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stories >> 1997 - 08 - 26

Hot, Hotlanta I love ya

I went to Atlanta this weekend to celebrate my birthday. This one's really long.

      To reach back a few days, I finally bought my tickets on Monday or Tuesday. In the past, I've seemed to have better luck waiting until the last minute as versus buying tickets a huge time in advance. This time, by waiting until I did, the tickets only cost $164. The two caveats: I had to fly out of Dallas, and I had to leave on Saturday and come back on Monday. I asked good old Frank at Sunbelt how much it would be to leave on Friday from Austin, and he informed me "Oh, $900." Yipes! I booked the tickets and then called up my sister. She was a little pissed because we were supposed to have gone white water rafting (shudder) on Saturday morning. I told her, "Hey, Christina, look at these challenges as opportunities. I've got eight hundred more dollars to spend in Atlanta now." She grudgingly accepted, I made arrangements with the padres to come and pick me up, and that was done.
      Truth to tell, I wasn't too bummed about missing white water rafting.
      The flight out of Dallas is at 7:00 am. I call up Traci and beg a place to stay for the night. At 5:00 or so on Friday, I'm on the road for Dallas. *Austin* traffic is bad. Amazingly, I manage to avoid having a stroke in the traffic (I'm terrible with traffic... one of my few bad habits :) ), grit my teeth, and once I'm past 183 we can cruise at a reasonable speed. I'm wearing shorts and a T-Shirt, since the Leper doesn't have any A/C, and I've got all the windows rolled down. The Leper will groan its way all the way up to 70; past that, and the car starts to have more shakes than Mickey D's on a hot summer day. The rolled down windows destroy whatever minimal aerodynamics the vehicle might have, and every micro-breath of wind blows the car around like some America's Cup racing yacht. Added to it that I've never bothered to balance the tires, nor get the alignment ever fixed, and the steering's kind of bad, I'm sliding my way up to Dallas in grand style. I keep telling myself that this will add to my depth of character, but I'm pretty sure that it was just annoying.
      Another thing the Leper lacks is a working radio, or rather any radio at all. I start singing the one verse I can remember from an old Dead Kennedy's song, "Dead End." After singing it for about 40 times, I start doing it over in a Glenn Danzig/George Jones type of voice. I'm feeling mighty proud of myself as I roll through Temple. Then I start mixing in an old Judas Priest song with some half remembered Prescott Curley Wolf lyrics, and it's a regular mix-o-rama dance fest in the Leper. Some point between Troy and Waco, I look off to the west and I see a giant nimbo-cumulus cloud, towering huge into the atmosphere and shaped like an enormous anvil. I'm stunned and just watch the rain pour down from it, off somewhere far from me. When I look back at the highway I laugh as I realize that in front of me is a Chevy 1500, to my right is a Ram, and in front of that is an old F150. Waco sails by, I stop in the highly famous Elm Mott, pull back on the highway, pull off my sun glasses, roll up the windows, cruise past Hillsboro, Carl's Corners, Ennis, Italy. I'm a little bummed, because the junk yard with the giant Biblical quotation ("Commit thy works unto the Lord and thy thoughts shall be established", Proverbs 16:3) seems to have painted over it. I get to Waxahachie, which the billboard states was "'voted' most historic" (including the quotes), and I pass by the historic Owens Corning plant and the historic Lofland Company and the historic Screams and the historic Ennis Motorplex. Waxahachie, Red Oak, and on into to Dallas. Ugh, I hate Dallas highways. They seem so narrow and everyone's going at light speed. However, I'm right on time: I told Traci 9:00, and I'm knocking on her door at 8:45.
