Category Archives: Dispatches from the Road

What NOT to Say to An L.A. Hooker

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Some years back, several friends and I – all contributors to this blog – took a (slightly infamous) trip across country.

Los Angeles Hookers

Ahh, yeah. L.A. Hookers. Mmm, mmm.

We drove from Atlanta to Long Beach, Calif., with a slight layover in El Paso.

In Los Angeles, and again in Las Vegas, we were stunned by the obvious availability of escorts. They advertised on posters and fliers, and there were people all over the streets shoving handbills featuring half-naked models and phone numbers imploring us to call for some fun.

So, we did.

And, while at last one of our party (not me) did partake in the pleasures of a prostitute – a story that this blog must surely share some day – we found hours of enjoyment in collecting the advertisements and calling the numbers on them. Sure, we endured a few fussing pimps along the way, but they weren’t going to track down our Georgia cell phones and besides, we were having too much fun to let a few angry vice peddlers to stop us.

So, for a chuckle, below is a selection of some of the lines recalled from those late-night calls to the mysterious, lovely ladies of the west – who don’t look anything like the girls on the posters.

  • “How much to just watch my buddy and I?”
  • “Do you serve Compton?”
  • “I’m good lookin’. Can I have a discount for that?”
  • “Since I already have everything anyway, do I really have to wear a condom?”
  • “I have a coupon that I found online.”
  • “I really just want to share a Haagen-Dazs and watch Leno.”
  • “I want to be your last stop for the night. Don’t shower.”
  • “Do you have children? Can you bring them along?”
  • “Oh, it shouldn’t be that much. I’ll be quick.”
  • “Betcha’ never played ‘Strip Axis & Allies’ under a black light before!”
  • “What’s your ‘first-timers’ rate?”
  • “I want you to teach me yoga.”
  • “This is for my grandpa. It’s kind of a ‘last request’ kind of thing. They told us we needed to start getting the family together, so I need you to come, like, now.”
  • “Would you like me to make you a copy of the tape when we’re done?”
  • “Baby, I hope you like Karo.”
  • “Are you good with kids? I’m kinda’ in a pinch here.”
  • “If you think Jackie Gleason’s sexy, you and I are going to get along fine.”
  • “I’m going to need you to be ready to lick stuff.”
  • “Can I call you Jane? And will you be a real bitch to me? Jane’s always such a bitch. God, I hate her.”
  • “I don’t really have an address. My ice cream truck is parked at 6th Street and Pacific Avenue beside the church.”
  • “How do you feel about wearing a squirrel costume?”
  • “You were pretty highly rated on Angie’s List.”
  • “I should warn you: I have a heart thing. So if anything happens, just wash me off, get your things and go.”
  • “I’m a cuddler.”
  • “What I’m really looking for is someone with a third nipple – preferably pierced.”

Did we miss anything?

Losing Jekyll’s Oceanside Inn and Suites is Going to Be Hard

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Oceanside Inn and Suites

The Oceanside Inn and Suites on Jekyll Island will be gutted this summer to make way for a Holiday Inn Resort.

Oceanside Inn and Suites, near the northern end of Jekyll Island, Ga., is a dated, at times dilapidated, somewhat threadbare old motel.

I love it there.

Built in 1958 as the Wanderer, the resort is a vestige of Jekyll Island’s roots as an affordable beach destination for Georgia’s families. It was old – as many properties on the island are old – but that added to its charm: unassuming, quietly distinguished, timeless.

My wife and I discovered Oceanside Inn and Suites a year after we married. We’d been to Jekyll together once before, staying in a small condo at Villas by the Sea for a long weekend. Tight finances precluded us from taking a honeymoon just after our wedding, and so for our first anniversary, we saved up some coin and booked ourselves a beach vacation on our beloved Jekyll Island.

One of the last examples of affordable beach vacations for Georgia's families will be stripped to its concrete bones and reborn by Spring 2014.

One of the last examples of affordable beach vacations for Georgia’s families — the Oceanside Inn and Suites — will be stripped to its concrete bones and reborn by Spring 2014.

