Monday, April 9, 2012

Let's Do the Time Warp Again
It's just a jump to the left!

Actually, the tall dude is Andrew Young—former mayor of Atlanta, congressman, U.N. ambassador, and civil rights activist—towering over ol' Rodan, in downtown Atlanta; photo taken by Brugger on Good Friday morning.

On Thursday, the nice lady and I packed up and headed south to north Georgia — some of my most favoritest old stomping grounds from back in the 20th century. It's been quite a few years since I've been down that way, and I gotta tell you, we crammed a major mess of activity into a short few days. For a while, though, I wasn't sure we were going to make it; Thursday afternoon, Charlotte and its environs, for about a 20-mile radius, had woven itself into an absolutely impenetrable wall of traffic. Gaaah! However, once past this infernal mess, I rediscovered my good spirits, and by the time we hit the Georgia state line, I was feeling positively exuberant. Finding a few fun caches en route certainly helped.

It was Friday morning that we began our venture in earnest. From our meager lodgings in the suburbs, we headed for downtown Atlanta and took to wandering surroundings that, quite a few years ago, were about as familiar to me as my own backyard. Things have changed a bit, but... well... I did have more hair back then. First order of business: lunch at the Sundial restaurant, on the 73rd floor of the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, which I hadn't visited since 1981. The restaurant revolves at roughly one revolution per hour, offering a spectacular view of Atlanta and beyond. Brugger ordered pecan-crusted chicken, and I had a spicy barbecue short rib burger: an absolutely heavenly 8 ozzies of angus beef, braised short rib meat, white cheddar cheese, horseradish aïoli, fried onion, lettuce, and tomato, with a passel of kick-ass french fries. Yeah. While in the neighborhood, we wandered around Centennial Olympic Park, chuckled at the insanely crowded World of Coke (could've used some bourbon), and visited the historic Oakland Cemetery.

Among the most personally meaningful experiences (there were many this trip) was heading down to Hapeville, near Hartsfield International Airport. When I was a kid, my dad's parents had lived there, very close to the airport itself. I've only been back that way one time as an adult, and even that was quite a few years ago. Happily, the town itself really hasn't changed much, and a number of the old landmarks, such as the prominent rail line running through the center of town, remained very familiar to me. By all accounts, the house that my grandparents lived in had been demolished when the airport expanded in the mid 1960s. But... much to my surprise... as Brugger and I were exploring (and caching) in the old neighborhood, I came upon a house that so closely matched my memory of my grandparents' place that I am not entirely convinced it wasn't the same place. In all likelihood, it's simply a house of similar design, in very close proximity to the site where my grandparents once lived. Still, upon finding it, I felt as if I were standing face-to-face with a beautiful ghost from my past...a place of deep personal meaning that I never expected to see again in this life...and I could not help but find my emotions just about to boil over. It was one of many experiences over the weekend in which my past and present collided with unprecedented intensity. In the late 1960s, after Hapeville, my grandparents moved to another house on the south side of Atlanta, and that house does still exist. Brugger and I drove by it so I might pay my respects. It was a pleasant sidetrip, though it was sad to see how badly that neighborhood has decayed over the years.

For dinner, we followed the advice of some local friends and hit the Pacific Rim Bistro on Peachtree Center Ave. Fine advice it was; the sushi and Vietnamese spring rolls about sent us swooning and hollering, not necessarily in that order.

Come Friday, we departed Altanta and wound our way into the mountains of north Georgia to the town of Helen—a replica of a quaint Bavarian village, once fairly authentic, now a tourist's paradise, replete with shops, restaurants, taverns, and a handful of geocaches. We had a simple bratwurst lunch at a little restaurant called Hofers, and then drove to Anna Ruby Falls, a spectacular cascade in the Chattahoochee National Forest—two adjoining creeks plunging over 150 ft. and 50 ft. respectively to form a single stream (Smith Creek). I'd been to the falls sometime in my teenage years, and I recall enjoying the visit; this time around, I loved the hike to the falls but for the overabundance of muggles — so many that they created numerous pockets of all-but-unbreakable gridlock on the mountain trail. My misanthropic nature got quite the healthy workout here, though mostly it was Brugger getting to hear about it rather than me summoning up murderous fire demons from the eighth dimension... despite the fact the latter would have been immensely more gratifying. A spot of wine helped, as we finished up with a visit to Habersham Winery, a scenic little vineyard just outside Helen.

