We’ve just returned from our family trip. It was meant to be a vacation. We had been planning to drive from Atlanta to the Gulf Cost, somewhere between Panama City and Grayton Beach. However, we were advised that the water was full of seaweed and the horseflies were a nuisance this time of year. It looked like it was going to rain every day, too.
So we chose to drive north instead, to the mountains. We’ve always had good luck stumbling across fun places to visit – until this trip. The first place we tried to stay (it had been recommended) was completely taken over by resorts that tended to a golfish theme, ugly and expensive. No room at the inn in any case. We had taken a scenic route, but most of the beautiful points had been snatched up by development – no access. Case in point. There was a restaurant overlooking a a large and beautiful waterfall that couldn’t be seen from the road. Even half of the restaurant perch view was blocked – by tall buildings of condos. They were for sale – no-one was even living there, but the big brown buildings blocked access and view of the falls. John and Ben walked down the drive to see how close they could get to the falls, and I talked to the waiter. According to him, the townspeople are ambivalent about the development. I asked if John and Ben were in danger of being arrested for even walking down the private drive. “Well, no – so long as he just says he’s looking at the condos. But then, they used to say ‘what are ya gonna do, arrest me for smoking?’”
We hastily arranged lodging over the internet at what looked to be a nice cabin in another town not far from the first. It was getting late, so we bit the bullet on the price. The room was terrific, but it was located at a crossroads. Well, actually, I think that it was basically a truck stop.
We had a greasy barbeque sandwich and some soggy lukewarm fries at the nearest restaurant to the cabin. Every surface inside the place was sticky. We stopped for $3.19/gallon gas. Everything inside was dusty and as I walked in, some guy pealed out of the parking lot in his obscenely large and colorfully painted supertruck. As he passed, he hit his horn and waved to the clerk (a working girl, I think). The loud horn played the first line of “Dixie.”
Next, we drove to the nearest grocery store – a well-known chain, although I hadn’t seen any of its Atlanta stores festooned with the huge red neon “American owned” sign that decorated the front of this one. It goes without saying that we couldn’t find any good coffee (we brought our own), but I also noticed that you couldn’t buy certain kinds of supplies at a gas station or a grocery store (don’t even). The drug store, some distance away, “closed real early.”
While John and Ben watched “Roger” play tennis, I tried to get absorbed in a book on Southern ghost stories that I had picked up at the tourist trap at the Tallulah Falls highway loop. As I fell asleep, the thunderstorms started. It sounded like someone was pounding to get into the cabin. I had nightmares all night, and woke up several times. I wasn’t the only tourist that snuck out to smoke cigarettes in the rain; the grounds were covered with butts. There was a nice playground, but the trees were covered with grey fungus. In the morning, it was still raining, so we skipped the “Sliding Rock” swimming plans. There wasn’t any reason to stay. We got Ben a doughnut that had claims to Krispy Kreme lineage, but it made him sick to his stomach.
We hit the Blue Rige Parkway – we had remembered an Inn where we had wanted to stay. We could barely see the road through the fog, and the twists and turns went on until I felt totally seasick. The mountains were all around us, but we couldn’t see them. When we arrived at the Inn, it was booked. Oh. Well, we had lunch there. It was ok, and we started to feel a little better. The fog had lifted a bit, and the views were great. We could breathe.
We decided to drive to Asheville, North Carolina. We could bop around there for a day or two, and salvage the trip. The last time we were there, we stayed at a ramshackle Days Inn, and I wanted to avoid that on this visit – especially since our son was already terminally bored and cranky by this time. We tried the two pricey hotels – both booked. Then, I happened to catch sight of a pool. Perfect! Lo and behold! A hotel – reputable and pretty clean (and nowhere near the old Vanderbilt’s “Biltmore Estate,” which I’d seen once and wasn’t too enthused about seeing again). Walking distance into town! We booked two nights.
Ben was so excited – he really wanted to swim. We dumped our stuff in the room and went to the pool. It was almost cold enough to be frozen. Honestly, I jumped in and I jumped right back out, almost like a cartoon. Hubby and son did the same. We tried, we really tried, but we couldn’t get used to the water. It was like a New England stream in April. And then it started to rain again.
We spent a couple of hours huddled in the room. John couldn’t get the wireless to work. Ben watched Spongebob. After a while, I watched a weird old episode of Star Trek that was surrounded by stats and online comments from Trekkies. John watched some tennis. We are all used to having a little elbow room, and we started feeling claustrophobic.
We finally decided that getting wet wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and we needed to get dinner.