For a price that I recall being surprisingly affordable, we booked a lanai suite at Oceanside, complete with a king-sized bed, a couch, table and chairs, television, balcony overlooking the ocean and an in-suite hot tub big enough to accommodate at least six people. On our anniversary, the staff brought a bottle of champaign and a box of chocolates to our room, all complimentary, being touched that we were celebrating the occasion at their property.

Several more trips followed. (In fact, according to my wife’s calculations, we might even have conceived our 4-year-old daughter there.) Some were more magical than others. One year, the bugs were particularly bad. Another was windy and cold most of the time.

The thing about Jekyll Island is, there’s not a helluvalot to do there. There’s a beach, and the hotels and motels have swimming pools. There’s a liquor store and an IGA for groceries. There are some pretty nice, flat bicycle paths (if you’re into that sort of thing), and the historic Millionaires Village is beautiful. There’s also a water park, again, if you’re into that sort of thing. A few restaurants.

That’s one reason I like it so much; I get to relax without feeling like I’m missing anything. It’s a slow and easy vacation, with plenty of time to sit by the ocean – the real ocean, none of this Gulf of Mexico crap – and read. At dinner time, go find a place to eat fried shrimp until you’re sick. It’s great, really.

That is changing, with the island’s new convention center opening and hotels starting to slowly take notice after years of polite disregard. A couple of the grand old resorts already have been torn down, and one new hotel, a Hampton Inn, opened on the island in the last few years.

But the island’s legacy is that of an affordable beach vacation for Georgia’s families. That’s what Gov. Melvin Thompson visualized when the state purchased the island in 1947. (The state condemned the island and bought it from the nearly-defunct Jekyll Island Club for $675,000 – a tidbit for the history buffs.)

New properties and new life on the island is good news for the Jekyll Island Authority, which administers the island and must do so with no financial support from the state (the state having since gotten out of the “affordable-beach-vacation-for-Georgia’s-working-poor” game). It means there will be more revenue for more improvements to draw more visitors to make more revenue.

Oceanside Inn and Suites pool

The pool at the Oceanside Inn and Suites on Jekyll Island, Ga.

It also means that people like me – albeit a minority – who enjoy a cozy older venue that harkens back about two generations and offers pretty wonderful amenities at a reasonable price will be left without much reason to go to Jekyll Island anymore.

The Oceanside Inn and Suites went above and beyond to make us welcome. It was not pretentious, it was not elegant. It had free Wi-Fi, and that was awesome, and a hot tub in a room that overlooked the ocean. You could sit on the balcony of your second-floor suite and watch the sunrise. Sometimes, you could see dolphins in the distant waves. You could get drunk and stumble over to the Sandbar and Grill for a bite to eat. You could have beer for breakfast and make a baby. It was pretty awesome.

I’m sorry to see it go. I’m sorry that I’ve likely spent my last night there, and I’m deeply sorry for the staff who have always been so good to my wife and I, and to our daughter who stayed there with us the last time we went and swam in the six-person hot tub in our lanai suite.

The last time we stayed, the rooms had been refurbished, the carpet and furnishings were clean and new, the swimming pool was a spotless blue, the grounds were meticulously maintained and the property looked every bit to have a bright future. In August 2013, it will be gutted to its concrete skeleton and remade into a 155-room Holiday Inn. It won’t be nearly the value it was, and the patina of that neat old 1950s motel will be scrubbed away. It won’t be the same.

I hope, however, that it will at least have a lanai suite, on the second floor, with a view over the dunes to the ocean beyond, and a large hot tub and balcony. I hope the people who work at Oceanside Inn and Suites will have a place with the Holiday Inn, and maybe be making a little more money than the Oceanside could pay.

I wish you the best, and thank you for the fantastic memories.

Dispatches from the Road: Into the Woods, F’ the Klan

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We went into the woods, with supremacists in pursuit.

We went into the woods, with supremacists in pursuit.

(Editor’s Note: The following contains liberal use of the “F word,” because the parties involved used the “F word” liberally. In the interest of telling the unadulterated truth as best as I remember, and as entertainingly as possible, I’ve left it as is. Salut!)

“Fuck the Klan!”

