Graduation Week in Atlanta
I’m on the long road headed back from Atlanta, Georgia.
Headed back to Virginia, the land which I call home. The place where I grew up and spent most of my formative years in, and where I’ve lived in most of my life. If not the place I was born into, it’s the place where my heart and soul are most attuned to, the land which I’ve slowly come to love, over the long and hard years of my life.
I drive with family on the long journey. On the way here to Georgia, I drove for a solid three or four hours, so the chances are good that I’ll do the same in a while now. I would say the outlook is good on that front.
It took a good half-day – the better part of a perfectly decent day, might I add – to drive all the way from Northern Virginia to Georgia. I joined my family on the long trip there. The reason or impetus – the ever-arching, impending need – was to attend my sister’s graduation at a university in the heart of Atlanta. It’s actually a stone’s throw from the CDC headquarters – the Center of Disease Control. There is no need to elaborate further, but suffice to say it was a special occasion of sorts – as was my own graduation, all those years ago – and so I made it a point to block out my calendar and clear my schedule, so that I was able to attend it. By the end, my calendar was like the calm, wide-open and welcoming waters that every seabound sailor yearns to see, over the horizon. Nothing but smooth sailing, y’all hear?
Attuning to the picture at hand, I drove behind the wheel – on the long road bound to Atlanta – for a good couple hours. Saw a lot of roads where there were naught but trucks along the way. I’m talking big trucks. So big they could unequivocally squish me like an ant, were I standing smack dab in the center of the road and waving my hands around like a maniac, trying to get their attention. Probably I would be like a tiny bug that smacks against the windshield – those within the confines of such a mechanical behemoth would barely feel anything, save for what feels like a “bump on the road”. That’s a bleak way of looking at things, but sometimes those are the sort of thoughts and what if’s that flit across my mind, faster than I can process them.
They were easily going 60 or 70 on the freeway, but there are brief moments, of clarity and understanding – the briefest stretches of time – when I am able to seize the opportunity, essentially, to be the king of the road. Undisputed, reigning king of the freeway, now and forevermore. I would burst up to 80, and then inch closer to 100 MPH. It’s not the fastest I’ve ever driven – that would be way back in Utah, once upon a time, in a land far away – but it came pretty dang close. I would burst past through those big trucks and haulers, like a lone sprinter passing by his competitors in the race, leaving them in the dust far behind him. These too-brief moments of pure, unbridled clarity, paired with the sporadic rushes of adrenaline, was like the curtains from my mind were somehow lifted, and I was conditionally granted the reins to a majestic, pure-black stallion with a mane of liquid golden-fire, and wings crafted from eternal light. I’ve never beheld such a magnificient beast, but I have this feeling I’d fall in love as soon as I saw it. It’s even better than courting fate. It’s like being granted the greatest spotlight there ever was, and having the narrow, focused light shine directly in your face for the merest of heartbeats, for fractions of a lifetime. There – that’s the best way I can think of, to convey the sensation and get the point across.
I don’t remember much on the trip here – to Atlanta. Sometimes all memory (even the most recent, pressing one) is a blur, like cars in the opposing traffic in a highway, speeding past you with the exact same tempo and beat that you’re headed at. Cars like that, they come one after another like ants in a neat row, line by line, file by file – until, before you know it, they morph into anonymous blurs of pure speed and raw energy, splotches of color, and for the life of you, you literally cannot tell one apart from another – or much less remember the particular make or model of a car, or the first two digits of a license plate number. Yeah, life is certainly strange that way.
This is the soundtrack of my life. If someone hands me a photograph of somewhere I’ve been a year or two back, and says do you remember going there, it’s a complete toss-up, a hit or miss, whether I will or won’t recall that particular memory, and be able to dredge it up from the depths of the pure, uncompromising blackness. Sometimes it’s the most random of memories that stay entrenched in my mind, long after the remembered sensations such as sight, smell, and touch are inevitably killed off, one by one. Its like a neat line of birds traveling in a V-shape, and dropping off one by one, either shot down or else guided by an unseen hand. The dark secret I have, is I am the jailer of my memories, and some of those are truly awful memories, and I wish with all my being, I could kill off those memories, because truth be told the suffering is not worth it, and – just as weeds that quickly run out of control – it can (and does) grow too great. For better or worse, my memory is a best friend and my greatest enemy, all neatly rolled into one.
