January 17, 2002
And so it begins…
Like most things good and important, the origins of them are often traced back to a bar. The existence of our country owes much to the carefully drawn out plans that took place not in some boring, stuffy meeting room or government building but rather the cozy and intimate atmosphere of a bar or tavern. True, the times of which I speak were during the Revolutionary War, but the spirit remains.
My trip to Atlanta with Karl and his lovely fiancée Jill was born in Crossroad’s café located on the reservoir’s edge in Acton, MA. It was there I learned that Jill was going to be involved in a two-week audit with Liberty Mutual in Atlanta. Due to the efficiency of the three of us, the trip was practically planned out completely before my glass, which was fortunate enough to hold an enlightening pint of Wachusett IPA, returned to the table. A week later, the three of us found ourselves in the Burren with members of my family. The Burren is a pub located in Davis Square, Somerville and deserves great amounts of flowery language to justly describe it but in the interests of time, paper and patience, I will resist the urge. Our session at the Burren and the communication of our Southern intentions was enough to convince my older sister Jennifer to join us along with her daughter Alexandra of 41/2 years. This trip would not only allow my sister to observe the subtle differences in my behavior that exist once south of the Mason-Dixon Line but it would more importantly allow her, my niece and myself to see my brother Sean in the city he has called home for the past eight years.
The day of departure was a nice day besides receiving some nasty feedback from one of the major Boston hotels whose cable television account I manage. It seems that their account was shut off for non-pay the night before and the guests were forced to delight themselves with the humble pleasures of the Pay Per View Guide channel as this is the default channel when we shut down the converter boxes that control the hotel’s channels. I apologized until my lips and tongue were dry and cracked and felt bad about what happened but holy cow, it’s as if we sucked out the air from all the guestrooms and forced their patrons to watch a three-hour tape of Al Gore giving a talk on dust.
Upon wrapping up things at 40 Marine Road, Apartment 3, I called a taxi and made my way to the Federal Courthouse where I was to meet Karl at 4 PM sharp. The taxi pulled up at 3:57 and within seconds, I saw the discoverable mystery that is Karl coming towards us on the footbridge that came from Atlantic Avenue. I told the taxi driver that due to Karl’s German ancestry, such prompt moments were of no surprise to me. On the way to the airport, we discussed the marvels of leaving early from work and once inside, we passed through security, enjoyed a Sam Adams Lager and boarded the plane. Due to booking confusion, we were forced to sit in separate parts of the plane.
Once on the ground, Karl and I picked up our silver Dodge Stratus after wisely avoiding a poorly executed flimflam attempt by one of the agents behind the counter. They offered Karl a 20% reduction on an upgrade to a mid-sized vehicle. Karl declined the offer and when we got to the lot and requested our economy car, the representative scratched her head and said, “Why do they keep sending down paperwork for economy cars when they know we are out of them?” The final result was that they had to give Karl the mid-sized vehicle anyways at the economy price and should never have tried to squeeze more dollars out of him. Not realizing that they were dealing with the investment industry powerhouse, the feeble blow was deflected and Karl reigned the victor.
As we neared the hotel, we pulled into a Waffle House where I ordered a BLT and salad to go. I would have enjoyed my food in the restaurant but one look at the clientele told me that I would need at least 8 cylinders under the hood of my car to fit the rigorous social expectations of this authentic crowd.
Karl and I parked the car in the hotel lot and made our way to the lobby/gatehouse area where we found Jill waiting for us. She did not have to wait for us in the lobby nor did she have to buy the micro-brewed beer that greeted us in the refrigerator but to understand Jill’s nature is to understand the season of spring; full of life, well received by its audience and always causing happiness. With that, we said our good nights and slumbered.
January 18, 2002
It was a bit gray and dismal but it was a start to the day, nonetheless. Without the foolishness of a shower, Karl and I moved quickly to the Gatehouse where we encountered a free breakfast buffet. Scrambled eggs, biscuits, fresh fruit, yogurt, self-made waffles and juice were the order of the morning. On the way out, Karl and I practiced our rogue breakfast techniques by carrying some fruit beyond the legal limits of the designated breakfast arena. Since I was raised right, I know to ignore the establishment’s tendency to frown upon this action.
When my family (six children and two parents) drove to Florida, we would stay in a hotel one or two nights. Instead of practicing the natural routine of breakfast, my father grabbed a cup of coffee and we immediately hit the road. Hours later and completely famished, we finally pulled over to a Shoney’s Big Boy and our family would absolutely wail on their unsuspecting buffet. We ate well beyond the logical and physical boundaries, as we knew not the next time we would ever stop for anything again. It was there I learned the tactics of the extended buffet.
We returned to the room, tidied things up, called my brother Sean for possible ideas to entertain ourselves and decided to visit one of my old friends, Kennesaw Mountain. On the way, we broke into my brother’s house and stole some active wear from his room. While I did this, Karl enjoyed one of my industry’s finest products: digital cable, all of the splendid benefits of a satellite without making your house look like a moon base. Clothed for hiking, we drove to the mountain and hiked to the top. Karl’s insatiable hunger for knowledge lead him to read all of the historical excerpts along the trail that described important Civil War battles.