All eyes turned toward my passing Bonneville from the patrons of the impromptu market set up in front of the Georgia Peach Museum – a place that sold painted, concrete figures of robed men in pointy hats that might adorn one’s porch, as inconspicuous, as Raymond Chandler would say, as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

In the seat next to me, Elliott (a.k.a., “BOB”) was just drawing his head back in through the passenger’s window. He stuck his cigar back in his teeth and grinned at me with a look of self-accomplishment. In my rearview, a pickup truck fishtailed as it shot from the parking lot of the hick flea market.

There are a lot of myths and stories about the Georgia Peach Museum, which stands somewhere in the gray area between western Paulding and eastern Haralson counties. It’s made the news before for its owner’s inclination to slap incendiary messages on the location’s roadside marquee, most recently for this bit of political commentary.

As a reporter in the Douglas/Paulding County area, I’d heard several accounts of the Georgia Peach Museum from staff writers and stringers on slow days around the news desk. The lore was that it had been a topless bar or strip club or some such, and to run the impolite operation out of business, the local municipal authorities had passed an ordinance prohibiting such operations. So, to maintain their business model, the bar began calling itself a museum, claimed the ta-tas were First Amendment-protected art, and went on about their day.

(Of course, if you saw this place, you’d never want to see naked the woman who’d be willing to take her clothes off in there, but that’s beside the point; I begrudge no one for getting their jollies how they will, so long as everyone involved is OK with it.)

Along with inflammatory signage, the bar also has played host to several events that included a cross in conflagration and men who have no hair.

On this particular day – a Saturday – there was a market out front. Merchants were selling large rebel banners, summoning the South to rise again and other such foolishness. I’m sure there were also knives. There are always knives.

We were on our way to our friend Kirk’s campsite out in Haralson County. His grandfather had a pretty considerable tract out there and had built a cabin/shack alongside a river that ran along the property. It was a great place to spend a night or two, out in the woods, raising all kinds of sin. (Usually, of course, we just got drunk and passed out around the fire ring, but whatever.) Kirk was leading the way in his Jeep, the windows and doors off, the wind blowing through the cab almost deafening – yet, still not so loud that he hadn’t heard Elliott bellow at the white supremacists as we passed.

And now, of course, there was this young man who was in open pursuit of us, trucking down the Haralson County blacktop.

We pulled into the dirt drive to the property. Two posts with a length of padlocked logging chain strung between them guarded entry to the long, rough, four-wheel-drive-only one lane path down to the campsite. We would park the Bonneville about halfway down, throw our gear into Kirk’s Wrangler, and ride grasping to the bars of his canoe rack for dear life the rest of the way down.

The truck pulled in behind us.

The driver was alone. Elliott and I – large figures (though I not nearly as large as Elliott’s abnormally tall, hulking mass) in long, crazed-woodman style beards with long knives clipped to our belts, climbed from the Bonneville. Kirk sprung from the Jeep and trotted up behind us.

“Jesus,” he said to Elliott. “Why did you do that, man?”

“Because I fucking hate the Klan,” Elliott growled. Couldn’t argue with that. Especially when Elliott had a knife on his hip and the number of witnesses was sparse.

Outnumbered and out-knifed, the man in the truck tossed the shifter into reverse and shot back into the road and lurched off the way he came. We unlocked the chain, drove through, and locked it back behind us.

Down at the campsite, I propped my ankle up on a stump and lit a pipe. The ankle had been rendered weak and given to twists and sprains from a break incurred in a car wreck some months earlier, and here again it was injured, leaving me invalid. This was going to be an immobile expedition for me; a chance to convalesce in nature and away from my parents’ dank, mildewy, pneumonia-inspiring basement.

Kirk, who worked as a staff photographer with me at the local daily, sorted through his assortment of lenses. Elliott rendered logs into kindling by smashing them against still-standing trees and collecting the splintered pieces that flew off. Seriously.

Then, Kirk said he wanted to take his canoe down the river a little ways and take some pictures of frogs.

“I’ll go take pictures of frogs with you, Kirk,” Elliott volunteered. It was a weird thing for a man his size who had just spent the better part of two hours beating trees into toothpicks to say, granted, but that was how he wanted to spend the close of day, and I wouldn’t begrudge him that.

He and Kirk took a canoe down the river, well out of site and earshot, leaving me at the campsite, alone with my thoughts. And our guns. And the whisky.

And, well, I got bored.