Perhaps my favorite experience of the trip was kicking around Gainesville, where my mom grew up, and where I spent a considerable amount of my childhood, mostly for summer vacations and Christmases. On my last visit, back in 2007, I had been distressed to see my grandparents' old house falling into disrepair, but this time, I found it renovated, occupied, and in remarkably good shape. It still feels a little weird not to be able to just walk in and make myself at home there, but I'm glad to see the place clearly in good hands.

One of our favorite dining experiences of the weekend was at a little restaurant on the square in Gainesville called Recess, which occupies a space right next to what used to be a newsstand that my brother and I loved visiting back in the day. I can't count how many books still on my bookshelves originally came from there, but it was always exciting to go in and find new Dark Shadows releases — you know, the old Paperback Library editions by Marilyn (Dan) Ross in the late 1960s — or to pick up the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland or The Monster Times. (I am not older than Moses, so STFU.) Anyway, it was a balmy evening, and they have outdoor seating at Recess, so Brugger and I had ourselves a delicious, intimate dinner overlooking the square in downtown Gainesville.

Yesterday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn and, rather than lie there trying to sleep when I could not, I went out caching. Roaming around so many familiar old places hunting geocaches proved beyond therapeutic. Most exciting was finding a cache just behind my grandparents' old place — in the remains (a stone chimney) of an ancient cabin in the woods that, as kids, my brother and I were known to play in. The thing I remember most about going into that cabin was finding a huge, wooden bureau with the word "Ivanhoe" engraved on it. (I described just such a scene in my story, "The Grey House," circa 1985.) Once the nice lady got up and going, we had ourselves a picnic at Ivey Terrace Park, a scenic little natural area that, again, my brother and I had frequented in our slightly checkered pasts. As we were finishing up our lunch, a good-sized family group came walking by, and the gentleman, slightly older than me, noticed my geocaching cap. Turns out he was a cacher himself, and he had hidden a cache — which I had just found — called "Old Bell's Mill" (GC2YMJ1) at the site of my mom's family's old grist mill near Lake Lanier, just outside Gainesville.

Worlds collide, and all that.

Many times in Gainesville, I had gone to the Lanier Drive-In Theater to see movies — the most memorable being Goldfinger — and though the drive-in no longer exists, there's a cache there, and thus I had to go give it a good hunt. For both Brugger and I, it was shocking to see how, in a span of about 30 years, a pine and bamboo forest had completely overgrown the old drive-in lot. There are still old speaker posts hiding among the trees, and I have to wonder if ghostly voices don't sometimes emanate from them in the darkness at night....

Last night, we entertained ourselves going to see Wrath of the Titans at one of the newer cinemas in Gainesville. Entertaining fluff, to be sure. Today, the disappointment of having to end this excursion into the past was assuaged by the good company of the present and the little thrill of hunting a fair number of caches on the return trip. I think I've still got some online logging to do....

Click pics to enlarge.

At Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park: So maybe it is some kind of half-ass
Man of Steel pose. What of it?

At Recess Southern Gastro Pub, Gainesville: wine, company, and setting
all very happifying.

Times two.

Anna Ruby Falls; Curtis Creek on the left, York Creek on the right.

Ol' Rodan and Brugger on the way up the mountain.

View of Gainesville from a particularly enjoyable cache site (GC3BYCZ).

Looking up into the bamboo grove at the site of the old Lanier Drive-In in Gainesville.

Train? Check. Ticket? Check. Cache? Check.

Habersham wine and mountains go well together, yes.

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