Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hotlanta Trip

Anna had to go to Atlanta for her Ph.D. program, so I tagged along. While she would be getting educated, I'd be free to sightsee. It had been 16 years since I had last visited “Hotlanta” (90+ degrees each day this trip) and 34 years since the UC Crew team rowed in the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association's regatta at Stone Mountain lake (my first visit to the greater Atlanta area). Anna drove to my place before we ventured south together. During her first leg of the trip, she got to pass the “Miracle on the Hudson” fuselage on I-79. Even though I didn't get to see it, I was able to enjoy it vicariously through her description. It was a good start to this trip.

Before heading off the next morning, we happened to turn on the last part of the Today show just as they were saying goodbye to Meredith Viera. I can remember when she first appeared on the national media as a young reporter on Walter Cronkite's CBS Evening News. Before we left, we saw the “lip dub” (one camera, one shot music video production) that included Jimmy Fallon and Abe Vigoda and a cast of hundreds rocking Meredith through “Don't Stop Believing” by Journey. I'm glad I got to see it! [Note to Bunk: the lip dub produced by Grand Valley State University, featuring your crew team, is still my favorite.]

We drove south on I-77 to I-85, listening to the audiobook "Always Looking Up" by Michael J. Fox, and made a quick lunch stop at Sonny's BBQ near Charlotte. Yes, I know that it is a “chain BBQ” and not one of those great local independent BBQ joints, but when you are in a hurry and need something with quick access near the Interstate, Sonny's BBQ works out well. The only other stop we made along the way was after we saw billboards for the TigerDirect Outlet Store in rural Georgia. TigerDirect is a computer and electronics supplier that has been around since early in the PC revolution, and most computer geeks are familiar with the company. It was fun roaming the aisles seeing all things “techie.”

After checking into the hotel on Wednesday evening, we walked down Peachtree Street to eat dinner at a relatively new restaurant called “Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint.” They offer live music every night (we got to hear a three-piece blues combo) as well as southern comfort food. I had the fried green tomato sandwich—it was OK, but the ones served up at the WV Turnpike's Tamarack Center are still the best!

Anna's colloquium didn't start until 5:00 on Thursday, so our early arrival allowed her to do some sightseeing before it started. We wanted to see the new Georgia Aquarium, which supposedly is the largest in the world. Previously, we had visited the aquariums in Chattanooga, TN, and the Newport, KY, plus I had toured the aquarium at Virginia Beach and the National Aquarium in Baltimore years ago. All of these were probably the biggest and the best when they first opened, but the bar keeps getting higher with each new one built.

There were several aspects that made this one memorable. The biggest is the 6 million gallon main aquarium, with acrylic walls that are about two feet thick. The pictures we took do not do this place justice. It has to be seen to be believed, especially the beluga whales, the huge manta rays, and the gigantic whale sharks.

We also enjoyed seeing a simple exhibit that other aquariums should have been doing long ago—a touch tank area full of live shrimp. It was interesting to watch these tasty morsels living their lives before they end up in cocktail sauce. Another innovative concept was the tunnel in the penguin area, complete with “pop-up” clear acrylic viewing areas, allowing close-up views of these birds, as well as lots of underwater viewing as they “fly” around. Finally, I had never seen Garden Eels, which look like something out of a science fiction movie.

Across from the aquarium is the new “World of Coca-Cola” building. Anna and I had both taken the Coke tour separately back in the '90s when it was located near Underground Atlanta. Now it has a new and much larger home, complete with a 3-D theater that also sprays water on you, plus has chairs that shakes and pokes you to “enhance” your viewing experience. This museum was fun, but not nearly as impressive as the aquarium. We did enjoy all the free samples of Coke products from around the world. Plus, since Coke just celebrated its 125th birthday, we got a free commemorative bottle.

Later that night, we had dinner at Ted's Montana Grill. Atlanta tycoon Ted Turner created these restaurants that feature bison meat grown on his ranches out west. Supposedly there are a lot of health benefits to bison meat. The bison steak I had was excellent! The ambiance of the restaurant was enjoyable as well. I will definitely eat at a Ted's franchise again.

On Friday morning, I caught a Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA) bus to the Carter Presidential Center. It is always interesting to me to ride public transportation in other areas. I thoroughly enjoyed the Carter Center, and reliving the events of the late '70s. I hope to write an upcoming essay about my Jimmy Carter recollections.

After spending most of Friday at the Carter Center, I caught the bus back to Underground Atlanta. The visitor center there offers a guided tour on Atlanta history from the civil war to civil rights (plus I had a coupon for a dollar off the ticket!). The tour guide was a 75 year old retired scientist from the nearby Center for Disease Control who shared his love of history with myself and some young female college students from Chicago.