I limped over to my bag, pulled out a large plastic handle of Passport Scotch, and limped back to my chair. I unscrewed the top and took a swig. It tasted like the last time I threw up. There was a reason for that. I took another swig. And I thought about the Ku Klux Klan.

The hours grew long and late. The shadows stretched themselves out. The light began to wane. Off in the distance, I heard two solitary, staccato gunshots. I raised my bottle in their direction.

“Goodbye, Kirk,” I said. “Goodbye, Elliott.”

Fucking Klan.

Well, I thought to myself, the fellow knew there were at least three of us. And there, he’s got two. They’re going to be looking for one more. I stood, and limp/staggered around the site. A rusted metal table stood in the campsite. I sat myself behind this, facing the direction of the gunshots. I carefully loaded each firearm, cocked it, and laid it out on the table in front of me, along with the handle of Passport. I would not go gentle into that good night if that good night would not come gentle onto me.

Twilight came. So far, I’d taken up a rifle several times, endangering nothing more than a few noisy squirrels. Then, I heard footsteps rummaging through the thick leaves on the ground. I picked up a rifle – it was only a .22, but a semi-automatic with a large reservoir of shells, it could lay down a lot of fire, quickly – and I called into the darkness as my grandfather, a military policeman during World War II, had taught me.

“Halt! Who goes there?”

Elliott and I, friends since we played 10-and-under soccer together more than a decade before, knew me very well. He knew the command sounded sharp. He also knew that they had left me alone, in the woods, with nothing but booze and guns. He’d sensed trepidation coming up on the site anyway; that I was demanding that they identify themselves was all the incentive he needed to dive face-down into the leaves.

Kirk hadn’t known me so long. “Hey!” he shouted back, “it’s just us!”

“Kirk! Identify yourself!” Elliott warned.

“Huh? Why?” Kirk asked, still strolling right up to the barrel of my rifle.

“Because he’ll shoot you,” Elliott said.

“What? No.” Kirk said. He paused. He thought quickly. “It’s Kirk and Elliott!” he shouted.

“Elliott?” I called back.

“Bob!” Kirk said, invoking Elliott’s nickname – one that would not appear on the license that some Klansmen might have removed from his corpse. Atta boy, Kirk.

I laid down my gun. “You may pass.”

We never did encounter the Klan that trip. Maybe they thought better of it. Maybe they snuck in during the night and pissed in our Passport Scotch. God knows, we wouldn’t have known any different if they had. But at least it gave us something to do as we sat up most of the night, drinking, guns across our laps, each facing a different direction, waiting for the lynch mob until daybreak.

Ah, camping is so relaxing.

Dispatches from the Road: Wanderlust

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Mountain road

Gotta’ get out there.

I’m feeling it.

I’m pacing the cage. I’m going stir crazy. Life has become a Supermax prison cell, and my insides are churning at the thought of freedom, of escape.

The sensation usually sets in with the seasons. Spring comes, and I long for the woods – a lakeside respite. Summer arrives, the beach whispers to me, “Wade in the foam.” Fall settles, and my mind begins wandering the mountain paths.

It’s not that I’ve always been a wanderer. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a homebody. I prefer a quiet drink with a friend from a shared bottle of scotch or bourbon to a rowdy club or bar. I’d rather sear my own steak and eat at my own dining room table than have one brought to me at a steakhouse. Hell, I even prefer watching Braves games from my couch than from the stands.

Still, when my news feed on Facebook begins to fill with sunny pictures of vacations and escapes, I find myself pulling harder against my harness, gnawing at my leash.

Once, I had a simple, inexpensive solution: a tent, a bag, and a buddy. Park the car by the road, lock it, grab some gear out of the back and head down into the woods across from my grandparents’ house. We’d camp beside the creek, sitting in comfortable folding chairs, smoking pipes and cigars and talking until God-knows when. The cops were called a few times, but we were on our own private property, doing nothing illegal, and they were on their way without much hassle.

Now, saddled with working 50-plus hours a week and the responsibilities of keeping up a home, I once more yearn for the utilitarian confines of the tent. I’m Thoreau in Manhattan. I need an escape.