What do I remember of the journey to Georgia, the Peach State? Honestly, my memory is like blobs and splotches of color, like the dim headlights of oncoming traffic when the dark of the evening takes over, and the sun begins to set – spelling out its impending and interminable descent into the horizon. I remember the day that I packed and left home. It was just earlier this week. I remember that I had to take a half-day from work, to account for the traveling involved. I remember driving on the highway and then that leading into the freeway, cruising along Route 7 and some other names and numbers on the signposts alongside the road that I don’t recall, and passing by lots of (nondescript yet admirable) scenery along the way – long, hanging trees with a dark-green hue, short and neat-trimmed light-green grass, and passing a whole host of other vehicles – chiefly trucks and SUVs – along the way, due purely to the liberating, unadulterated speed of travel, and the sheer force of will.
I remember that we stopped by at this small town in Virginia, I believe one called New Market. I had done my research, and found this place that sells southern food, it’s called Southern Kitchen. I actually left them a kind review on Google Maps, and on Yelp. I went inside and we ordered food for take out. Fried chicken, turkey and chicken sandwiches, hush puppies, lemon menagerie pie for dessert, that sort of thing. Apparently, this place is known for their fried chicken – best in the whole Shenandoah County, if you can swallow that. It was a standard diner, with the hostess stand on the left near the entrance, kitchen straight ahead, and an adjoining room with extra seating on the right. There was this old lady there who was pretty nice, and a younger lady who definitely wasn’t feeling it. Sometimes, the human mind fixates on things that have no sway and no impact, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s still good to know these things, because if you don’t respect or fixate on them, then there’s a very good likelihood that you’ll forget everything that ever happened to you, in the history of ever. Like that poor chap in the movie Memento. It’s like a cautionary tale – except the tale hits too close too heart, and you know that could easily be you, and nothing could save you from that experience either, if it came down to it.
Anyway, there was a wide open prairie outside the diner, and we walked our dog for a brief while out there. The wait was not absymal, it was maybe an even 20 minutes tops. I waited there in the diner, picked it up, and the kind old lady I had mentioned had put everything already in the large brown bag already, including the napkins and utensils – which was honestly a godsend. Southern hospitality at its finest. I would’ve been hard-pressed to do it better myself.
Back in the car, we continued the drive on the long road ahead, and we took turns devouring the food that had been meticulously packed for us. All the food was good, and if not good, it was acceptable. I had one of each sandwich. Chicken salad instead of chicken, but that was ok, and the turkey tasted good, not fried or grilled or anything of the like. The hush puppies were like round balls of packed dough, and they were great-tasting. The fried chicken reminded me of Popeyes, but miraculously not overdone on grease, and much healthier overall. The lemon pie was possibly the best of its kind that I’ve ever had. I haven’t had an opportunity to consume many pies in my life, but that was hands-down the best I’ve had so far. Solid work, and I’ll surely remember the name of the diner I went to – especially as I have it emblazoned in my blog, now. And I don’t doubt that I’ll be back too, somewhere down the long, eternally-winding road ahead.
A couple of hours later, we stopped again for dinner, this time at a Zaxby’s – somewhere in central, rural Virginia, or else in NC. I don’t remember where it was located, but it was on the way, so we stopped by. I remember we had stopped by a gas station along the way, so at the convenience store I picked up a pack of cotton-candy flavored gum for about $1, and the smallest size cup of Icee (I believe the Blue Raspberry flavor) for another $1 even.
Zaxby’s was only a couple minutes after we had filled in gas. I remember that, because I threw away the plastic cup that the Icee came it, at that leg of the journey. We went through Zaxby’s drive-thru, and I had the flamin’ hot burger (the actual name escapes me, but I know it was the spicier variant, with the trademark equivalent of buffalo sauce) and my family had the regular spicy chicken sandwich, as a meal combo. I remember that the drink had to be requested and no straw was provided, which certainly added fuel to the fire, but it was not my fire that was getting stoked, in any case. The sandwich I had, was actually pretty great. It was on Texas Toast, which was essentially just toasted bread. The flamin’ hot sauce was pretty good, the fried chicken that came sandwiched inside the bread was likewise. I remember thinking that Zaxby’s was a little better than the last time I had tried it. The quality of food – if not the service – had certainly improved.
