Brown Sugar. (Photo by Tom)
At the start of the weekend, we’d gone out to the Georgia Aquarium on our own, Tom, Matt and I. It was a short walk down a steep hill from the hotel. Matt had gotten the jump-start while Tom went to see something else and meet me later, which made it hard as hell trying to find him when we got there because this place, big enough as it is, was swarming with tourists and the jazz band playing in the atrium made it hard to hear anyone on a cell phone. I haven’t been to many bona fide aquariums, other than whatever Sea World in Orlando might have had going on in the late 80s, the one in Virginia Beach where Phil got violently sick, and the missable one in DC housed in the basement of the Commerce Building. The one in Atlanta is next door to the World of Coca-Cola, or what I consider to be the headquarters of incessant reminders of the soft drink that you’ll find all around the city as though its founder cured cancer. A gigantic model of a Coca-Cola bottle, which doesn’t look so impressive in the daytime — shines in neon green and a wash of changing colors in the middle — is enclosed in a glass column towards the entrance of the building. It may or may not be a distress signal for superheroes on the Coca-Cola payroll, there were no notable disasters with which we could test this theory.
This is what they call “overcompensating”.
Anyways, the Aquarium. The place was huge. From what I could tell from overhearing the phone-based video recordings of the staff event held there a few nights earlier, they frequently host live music. We were there on the night a 6 piece contempo afro-jazz band was performing and they were a lot of fun and a lot of people seemed content enough to just sit and watch the whole show. There were something like 5 entrances that tunneled through different types of marine habitats. The tundra. Whatever shrimp and prawn live in. The depths of the ocean. Etc.
And people really go nuts for the Aquarium. Not just little kids. Everyone. Especially if you set it up right. Like the neon back-lighting on the slow moving blobs of jelly fish or the overhead tanks where you walked under the lucid parade of magnificent sharks and whales and fish that swam above.
Photos by Tom and Janene.
The black silhouettes of the crowds stand around in awe clinging to the walls of these gigantic, seemingly endless tanks, and the fish seem to be aware of their amazement, swooping in and out and pausing sometimes as if on cue for a photo opportunity (and Tom managed to get loads of great shots). Size in particular, is something people really love. It’s like the biggest fish draw the largest crowds because, you know, it isn’t something a lot of people see every day.
Kids, on the other hand, squeal in delight about everything and it makes sense because everything is new and gigantic to them. I stood next to a few little boys who couldn’t quite annunciate their words excitedly pointing out passing sharks to each other. And even despite the not-so-recent-death of celebrity naturist Steve Erwin, there was thankfully no paranoia about the open-air sting ray tank where kids happily dunked their hands in icy water, open-palmed, just to feel the ray’s slimy fins as they glided underneath. Me too, but what I really love are the penguins. And they’ve got their competition over in the Arctic tanks because otters naturally get all the attention, even when they’re zipping around in circles in and out of the water for hours like a hysterical crackhead. Although, penguins sometimes do that, too. When we were there that night, the otters made even less effort and drew even more fawning spectators as they stretched out asleep with their paws in their mouths like babies.
Otters grabbing all the attention. Penguins not fazed. Photos by Tom.
But there’s something about penguins. They exude personality without much flattery. The penguin tank was shoved off in a corner and we might have missed were it not for my childish insistence that we search for the possible existence of penguins at the Aquarium lest I be super-pissed (or more realistically, a twinge disappointed). And we found them. They built little pop up viewers and to get to them, you had to crawl through these claustrophobic tunnels underneath, but you got the view of what it would be like to be sitting among the penguins. The penguins really didn’t seem to take much notice, which is surprising, since the lady who worked there said that they were a fairly nervous bunch. Oh Poshes!
Side note: while we did not get to it, there is a Kangaroo farm on the outskirts of the city going on my must-visit-before-death-if-possible list.
We’d left the Aquarium with our stomachs grumbling, so Tom pulled out The Bible. No, he wasn’t about to try warding off hunger with prayer. The Bible is basically the culmination of Tom’s research on the place we’re about to visit tucked into a folder. Museum hours. Restaurant info. Street maps. Whatever you need to get around to see the things we wanted to see. He’s been doing this for as long as I’ve been traveling with him. We’re not nerds about it, adhering to some strict itinerary like one of those obnoxious TV dads because you can’t always plan for everything (especially in places where the street signs are non-existent) and also, you sometimes find great things by accident, which ironically, is usually the result of having gotten lost in the first place.