Some of this wanderlust, too, stems from the almost two years of struggle that we’ve endured as my wife finished her master’s in nursing. Now a nurse practitioner in a clinic with normal 9-to-5 hours and every weekend off (as opposed to every other), I’m damn well ready to make use of this sudden dearth of leisure time.

Other people work hard and go play at a lake. Why can’t I? Other people are going to the beach. Why can’t I? Other people are driving up to stay overnight in the mountains. Why can’t I?

The answer had been school, work, child. Now she’s done, and I’m ready to run. I’m itching to make it happen, to put the pieces in place. Like Andy Dufresne chipping away at the walls of Shawshank, I’m ready to begin squirrelling away the methods of my freedom. Order a tent (my old one still smells of four men and desert from our 2004 cross-country jaunt). Get a sleeping bag. Buy a pair of comfortable hiking shoes, maybe some jeans for the first time since high school. Chip at the walls with a small rock hammer, haul the debris out to the exercise yard in one’s pants. Agitate.

Accept inevitability.

I’m ready to toss some stuff in the back of the ManVan and head for the hills. The leash won’t hold forever. I can’t keep pacing like this, watching the weekends erode away. I am acutely aware that life has an end. I’ve seen it happen a few times. You got to get in your laughs while you can. Get up, get done what has to get done, and get out. I’ve been patient. I’ve bided my time, plowed my rows and then some. I’s ready fuh some fun, ‘es suh.

Meanwhile, the e-mails from TripAdvisor keep popping up on my phone. Just today, one arrived with the subject line, “Great long weekend getaways.” Yeah, that’s the stuff. That’s what I’m talking about: nothing fancy, nothing contrived. Just an excuse to do something besides the laundry and the vacuuming. An out. An escape.

A few things have been scheduled. We’ve picked out a tent. We’re going to Sevierville, Tenn., next month. Great Smoky Mountains, maybe a nice little hike, something outside the cabin. Maybe see Cades Cove. Never been there before. I’ve heard it’s nice. And maybe a camping trip next month, too, if we can get our gear ordered and together.

The challenge: waiting until it’s time. And keeping the wheels spinning thereafter.

I gotta’ go. Who’s with me?

The Birds

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Cameron was having a bad day.

Slumped in a chair in Tony’s basement, he laid it all out: he got fussed out at work, was short of funds, and had just had a terrible fight with his girlfriend. To close his day, he decided to take a drive in his Jeep. Driving his Jeep, he said, made him happy. But then…

“’Bam! Bam, bam, bam!’ They were pelting the front and the side of my Jeep like little Kamikazes,” Cameron said as I entered the basement for a night of story-swapping and trip-planning.

“Cameron, what are you talking about?” I asked with great interest.

“It was terrible, Joey: I was out driving, and I saw this massive flock of birds walking around on the ground in someone’s yard off to the left,” he told me. “I thought, ‘man, that’s a lot of birds,’ and, right then, they all at once just took off like a big gray cloud. I thought they were going to fly away, but they didn’t; the whole flock just flew right out into the road.”

“Well, what’d you do?”  I asked.

“I couldn’t do anything. They were everywhere,” he said. “I just kept cringing and driving until I got through it. And then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw all these birds laying in the road. A lot of them were dead, and some were almost dead and were flopping about like fish out of water.”

Cameron with Jeep

Cameron, with his Jeep, during happier days.

“Oh that’s awful!” I said.

“Yeah, I felt really bad,” he confessed. “I still feel really bad, but there was nothing I could do. It was like they were all on a suicide mission.”

The Jeep itself was a mess of feather and smeared bird… I don’t know, bird something. Cameron described in grim detail how he heard them desperately beating against the plastic windows of the Jeep, how they’d hit with such force that he’d had to stop shortly thereafter to squeegee off his windshield and readjust the side-view mirrors.

We had all seen birds fly into a closed window, or a pet parakeet fly into a mirror because of the reflection, but we’d never heard of anything the likes of what Cameron had experienced. If I didn’t know him better I would have sworn he was making it up. The thing about Cameron, though is that he never had to make this stuff up.

Despite Cameron’s unintentional bird massacre, we had convened at Tony’s with a mission to plan our trip to Florida in two weeks, so after getting over the shock of Cameron’s incident we got down to business. We left Tony’s basement that night with the satisfaction that another quick weekend vacation had been planned and the knowledge that at least one flock of birds had been infiltrated by a featherbrained cult leader and led into mass suicide.

