The conversation appeared to be going well.
Light banter mixed with the occasional question or two until I made the fatal mistake.
Innocently, she queried what part of town I live in. When old friends back home ask where I live, I simply respond "metro Atlanta."
To those outside the bounds of Georgia, Smyrna, Newnan, Austell and Jonesboro might as well be in some former Soviet State. It's just easier to say "metro Atlanta," and driving around it's tough to distinguish where Atlanta ends and a suburb begins.
As a reporter, though, it's essential to your survival to scour a community and learn what undercurrent of issues and trends flows through the community.
Driving about and continually getting lost in Jonesboro and of course in Atlanta itself in the months since I've lived here, I immediately savored the pockets and mini-cities within Atlanta and around Atlanta.
As a self-confessed addict of live music of course I tend to favor East Atlanta and Decatur, but metro Atlanta contains such a myriad of patchwork that, stepping back, the variety itself makes the area incredible.
Returning to my earlier conversation?
When asked about the part of town in which I live, I responded the South side.
Like the flip of a switch, the conversation ended as abruptly as if I smacked her in the face or insulted her shoes.
Dashing to the little boy's room, I checked my forehead using the back of my hand for signs of a fever. Studying the image in the mirror, I searched for signs of the plague or leprosy and found none.
OK. That last part was added for dramatic effect in much the same way as movies are "based on a true story."
The story itself is true, and the realization is harsh.
The South side stigma is swift and strong. The question was posed not to carry the conversation further, but to label me and determine my worth.
By virtue of my city of residence, the person presumed to know me, presumed to know that I am bad news.
The distinction between the South side of the city and North side of the city is much like the same division of the country in many aspects.
As if a magical mini-Mason-Dixon line severs the two sides, and unseen forces mutate residents upon moving to a particular side of the diving line.
There is the Beverly Hills style living of the North side, while the blue-collar style of the South.
Despite the contrast in living and socioeconomic classes, though, I fail to see the distinction in human value. I fail to wrap my mind around the stigma that pervades the metro region.
Until things change, I will cloak myself in the shroud of vague answers, such as "metro Atlanta" and avoid disclosing my terrible secret n that I live on the South side of Atlanta.
Greg Gelpi covers education for the News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (770) 478-5753 Ext. 247.