Friday evening, guests were allowed to attend one function of this colloquium weekend, so I got to tag along with Anna. Newark, New Jersey mayor Corey Bookman gave a very inspirational speech. He is certainly a young leader on the rise. At one time I wanted to be a successful politician like he has become, and for awhile, everything was going as planned (activist school board member, known for visiting schools, re-elected with over 10,000 votes in 1996, elected president of the state school boards association, writing for the National School Boards Association, etc.). But for whatever reason, it ultimately didn't work out. You can try to do everything right, but sometimes things just don't turn out the way you planned. One positive result was that I got to try my hand at teaching on the college level when my part-time school board job went away. Plus, Anna and I would never have become a couple if I were still a politician. So at least I got the chance to try politics and get it out of my hair.

After the Mayor Bookman speech, we decided to try the nearby Benihana restaurant. This chain was a leader in the field of Japanese restaurants with chefs who put on a show cooking at your table. It was good, but not really over and above other such places.

On Saturday morning, I decided to participate in a 5K that began at the Georgia state capitol building. It was fun doing a 5K in a new city, and I got to see some Atlanta neighborhoods I would never otherwise have seen. I finished a bit slower than my previous best time, but it was very hot! I want to give a shout out to the folks who organize running events back home in West Virginia, because this one did not impress me. For example, when you reached the finish line, they expected you to fill out a card with your name and bib number along with the time you saw on the clock as you entered the finish chute. What's up with that? Plus, the starting line was set up about twenty feet from the end of the block, where you had to make an immediate left turn—not a good course design! However, it gave me a reason to get up early and get some good exercise, and my registration fee went towards helping a good cause (a homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta).

During the day, I hiked over to visit CNN and take their studio tour. I had done this 16 years ago, but couldn't remember a whole lot about it, so I decided to do it again. It is interesting how they have gone away from the green-screen chroma-key technology and are now using what amounts to a big iPad, where the anchor can select an item on the big screen, move it around, expand or collapse it, or whatever, just like one can do with touch screen devices.

I checked out the Phillips Arena (home of their NBA and soon-to-be-moved NHL franchises) as well as the Georgia Dome, home of the Falcons and where WVU beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl a few years back. As I was walking back towards to hotel, all of the sudden I heard my name called out from a car on the street (Anna is often amazed at how we can go places and I run into someone I know). It pulled over and the two young Chicago women from the history tour the day before were in it. We talked for awhile there along the street, comparing notes on Atlanta sightseeing, before heading off in our separate directions. It turns out that one of them was actually a model, who had flown to Atlanta for a photoshoot and brought her best friend along. It certainly made my day to have two pretty girls remember my name and make an effort to stop and to talk with me in a strange city. As you get older, you savor the little things!

On our last full day, Anna unexpectedly got done with classes a bit early, so we had just enough time to catch a two-hour Segway tour. These self-balancing two-wheeled people movers are a lot of fun, and we've done them in a number of places (e.g., Bahamas, Grenada, Pittsburgh, Wisp). Anna is particularly skillful in maneuvering these machines. The tour guide took our group through some interesting sections of downtown Atlanta, including a lap around the state capitol (allowing me to show Anna where the 5K was based). The guide also took us by the Ted's Montana Grill where we had eaten. Apparently it is the flagship restaurant for this chain, and includes the Ted's Montana Grill University to train employees. It turns out that Ted Turner not only owns that historic building, but he actually lives in the penthouse. He also had solar panel roofs installed on the building as well as the adjoining parking lot to provide green power. The guide mentioned that he owns the most bison of any rancher in America.

After the tour, we ate dinner at nearby Legal Seafood (they give a coupon for a free bowl of chowder to all Segway riders). We sat on their outside porch overlooking the Olympic Park area and had a delicious meal (second only to the bison steaks at Ted's). It was a nice ending to our last evening together in Atlanta.

On Sunday morning, while Anna wrapped up her classes, I packed up and retrieved the car, so as to avoid the rush when all her fellow students tried to check out all at once. I drove to famous drive-in restaurant called “The Varsity” for an early lunch. This restaurant, established in 1928, is renowned in Georgia. The Varsity serves more Coca-Cola than any other restaurant, and an urban legend claims that they have a direct underground pipeline from the nearby Coke headquarters (not true). The atmosphere was wonderful, but I felt the food was over-rated. However, I'm glad I got to experience The Varsity, and it was a nice way to finish off a long weekend in Hotlanta.

No comments:

Post a Comment