May 24, 2001
Two and a half months had passed since my last journey and I had decided it was time. The desire to travel is ever present and intense in the heart and soul of the cable salesman. Much like the service he provides he must subject himself to the spice of life. What better place than the Deep South? It is called the “Deep” South due to the area’s fascination with bass guitar, Barry White and swimming pools without shallow ends.
Well, what really brings me here is the wedding between my good friend from my days in Ireland, Ben Gunsberg and Andrea Melnick. The wedding is to be held in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and due to the city’s proximity to my brother Sean’s home in Atlanta, I decided to fly to Atlanta today and drive my brother’s jeep to Tuscaloosa on Saturday. I then plan to drive back Monday to Atlanta and fly home Tuesday.
Again I found myself in the gate area gazing upon the East Boston wonders and the wonder that is the Mary Kay poster-child flight attendant that went on a tour of a perfume factory, strayed from the tour group, tripped and fell into a vat of their most potent, skankiest potion and was fished out three days later only in time to make it to the tanning salon and hair stylist for highlights. And don’t even get me started on the women. Once in the plane, I found myself sitting next to Pete G. who is a runner from a local running club that isn’t the one that I’m on. We exchanged in delightful conversation about running and Atlanta’s seemingly endless supply of beautiful women. For some reason we never got to the beautiful men. Oh well, it’s probably better that way.
I headed through the airport and to Atlanta’s premier public transportation system, MARTA. My brother Sean picked me up at the Chamblee station and we made a quick stop at his house where I admired his most recent home improvements. “Well done Number One,” I thought to myself. In fine Coxen style, he quickly had a female companion by the name of Lauren that was actually willing to meet us for dinner at Apres Diem where we feasted upon fruit and cheese and other individual medleys. Mine was a delicious salmon and pasta affair.
Lauren was a friend of Sean’s from work and proved to be sharp as a tack and smart as a whip (ouch!). I often found my garrulous nature to be subdued as her appetite for conversation made itself known to the new brother. But I do say I was a better man for it as she imparted both human and feminine wisdom (the later of which I so desperately lack) upon us as we moved to an Italian restaurant for drinks as we watched Italian men prepare pizza ingredients for the next day. Some random guy at the bar who several times spontaneously erupted into authentic Italian singing fits also entertained us.
With this, we walked Lauren to her home and went back to Sean’s house.
May 25, 2001
After waking, my brother and I made provisions to go for a run through Kennesaw Mountain that is located 20 miles northwest of the city. But before this, we decided to begin the day at an incredible casual restaurant by the name of the Flying Biscuit. On the way out of the house, my brother decided to videotape the Giro d’Italia, which is a three-week cycling event through Italy. Just like our father, he saw it necessary to leave the television on as it taped the program (although my father would go to the next step and hang a towel or newspaper over the screen as not to see what was being taped). As we were leaving, I said to him, “You know, I think you can turn the TV off when you tape a program.” “Yah, I know,” he replied “but I don’t trust it.” Wow, I thought, even four years of a Brown University Education and eight years of a career as a software developer will not overcome the tendencies to replicate often-illogical behavior of one’s father. But hey, I can’t point fingers. I too eat over the kitchen sink, would rather be punched in the face than have to talk to someone in the morning and someday I also will be trying to break off a piece of frozen lasagna with a hammer and chisel.
In any event, we made it to the Flying Biscuit and savored some non-airborne and creative versions of French toast. Afterwards, we headed to the mountain and enjoyed a lovely five-mile run through some trails that surrounded the mountain. I later learned that Kennesaw Mountain gets its name from an old folk song that women used to sing about the men they would be courting. The name of the song is “Can He Saw?” and allow me to give you some of the lyrics:
Can he saw, can he hammer, can he build me a shack?
Is he strong, is he brave, can he eat a pancake stack?
Does he bathe? No he doesn’t, then he can be my man.
Does he fight, does he cuss, does he have a farmer’s tan?