The one restaurant we had wanted to revisit had acquired a ominous barker who kept reappearing whenever we turned a corner, like some harbinger of doom. But the town itself was lively. Costumed figures posed around town, even in the rain. A guy all in black with an umbrella to the side and a serious orange face was my favorite. The cheerful silver girl with all kinds of decorations on her hat had the best costume – she played a drum whenever anyone put money in her jar. There was also a copper girl wearing a long brown dress and holding willows (I think) in her hands – she would bow or raise the sheaf to the sky.
A public commons was swarming with new-agers and druggies and musicians and hound dogs – all except the dogs were moving to a complicated drumbeat. On one street we passed a rather talented duo playing banjo and violin, on another, someone who grinned at us while playing the biggest and most battered cello I have ever seen. One guy played on pieces of bamboo, which had been tied all over his body.
We stopped in a comic book store and got Ben a couple of little figures intended for role-playing games. I asked whether there were any contemporary non-superhero non-amime comics, something like Sandman or Concrete or Swamp Thing. No – there were bound volumes of the Sandman series, but nothing new along those lines. I spoke for a few minutes to the manager, who was a former Philosophy/English major. He said that most of his peers in the English Department ended up doing low-end graphic design.
I really like Asheville’s independent bookstore, called Malaprops. I had a great conversation with a few other people in the politics and current events section, and picked up two more books. One woman was a moderate Republican who was starting to ask the right sorts of questions. She seemed to lump the cultures of all Arab nations together. I tried to explain that Saudi Arabia and Iraq were a bit different from, say, Afghanistan, but the topic seemed to bore her. I sent her off with the latest Molly Ivins book. Surprisingly, the sales clerk sniffed and referred to it as “fantasy.”
What to feed the boy? We settled on a Noodle House, where I finally started to relax. I had a crunchy asian burrito, John got a shrimp and bacon sort of thing, and Ben had an enormous bowl of what was basically chicken noodle soup. The waiter was young and had those earlobe enlarger things in his ears. I asked him about the surrounding area, and where people go. “Some people like to hike,” he said, “and there are some good trails and things like that. But there’s not much to do if the rain keeps up.”
“Once you leave town, it gets real country real fast,” he added.
We stayed another day and night. I read both my books. We looked through the shops. An beautiful old building was turned into a small mall of local products, with offices installed on the floors above. The old Woolworth’s had been turned into an local artists’ showplace, except for the big shiny soda fountain bar that remained on the ground level.
A couple of riverfront studios didn’t really qualify, at least to me, as a new art “district” but it was a start. We exhausted the possibilities of the town, and I didn’t buy anything else.
Ben kept asking, “When can we go back to our own home sweet home?”
It took 4 hours to get back, and the last bit of traffic – from Lake Lanier Islands to Spaghetti Junction – had me gasping in fear. It’s a newish thing, this highway phobia, and it only comes on when we’re driving in the Atlanta area with Ben in the car. Nothing can keep from my heart from racing, my mind from over-reacting. I grip whatever I can and try not to scream or otherwise startle John. Deep breaths help – for a few seconds. When we got home, I collapsed. Our summer vacation has left me completely exhausted.
Normally, we start to feel great once we’re about an hour from the city in any direction. This is the first time that leaving Atlanta wasn’t a good thing for us. The positive side of that is that I am suddenly more appreciative of our “home sweet home.”
We figured out what the trip cost us. Yikes. Next time, if we’re going to drop a bunch of money we can’t really afford anyway, we’re going to go to Acadia National Park in Maine, or to Sante Fe, or to the South of France, or to Vancouver. Maybe we’ll just stay in a hotel somewhere else in Atlanta.
We’re looking for a good place to go within a two-hour drive from Atlanta. One place I haven’t been to yet is Lake Burton in North Georgia – John went there when he was a kid. Comment if you can suggest good places to stay there. We’ve also been to a friend’s house at a lake just over the Alabama line, but it looked prohibitive for people that didn’t already own land there. St. Simon’s Island is great, but a little too far for what I have in mind. Comment with any other suggestions.
Ben starts first grade in the morning. I’ve just spent an hour writing his name on a whole bag of required supplies that I bought from the PTA at registration. I did the laundry, made a comfort food dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes with raw broccoli, fed the fish, straightened up, aired out, took a shower. I looked longingly into the woods and thought about our cat Zoomie, probably eaten by coyotes. I blogged a couple of things and let go of the other dozen things on my “to blog” list. I wrote and rewrote this post.
Now I’m going to sleep, perchance to dream.
What did you do on your summer vacation?
(P.S. added the pics on Monday the 14th)