A Walk Downtown

Athens Through the Eyes of a Father and His Daughter

Patterson and Ava Hood walk through downtown Athens. Photo by Rebecca Hood

Patterson and Ava Hood walk through downtown Athens. Photo by Rebecca Hood

List of Things To Do With My Dad
I get ice cream
Dad gets some coffee for hisself
I get a toy
Dad gets some wine
I get hot chocolate
Dad gets some too
Now we go home
Bye-bye downtown
See you later
— Ava Hood (age 6)

When my daughter was in kindergarten, she won a school-wide poetry contest with a poem she wrote about our “Daddy Dates.” Being a writer myself, I still beam with pride at the fact that she beat fifth graders and that it was about something that we share between the two of us.

We live on a hillside stretch that connects downtown Athens with the Oconee River and the beautiful greenway our city built along it. Sometimes we walk down the hill to the greenway and along the paths that meander under the old railroad trestles and kudzu by the shallow muddy river. I knew of those trestles before moving here. They were featured on the cover of R.E.M.’s Murmur album. One of the “Murmur trestles” was torn down about a decade ago, but there are new plans to rebuild it for a major “Rails to Trails” project. It will be a great asset to our beautiful town.

Downtown Athens is built on a hill of solid rock that I’ve been told is a foothill to Stone Mountain. There are some giant boulders down by the greenway that my daughter likes to climb on, one of which she renamed Rainbow Mountain when she was three. She is just now seven, but these days are flying by so fast and I want to revel in every moment while I still can.

Some days we walk up the hill to downtown. We pass Jittery Joes Coffee*, which always smells of roasting coffee beans. Vernon Thornsbury might wave to us from the front porch of the old barn-like structure (listed on the Historic Register). He’ll be sipping coffee, greeting passers-by and working on his beautiful art. Athens is Vernon’s Paris. We wave back then cross the train tracks and walk past the building housing Athens’ alt-weekly, Flagpole, before cresting the hill at downtown.

Ava loves our trips downtown, even though (or perhaps because) we aren’t really there for any purpose other than to walk around and be together. We’ll go into Wuxtry, our beloved record store, where once upon a time an employee named Peter Buck met a customer named Michael Stipe. I might get to buy an album or two. If there’s an occasion we might walk across the street to Helix and pick up a gift or a card for Mommy.

Our “Daddy Dates” usually end with the purchase of a frozen yogurt or some other treat. Sometimes we might walk the extra few blocks to have dinner at her favorite restaurant, The Grit, on the western side of downtown or check out a matinee at Ciné, our beloved local art cinema.

By then, the sun may be setting and it will be time to prepare for bedtime and another day. Ava may be a little tired from our walk and I might be called upon to carry her part of the way back home on my shoulders. I’m usually wearing my hat but will take it off to accommodate her up there. She’ll put my hat on her head and wear it home.

As Ava said in her poem, “Bye-bye downtown.”


Jittery Joe’s Roaster Tasting Room is located at 425 Barber Street in Downtown Athens. Photo by Jason Thrasher

* The Jittery Joes Coffee building is in danger of being torn down by a proposed new development that is being discussed between downtown and the Oconee River. For more information about possible changes in our town, please check out www.protectdowntownathens.com.

Patterson Hood is a singer, songwriter, activist and the co-founder of Athens rock band the Drive-By Truckers. “After It’s Gone,” a song he recorded with a group of local musicians dubbed “The Downtown 13,” is intended to call attention to issues of growth and development there.

Update: After much controversy, it was announced in October 2013that the proposed downtown development that prompted Patterson’s song, “After It’s Gone” was being abandoned.


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