The Merits of Losing

There’s this building on Peachtree Road in the neighborhood of Buckhead in Atlanta. It’s a very old apartment building called the Al Hambra. I lived there in the mid-eighties. The Al Hambra was all hardwood floors and Mediterranean-styled rounded doorways. My apartment had a stone balcony that faced Peachtree Road and I could sit out there with my friends, drink beer and watch the Peachtree Road Race every year, or just sit out and drink beer.

My apartment is the bottom one, far left (nearly out of the picture.) I've set two mysteries here in my Maggie Newberry mystery series.

My apartment is the bottom one, far left (nearly out of the picture.) I’ve set two mysteries here in my Maggie Newberry mystery series.

Sometimes, if I couldn’t sleep, I’d wrap up in a comforter and sit out there and watch the night life happen right in front of me and I always felt perfectly safe. The sounds of sirens and horns honking were background noise to my life  for the three years I lived there.

Because the Al Hambra is located in Buckhead near Garden Hills, I could walk to the neighborhood restaurants, mom ‘n pop grocers, pubs and outdoor cafes. The city’s first Fellini’s Pizza opened up next door to the Al Hambra and although in the beginning it was tattered and dark and bare bones, it was also exotic and earthy and quickly became popular. I liked meeting friends there to sit outside, eat pizza (and drink beer) because you could feel the hum of the busiest street in the city as it flew by. Living at the Al Hambra made me feel alive. It  made me feel like something exciting was about to happen.

I loved the Al Hambra. And I loved living there. But more interesting, I think, is the story of how I lost it. And how losing it became a major turning point in my life. In fact it became the final event in a series of four events that happened over a six-week period that changed my  life for good.

The first event that happened was when I lost my job as Creative Director at the ad agency that had the Hardee’s Hamburger account. It was the only account we had and when we lost it, we closed the doors. Like most out-of-work writers, I just turned my hand to freelancing with no real financial hardship.

A week later, the second event happened when I saw the movie “The Year of Living Dangerously.” Seeing that movie was significant because it lit a fire under me that helped push me over the line right when things needed to happen. That movie illustrated to me that I was young and free and there were adventures in the world to be had if I would just tap into the courage needed to find them.

The third thing that happened was that a good friend of mine introduced me to a man who was visiting him from Auckland, New Zealand. We hit it off and as I didn’t have a job to worry about, I made plans to come “down there” and visit him. I bought a round-trip ticket to Auckland for a month’s visit. I began to view my coming visit to the South Pacific as the Big Adventure I was looking for.

My parents weren’t thrilled.

Auckland is a long way away, even for a visit. It was in fact the furthest point on the globe, except for Adelaide, Australia, from where they lived in Jacksonville, Florida. In those days—before computers, before cellphones, before LOTR—most people I talked to didn’t even know where NZ was on the map.

As it happened, my folks were right to be worried. And that’s because two weeks before I was to board the jet to LAX that would take me to Auckland, I got a letter from the management company of the Al Hambra telling me to vacate the premises. They were turning the building into condos. If I—and everyone else—would clear out within thirty days, we’d get our deposits back no questions asked.

This was the fourth and most crucial event. With no job and now no apartment to come back to in ATL, there was no reason not to stretch my visit as long as I wanted to stay. With my stuff safely in storage, my plants donated to friends, a hunky new love-interest with a really cool English accent waiting for me, I was able to turn away from all the security, comfort, and familiarity of my life in Atlanta—in the States for that matter—and prepare to embrace the unknown and experience the thrill of discovering the larger world that was out there.

My parents nearly went nuts.

But it was one of the very best things I’ve ever done.

Rangitoto volcano across from Auckland Harbour. This was the view from my living room window in Parnell.

Rangitoto volcano across from Auckland Harbour. This was the view from my balcony in Parnell.

