Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Sabbatical 2: Return to Georgia

A nice evening view from what must surely be the only traffic-free road anywhere near Gainesville
In early spring of this year, I spent a few days in Gainesville, GA, where my mom grew up; where my folks met and got married; and where, at my grandparents’ place, I spent some of the most heavenly days of my youth (see “Sabbatical,” March 1, 2022). That trip largely involved researching my Ameri-Scares novel, Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill, which is now long finished and in the queue for publication by Crossroad Press. Since then, I’ve made the virtual acquaintance of fellow author Leverett Butts, who lives in the Gainesville area and with whom I’ll be sharing the contents page of the upcoming Kolchak: The Night Stalker anthology from Moonstone Books. During these past few months, I’ve been craving a return to my Georgia stomping grounds, so, this week, I’m heading back to do some further stomping. And come Wednesday, I anticipate meeting Mr. Butts in the flesh.

Monday, October 10, 2022
It wasn’t much past dawn that I rose this morning (with considerable help from a passel of cats). I had packed up last night, so there was little for me to do other than shower, feed animals, kiss Ms. B., and hit the road. Counting stops to eat, pee, and geocache (plus a few minor traffic hold-ups), it was about a six and a half–hour drive down; fairly typical for the 300-plus-mile trip. This time, I did the unthinkable: I made no special stops for geocaches until I was only a few miles from Gainesville (though I did grab a couple when I stopped for lunch around Anderson, SC). Traffic was heavy the whole way, which was hardly unexpected since traffic is always heavy on I-85. And let me tell you: there cannot possibly be a trucker shortage any longer, for there was no way one more truck could have fit on the highway between NC and GA. My god, it was wall-to-wall, and at times nerve-wracking.

Once here, I checked into the Ramada/Wyndham hotel, which is where I stayed on my previous sojourn. It's comfortable, reasonably priced, and as conveniently located as any hotel can be in Gainesville. At Tino’s, the Mexican restaurant on the premises, I grabbed a trio of excellent street tacos. Sadly, they no longer had the brisket tacos that sent me over the moon the last time I was here, but no matter; these made me happy, as did the large jalapeno margarita chaser.
The very large guardian of one of the geocaches I found
on the way into Gainesville this afternoon 

Unfortunately, by way of my previous visits to Gainesville, geocaching-wise, I have about cleaned up the town — certainly everything within walking distance of the hotel. Still, one does not undertake a sabbatical such as this one without geocaching, so, just as the sun began to set, I got in the car and hit the southern outskirts of town. I found several caches, many of which were along a nice, all-but-deserted road near the airport. And what a fuckin’ relief to find some respite from the blasted traffic here! After caching, I parked my car on the street in front of my grandparents’ old house and set out walking around the neighborhood, which skirts the edge of downtown. Almost unconsciously, I ended up retracing one of the routes I regularly walked as a youngster. While much of Gainesville has become almost unrecognizable, there’s just enough of that old neighborhood left to retain some of the magic it once held for me. I quite enjoyed the lovely evening trek, which netted me a couple of (much-needed) miles of hoofing it.

Tomorrow, I’m planning to visit my old alma mater — the University of Georgia in Athens — and get in some serious geocaching, for caches in Athens there certainly are.
Do not think for one minute I'm not serious about this. Sign found at the restaurant where
I had lunch in Anderson, SC. I need one of these.
One fine dinner
The GA Dept. of Veteran's Services building. Close to my grandparents' old house,
it stands out as one of my most vividly remembered buildings in town
Paul Smith Cleaners on Bradford St. Sadly, it's no longer in operation. Paul Smith was one of my great uncles. My great-aunt Julia — Uncle Paul's sister — worked there when I was little.
Tuesday, October 11, 2022

I think that, for today, I am altogether done with both walking and peopling.

According to my handy-dandy health app, I walked over seven miles, mostly on campus, and my little doggies are feeling it. And according to my Fed-Up-With-Humanity meter, I threw myself in with more human beings per square yard than even when Brugger and I spent several days in Chicago back in May.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself; I had a fine time of it. I hit the road about 8:00 a.m. this morning and arrived in Athens roughly an hour later. My first destination was a concentration of geocaches in the neighborhood where I lived during the summer of 1980. It was and still is an attractive area, but that was not a happy time for me. The place had no air conditioning (and that was one fucking HOT summer), and the house ended up constantly overrun by teenage redneck assholes whom my drug-addled roommates unilaterally decided to give free rein. I wish circumstances had been better then because it really was a cool place (other than temperature-wise) in a lovely setting. Outwardly, at least, the house and grounds haven’t changed at all — though I kinda hope the folks who live there now have central air.