      I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but one of my favorite places in Dallas is the chain of Mexican places called "Don Pablo's." I've had a good memory about it ever since we went and saw Star Wars, could only get a ticket for four hours later, and parked it at Don P's and drank blue margaritas until it was time for the movie. I get there, I haven't eaten since lunch with Jeff, and I tell Traci, "Mmmmm.... Don Pablo's?" Assent is given, we get in *her* car (with radio, AC, good tires, etc.), drive the 7/10 of a mile (Traci measured it) to Don P's, get inside with a surly hostess, and sit next to fountain. When our waitress comes up, I tell her "Don't you have some of those blue margaritas?" Sure they do, can they see my "card." I figure they mean ID, but nope, Richardson has a paleolithic law that you can't buy liquor by the drink unless you belong to the club, and the "card" is proof that you belong (I'm not making this up). Luckily, Traci's card covers us both, and they even write the number of the damn thing down, but they roll back up with a pair of giant blue margaritas. You know, I'll drink anything that's blue. I love it. I love the description "Big, bold, blue, and cold. Real blue." I asked her if she could make mine more blue, but she said she couldn't :) We macked down some taco salad or something, drank our margs, went back to Traci's, and went to sleep. I figured I'd be getting up at 5:00 am to make it to the airport on time. Traci lives next to the entrance gate of her complex, so I listened to cars got "ka-chink-thunk" over the little gate-way guide rail thing, worried about getting up on time, and just thought about the drive up. Grand total of sleep: 2 hours.
      For some reason, I'm pumped full of energy at 5:00 am. I take a shower, say goodbye to Traci, borrow her copy of "Catcher in the Rye" to read on the place, and get myself to DFW. What a hole that airport is. I've never driven into DFW before, so I just park in pretty much the first place I find. I'm mighty proud of myself because it's so close to the terminal. Only as I get out and get inside do I realize that I parked next to Gate 1. American Airlines has gates 1 through 44, and they're pretty much in a straight line, so I've guaranteed a good walk for myself. Ah, what the heck. At least I'm close to the ticket counter. For some reason, the airline guy takes me off to a separate line for my electronic ticket. Cool with me, I'm at the front of the line. The fella looks at my ID, starts typing away, and says "Hmmm, your birthday is tomorrow." I told him, "Sharp eyes for six AM." He clicks few more keys, and then says "Hmmm, and you are going somewhere to get drunk." I laughed out loud and told him "Sharp mind to go with the sharp eyes!" He smiles, gives me the ticket, tells me the gate (29, for those following along at home), and points me to the train. I realize I've got 70 minutes, so I decide to walk it. It takes a good 20 minutes, but I feel good about it. Nobody looks too awake around me, but I'm zinging with energy. I haven't eaten since nine o'clock the night before, and I'm starting to get a good hunger buzz, that sort of empty, holy feeling that you get after several hours of not eating. I can't sleep, so I plop down and start in on "Catcher."
      I haven't read that book in ten years. If you haven't either, re-read it now. How great! Here I am, at 6:30 in the morning, in an airport that's a silent as a tomb, everyone around me nodding off or staring off moodily into space, and I'm trying not to laugh out loud as Holden describes some guy praying in his Cadillac. Read it, read it, read it. J.D. Salinger may be a son of gun, but CITR is so good, he can be forgiven being such a scum.
      I guess it makes sense, but the 7:05 plane is right on time, and we're off into the air. I'm so absorbed in "Catcher" that I don't even notice the flight. The only thing I pay attention to is when the woman next to me squirts yogurt all over me by mistake when she's trying to eat her breakfast. No big deal, I love strawberry! Next thing I know, I'm 100 or so pages into "Catcher," and we're landing.
      I'm so happy to be home. This is the happiest I've ever been to be home. I look out the window and see the trees stretching off for miles. I see kudzu, the quiet gray of highway 285 and the downtown Connector, the hotels next to the airport, and off in the distance, the downtown sky line. I'm indescribably happy to be here. As we land, our stewardess comes on the intercom and she even sounds different. Georgian, Atlantan. We pull up to the gate, and as we wait to deplane, the guy next to me starts softly whistling "Dixie." I can't help but whistle along. "I wish I was in the land of cotton..." He only whistles that first bar, and very quietly and very thoughtfully. It's obvious he's glad to be back, and you can hear a promise in his whistle. Very strange. Very good. I'm so glad to be home.
