Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kool Runnings......they're back.

Institution - 

 "a custom, practice, relationship, behavioral pattern or organization of importance in the life of a community or society."

By this definition alone I think I could safely declare Kool Runnings Jamaican Restaurant an Atlanta institution. Hated by some, beloved by most, their ubiquitous Stone Mountain location has been a fixture on Memorial Drive for 19 years. With 24 hour service on weekends, Kool Runnings was effectively the Waffle House of Caribbean establishments serving ox tail, jerk chicken, curry goat, escovitch fish and more to weary party goers in the wee hours.  

It was my custom after a long night at 426, Atrium, Party Room or Pisces to stop in for a large ox tail, rice an peas, fry dumplin with extra gravy (my rice should be swimming). Food that heavy would deliver a quick and decisive dose of sober for the inevitable dash down po po alley (Memorial Drive). 

But 19 years of serving the Stone Mountain community came to an end with little warning this past May when hungry party goers pulled into the gravely parking lot to find the brightly coloured building boarded up with only a vague and oddly chilling sign alluding to its fate. 

Where in the world was I going to get good stew oxtail now? My mother's is arguably the best but flying home each time isn't practical. Some would say Island Cafe just down the street but I hadn't ever been a fan of their food to begin with, I wasn't about to start eating there just because my favourite spot was gone.  

I went without brown stew kingfish or my beloved stew oxtail for several months till one day in September, I happened to be driving through Norcross on my way home. While cutting through a strip mall parking lot to circumvent a particularly pesky traffic light, I happened to randomly run in to.........

Oxtail Nirvana
 Holy shit.......

I walked in the door, bent down on my knees and kissed the floor. The owners later told me people had been doing the same thing all week, they'd had no idea how much the brand had meant to Atlantan islanders.

In this notoriously fickle city, the establishment represented belonging, it demonstrated that we islanders had established ourselves as permanent fixtures in this southern community and that when all else failed, we could always return here for a little taste of home.

But why Norcross? Why so far from Caribbean ground zero? I never quite got a straight answer but it didn't matter. In the week since they'd re-opened their doors, practically all their fans had found them and business was booming. Let's hope we'll see the brand around for another 19 years because seriously, my blood pressure won't allow for another closing.


Kool Runnings Jamaican Restaurant

5450 Peachtree Parkway

Norcross, GA 30092


Monday, November 25, 2013

Northern Sympathizer

Having lived in the south the past decade, I'd developed an interest in American Civil War history. Ken Burns' exceptional and very thorough presentation of the war in his documentary "The Civil War," really sparked my interest in the Antebellum era. One would be hard pressed not to find a Confederate flag or two still flying on many a southern front porch, and every other southerner seems to have a great grandpappy that lost a leg fighting "dem damn Yankees."

At some point, my curiosity could no longer be sated by history books or wikipedia, I needed more. So I started seeking out and attending civil war battle reenactments. 

But my interest and enthusiasm for this part of American history has put me at odds with many of my African American peers, which is understandable considering the race-based circumstances that brought about the war. Let's face facts, the war was about slavery. Many would argue states rights till blue in the face but seriously, what states rights were they fighting for exactly? Correct, the right to enslave another race. This unfortunate misunderstanding really just boiled down to "we keep our negroes or we're seceding from the Union" (but we all know how well that worked out). 

Truth be told, as much enthusiasm as I have for the Civil War, I have been unable to stomach the historical depictions of slavery I encounter. Many civil war-centric museums feature a slavery exhibit.....I skip those every time. I can withstand the sight of the thousands of dead at notable battles like Manassas, Bull Run, Antietam, Vicksburg,  Gettysburg, etc. The death and destruction depicted on such a grand scale leave me in awe. But show me one shackled negro and I'm sickened to my very core. 

The War was brutal but such brutality can be expected, such is the nature of war. Slavery was no war, but it was brutal nonetheless and I can never reconcile with that.

(You don't believe slavery was brutal? Try sitting through "12 Years A Slave" without flinching). 

But the more I try to keep slavery and the war separated mentally, the more people seem to enforce the connection. For instance, you won't often see many of "us" at battle reenactments, so when I show up I tend to become a bit of a novelty. I often get approached with all sorts of interesting facts and tidbits. 

During one trip to the Battle of Tunnel Hill, I found myself touring the museum after the battle. A gentleman approached me and said he knew of a civil war site not twenty miles from Tunnel Hill that he was sure I'd be interested in. It was Fort Hill, supposedly the only battle site in Georgia that featured "coloured troops" (yes he said coloured). 

On another occasion, I got invited to a reenactment at Ft. Wagner which you may or may not remember as the fort from the end of the movie Glory......(SPOILER ALERT), the battle where they pretty much killed the entire black regiment. 

So yes, my racial identity does often clash with my Civil War enthusiasm but so far I've been able to keep the two halves of me separate. I intend to continue going to the different battles and you all should expect to see those stories popping up from time to time. I'll soon determine a way to deal with the emotional toll, I'm sure of it. 


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I haven't been writing for 4 months so bear with me please................

Every society has certain social norms that are unique to them. In especially cosmopolitan areas such as New York City for instance, the dense mix of cultures, nationalities, and religious beliefs meld together to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

Trinbago's dense mix of races and cultures combined with its geographic isolation as an island has also created something special. It's hard to miss the trini in any setting, whether black, white, east indian, asian, syrian, etc, we project a national identity that transcends that of our racial makeup. But to say that racial identity has been lost within Trinbago society would be misleading. With few exceptions, each ethnic group has been free to practice and promote their own histories, cultures, religious and culinary traditions.

Which brings me to today's discussion. Despite the trini national identity that we love to tout, some habits had historically been (notice I said "had") race specific. Sailing, deep sea fishing, watersports, etc.......Westmoorings folk. Sea bath, beating pan.....afro-trinis.

River lime, curry duck.......take a wild guess.

During a recent conversation with an old friend (whom I previously thought to be) an indo-Trinbagonian, the topic of doing a river lime here in Atlanta came up. Naturally I offered to buy the duck, to which he responded with five words I didn't understand:

" I don't like curry duck." 

"because meh hair straight and ah look dougla yuh figure I must have curry duck to lime?"

It occurred to me right then that trinbago culture was greater than the sum of its parts. It is part of the reason why the indo-trini or afro-trini don't exist, why Holi is celebrated by all, or why each trini family has their own Divali tradition, why an African would be equally at home beating a tassa drum as he would the congo and why (incidentally) an East Indian would be entirely free to skip the curry duck at a river lime. (despite how foreign a concept this may seem in my mind).

It's because we barely have a race culture anymore (despite what our politics might portray). It's because rather than being indo-trini or afro-trini, etc, we very proudly proclaim TRINI.....unabridged, undiluted, unadulterated Trinbagonian.


P.S. I've yet to determine the exact race of this dougla-looking bredren of mine. I'm convinced he's pulling my leg but now I'm not so sure.

This circumstance isn't isolated at all, I have another friend I'd assumed to be black till the day she showed me her great grandmother's original indentureship card. Sensing confusion, she also produced the travel documents for said grandmother's trip aboard the S.S. Ganges' last trip to Trinidad in 1917.

The S.S. Ganges as you might imagine, did not make a stop anywhere on Africa's West Coast during that time.