Once I’d found a few caches in that area, I headed down to the University of Georgia campus. Although I can’t say my university experience was everything it could and should have been (mostly thanks to less-than-sound decisions made by your humble narrator), I do have many pleasant and vivid recollections of those days. But holy cowz has the population density gone through the roof. Again, this is hardly unexpected, but the rigors of getting around campus without being run over — either by vehicles or by students on foot and/or other modes of transportation — are considerably more daunting than forty-some years ago. (This, by the way, is not because I’m slowing down in my old age; my typical pace tends to prompt young and old alike to holler “Would you please slow the fuck down?!”)

I certainly saw more of the UGA campus today than I did in my two-and-a-half years as a student there. Between the stages of several Adventure Labs, a couple of virtual caches, and a slew of physical caches, I explored numerous nooks and crannies I never would have had any reason to explore back in the day (although it’s not out of the question that I actually did visit some of these places while in a drug-induced fog). I stopped in at the old School of the Arts building, which is now the School of Something Else, but its confines are still largely familiar. As a student, I shared numerous art classes with Mike Stipe of REM, and though we were hardly close friends, we did have a few interesting conversations now and then.

I found a first-class lunch at Trappeze Pub — a bacon jalapeno burger with fries and a locally brewed IPA, which I liked a lot, though its name eludes me at the moment. I followed that up with a bit more walking and caching until my phone battery damn near gave up the ghost. Eventually, I hoofed it (on sore feet), back to the car, and spent the next thirty-some minutes trying to get the hell out of Dodge... er, Athens. Along the way, I passed The Taco Stand, which is one of the few familiar local establishments that’s still around after all these years. Back when, I always enjoyed going there, although — no joke! — one was guaranteed to suffer a rumbly tumbly for a spell following a Taco Stand meal. This evening, I did not stop in.

By the time I arrived back at my digs in Gainesville, I had pretty much made up my mind to stay inside for the evening. I doubt seriously my little feetz are up for any more hoofin’ it.

Tomorrow, it looks like rain in the forecast (which will suck), but I’m very much looking forward to meeting Lev Butts. I’m still hoping to manage some geocaching in the morning, lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise...
Oglethorpe House, the dorm I lived in between 1979 and 1980. Things have changed quite a bit
around the old place.
Sanford Stadium. I saw a lot of football games there when Herschel Walker was the team star
and had a reasonably valid purpose in life... quite unlike today.
A lovely lunch from Trappeze Pub
The old School of the Arts building, where I earned my two-thirds irrelevant Bachelor of Fine Arts degree
The Taco Stand — still rumbling tumblies after all these years
Wednesday, October 12, 2002
Old horror writer with not-so-old Leverett Butts at the Smoke House restaurant just outside of Gainesville
Well, the creek did rise, but I guess the lord was willin’ because I got up fairly early (thanks largely to an alarm of some sort going off nearby) and headed straight out for some geocaching. Thankfully, the rain was intermittent and not very heavy. I set my sights on the Oakwood area, a few miles southwest of Gainesville, near the local campus of the University of North Georgia, where friend Leverett teaches. We had a 1:00 p.m. lunch date at the Smoke House BBQ restaurant, but he had suggested that, if time permitted, I might stop in at his office earlier in the morning. So, I snagged a few caches along the way, located his office, and proceeded to make a pest of myself. We chatted for an hour or so, and then he had a meeting to attend. I still had a few nearby caches nearby to attend to, including a trio on the nature trail there at the university, so off I went. I found two of the three (the third is almost certainly missing), as well as a peculiar thingummy high up in a tree (see photo below), which I suspect is meant to be “art.” Who knows, though? It could just as easily be something nefarious, such as a disguised beacon for the Martian invasion force or something such. If the Martians land in Gainesville with their fighting machines and deadly black smoke, well, we’ll know why, won’t we?
Another of the lovely, big honking Joro spiders
that now populate this area

At the appointed hour, Lev and I met at the Smoke House, and... oh lord... the smoked dead cow was heavenly. H-E-A-V-E-N-L-Y. After lunch, we sat out on the restaurant’s front porch and shot the shit for most of another hour. Talk about a much-needed tonic! Both as writers and as reasonably human-type people, we have an awful lot in common, and our meeting was surely the highlight of this trip.

The geocaching highlight, at least so far, was a multi called “Six Feet Under” (GC22KDP). The first stage takes you to a graveyard on a little-traveled road and then to an old tunnel at an abandoned business park. I tell you, it’s tough to beat a graveyard and a tunnel as stages of a single cache. Now, it’s not a deep or long tunnel, but hey... it’s underground, secluded, and dark. My kind of place. Finding the cache proved to be a somewhat unexpected challenge, but find it I did. So... yay! I also found some incredible mud dauber nests — huge and complex, like nothing I’ve ever seen back home. And spiders... oh, yes, there are spiders. Big, colorful orb weavers, called Joro spiders; quite beautiful they are, even to this former arachnophobe. Apparently, they are relatively recent arrivals to the area, originally from Japan. Since they appear to thrive here, it’s likely they’ll eventually migrate to North Carolina. No complaints from me, since... unlike the burgeoning masses of humanity... they’re harmless and likely good for the environment.

