Entries by Ben Smith

Cachers plan logically to celebrate irrational, extraordinary Pi Day

This Saturday (3/14/15) at 9:26 a.m. plus 53 seconds, Myles Villoria and other high-tech treasure hunters in Georgia will throw pies in each other’s faces. The event is Pi Day, the worldwide celebration of the mathematical constant expressed in the Greek alphabet as π, and the celebrants are geocachers, people who use GPS technology to find stashes of prizes and mementos hidden all over the earth.

Champs, chumps elude chomps in zombie escape teambuilding game

No matter how loud I sang about “the little silhouetto of a man, scaramouche scaramouche,” every five minutes the chain holding back the zombie loosened another foot. We were playing “Trapped in a Room with a Zombie,” and we were working (and singing) frantically with eight strangers to solve puzzles to find the key and escape the hollow-eyed monster, while locked in an otherwise nondescript office in a Tucker industrial park.

Lights, garden, action: Is personal change possible in 2015? 

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, you put down that second slice of deep dish apple pie and start the diet, or tip the foot of the champagne glass skyward and swallow what you vow will be your last sip of alcohol.

Or maybe you pledge to quit the mill where you work or learn a new language or read a book a week. Or perhaps you make no resolutions at all. After all, what’s the point?

Over time, over easy: Waffle House melts into memories

Unlike the Southern cult(ure) that it represents, the Waffle House Museum in Avondale Estates is only open twice a year. Saturday was one of those special days. I drive by the museum all the time but, like the chain itself, it’s so much part of our landscape that who pauses to consider what it’s accomplished?

This day—the 21,642nd day of continuous Waffle House service—I paused to celebrate the kitschy regional eatery that has inspired country songwriters and served as a backdrop for movies.

Getting a strategy to cope with holiday (diabetic) stress

Ding dong merrily on high. Welcome to my nightmare. For a Type 2 diabetic and compulsive overeater like me, visions of sugarplums, figgy pudding, gingerbread, wassail, eggnog, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding fill me more with dread than desire.

I am one of 29 million diabetics in the U.S. – 9.3 percent of the population – according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Happiness for free, courtesy of little ukulele

George Harrison once said the ukulele “is the one instrument you can’t play and not laugh.” No wonder he spent his last days on earth playing one together with close friends. As the days get longer and darker this time of year, laughter and lightness are harder for some of us to find. Enter the uke.

Before the weather recently turned cold, I heard a ukulele group perform live at Woodland Gardens in Decatur. It wasn’t just the tinkling sound of this small instrument that brought a smile.

Incorporation pushes unwanted marriages on DeKalb neighborhoods

In north-central DeKalb County, my home is among thousands in the crosshairs of cityhood movements and proposed annexations. Count me among the otherwise sensible DeKalb County residents who rightly worry that a new city we’ve never heard of is going to take us over, or even worse, ignore us.

No one wants to be an unincorporated island surrounded by cities. But lots of us are in a pickle. Our zip code (30033) is Decatur, but we’re not in the city proper, and it doesn’t want us anyway.

If you parent a teen, listen to this expert on Georgia law

To celebrate turning 18, J. Tom Morgan walked into a tavern, purchased and downed a pitcher of beer and a pile of oysters. It was all legal back in 1972.

Today, an 18-year-old who did that in Georgia would face arrest, and if convicted, likely sentenced to six months probation—or 18 months if a fake ID was involved. There would be a fine, community service and drug and alcohol evaluation. The clerk who sold him the beer would likely get arrested too.

At Georgia Tech, a quiet start for bitcoin

Georgia Tech likes to say that its students are “equipped for success in a world where technology touches every aspect of our daily lives.”

At Tech’s football game last weekend, the question was how equipped they are for the latest revolution in financial technology: bitcoin, a controversial form of virtual currency used for electronic transfers.

Between faith and facts, ‘Zealot’ author Reza Aslan zeroes in

What do you most ardently believe in, and what discoveries might change your mind? Reza Aslan’s strong clear voice at the intersection of belief and facts came to metro Atlanta last week, drawing more than 470 people to the First Baptist Church in Decatur.