      After a brief snafu, I find my folks (they always go to the other side of the airport as my old man is a sworn Delta man, and can't find the right terminal), and we're headed up to Marietta. The old man, who's retiring in January, gives me the latest skinny on his office politics as I look out the window and occasionally assent. So we get to the padres' house. Dad and I look around the yard as he points out all of his hosta's, rhodo's, azaleas, dog woods, gingers, leriopes, blah blah blah. My dad's nickname should be "under growth", because most his plants, though prolific, have never seen the business end of a pair of clippers. We noodle around, say "hi" to my great aunt, mom's making lunch. I sit on the back porch and just stare off into the trees. Poplars, loblolly pines, white pines, black oaks, sugar maples, hemlocks, gums... it's 70 degrees outside, I can smell the rain in the air, the wind is rustling the branches, I can barely see the lake in the back yard. Looking out through the trees is like being underwater, just one green world of soft shadows and stabs of sunshine. Mom makes a dinner that couldn't be beat, and after a while one of my high school buddies calls over. I'm going out with Christina tonight, and he's invited along.
      Good old Doug. He shows up at about five, after I take a shower and break my dad's bike (one of the pedals had been screwed in wrong and had destroyed the threading. I told him it was on its last legs, but he was like "No it's not. Go for a ride around the block." Woosh, first time I get out of the saddle, I'm on a uni-pedal. When I get done pushing the damn thing back, Dad asks how the ride was. "Great" I say as I hand him the pedal). Christina had called a little earlier and said that they were taking a post-rafting nap, but that she would call Real Soon Now. She does call at about 6:30, we make plans to meet up with her, Greg (her beaux) and her buddies Andrea and Eva down in Buckhead. Doug doesn't want to drive because he's got his mom's Grand Wagoneer, which is a big vehicle that handles like a BIG vehicle. Dad offers to let me drive the family Taurus, and I ask him how much a cab ride home from Buckhead is. "Uh, why?" "Because I plan on getting real drunk tonight, Dad!" The old guy, bless his soul, offers to drive us down, have a beer while we wait for Christina and her disreputable crew, and then pick us up later when we call. I jump on that deal real real fast, Dad and Doug get a little slicked up, I throw on my beautiful denim Garden Escape shirt, and we're off to Buckhead.
      Ah, Buckhead. The crown jewel of Atlanta's party scene. Imagine Sixth Street four times as large, with eight times as many places, and sixteen times as much cash, in a square instead of a straight line. I had never actually gone drinking in Buckhead before, but I am amazed when we get down there. We park at the public library for six bucks, and believe me how much convincing it took for the old man to part with six bucks for parking, and I look up and see this three story salmon rearing into the air. I later find out this is a restaurant called "The Atlanta Fish Market." No idea how the food is, but the fish sculpture was truly mighty. We walk over to John Harvard's Brewhouse, or some such, and I literally see forty bars from the back door of this place. We head for the inside bar, very nice, dark wood and white marble. All of their beers are listed on a black board with the name, date brewed, and the "OG", which I find out is "Original Gravity". I don't know what the OG's supposed to measure, some density thing I imagine. Our waitress Laura comes up, and I introduce our band of desperadoes, and start harassing her about the OG's. "So, Laura, what's the OG on the English Ivy Pale Ale?" After settling on an appropriate OG, Dad and Doug order DunkelWeisses, I try the Ivy ale, and all is good. My Dad and Doug are both big travelers, so they start talking about going different places, the names of different highways, and all sorts of other travel crap. Doug and I then try to get my dad to start singing the "Volga Boatmen's Song." One of his Army buddies taught him all the words in Russian, which my dad freely admits he doesn't understand a stick of, but he can pound them out with obvious relish. By this time other people are looking at us sideways, but the place is filling up, we're on our third round, and I'm loving it.
      Christina shows up. Turns out Greg looks like a 2/3 scale version of the long-haired blonde guy who used to work at the Crown. Very strange. Christina is a camel's hair shorter than I am, though luckily thousand of pounds lighter. The Good Lord gave her the looks in the family, so it's disconcerting to see her with a guy who's much smaller than her, with longish blonde hair, glasses, and a moustache. Andrea is some friend of Christina's from high school, and Eva one of Greg's friends. Dad drains his glass, gallantly buys a round, and then graciously disappears. Gotta love the old man sometimes. Christina's asking how we got down here and I tell her the big Arvesen Cab Company plan. She's asking me how I'm going to get in touch with Dad. I give her a puzzled look, hold up my hand in the "Shaka-Hang Loose" symbol next to my face, which I always thought was the universal symbol for "phone." Christina's still looking puzzled, so I tell her "Alexander Graham Bells gave us this great gift called the telephone..." which gets a general round of laughter. We're all hungry so we get something to eat and keep getting louder.