Well the song became so popular among the natives that people started to call their mountain Kennesaw. Due to the fact that these particular people couldn’t spell to well and didn’t much study beyond kindergarten, they erroneously spelled “Can” as “Ken”. The rest just sort of happened.
On our way home, we stopped at a Whole Food Mart where I encountered, hands down, the best smoothie of my life and one of the best salad bars I’ve subjected my to senses to in recent times. Once home, showers and relaxation were the order of the afternoon as once again, my brother showed his social rallying skills as he made plans for us to meet some friends at the Treehouse for dinner and drinks.
Upon entering the charming deck area of the restaurant, we were greeted by one of Sean’s friends and former landlord, Mike Curtin. Accompanying this fellow marathoner and triathlete was his lovely wife Chris, also an athlete herself. Sean used to live in a house that Mike Curtin had owned a few years prior and one that my friend Matt Doughty and I had the pleasure of visiting four years ago as we were driving across the country. I recently learned that Mike had moved out of that house and into another nearby. After asking my brother why, he told me that much like George Jefferson, he moved on up to a larger house. I thought that it might have been that his former next-door neighbors kept every object that most people would keep inside of their house in their backyard. If my words dare to be published someday, I will include a picture that I took of the backyard splendor during my stay.
While we settled into the evening, I pursued the awkward task of ordering a “Doggie Style Ale” from an attractive waitress. “Was that hard for you to order that beer?” she asked with a smile. “Yes” I responded “Yes it was.” She was thankful, though, that I did not ask for the beer in the tone of her more immature clients. With that done, we enjoyed more fine dining and conversation that ranged from track and running workouts to the all-pleasing and entertaining stories of my present and former coworkers. Sadly there is not enough space or time here to go through them and besides, these comical tales must be doled out on a case-by-case basis. The evening drew to a close and we said our good-byes.
After a long and pleasant sleep, I carried myself into the kitchen and enjoyed a blueberry muffin. My brother and I then began a search for a suitable track that I could do a time trial on for the mile. I performed my usual pre-race rituals partnered with a common case of nerves. I surveyed this track we found at Oglethorpe University and it seemed just fine so I put on my racing waffles and headed for the starting line where Sean would read off my splits.
I ended up running a 4:37, which perhaps wasn’t so bad considering I had no one to run with but I was troubled by the fact that it hurt as much as it did. My splits were 66 high, 67 high, 69 and 73. Not exactly a well run race but something to learn from.
Back at the house, I got my things together, had a quick lunch and hit the road in my brother’s Jeep Wrangler. Three and a half-hours later, I found myself in Tuscaloosa and promptly checked myself into the Sheraton Four Points Hotel. I settled in, showered, got dressed and headed for Café Venice for the Celebration Dinner. Once entering, I discovered I knew no one and prepared for a long torturous evening but I should have known better. After meeting up with Ben’s parents and Ben himself, I felt as comfortable as an artificially intelligent robot in a show about outer space. He graciously introduced me to his former college, high school and work friends. I soon found myself talking to a group of people of the lovely variety.
After finishing a salad, I decided to go to the men’s room where I encountered the token odd person of any journey. I entered a stall as this fellow was occupying the only urinal. Although I could not see him, I could hear him repeatedly flush the mechanism with the same rhythm and ferocity of that of a machine gun. While he did this, he would grunt and say “Yup” like so: “Yup…uh hmm…yup…yup, uh hmm…yup”. As I headed for the sink, I was faced with a man that had scruffy hair, a baseball hat, a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He was not with our party and the rest of the restaurant was closed to the public so he was not a patron. Nor did he look like an employee. I have no idea where he came from. He simply continued to mumble as he walked out of the bathroom never looking at me and I did not see him for the rest of the evening.
Fortunately, this incident did not spoil my appetite as I began to the school the buffet table. Dessert followed while we were entertained by a slideshow that carried them Ben and Andrea from their birth to present day. I was even allowed to stand and say a few kind words about the couple. The evening then drew to a close and I made my way to the hotel.