Driving down the freeway and nearing the end of our long journey, and we were in Atlanta. On the freeway, it was a wide road with many lanes, maybe seven lanes in total, and suddenly we saw this van with flashing blue lights veering left and right, into one lane and the next. Not only that, but all the lineup of cars ahead of us slowly came to a halt and then a stop, as we noted that the van was dangerously veering from lane to lane, zig-zagging here and there, essentially crossing all the seven lanes in a short span of time, and going at a sluggish, slow pace, where the speed limit was definitely over 50 MPH. Of course, we were all a bit concerned. I myself, thought the person driving the van was having a brain hemorrhage of sorts. For some reason, it reminded me of the advent of a zombie apocalypse, at least the initial stages, where maybe whoever driving it was the victim of a zombie attack, and that’s why he was driving like that, because he was infected and his brain was quickly deteriorating. To be clear, it certainly appeared like the poor chap had lost his marbles. And then in short order, the truth of the matter revealed itself – there was a large white pickup truck in the middle lane, with one burst tire, and it was driving slowly to the side of the road. So, apparently the van with the flashing blue lights was a good samaritan, and it was intentionally trying to stop traffic in all the seven lanes, so that the pickup truck with the burst tire could safely pull over, and not get run over or hit from behind, at the full speed that the other vehicles were going at. Huh. Well, I thought was interesting, at any rate. Food for thought and all that.
Anyway, I don’t want to wax too eloquent, lest I forget the main points, and the core events that I want to jot down here, in a heartfelt attempt to burn it into memory.
After the long road, we eventually arrived in Atlanta, into the AirBnB home that we’d rented out. It was a three-bedroom house in Atlanta. We arrived that same night – or technically the next day – a little after midnight, and I went straight to bed.
What happened that next day is still a blur for me, but I retain now the bare bones of what transpired, like a rough sketch, and I will commit that forthwith. We woke up, later than expected, and were joined by my cousin and my sister. My cousin was coming from a nearby state as well, and for the time being my sister is a local to the area, so the travel involved there is minimal. We took our dog, and along with family and relatives, we went on a hike to a nearby hiking spot in Atlanta. I believe we went to East Palisades Trail, and we stopped in the parking lot there, with an intention to hike or walk for an hour to get to Bamboo Forest. We did additionally ask someone for directions along the way, but it was to no avail and we got lost quickly. Trudging through the trees and the wooded area for a good half-hour. We passed a small creek or stream along the way, and whilst we were following the Google Maps directions I had keyed in, we ran into a fenced-off area. After panicking for a while, I scaled the boundaries of it, and breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered that the right end of it – albeit being rather treacherous – led into a concrete road eventually. We followed that path stepping over a great deal of foliage and dead and strewn trees and leaves along the way, and eventually came upon a narrow, paved road, that eventually led into a wider main road. That hike was about an hour in duration, and yet we never made it to our ultimate destination, to Bamboo Forest. Perhaps next time, when we swing by there again. Anyways, after that hike, we went to a nearby restaurant for a lunch or a late brunch, a place called Buttermilk Kitchen. Got seating outdoors, for two tables of three people each – plus our dog. I ordered the Irish Coffee, a specialty cocktail, and a Chicken and Pancakes plate, with hot sauce on the side. The pseudo-coffee drink came with whipped cream on top, though I was not impressed at all. I did not enjoy it, neither did I my main dish that much. It was close to mediocre fair, but at the least it was filling and good service was provided. Afterwards, if memory serves correct, we went to the Herman Miller retail store in Atlanta. I remember I was glad, because I wanted to sit in and try out some of their high-end chairs, and I appreciated the opportunity as there was no local store where I lived, in Virginia – indeed, the closest one was in DC, which was a journey in and of itself. It was drizzling slightly at around the time we came, around 3 in the afternoon. Apparently I stopped by at the grand showroom initially, and went up to the second floor and tried out the HM brand chairs there. I must have sat in them for at least an hour, they were so comfortable. Anyway, I had to bid adieu eventually, and after that, I saw that there was a Jeni’s Ice Cream right around the block from there, and I remember that name – Jeni’s – mentioned, so we decided to go check it out. I sampled a lot of the ice cream there, and had two scoops of their two more decadent, popular flavors. It was pretty solid, and hit the spot. Finally, we headed back to our home away from home there. I don’t remember what else I did that day either, to be honest.