      Doug, suddenly, wants to start drinking hard liquor. This isn't usual for Doug, but I'm an instigator, so I say "Sure thing jelly bean." We get lemon drops, then Christina and I get blue whales (Curacao and vodka -- real blue, if you please), there might be another beer in there, and I'm starting to feel The Rage. I've got the big grin, the place is packed, we've just eaten, and I say "Where to?"
      We step outside, and see another 40 bars. Different ones since we originally came in the back way. Just like 6th street, the place is crawling with cops. No-one seems to know where to go, and people keep asking me, as if I knew, so I tell them, "why don't we ask some of Fulton County's finest over here?" Doug looks over, looks back at me, grins, and says "How much will you give me to go put my arm around the cop?" I laugh out loud and tell him I'll give him a hundred bucks. Doug says, "Really? A hundred?" and starts grinning bigger. Doug's richer than King Hussein, so the money doesn't mean anything to him, but sometimes he has Poor Impulse Control and he's starting to look like he might actually go hug this cop. I tell him, "No, I change the deal. I'll pay for your bail after you get thrown in jail if you go do it." Everyone laughs, minor crisis averted, and we go to a place with no cover.
      It's about a four minute walk away and it's called the Odyssey. It's a crummy little joint. No wonder they don't charge cover. Greg wants to buy some drinks, but I refuse to let him and send Christina off to get a round. She comes back with a Rolling Rock for Eva, gin and tonic for me, tequila sunrises or screwdrivers for her and Greg. Doug's got a Bass. Andrea's not drinking, and isn't really having that great a time watching us get ripped up. Ah well. Greg wants to play pool, so he and Eva go to it. They try to get me to go, but I refuse. Greg and Eva get schooled, then Greg and Doug get schooled. I don't even watch but keep on drinking. I ask Christina to get me another drink, something surprising. She comes back with a sweet double Kazi. Smack smack, it's gone, I think someone dared me to slam it. Doug comes back, buys me a beer, and finally convinces me to play pool. We play a couple of suckers, and those long nights of losing to Jim pay off as we win the only game of the night. The suckers are chapped, Doug leans over and say "Dude, have you been playing with some good guys lately?", and I smile and say "Live for the metal." I'm obsessively putting chalk on my hands and starting to get too drunk to play adequate pool. The suckers rack 'em up as I go back to our table and show off my chalky hands. Eva says something, so I pretend to give her a big chalk print on the back of her shirt. Doug and I have definitely lost the Mandate of Heaven as one of the suckers makes an early run and knocks in four of balls. Looks like curtains: We've still got three on the table... but then they miss the 8 ball. As Jim's old pappy used to say, "Don't miss the 8 ball." My shot: our three balls are clustered in a triangle at one end of the table, the eight ball is hanging on the lip of the side pocket. I see the run, I feel The Rage: low english, smack, cue ball sticks in place, one in. Low english, smack, two in. I hear my table chanting my name or something behind me and try to ignore it. I'm so nervous and drunk, I line up the shot, low english... dork. The nine ball bounces off the rail. The Running Sucker, Bill I think his name was, takes the easy eight ball shot. Good game, suckers. By now I've got so much chalk on me that I'm glowing in the dark. I come back, throw some more chalk on Eva, get another drink, and go to the bathroom. I give the guy a buck (what a weird tradition) and he pours the soap for me and hands me a towel.
      I'm back out, and I tell everybody that I'm ready to be moving and loud. Andrea or Eva asks, "What does that mean?" Christina interprets that it's time to go dance. I'm starting to like these people.
      As we go back outside, I try to get the bouncer to card the forty year old people walking in. We decide on a new club, Remedies, though they're all new to me. Remedies is another four minute walk away, and this time we walk underneath the titanic fish icon. Doug's feeling great, he's trying to taunt everyone we walk by, and I convince him to pay for my cover. We get there and we start doing the aggressive homosexual bit again. I have no idea why I think this shtick is so funny, but I'm telling the bouncer that "we'll be back for you later, sweetheart." He looks confused, takes our money, and sends us in. Doug's dying from laughter. Maybe it would help to understand that Doug was the kid that I made prank phone calls with when I was young.
