is dangerous, make the decision yourself and work from home. If your boss has a problem with that, find a new boss.

Not Hype – Snow is Fun

I blame this on being born and raised in Florida. I never saw snow until I was a teenager. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in a significant snow fall (6 inches or more) in all my life. If we have snow, any amount of snow, I’m gonna play in it. I don’t care if I have to rake the yard to find enough snow for a snowball, I’m gonna do it. And my kids? Please! This is a rite of childhood.

Hype – Meteorologists

You can’t argue that they have a vested interest in playing this up. It is all about the ratings, and people don’t watch the Weather Channel on warm, sunny days.

Not Hype – Lack of Infrastructure

In the south we just don’t have the number of snow plows available. If we do get a deep covering, only primary roads and bridges get cleared. Secondly, utilities struggle to keep power lines clear. There are many above ground utilities which are not clear of tree limbs. In icing conditions, trees snap and folks lose power. Again, this typically only happens with ice or heavy snowfall.

So all in all, I probably lean towards the “not hype” side of my argument. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching the spectacle. Tomorrow the TV stations will send reporters as far north as possible to get a flake on your screen. If we’re lucky, we might see video of cars skidding down Peachtree Street. But that’s about it. Either way, I’ll be here with my extra bread, milk and beer.

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