The next day was my sister’s graduation, so we all drove down there. We used the Rover app to locate a sitter for our dog, someone who could watch her while we were away. Parking outside in the lot was a hassle there, and the auditorium was big and spacious. The speeches were underway after a brief while, and I remember I got easily bored and distracted after a short while, and tuned out the rest of the speeches that had been prepared. They were all too long speeches, in my opinion, and the delivery was not on point for the most part. I remember I joined the guest network and I was surfing the internet for a while, and composing some posts on social sites. It was largely uneventful, especially as I was bored out of my mind. Afterwards, we celebrated by going out to a mexican spot, don’t remember the name but we ordered margaritas, endless supply of nachos with three sauces – red salsa, guacamole, and queso blanco or cheese – and I had quesadillas there, but I got too full and couldn’t finish the rest. The food was good, however the service there was not – the waitress was extremely unattentive, and we had to request others for water, utensils, and napkins. Anyways, on that day we also headed to the Ponce City Market district, and in case you haven’t been there, Ponce is like a grand, indoor mall, so we walked around for a while, ogling some of the expensive furniture on display there in one of the stores, as well as the extravagant, high-end pants in a clothing store. Walked around outdoors in a boardwalk with many people walking in either directions, but for some reason that walk felt lonely, like it was pitch dark and I was the only one walking, down a wide, abandoned boardwalk. It is at that part that I realized that I really wasn’t a fan of Atlanta at all. Then, we went to the Centennial Park, walked around there for a while, and I remember there was a sporting or olympics event going on there, the high jump, and guys in those open shirts with no sleeves and with ripped muscles were competing against each other. Half of those that competed failed the high jump, and the bar fell down and had to be replaced. There was a tall, slim guy from Britain if memory serves correct, and he was about 6 feet, and I remember there was a brief point of contention of whether he could actually make it. I argued that he could make the jump because of the virtue that he was taller than normal. And that led into a somewhat heated debate, of whether it was better to be taller or shorter to compete in those sort of activities, like the high jump. Well, not to break the suspense, but that tall dude eventually did make it. He pulled off the jump over the bar with flying colors. I remember him running in a strange fashion, the same strange fashion as the other athletes, one leg in front of another and like they were going to pounce on something, then the long, elongated bar at last grounded, stretching out like the longest outstretched arm I’ve ever seen, carrying the athlete up and forwards, and catapulted also by their own body weight, muscles, and sheer force of will – and that slim moment when they passed by the bar overhead, by the narrowest of margins. All in all, that was a sight to behold, and the crowd was cheering after events such as that. We walked around the park for a bit longer, around Centennial Park, and then it was sunset and we had to head back. We went to Mary Mac’s Tea Room right around closing time, around 9 in the evening, so definitely cutting it close. I went with my sister and we ordered take-out, a good fifteen minutes before they closed up shop. Thankfully we were in time. We ordered six fried chicken wings, and got three sides with that – sweet potato souffle, whipped potatoes, and fries if memory serves correct – and peach cobbler as a dessert item. It was around 10 in the evening when we got back to our AirBnB home. We placed a party game that my cousin had brought, called SmartA** – well I’m just typing it out as it was exactly, but hopefully you can fill in the dots there – and it was a fun, interesting game that involved lot of general trivia. It was challenging and I was dead close to last place, but it wasn’t too bad and I definitely learned one or two things in that playthrough. A fun game, overall.
The following morning, we went to Patel Plaza and ate at one of the Chaat places there. The food there was decent, if not great. Then we headed back.
Anyway, time marches interminably on, and I want to put a full stop here. I’ll likely update this post again, in the near future.
Overall, this was a good experience. I am indeed proud of my younger sister, and that she is able to achieve a graduate degree, even before me. That makes me feel old and yet not so old, at the same time. What is more important is the achievement of true independence, and the follow-through when it comes to academia and higher education. That is so hard to have, especially when there are other things – such as a full-time job, in my case – that consume a huge chunk of time by itself.
Now on the drive home, and I have driven over three hours. As the sun dips into the horizon, the darkness takes the throne, and mist hangs low over the horizon and low on the roads. The signs and other cars are hard to see. But for some reason, I smile while sitting in the back set. The thick mist brings happiness to me – either that, or impending insanity. In all seriousness, the mist is a harbinger of the unknown, more specifically the future, and what it has in store for me, and for each of us. All is cloudy, when viewed through the rose-tinted lens of humanity. We might not know even what lies over the horizon, but the goal is to stay strong, and make sure the boat is prepared for the journey ahead, and that it doesn’t tip over midway. If there are leaks, then those should be patched along the way. Let this be an inspiration to us all: Hang on when presented with the heaviness of the mist, for the horizon ahead may be clear, even if cresting that hill seems like it might take more than a lifetime. You will get there, and my fervent hope is that you don’t do it alone. Because all I know is that I wouldn’t want to make that long journey alone, either.
So, I’m going to make it an effort to stick through it and bull ahead through the mist – and always remember – there is always someone else in the same boat as you, even when you feel completely, utterly alone. Row your boat for long after your arms tire and the oars slip through your fingers, for eventually the hope is that the lone light of the lighthouse shines upon you, and illuminates the path ahead, ever onwards.