      Hmmm, I like this Remedies place. They've got a pool hall, a normal bar, and a nightclub. We head into the nightclub and now I really like this place. They're doing the local radio "Beat Factory", it's dark as sin inside, and you can feel the low bass in your chest. I keep looking until I see the bar over in the corner and plow my way through. Strange: lots of buffed out guys who don't want to move aside. A few judicious nudges and we're at the bar, I'm meeting Mike the bartender, and I tell him, "You take care of me, and I'll take care of you, my man." Doug, for some unknown reason, wants Stoli Citron shots. We queue up three for Doug, Eva, and I, Christina and Greg are drinking the screwdrivers again, and I get my eighth glass of water of the night. Skol, or whatever the heck you say, and the shots are down. Mmm, the water's good, the music is loud, the floor is hopping. We stand around for an indecisive second, then I push Eva out onto the floor and everyone follows along. We do the Get in a Big Circle dance move and start bouncing around. Some guys next to us are trying to whoop it up. I smile at Christina, who's been through this with me enough to know what's coming. We put our arms around each other, tilt our heads back, and let out the most god forsaken gritos that we can stir out of our guts. These people next to us go crazy, and start whooping even more. I smile, drain the water, Doug wants another shot. Sweet.
      Another shot, another glass of water, back out the floor. Christina wants a drink now, so back out, a cape cod or something for her, a gin and tonic for me. Back to the floor. As everyone knows, I'm sweating like a madman by now. Thank God the denim shirt has buttons. At some point, I pull out my $9 terminator shades, put them on, holler "I'm that guy from the Stereo MC's!" I start pulling some BS disco moves to everyone's delight. Then Christina takes the shades and pulls her BS disco moves. The shades make their way around the circle and everyone pulls some crazy dance move. I'm really starting to like these people.
      More dancing. I end up next to Christina. She leans over, and shouts in my ear "So how do you like your future brother in law?" I smile at her, point at Greg, who gets nervous, but give her my her thumbs up. Greg wants to know what we're talking about, so as Christina tells him, I lean the other way and ask Doug what he thinks about Greg. Doug nods, he's cool, I lean back over and tell Christina and Greg that "Siskel and Ebert both say thumbs up!" More laughter, someone else wants a drink, back to the bar.
      I think it's Doug. He wants another Stoli shot. Slurp slurp, they're gone. I keep reminding Mike of my tab and by now we have the express lane for drinks. My man Mike is taking good care of us and everyone else is giving us ditry looks because we're getting served so quickly. By this time, I've got Doug drinking vodka tonics for some damn reason. I'm sticking with gin and tonic, and another glass of water, and as we turn around there are two sixteen year old kids straight out of some MTV video necking next to the bar. I'm drunk enough to tap the guy on the shoulder and give him some sort of hi sign. Drinks in hand, laughing again, back to the floor.
      Christina and Greg are shamelessly and embarrassingly mugging down in the middle of the dance floor. Eva and Andrea have sat down on these carpeted step like things that are underneath these giant TV screens. Christina later tells me that they keep showing pictures of the six of us on these screens. I have no idea, because I keep trying not look at them. They're usually showing some funky psychedelic Mandelbrot set or some electron scan of bacteria or some other such crap and they're kind of making me queasy.
      I prudently leave my sister, plop down next to Eva, and start babbling about how one of the great things about a flat top is that you can rub ice on your head when you're really hot. I promptly demonstrate by pulling a chip out of my glass of water and slapping it on my head until cool water's running down around my ears. Eva's looking at me with an understandable amount of bewilderment and distaste. I figure it's because her head must be hot too, so I slap the ice down on her. She squeals, grabs more ice, and we're both trying to melt the ice on each other's head first. So I drain off the rest of my drink, and then turn the whole cup upside down on her head and trap the ice underneath. "Ah ha!" I holler through the music. I feel quite clever until I realize that Eva also has a cup of ice, and now it's on my head, and we're both holding these drinks with cold water pouring down our faces and we can't stop laughing. After a few seconds, one of us goes ahead and removes the cup, so now we're both sitting in rings of ice. Back out to the floor.
