Like many of you, I’ll be back in Athens Saturday for the big game with Tennessee, but, as anyone who’s ever attended UGA knows, there’s more to the Classic City than just college football.
From its funky downtown bar scene, where an internationally renowned music scene still thrives, to the sprawling campus, with its high-rise dorms, high-tech labs and historic Chapel Bell chiming out victories, to the intown neighborhoods, where students and townies and the Tree That Owns Itself live side by side, it’s the kind of place that gets in your blood.
A favorite part of town for many is the Five Points neighborhood, not far from campus. It’s where I grew up and used to deliver the Atlanta Journal, and where my kids lived during various times during their stints at UGA. Many of the university’s sororities and fraternities occupy antebellum-style homes nearby.
It’s a mostly residential area, but at the heart of it (where the five streets come together that provide its name) is a small shopping district that is getting increasingly upscale, attracting trendy restaurants, an indie bakery, and a chocolatier to go along with the New Southern cuisine at celeb chef Hugh Acheson’s famed Five & Ten.
At the other end of the culinary spectrum in the same little shopping area are two mom-and-pop pharmacies still serving up more than just prescriptions.
At ADD Drug’s old-fashioned soda fountain and lunch counter, you can sit shoulder to shoulder with teenagers, professors, a visiting musician like Julian Dorio of the Whigs, or even Dawgs coach Kirby Smart (a Five Points resident). Nearby, schoolkids, usually accompanied by their parents or grandparents, continue a family tradition by stopping by Hodgson’s Pharmacy’s soda fountain for the ice cream treats that have been remained a constant over the decades even as the store has gone through three Five Points locations.
My roots run deep in both these Athens institutions. When I was a kid living a few blocks away, my Mom would treat us occasionally to burgers or a grilled cheese at ADD, where we also got our snapshots developed and bought postage stamps.
And I was an almost daily regular at Hodgson’s, where I could park my bike outside while on my paper route, go inside to peruse the comic books and get a vanilla Coke or cherry smash, and come back outside to find my bike and papers untouched.
Of course, you’re never outside the Georgia Bulldog realm anywhere in Athens, and that’s especially true at Hodgson’s, which became known for an area decorated with pictures of past UGA cheerleading squads called Coach Mike’s Corner, devoted to the late Mike Castronis, who used to hang out in the drug store between practices. Coach Mike and his cheerleaders even left notes for each other at Hodgson’s in the days before social media.
As his daughter Mary recalled on my Facebook page, “Many days you could find my dad, Coach Mike, not only at Hodgson’s, but behind the counter scooping up ice cream for customers. I remember being asked many times ‘Is your dad working at Hodgson’s now?’”
The devotion ran both ways – long after Coach Mike had passed on, the cheerleaders and Hairy Dawg continued to make a ritual visit in uniform to Hodgson’s on game day mornings. That tradition fell victim to earlier kickoff times a few years ago, but a portrait of Coach Mike still hangs on the wall of the soda fountain.
Walking into Hodgson’s has always felt like coming home. Likewise, when my daughter Livvy and I ate lunch at ADD Drug on a recent Saturday.
The experience was amazingly familiar in a comforting way, and that’s exactly the point, said pharmacist Kevin Florence, a UGA grad originally from Lafayette who stayed in Athens after graduation and bought the store in 2012.
“If you went to school here 30 years ago and ate here and you come in, you’re going to find it hasn’t changed,” he told me. “We don’t mess around with it much.”
In our constantly changing world, there’s something tremendously reassuring about that.
So, if you’ve ever attended UGA or lived in Athens, there’s a part of your past awaiting a visit in Five Points.
It’s like that R.E.M.-scored video assembled by some UGA alums for football broadcasts a few years ago put it: “You may leave, but it never leaves you.”
The Blawg will be back this weekend with my thoughts on the game against the Vols.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.