After waking and securing a quick bite to eat at the Atlanta Bread Company, I hit the poolside and casually wrote down some of the previous day’s events. Time passed quickly and I was growing tired of listening to the snoring hairy fat man that had fallen asleep in the strong Alabama sun so I was forced to leave and prepare for the main event.
My entrance into the wedding grounds was nothing short of comical as I drove between the area where the ceremony would be held and the area where the wedding party originated. As I approached, I thought I was driving through the ceremony in progress as there were people on both sides of the street and I was running a tad late. I began to slow down as I saw Ben and thought that he was going to cross the street and start the procession with the others. I don’t know what I did but first gear was no where to be found so I began to rock in the jeep like John Travolta on a mechanical bull in “Urban Cowboy”. The best part was that the majority of the party and guests were looking at me and thought I was trying to peel out. I felt about as cool as a forest fire.
With that behind me, I sat down and enjoyed a ceremony given by a woman preacher in front of a large Magnolia tree. I feel cool saying “Magnolia tree” but I would have had no idea what the heck type of tree it was if someone didn’t tell me. Left to my own devices, I would have called it poison ivy or “living wood”. During the ceremony, several people came to the front and read poems. This may seem strange to some but when one realizes that Ben is currently studying poetry at the University of Alabama and has befriended many poets, this artistic and literary display made sense. In fact, there were even poems the night before and in the reception that followed. If the weekend was likened to a bowl of cereal and the poems represented marshmallows, we would have been dealing with a very sugary bowl of Lucky Charms. How desperately I yearned to recite my “Can He Saw?” piece before this tortured group of thinkers and feelers.
With the ceremony completed, we moved into the Bryce Mansion where we enjoyed a pleasant and relaxed reception that was not bogged down with annoying wedding traditions. Nor were there any horrifying family rituals to be endured: “Okay everyone, make way for Grandpa Wilson as he performs the crazy Wilson Family Alabama Bikini Dance!” But when there was no garter belt thrown, I cussed to myself, “Damn it! I wore this flypaper dress suit for nothing!”
Once the dining finished, a talented jazz quartet consisting of guitar, stand-up bass, saxophone and drums entertained us all including Ben’s younger brother Paul who sat in on drums for several songs and displayed his brilliant chops. So fantastic and aggressive were their rhythms that one couple was swept away by the music and then thrown to the ground as they soon found themselves lying together on the floor, wondering what happened. This hardened group of musicians must have played through many bar room brawls for they did not flinch during the episode.
If there was one disappointment, it would be that what I am about to tell you produced no lively outcomes. During the reception, I learned that we were on the grounds of a mental institution although no one would ever know due to the surrounding serenity. How I had hoped one of the residents would have found his or her way into the mansion to offer a toast. “Well, having Lucille Ball and that man from the Blistex commercial trapped inside my body has taught me a few things about gypsies and moon pies. The first would have to be that there are many social benefits to discovering a way of splicing together the DNA of a praying mantis and a toilet seat. Meeeeeooooowwwww!”
Darkness came and I departed. Once in my room, I changed my clothes and headed to room 358 for some easy going, late night action with Ben’s fiends. I enjoyed more pleasant conversation and then returned to my room.
I awoke promptly at 9AM in order to meet Andrea’s brother Ted in the lobby. From there we jogged over to the University of Alabama track where we geared up for a rigorous track workout. Ted, a triathlete and a gentleman, wished to join me in my workout in order to learn some sprinting techniques. I offered my humble advice which he showed interest in. We then indulged in six high-paced 300-meter sprints as the southern heat toyed with us from time to time. Yes, it toyed with us much like a lumberjack from Kennesaw Mountain would toy with a short stack of pancakes.
On the way back to my room I made an attempt to remove some lactic acid from my muscles with a “Calgon take me away” style dip in the pool. I then gathered my things, checked out and made a pit stop at Ben and Andrea’s. We exchanged tender good-byes and I was off to Atlanta.