If I hadn’t lost my apartment at the Al Hambra, I wouldn’t have taken that last step—to find a job down there, which I did, or to spend the next two years living abroad and traveling the world solo—Bahrain, Australia, Singapore, Tahiti, Fiji, London, St-Tropez. The experience changed me fundamentally—as travel always does. The things I saw, the people I met, helped make me the person I am today.

My grand adventure came together in a series of coincidences combined with lucky kismet over a six-week period. But I was ready for it. I was looking for it.

I didn’t make it happen. But I knew to let it happen when it came.

I’ve recently moved away from Atlanta—my home for more than thirty years—but when I used to drive down Peachtree Road—to take my son to some piano competition or football practice, or to meet my husband for lunch (not the same fellow I should add)—and pass by the Al Hambra, I always felt a rush of gratitude when I saw it.

I felt gratitude for the joy I had living there, once upon a time when I was a single girl in Buckhead, unfettered and alive.

But also for the thrill I once had leaving there, too.

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12 thoughts on “The Merits of Losing

    • It’s because we have so much to lose! When you’re young and not weighed down with mortgages, kids, and a place on the corporate ladder, THAT’S the time to “go off road.” (The Kiwis and Aussies call it “going on walkabout” or taking an “OE” (for Overseas Experience.) I think it’s also a philosophy that goes hand in hand with the idea that the things you’ll regret on your deathbed are not the things you did–but the things you didn’t. Thanks for commenting!

  1. Awesome post. I lived in Norcross for two years. Atlanta is a great city and I have fond memories of my time there. All the Peachtree Streets and Roads were very confusing at first. I think it’s “funny” how things turn out sometimes if we just take the chance. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed hearing about your great adventure. ^_^

  2. Oh, how I admire people like you who did those adventurous things when you were young. I was a too mixed-up kid who managed college but fell into a marriage. Amazingly, it’s held, but your kind of adventure passed me by. What wonderful memories.

  3. Jumping from the frying pan into the fire, my parents took one path
    and I another they lived in the same white brick ranch house tucked tight against the grass covered hills from just after they were married until they died my father started sweeping floors and then became the personnel manager (and everything else) until he died the day after his 50th inventory, me I took another path three wives and two boats and fifteen houses, jumping in and out of the frying pan sometimes finding dreams that marked me for the rest of my life and sometimes ending up over my head in the stew of life, sometimes the thought that I could have been somebody gloomed-up my thoughts for minutes or even days, until I realized I was somebody all along, and more important wouldn’t
    trade any of those present lives, for any of the lives that came before, even when the most horrible of horrible finally came, my 24 year old son dying in my arms, sure I still wish and pray it never happened, still do. but the truth is, if my son had to die, I’d rather it happened with him in my arms than any other place in the world. sometimes the worst of times are the best of times. been on top of the world with CLIO nominations, awards and fame, followed days when the magic stopped, leaving me beat-up run down and broke. looking back I sure loved being on top, but the best of times, the times that were truly magic were the times finding my way back up the ladder and the friends, people and associates who became part of the journey. nothing better than the love you find when you have nothing or the meal you earn when you have nothing or the shade found in the desert because you dared to clime another hill. once it was sailing alone with dolphins under the bow and today it’s my studio on the farm, woke up this morning in the arms of my love, thinking “these are the best of times”.

  4. Maybe there’s something strange going on here, I grew up on the edge of the Garvey Ranch on the southern boarder of Monterey Park, which bordered the City of (guess What) Alhambra and Alhambra High school our football Rivals the Moors, us kids from the Garvey Hills attended
    Mark Keppel High School great times the Moors against the Aztecs, one year the rivalry was so hot that we played the championship game in the Rose Bowl because there wasn’t room for all the fans at our home field. of course today neither the Aztecs or the Moors would be considered proper team or mascot names, didn’t mater to us it was the city kids against us hill kids.
    I was also interested in the different Spelling Al Hambra or Alhambra,
    potato, potawto, let’s call the hole thing off.

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