A few days passed and by the middle of the week Cameron and I once again found ourselves hanging out at Tony’s. As we entered the door, Tony, who was sitting at his computer to the right of us, turned to face us with a look of contained excitement on his face.

“Cameron,” he began, “what day was it that you hit that flock of birds?” He was almost giddy. And Tony’s not a man who gets giddy. It was a little creepy.

Cedar Waxwing

A cedar waxwing, during happier days.

“Saturday,” Cameron said.

“And what road were you driving on when you hit them?” Tony asked.

“Banks Mill. Why?” a concerned Cameron asked.

“Funny thing happened to me at the office the other day,” Tony said. Tony was working as a reporter for the local daily paper, the Sentinel. “I had just got in for the day, and one of the photographers started talking to one of the other reporters about a ‘bird story.’ So, I asked them about this bird story. Seems someone found a massive collection of dead birds along Banks Mill Road on Saturday. The health department is investigating.”

“Really?” I said, not too surprised. This was at the time that the danger of the West Nile Virus to elderly people was a popular news story in Georgia, because the disease is spread by mosquitoes and if there’s two things Georgia has, it’s peaches and mosquitoes.

“Yeah, well, you know one sign that West Nile may be present in an area is finding birds that have died from being bitten by infected mosquitoes,” Tony said.

“Yeah I’ve heard of that,” Cameron said.  “What about it?”

“Well, you see, when you find a dead bird, you’re supposed to report it to the health department, so that they can check it out to see if the bird died of West Nile or not,” Tony said.  “So, you might could imagine the sheer terror one might face upon finding a total of 19 dead birds in one’s yard.”

“Are you saying that…,” I started before Tony interrupted me.

“I’m saying that when I was at the office today, one of our reporters was checking out a story about someone finding 19 dead cedar waxwings on Banks Mill Road,” Tony said.

We all started laughing.  “It can’t be,” I said.

“When did they find them?” Cameron asked.

“Saturday,” Tony chuckled. “I just searched on the Internet for a picture of a cedar waxwing. Is this the bird that flew into your Jeep, Cameron?”

“Yeah, that’s them.” Cameron started giggling.

“Like I said, when you find one dead bird it’s a scare, but 19 is a crisis,” Tony said. “Someone probably came outside and saw all those dead birds and just freaked the hell out. They’re urging old people and children to stay inside if they live near the area where those birds were found.”

“Did you tell your co-worker that those birds committed suicide into the side of your friend’s vehicle?” I asked, knowing that as mischievous as Tony was that he definitely didn’t tell his coworker.

“I thought about it, but the guy said that the workers had already sent the birds off to the University of Georgia to determine the cause of death,” Tony said with a sadistic grin. “They held a press conference. I guess the autopsy results will come back with blunt force trauma as the cause of death?”

The thought of professional public health workers carefully collecting the massacre in little plastic baggies, marking them and sending them to a laboratory made me smile. The likely reaction of the biologist who would determine that all 19 of these birds sent in from Douglas County had been simply hit by a car made me smile wider.

“So, I killed 19 of those little birds, huh?” Cameron said sadly.

Always the optimist, Tony knew just how to cheer Cameron up. “Yeah, but look on the bright side: you single-handedly caused the largest West Nile virus scare this county has ever seen.”

 

Prologue

Driving to Panama City Beach for our weekend away, stopping for one of the many fill-ups the glorified tractor that is a Jeep requires, we spied something peculiar in the springs inside the front wheel well of Cameron’s vehicle. The three of us knelt beside the Jeep, peering at the grayish mash jammed between the coils.

“No way,” Cameron said.

“Awesome,” I said.

“Heh,” said Tony. “That means it was an even 20.”

 

Note:  While searching online for pictures of cedar waxwings to give an accurate description of the birds for this story, I came across a great many articles depicting the habits of the little gray birds. Cedar waxwings are renowned for their voracious appetite and a tendency to eat fermented fruit and berries. When a bird weighing only a few ounces gets a belly full of fermented berries, well, they have trouble flying in a straight line — or just flying at all. 