Unfortunately, we were trying to get to the suggested eating places wanted to try on foot, which meant that to get there, we had to walk along the interstate at just a little before midnight when the only people outside were the street-bound who had congregated along the wood line, except those who just fell asleep peacefully under the trees. Given that we were obvious tourists (this was the hotel district and it had major tourist attractions nearby) in rather unfamiliar territory, this put us in a rather vulnerable position, regardless of whether or not anyone wanted to take advantage of the situation. So, I convinced Tom that we all turn around and head back towards the more populated, well-lit parts of downtown from whence we came. Which was rather fortuitous, since we sort of stumbled upon a great pizza place called The Mellow Mushroom, which I later found out was a chain.
The place, with it’s sophisticated shrine-to-intoxication motif, must have been a furniture showroom or something at one time because it had high ceilings and exposed lighting from which hung the giant mushrooms.
I must break here to say hello to the disappointed site visitors who just landed on this blog searching Google for porn using the keywords “hung” and “giant.” Hellloooo…
View of the Mellow Mushroom from Our Table. Photo by Janene.
Numbed with exhaustion by this point in the evening, we sat at a table in the back while a pleasant, busty waitress took our orders. It was about an hour till closing time and on the dividers between the organically designed booths on the opposite side of the restaurant stood a well-dressed black guitarist with a sea green colored fender playing cover tunes (you can see him way in the back in the picture above). I particularly liked his rendition of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, and told him so afterwards as we were leaving and asked him his name and it sounded something like Ian, but made up. I can’t remember. While there, we ordered a pie and a calzone, and with the kind of exhausting day it had been at the meeting, I opted for the obligatory pint of icy cold whatever-it-was. Most likely something NOT made by the Big Bland 3 (Coors, Michelob or Budweiser).
Restocking at the Varsity. Photo by Tom.
But we embarked on our real foodie tour on the last night that Tom and Matt were in town. Since meeting obligations ended a bit earlier than the previous days, Tom and Matt, who’d been off sightseeing drove by the hotel and picked me up while engaging in some Costanza-styled bickering about driving directions. It was already a long day, but thankfully, patiences eventually tempered and we started out with a sort of driving tour of the sites, since Tom figured I wouldn’t be able to see much of them, not having the car once they left town, and not staying in town after the meeting was over. We passed the Fox Theater, which combines historic theater exterior with the Islamic designs of a mosque. It was another one of those visions of grandeur that went bankrupt during development. But it’s still alive and well, if you can call hosting acts like comedian Ron White and the children’s entertainer Yo Gabba Gabba doing well. We also drove by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthhome, which sits among a whole block of preserved homes and a few feet from the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father were pastored, and the King Center, which was started by his late wife, Corretta Scott King. Along the car tour, we would make our first foodie stop: The Varsity. They boast that it’s the world’s largest drive-in, and whether that’s an absolute truth or not, their original location (one of six Varsitys), which was where we went, was certainly a big, busy place. They even had a multiple-story parking garage. The place was founded by a Georgia Tech drop-out who basically had some money to invest and with the stigma of being a college drop-out, wanted to prove that he could do something. And he slapped the respectable Varsity name on it. So how’s that for sticking it to them?!
Note: I don’t actually know who the naysayers are, but he still stuck it to them.
All of the Varsity locations have retained a retro look that is distinctively Southern. They even kept the lingo, too, although I don’t remember us ordering anything complicated enough to try that out. But we couldn’t just show up and not order anything! Knowing that we would be having dinner as soon as we could properly navigate the roads to the restaurant, we opted for one of Man’s greatest inventions: milkshakes. So when our waiter cheerfully asked us the obligatory, “What’ll You Have, What’ll You Have?” I ordered a Varsity Orange. It’s like a creamsicle which was outstanding. Although creamsicles in any form are pretty damn outstanding! Except Flintstone Push-Up Pop form. Those are a Yabba Dabba Don’t.
