Pio Nono Avenue is a backbone of modern Macon. From Seven Bridges to Stanislaus, it stretches from a southside side swamp to some of midtown’s most treasured estates. Though its Italian name gets mangled by locals and visitors alike, the road is a reflection of who we are and how we live.
Starting in April, Telegraph reporter Joe Kovac Jr. walked the 5.3-mile stretch three times, talking to everyone from working men and women and retirees to longtime store owners and those just scraping by.
The Pio Nono corridor offers a cross section of our city. It is an evolving -- some would suggest regressing -- stretch of town, one that many Middle Georgians of this and recent generations may now bypass or avoid.
As locals, we often assume we know our town, but do we? This series is an effort to find out and, for some, perhaps open our eyes to the place we call home.
JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF MACON: Civic pride found in seediest surroundings
There they sat outside Room 34, two men and a woman in plastic patio chairs next to a chugging ice machine at the post-World War II-era motor lodge where they live.
Charles, Rick and Linda.
Signs of life.
What I was looking for.
None gave a full name, but they were glad to talk about their scene: a fading, horseshoe-shaped motel barely seen by anyone above paying the $130 a week it costs to stay there.
The Magnolia Court Motel in all its stone-veneered dinginess is a welcome mat at a city’s front door. Or is it a blemish at that city’s back door, its long-crumbling bottom edge?
That, in part, was what I’d set out to learn one morning last spring. Not just there at Pio Nono Avenue’s deteriorating southern terminus, at a motel that grew from a diner won in a poker game, but all along its 5.3-mile corridor. The idea, more or less, was to go up to folks and ask, “Who are you and what’s life like around here?”
“You want the God’s-honest truth?” Rick replied.
He stared past one of the motel’s namesake magnolias, toward an intersection that braids 11 lanes of traffic.
“I’ve been here five years, and the worst thing that I’ve seen about Macon since I got here is the south entrance on the way into our fair city,” Rick, 61, a retired plumber, told me. “You’re kind of numb to what it looks like. But think about a visitor coming in.”
“It’s trashy,” Charles, another motel resident, said. “Those cars zipping by don’t see the filth. ... Out of sight, out of mind.”
“You’re kind of numb to what it looks like,” Rick went on. “We don’t have a sidewalk between here and God knows where -- west Texas, as far as I know.”
“Embellish it, Rick, embellish it,” said Charles, a 64-year-old from Ohio, who says he used to work at Geico.
“They don’t take care of the south side,” said Linda, 58, Magnolia Court’s manager. “But the north side is absolutely pristine.”
"Macon in the Mirror" is a series on GPB produced in partnership with The Telegraph and Mercer University's Center for Collaborative Journalism. The stories are drawn from nearly 600 interviews conducted this year. Monday we talked about what frustrates and worries people about Macon. Tuesday, we considered common misconceptions about Macon. Wednesday, we heard about the things people like about Macon, and why they stay.