The author of the bestseller “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” Aslan drew my attention after his July 2013 viral Fox News interview. You may have seen how the interviewer repeatedly questioned why Aslan, a Muslim who serves as a scholar of religions and professor of creative writing at the University of California Riverside, would write a book about Jesus.

With 18,000 films and corner storefront, Videodrome survives era of movie streaming

Year after year, Videodrome won Creative Loafing’s top rating as the best video store in Atlanta. Its deep stock of movie titles was matched by the staff’s deep appreciation for film history and genres. Then came online streaming and a recession that erased the competition—and the video store category from the Best of Atlanta competition. Now Videodrome is alone.

Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Redbox have not killed this video store at the corner of North and Highland Avenues, which continues to rent its 18,000 DVD titles to customers who want an experience not offered by the grocery store movie box and the online streaming service.

HVAC family finds knack for giving back

In the tiny Iowa farming community where Matthew Holtkamp grew up, folks tended to their own crops. When illness or catastrophe struck any of the 100 residents of St. Paul everyone rallied to help. Today he and his wife Suzanne, who is from Ohio, are trying to pitch in on a much larger scale in Gwinnett County (population nearly 850,000).

The Holtkamps own a Suwanee-based heating and air-conditioning company, so they know how important basic systems are to family comfort and stability. In their county, many families lacked basic needs—even food. So the Holtkamps decided during the depths of the Great Recession to create a charity through their company.

Political silence not always golden

The two-month political campaign cone of silence finally broke Sunday.  Since the May 20th Georgia primary, I have not received a single flier, heard one obnoxious robocall or discovered any earnest campaign volunteers hanging on my doorbell.

But two days before the July 22nd Georgia primary runoff election a friend sent me an e-mail telling me how to vote. “Please know how important it is to vote in the runoff Tuesday,” wrote Margaret Hylton Jones. “I am often asked by many friends who I am supporting for public office because of my lifelong experience in Georgia politics. So I am reaching out to many friends to offer a couple of very important recommendations for critical offices.” So how effective is neighbor-to-neighbor voter outreach?

As Atlanta watches World Cup, is soccer trending up?

Sunday’s World Cup final at the Brewhouse in Little Five Points felt like a bar gathering for a big SEC football game, only louder and more crowded.  Hundreds of soccer fans packed the tavern and its parking lot to watch Germany defeat Argentina 1-0. Thirty TV sets served a blend of German and Argentinian immigrants and other diehard fans.

The closing of this year’s World Cup raises the same questions that get asked every time the planet’s biggest sporting event grabs the attention of Americans, who have historically been resistant to embrace the sport. Has it gained a permanent foothold as a spectator sport the U.S.?

X marks signs of an Atlanta murder remembered

Pass through Kirkwood and East Atlanta, and still you’ll see the simple symbol X everywhere. In spray paint graffiti on utility poles, on mass-produced placards in homeowners’ yards, in duct tape on a street sign near the spot where X’avier Arnold, 21, died the day after Christmas—these signs remain all over these east Atlanta neighborhoods.

Here, the X reminds the public that memorials don’t have to be made of stone or steel to endure. Sometimes the strength of collective resolve is enough: X stands for a community’s desire to end the kind of violence that claimed his life.

Atlanta arcade deviants unite to play the silver (pin)ball

As the world prepared to wage war against Adolf Hitler three-quarters of a century ago, the Atlanta City Council took aim at a homegrown evil. “These machines lead to gambling and stealing and killing and eventually to a rope around the neck for someone,” said then-Atlanta city councilman E.A. Minor.

Minor was, of course, talking about pinball. On June 19, 1939, the council voted to ban the machines that he believed “encourage a moral degeneration among our children.” Minor must be somersaulting under the grass.

Overcoming skeptics, C.S. Lewis lives again on the Atlanta stage

At age 63, C.S. Lewis had written his last book and was facing the end of his life, already one of the most influential writers of his era. Now 63, just as he has for nearly four decades, Atlanta actor Tom Key will bring the renowned British academic, novelist and theologian to life once again next week.

Key will reprise his one-man show, “C.S. Lewis On Stage,” at the Theatrical Outfit starting June 19. The show will run until June 29. Lewis renounced his Christian faith and then reclaimed it. And through his radio broadcasts, writing and speeches, he inspired others to take a look at what they believed and why.