      Doug's so drunk by now that I don't think he can say his own name. Andrea's so pissed because she's the only sober person in a field of drunk bastards. Greg's giving Christina an impressive hicky. Eva keeps dancing. I'm having a great time. I couldn't name many of the songs, which is pretty refreshing after Austin's "Uh, yeah, we always play New Order in every freaking club." We leave at something like one or one-thirty, I get my card back after over-tipping Mike (contrary to Mr. Hegberg's advice) and thanking him for the Medallion level service, and we're out by the mighty fish again. Doug's telling me what a great time he's having, and we're heading for my sister's car. She's parked about six blocks way, though it kind of feels like 100. We all squeeze in, go back to Greg's place, and by the time we're there Doug's telling me how he's going to die right here, right now, because he feels so bad. I go inside to get a drink of water while Doug takes care of his business outside. Doug gets a ride home with Andrea, and I fall asleep at Greg's place with the Cartoon Network playing all night. I can't sleep worth a darn, with all these cartoons and what not, but I just leave them on. Greg's psychotic miniature Akeda keeps whining and yipping all night, and I turn in another two hour night.
      The next morning my brother Andrew's called because he needs help moving an air conditioner. It's 9:30 on Sunday morning and I just listen to the answering machine in disbelief. Only my brother, Lord bless his scheming sinning soul, would pull this. I go back to sleep and later find out he conned my dad into helping him out. When we do get up, we watch "Stand By Me" on TV and I admire Greg's place. The walls are mostly this real dark blue with white wainscotting, and his furniture matches, and I start re-thinking my "never buy a piece of furniture" rule. What a nice pad. Nice size, probably 1100 sq. ft. I like this guy better and better. At about 1:00 we drive back to my parent's house.
      Mom's cooked a lot and invited all of the immediately available kin. We've got 10 folks around the table, which is about seven more than I expected. Ah well. Mom's found a candle somewhere that plays "happy birthday", omigosh, and I listen to it bleat its way through three or four verses before everyone finally sings and I can blow it out. Everyone's fed, everyone's happy, I'm really not as sleepy as I should be with only four hours of accumulated sleep. I get out to the back deck again and stare out over the trees. Andrew comes out and tells me about his annoying Pee-Wee Herman bike. Andrew's one of these people who has not only adopted bizarre tastes in most things but also wants to describe them in excruciating detail to you. He knows it's aggravating. He will occasionally pause to let you say something on another topic, but he's just biding his time so that he can get back into it and start yakking about his darn bike, model trains, ancient Cadillacs, the superiority of any product that was made before 1970, blah blah blah. Today was his bike: he spent $250 to get one of these retro bikes with the fake gas tank and the big head lamp. Now he's thinking about *leather* *saddle* *bags* for the damn thing. Ugh.
      Christina leaves, Andrew leaves, the old man leaves for a business trip, the rest of the kin folk leave. I watch X-Files and come to the disturbing realization that after not having a TV for four years, I finally don't really enjoy watching it that much anymore. Very strange. At 10:00 (East Coast time), I go back out and sit on the back porch one more time.
      I love that porch. You might have noticed. It's dark outside. No moon to see, and the trees block out almost all of the ambient light. In the winter time you can look across the back yard and see people's houses, but in the summer you can't see a thing through the trees. I can see Vega shining brightly directly overhead through the leaves, but the Northern Cross and Aquila are both hidden behind the forest. For the first time in my life, I listen to all of the different notes of the tree frogs. Over the rhythm of the crickets, I can pick out six different concurrent tree frog noises. I'm amazed: I've never noticed this before. I can smell the lake in the back, and it's too cool to sit outside for very long (like, 60 or in the 50's). As my eyes adjust, I can see that the trees on the other side of the lake are reflecting back a more silvery green through the midnight trees behind my parent's house. It's very engrossing effect: I keep thinking of mists smoking off through the forest. I can't hear any cars, and only once do I see headlights flash. I keep listening to the tree frogs and just feeling the forest.
      Traci came out here one time here several years ago, and I took her down by the lake and let her listen to the woods at night. "How can you not be an environmentalist?" I asked her. I still feel that way: out in the woods there's some deep tap root of power, sticking into the ground and pumping up its slow cool magic to rotate the earth and the setting sun. Critters scuttling around, the trees quietly talking to themselves, and a little bit of damp in the air. God, how I love Georgia.
     I take one last big sniff and go back inside.

 

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