After “Six Feet Under,” I grabbed a handful of other caches, but since the day was getting long in the tooth, I decided to pack it in, hoping against hope that I might beat a miserable rush-hour traffic experience. Well, the time of day clearly matters not a whit here anymore. As I have elucidated in no small detail, the traffic in Gainesville has become so ungodly I’m afraid such a ridiculous concentration of human beings in a relatively small area is going to shift the mass of the planet to an unsustainable degree and the earth is going to go spinning straight into the sun. Thank you, motherfuckers. Thank you all so bloody freaking much.

I put just over two miles on the feetz today. While they were still a little miffed about yesterday’s big walk, at least they didn’t give me any grief or complain about being abused this go-round. Who knows, though... tomorrow is another day and there are still lots of caches to hike after.

I’ll be back.

L: No, I do not know what that thing up in the tree is supposed to be (art, I suspect). I found it along the nature trail behind The University of North Georgia at Gainesville; R: A mud dauber nest in the tunnel at "Six Feet Under." This sucker measured well over two feet from top to bottom

Thursday, October 13, 2022
A view of Lake Lanier from the trail at Lanier Point Park
For my last full day in Gainesville, for better or for worse, I decided against pursuing a couple of possible social interactions at my disposal. I hope no one might feel slighted by my choice, but currently, this mostly solitary venture is something I believe I need. Here in Georgia, I feel a sense of connection — or perhaps reconnection — with what I can only describe as ghosts of people and places from my past, yet I feel they’re fading with time. This is a very personal thing to me, and I find myself wanting to experience the fullness of these “ghosts” while I still can. I hope I don’t regret not getting together again with my first cousin once removed, as they say, but right now, this choice feels necessary and proper.

I kicked off the morning by visiting Inman Perk Coffee Shop on the Square, a short walk from my hotel. A fine café au lait, and then it was off to the northwestern corner of town and Lanier Point Park, which offers a couple of scenic hiking trails along the shores of Lake Sidney Lanier. On my four-mile trek à pied, I found seven caches, a stairway to nowhere, and... a sudden moment of anxiety when I thought I had lost my extra battery pack for my phone. Happily, I had not (apparently, I had absent-mindedly put it back in the car between the first and second legs of the hike). Several times, the sky spat a little rain, but overall, the weather was pleasant, with an occasional balmy breeze. I didn’t encounter another living soul on the trail, which made for a relaxing experience in the woods.

Since Brugger and I discovered Southern Recess Gastro Pub in Spring 2012, dining there is a personal priority whenever I’m in Gainesville. I had originally thought I might have dinner there tonight, but since this morning’s breakfast consisted of a few grapes and the hike had flung a fair craving for vittles upon me, I decided to head there for lunch. A damned good martini (x2) and the bleu cheese burger of the gods satisfied the craving. Typical of my experiences at Southern Recess, the food, drink, and service were all first-rate.

So far on this trip, I’ve claimed just over fifty caches, and I’ll probably snag a few more before it’s all said and done. Spending this time outdoors, whether on wooded trails, on the campus of the University of Georgia, or in random, odd corners of Gainesville, I’ve found so many “new” and wonderful places I otherwise never would have. If you’re not a geocacher, you likely won’t relate, but this is how I achieve that crucial zen, and — going back to the first paragraph of today’s entry — it feels not just desirable but necessary.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading back home. This trip has been invigorating, relaxing, satisfying, and — on occasion — stressful. Time changes all things, of course, and Gainesville has certainly changed in the decades since I spent so much time here. I don’t find much of it positive. There are many newer, highly desirable amenities, and, in some areas, substantial remnants of the pleasant, low-key town I’ve always treasured still exist. Yet, to a greater extent, this place is nothing more than an overpopulated extension of Atlanta, with traffic ills the likes of which even the NC Triad doesn’t yet suffer (although if developers have their way, it won’t be much longer until it’s equally awful, and developers always have their way). Here, just driving a few blocks involves more sitting than moving, and except for maybe late at night, there is literally no respite from it. More than most maladies in this life, I despise massive concentrations of human beings in too small a space, where the infrastructure was never designed for it, and all the upgrading in the world will never keep up with it. After this trip, I don’t know that I want to come back in the near future.

Sometimes “progress” is anything but, at least to those of us who prefer a quality of life that doesn’t involve playing sardine in a fucking tin can once you go out and about. Still... to me, Gainesville is truly where my family originated, and my connection to it feels deep and unbreakable. I can’t help but love this town in more than a few ways.

I’m sure I will come back.
A neat little covered bridge that leads to the trail at Lanier Point Park
On the bridge
Another bridge, this one leading to nowhere in the middle of the woods

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