This past weekend I had a “mystery weekend” on my calendar courtesy of Randi, which I figured was probably a trip to somewhere either (a) objectively interesting to visit, or (b) in a new state. On Friday night it turned out we were on our way to Atlanta, which ticks both boxes! What follows is our busy 48 hours in Georgia’s capital. Ignore all the grey skies and raincoats… in comparison to Chicago, it was basically tropical.
So, a couple of things about Atlanta. As its Wikipedia entry notes, the city was burned to the ground during the Civil War, before regrowing to prominence as a well-connected railway hub rather than a classic southern seaport city such as Charleston. Walking around, therefore, it doesn’t feel so different to a typical Midwestern city, aside from the large number of construction signs which begin with the word “pardon”. (“Pardon our progress!”) That said, it was pleasantly and surprisingly walkable, and the city has invested in some dedicated walking/biking routes as well as a rapid transit system. And to Georgia’s credit, Atlanta is the state capital rather than a town in the middle of nowhere as often seems to happen. I suspect, however, that the politics inside the golden-domed Capitol building is quite at odds with the city around it. There are still four large plaques by the entrance, erected by the “Daughters of the Confederacy” in 1920, retelling the capture of the city by the “enemy” Union forces. Travelling in the age of Trump can make you twitchy about such things.
This was particularly true on the tour of CNN’s global headquarters, which is one of the major tourist attractions in the city. In ordinary times, I wouldn’t exactly be a CNN ‘fan’, but this is 2018 and the world is a strange place, so we went on the tour. At first everything was lighthearted and jovial, our guide cracking a joke at the BBC’s expense in the same way the guide on the BBC Broadcasting House tour will throw shade at CNN. But then a solitary guy in a leather jacket starts asking repeated questions about political bias before launching into an intense monologue about news “propaganda”, while the poor tour guide puts on a neutral listening face and murmurs “fair enough” and I wonder if we’re all about to die. I’m not sure if this guy was expecting to stumble across the top-secret Fake News studio on a public tour, but it was a good microcosm of the era we’re living through.
Atlanta is also home to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, so I was excited to expand my celebrated art series of stupid poses with presidents. Disappointingly, though perhaps in keeping with the humble legacy of the Carter administration, the best I could find was this photo on the wall. (Later I found an actual statue outside the State Capitol, which made up for it.) The most striking thing I learned about Carter was that his Oval Office furniture arrangement was all out of whack, with back-to-back sofas and a desk in the middle of the room. Clearly things were never going to go well with that layout.
The most significant figure from Atlanta, of course, was Martin Luther King. The National Park Service maintain a historic site including a museum, his birth home and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached. If you visit you can sit and listen to a recording of one of his sermons, and I like to think it wasn’t a coincidence that they were playing the one where King warns against cynical advertising of cars a week after the very same speech was literally used to sell cars during the Super Bowl.
We had planned to see the World of Coca Cola, but there is a limit to how ‘ironically’ you can do such things, so we opted instead to see the cool fish, amazing dolphins and cute puffins at the famous Georgia Aquarium. And while I realise this is an awkward-as-hell transition, it does remind me of the excellent seafood place we ate at on Saturday night too… 😳
Other food highlights this weekend included the obligatory fried chicken with biscuits and gravy [sic] and Mary Mac’s, a giant ‘tea room’ with a home-cooked vibe. I wish we could have stayed longer, because I’m not done with their side plates!
Atlanta, you were an awesome surprise.