This might be a good time to throw in a really strange social phenomenon that exists in Tuscaloosa. As many of you may know, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who had an incredible career, coached the football team at University of Alabama and passed away in 1983. They have a road named after the man and a museum dedicated to him. Now all of that is fine and I have no problem with it but some of the locals took it too far. It seems Paul Bryant had this one hat that he like to wear so some of his fans use this as a symbol of their reverence. My hotel had a replica of the hat made from crystal while a convenience store had a ten-foot painting of it on the side of the building. Let’s just hope the next legendary coach of the football team doesn’t decide to wear really unique underwear during his career.
In any event, I arrived at my brother’s house and enjoyed a cookout with him and his friend Paul. And to keep it real, Paul flew in his buddy Scott from New York. We sat on his deck; listened to the Buena Vista Social Club CD and allowed a familiar liquid to make its way to our stomachs along with some fine grilled items. We soon discovered an inverse relationship between the level of our immaturity and the level of Sean’s property value. All I know is that I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. Was it Paul’s fake lisp? Was it the sweet potato pie? Was it the fact that that I was wearing a tank top and my racing waffles? Or maybe it was the fact that we knew that Sean’s neighbor who is a sweet old woman and likes to show him where on her body she got a terrible case of shingles was merely a stone’s throw away and still had only the structural metal pipe framework of a shack in her backyard? Whatever it was, I relished in this state of comical inebriation.
Paul and Scott then pulled themselves out of the evening’s madness while Sean and I secured another twelve-pack of which we barely had two. When it comes to sitting in a comfortable chair at night in front of the TV, Sean is an old man all the way. I soon found myself drinking beer next to a gently snoring man while listening to some snooty English sportscaster talk smack about some young punk cyclist who overzealously shot ahead for the lead in the Giro d’Italia. It was time for bed.
Sean woke me up at 8:15 so that I could go to work with him and take his jeep. I went to his office, said hello to Lauren and headed out as Sean went into a meeting. As I got in the jeep, I realized that I forgot his keys so I went back to the office and found myself locked out and with everyone in the meeting, there was no one to let me in so I rang the doorbell, left a flaming bag of icky stuff right outside the door and ran away. Actually, I rang the doorbell and was greeted by a no-nonsense Asian man who didn’t really care to hear that I was Sean’s brother, I forgot his keys and that when I drive Sean’s jeep, I pretend that it is Kit and that I am Michael Knight and that it will be so cool when I attempt to “turbo boost” over the Chatahoochee River.
With keys in hand, I drove over to the Chatahoochee River for a five-mile run and then to the other location of the Flying Biscuit for some organic oatmeal pancakes and turkey bacon even though I clearly requested the turkey and sage sausage. To digest, I meandered through the freakish delights provided by Little Five Points and then drove back to my brother’s. I gathered my things and drove to the MARTA station and made my way to the airport.
Once on the plane, I found myself sitting next to a guy that does something that I don’t remember and a woman that decided to still live in the Boston area because she wants to see the completion of the Big Dig. I shook my head and thought there would be a greater chance of finding humor in an episode of the “Golden Girls”.
As I entered the gate area, my good friend and chauffeur, Thomas Hoffrage, once again greeted me. He finally complied with my earlier request and this time showed up dressed in a suit. The reason for this, I told him, is that I like my drivers to look presentable. You only feel as good as you look, I went on to say. To be truthful, his elegant attire was due to his recent departure from a work function.
Once in South Boston, I gathered a few things and made my way to my parent’s house in Boxborough to tend to some house sitting matters that required my attention. On the way out, I tried my hardest to avoid Thomas’ scathing glance that said, “So that’s how it is, love ‘em and leave ‘em!” But I truly believe the South felt the same way about my quick, romantic, hot arrival and departure from its luring clutches. It must be realized, though, that such is the way of the lone wolf that is the commercial cable salesman. Good night!