Editor’s Note: This column ran in the June 26, 2002 Flagpole. Now seems a perfect time to re-run it, not only for its political relevance, but also for the memories it evokes of Danny Self, other departed friends and Allen’s—the venerable Normaltown institution now replaced by a medical office building.
Danny Self died last week amid the buzz over who was going to run for political office. I didn’t know Danny well, certainly not as well as his friends who thronged Allen’s Hamburgers to mourn him last Friday. I live in the neighborhood, and when I was out for an early walk, he sometimes passed by on his way to or from Allen’s. Danny tooted his horn and waved and smiled and hollered something out the window. At 40 miles an hour from a pickup truck, he brightened my day. Imagine what he meant to his family and to his friends, whose clubhouse he ran.
Danny assumed responsibility for the “world famous” Athens institution, which he understood well enough to let it continue just being Allen’s. His own warm and welcoming personality became the center of a place with a history, a place that meant a lot to a lot of people. It was a perfect match.
So Danny’s sudden death when his enlarged heart gave out took away a fine man in the prime of life, and it also rocked the world of Allen’s.
Standing out on the sidewalk last Friday afternoon after the wake for Danny, I fell into conversation with John Padgett and John Elliott, moderated by Buddy Broadnax. They all agreed with the description of Allen’s as being like what they called the “Star Wars Cantina,” that gathering place in the first movie where disparate interplanetary beings could enjoy a drink together.
Allen’s has always been like that: old townies like John and John and Buddy, students, working-class folks, Navy school students (who wore their Allen’s T-shirts all over the world), neighborhood people, the music crowd—all feeling comfortable there, no matter how strange one group might look to another.
Danny was the perfect manager for such a cantina. Whatever constellation of ideas made up his world view, he didn’t judge others by theirs. The regulars at the Allen’s breakfast club probably thought me a pernicious tree-hugger, but nobody has ever made me feel unwelcome there, certainly not Danny.
Reflecting on our sidewalk conversation, I had one of those feelings you get about how Danny lives on through what his friends saw in him. I hate John Padgett’s Republican-developer politics and John Elliott’s even more. But I like John Padgett, and I enjoy talking to him whenever we encounter each other, even on such a sad occasion. And, well, OK, I like John Elliott, too. Sure, he’s opinionated and bullheaded and a lot of other stuff, but he’s a funny guy. He cares deeply about our community; he just sees it wrong (and thinks I do, too).
But Danny Self would like nothing more than to see us there at Allen’s talking and enjoying each other’s company, not even having to argue because we already know all the ways we disagree.
The spirit of Danny Self is a powerful reminder just how important it is to be friendly with or at least tolerant of people from a different political planet. We’re in a hotly contested summer that will have a vast effect on the future of Athens. We’ve had elected officials working to find candidates to run against other elected officials. We’ve got ill feelings fueling political passions. We’ve got to get through this summer and fall and still be able to work as a community no matter who wins.
After such a devastating loss as the death of Danny Self, it’s small comfort to think that his largeness of spirit can help us remember our humanity, but that’s at least something. We all get trapped in our own worlds, associating only with our own kind against the enemy. That’s why a place like Allen’s with a spirit like Danny’s is so important to us individually and as a community.
Right there in Allen’s on Friday, curly-headed developer Bill Thornton started telling me what a great guy Republican state Senate candidate Brian Kemp is. Bill said he’d give me two votes for anybody if I’d give him one vote for Brian. I said, in that case, I’d see if I could get former Mayor Gwen O’Looney to run for something, and Bill withdrew his offer. Danny would have loved the look on Bill’s face.
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