Big meals for big mouths at the Colonnade. Photo by Tom.
Because we were in Atlanta, we reserved one night for comfort food, which led us to a great place called The Colonnade. It was comically sandwiched Naughty Girls Lingerie and the Cheshire Motor who’s sign brilliantly suggested to passersby that they “avoid a DUI, get a room.” The line of people waiting to get a table put us on the patio for 30 minutes until one opened up, and from what Tom heard, that’s typical. The inside was huge. Old British dog and horse sporting paintings hung on the wall above big crowds of people who literally looked like something out of an episode of Dallas, right down to the fabulously anachronistic fashion and hairstyles, except more of them were overweight than you saw on TV in the early 80s. I pointed out to Tom that most of the waiters in steakhouses and places like The Colonnade were middle age men, a rare sight most anywhere else you went except maybe Greek diners and Indian restaurants in NYC. Ours was a burly guy named Mike, or something like Mike. Maybe Buck? Or, Dan. I don’t know, but Mike/Buck/Dan kept super busy. Which made sense because the food was outstanding. Matt, who wasn’t all that hungry, ordered a hamburger and onion rings which turned out to be about as big as his face. In fact, Georgia produce is so often about twice the size of stuff sold elsewhere for reasons I might not want to know. Tom had roasted chicken and I settled on salmon croquettes, which also came in massive proportions, but were particularly outstanding. Although I fell in love with the rare side dish of spaghetti squash which has wound up on my grocery shopping list ever since.
Preparing to enter the Vortex. All systems go. Photo by Tom.
But as fabulous, and no doubt stuffing, as the dinner was, we had other plans for desert. When Tom was researching places to go in Atlanta, I asked him if there any kind of goofy neighborhoods that we might try out. Kind of like Atlanta’s version of the Village, before I actually knew what Atlanta was like. But they do have their own psuedo-bohemia section where the middle class white college hipsters flock to at night. And that place is called Little Five Points. It took us a while to actually find as Tom navigated with a very small print map he was reading in the dark. Specifically, I had begged Tom for all us to go to the Vortex before they had to go. I’m not sure what local bars and nosheries the Little Five Point locals favored as far as price and atmosphere go — the Vortex is another chain — but I liked it. Tom said Matt thought it was corny, but I think that he was, at that point in the day, both tired, and full on gigantic onion rings. There was a line there and pretty much all of the surrounding bars, and when we pulled into the lot in search of a parking space, I noticed that the hipsters had a distinctly more rockabilly style about them. Could we have been witness to the Deep South version of the common hipster?
Self-explanatory. At the Vortex. Photo by Tom I think.
We were greeted by the doorman at the front of a giant skull head and walked inside, only to stand on line for nearly a half hour behind what remained of a few patient or possibly desperate people until I yelled out from behind them to the hostess that whatever party she was calling for whose party size matched ours was us because it was getting pretty late by that point and I had a lovely little staff meeting to get up for the next day at the ungodly hour of 7am weekend time. F. That. Noise.
Not that we were bored standing on line because they had every manner of expectedly wacky decoration on the wall and even a sign near the entrance asking for donations of more stuff, as though there was much space left in the hodge podge to fit anything else.
Chochkies at the Vortex. Photo by Tom.
The Vortex’s specialty was burgers and the one I would have loved to try, had I not been worried about gaining 20 pounds in a single burger, was the Elvis Burger, which contains peanut butter, bacon, and fried bananas, a reference to the King’s ungodly favorite, Fool’s Gold Loaf. Instead, I ordered a Left Hand Milk Stout off of their lengthy beer menu and Tom asked what they had by way of dessert, since the menu beckoned us to ask.
Pies, the lady informed us. Sweet Potato, Mango, or Peanut Butter.The math was pretty easy. There were three pies to choose from. Three people eat them. One who didn’t like mango.
Miss, we’ll take them all! And I’ve got to say, I’ve had pies in restaurants before, but these were absolutely great, especially the mango pie. Tom and I wound up splitting the three between us because Matt was really too full to eat much more of anything, and by the time we finished up the pies, Tom and I were down for the count, too.
And that about wraps up one week in Atlanta. Stay tuned for Part 5 when we visit… Canada!
TO BE CONTINUED.