According to the state of Georgia’s health department on West Nile testing of birds in 2005: “Cedar waxwings, which are never positive, were the third most frequently submitted bird. This bird usually dies from drunken flying into windows or is found dead from alcohol poisoning from eating fermented berries.”

Maybe Cameron won’t feel so bad when he finds out that the birds were FUI (flying under the influence).

Hoteled

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The view from my room on the 14th floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel Atlanta - Ravinia

I am writing from the 14th floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel Atlanta – Ravinia. I know that’s what it’s called because the little box with the ethernet cable on the desk before me says that’s what it’s called. And I am paying $10 a day for the privilege of writing and posting this blog.

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Our room at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta -- Ravinia

I am here for a two-and-a-half-day review course my wife is taking before she takes her boards to become what I’ve begun calling a “full bird” nurse practitioner. We don’t live far away – but far enough that we wouldn’t want to drive in each morning to be at the hotel at 7; besides, we were able to get a very reasonable rate on rooms through Orbitz.

From the 14th floor – the “club level,” it turns out, though my placement on this prestigious level was more luck-of-the-draw than design – I have a view of office parks, a walking trail that, I’ve found, meanders to said office parks, and from between the office parks, a distant horizon, upon which I can watch neither sunrises nor sunsets, because my room faces north.

As are all things I encounter, it’s been a helluva stay.

High and Dry

Check-in was excellent. Check-in technically is not until 3 p.m., but we showed up at 7 a.m. for the course to start. I expected to entertain myself sleeping in the back of my minivan and sitting on a bench outside reading, but just to try I went ahead and asked if I could check-in. The registration desk was extremely helpful and polite, went ahead and allowed me to check-in early, and saved me a tremendous amount of loitering around the premises until 3.

Bathroom

The bathroom was nice. Except for the whole "not having water" thing.

As my wife attended her class, I hauled our suitcase and toiletry bag from the ManVan to the room and unpacked things. I tested the commode, and found it in excellent working order.

At around 10 that morning, my wife came up to see the room and help me make lunch plans. I found a Five Guys burgers nearby, and we placed our order online. About an hour later, I left to pick up lunch and bring it back to the room.

The address for Five Guys wasn’t found in our TomTom (of course), but I remembered well enough where it was. My memory did not serve me correctly. I found myself lost in the vicinity of Ashford-Dunwoody and Mt. Vernon roads. Long story short, I found the restaurant, got the food, and came back to the hotel.

Back in the room, my wife came up and washed her hands, saying we didn’t have a lot of water pressure. I knew that to be untrue, having used the facilities not an hour before. But, as I went to wash up before lunch, I found her description to be accurate; indeed, the water had slowed to a trickle.

A short while after lunch, it stopped altogether. But, not before I did what people occasionally have to do after a meal. I found the water had stopped when I went to flush the toilet.

I sat for almost five hours in a hotel room with a full toilet and no water with which to flush it. No water to drink, none to wash hands, or take one of those nice, long, super-hot hotel showers, what with their endless supply of hot water. I called down to the front desk to make sure that it would be restored soon, and the clerk told me that “engineering had messed something up,” and that it’d be back on “shortly.” Shortly is never shortly enough when you’re stuck in a hotel room with a bowl full of excrement.

Hair

At first, I thought this was a stray pencil mark on the door to the bathroom, too. It's not. It's a hair, at about eye level. And it's neither mine nor my wife's.

At last, I turned on the faucet and it sounded like water wanted to come out. I figured there was probably a lot of air in the pipes, given how long the water was off and that we were very nearly at the highest point in the hotel. I figured I’d do the engineering guys a favor and leave my tap on until an undisturbed flow of water was able to come out.

With the faucet in the sink and shower gurgling, and with nothing better to do, I finally just lay down on the bed and read until I dozed off. When I awoke, I was pretty sure that my wife had come back to the room and was taking a shower. I can’t say why precisely I thought this, except that I was asleep and I’m not at my most rational when I’m asleep, but that’s what I thought, and I figured she’d wake me up when she was done, and so went back to sleep.

Stuck Underground

Parking was a problem. The hotel has a three-level underground parking deck. It also hosts large conferences and seminars, like the one my wife was attending, and has nearly 500 guest rooms. Three floors of subterranean parking are insufficient.

Returning with lunch from Five Guys, I occupied the last available space in the deck, way down underground on the last level. It was a narrow one, wedged between an SUV and a concrete support. But, my options being limited, I took it, and backed in the minivan.

I tried to open the driver’s side door, and the gap permitted, even as it rested against the cement column, was insufficient for any human being to exit. We’re talking about a four-inch gap here. It wasn’t happening. And I was even closer on the passenger’s side with the SUV. So, I gathered my sack of burgers, my wife’s sweet tea (Five Guys were out of lids, so it was just a cup of tea), and slid open the back passenger’s side door and wedged my fat ass out and in between the van and SUV. I had to fold in my rearview mirror to make it past. Got stuck a couple of times. It was bad.

The Pharmacy and the Old Hag

When I woke up from my nap, the water roaring in the bathroom, I had one conscious thought: deodorant. I’d neglected to pack any. Nor a razor.

ViewAtNight

The view from our hotel room at night.

Friday night, after her seminar let out for the evening, my wife and I went to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, then promptly got lost going to a movie. In need of a place to turn around, I fortuitously pulled into a CVS Pharmacy. Huzzah!

Leaving my wife to work out directions with Google Maps, I dashed inside for a pack of cheap razors and some deodorant.

There was nothing spectacular about the pharmacy. I found my deodorant, my razors, and proceeded to the checkout. As I sat my things on the counter and the clerk reached for them to ring them up, an old woman stepped beside me and unloaded an armful of Ricola cough drops and Dr. Scholl’s insoles on top of my order.

I looked down at the old woman and said, “You know I’m not paying for these, right?”

She didn’t answer, but asked the clerk where she could find mouthwash. The clerk told her to wait a moment, please. The clerk rang up my order and I fumbled with my debit card to pay, and stood there dumbly while the woman behind me kept firing off questions. Finally, the clerk interrupted her to tell me the card reader was asking if I’d like any money back.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m a little distracted. Where I’m from, people don’t usually go and drop an armful of crap on top of your items.”

“I’m not bothering you!” the old woman said.

“Back up, hag,” I muttered.

“You’re rude,” she said after a pause.

“Yeah,” I said. I stepped toward her a little, standing over her. “I’m the worst man you’re going to meet all night.”

She backed up. I took my sack, thanked the clerk, and walked out.

Other Strokes of Tony Luck

There are, of course, other little things that had to happen during my stay so far, including…

Bug

These little guys were on the wall in the morning to greet us

  • We stayed on one of the “Club Levels,” which was purely a stroke of luck at check-in that that’s what they gave me. Alas, though this level was intended to be an ornate and exclusive sanctuary, it afforded no working ice machine. (I thought this could be owed to the whole no water thing, but hours after the water came back on, there was still no ice.) I spotted a maintenance guy on our level, presumably checking out the water problem, and mentioned to him that the ice machine was on the fritz, too. He shrugged and said, “OK.”
  • Noise! Although this hotel heavily promoted its “quiet zone” policy, I awoke Saturday morning to what sounded like someone pressure washing the adjoining room. Now, I would take this back completely, because the noise may well have been from an adjacent lot, but it really sounded like someone on the premises was pressure washing, giving the periodic roar, as of a hose being turned against a surface, back and forth, and I think it was rather related to the reforestation they were doing in the lobby that morning. The place is like a jungle.
  • Cable television, we had. A directory of all the channels, we didn’t. And we didn’t have some local channels, like WSB, either, it turned out, which was odd. There was an HBO guide on the nightstand, but search though I did (I was in the room for DAYS), I could find no HBO. Watched a lot of CNN, though. Enough to drive a man to jump off the faux balcony the room has, which really only serves to obstruct the view and, I guess, look architecturally interesting from outside or something.

In summary, I can’t say this is the worst hotel in the area, because I haven’t stayed in any others near here, nor can I say that it’s the worst I’ve ever stayed in, because it’s not. All in all, I wouldn’t say it was a bad stay. I sat outside in the garden behind the hotel and smoked my pipe, enjoyed an extremely comfortable hotel room, enjoyed reasonably friendly staff (the bellhop stand was especially polite, always smiling and greeting me when I passed), and enjoyed a pretty neat view compared to what I get at home.