From there, we made our way to my brother’s place of work where we listened to my brother basically let us know why he is important enough to have an office. Actually, he touched upon the finer points of his dealings with his company’s logistical software. His face didn’t show it, but I knew deep inside, somewhere, Karl’s German and efficient heart was like a giddy schoolboy. This lead into a quick lunch and after dropping my brother off, Karl and I walked along the Chattahoochee River and through some of the trails nearby. It didn’t strike us at first, but all of the sudden we finally realized how weird we might have looked. Karl and I wear very similar eyeglasses. They boast of a refined retro black plastic-rimmed style. If one of your buddies wears them, you might think, “Hey, those glasses are kind of neat. They look good on him.” But when two dudes are walking through the woods, unchaperoned, wearing distinctly designed, duplicate glasses, unfavorable questions are sure to arise. We got out of this area before anything bad happened.
After this, Karl went to his fisherman’s outlet store he had been longing to experience and I picked up my brother. Sean and I made our way to the airport where we gathered my sister Jen and her extremely excited daughter Alexandra who could not find enough words to express her fascination with my brother’s jeep. This is the same jeep that only a couple of hours ago, I was putting on a comedic show by inadvertently driving over a curb in the parking garage under my brother’s office building. I was in the process of shaking off the dust from my standard transmission driving abilities and finding an elusive exit from the garage and simply ran over this curb. The impact was not tremendous. The sensation created could be compared to that of being struck in a bumper car by another bumper car that was driven by a well-fed couple. At the time, Karl was following me close behind in his rental car and even though I looked through a somewhat unclear plastic window and then into an unclean rear-view mirror and then through his windshield, I could still detect wildly smiling features. It seems I am destined to make an ass of myself when behind the wheel of this frisky mechanical creature.
In any event, Sean, Jen, Alexandra and I made it back to my brother’s house after trying to feed the voraciously curious mind of my niece. Being in her midst reminds me how incredibly inquisitive a child can be and how dumb an adult can be. I don’t think I provided one decent answer to the plethora of abstract queries she put before me. But her attention shifted as we made it to Sean’s house and she ran from room to room with a wide smile.
Sean and Jen then brought her to a nearby park while I catnapped and cleaned up which, upon my niece’s touching my unacceptable whiskers and following demand, included a shave. I then called Karl and Jill where we planned to join forces like a successful superhero team and tackle the Atlanta night. Before they arrived, we dined on California Pizza Kitchen’s finest. And speaking of superheroes or superheroines, when Karl and Jill arrived, they found a free-spirited young woman digesting her dinner by running through the house in her underwear; not quite Wonderwoman, she seemed more to be Wunderwearwoman. Amused, but sober, we decided it was time to move ourselves to Gordon Bierches where we met one of Jill’s former collegiate roommates. Two rounds later, the three of us left and began our journey to an English bar by the name of Hand In Hand that was tucked away in the heart of the Highlands. Although we were equipped with adequate directions, we somehow managed to get lost. I felt pathetic. True, we forgot our map but I still should have been able to provide more direction since I have been to Atlanta several times. My failure to find our bar became paramount in my mind when I thought of Luke Skywalker. He was able to navigate his X-Wing fighter through asteroid fields, planets and other obstacles of space with not much more than the help from some feisty, whiny trash can whose help was probably less than that of a cub scout drop out and still he was able to haphazardly bump into a two-foot creature in the middle of a planet-sized swamp. It didn’t stop me from drinking but the thought brought bitterness to my beer. After enjoying our beers and delicious conversation on the outside patio on this relatively comfortable, southern January evening, we delivered ourselves back to our respective places of sleep.
January 19, 2002
Upon waking to the sounds of my niece’s busy footsteps, I promptly ate and called America’s favorite couple, Karl and Jill. Sean, Jen, Alexandra and I drove to an Imax theater where we met up with Karl, Jill, Sean’s friend Stephanie and her two children Meredith and Lizzy. The feature presentation was “The Lost World”. It touched upon the delicate balances that exist in ecosystems throughout the world and allowed Harrison Ford to add “Deep, Meaningful, Planet-Conscious Narrator Man of fine Imax Cinematic Educational Offering” to his resume. At first, we planned to view “Majestic White Horses” until I gently slapped some sense into my brother. It can be hard enough for a single guy like myself to avoid gay rumors. I need not create evidence that could be used against me in a court of heterosexuality.
Hungry from our intake of knowledge and from witnessing a boy and a girl dressed in purple superhero outfits in the lobby with the titles of “Bible Man” and “Proverb Girl” on their capes, respectively of course, we decided to eat pizza at Fellinis. Adequately fed, we parted ways and returned to Sean’s house. At this point, Jen, Sean and Alexandra went to the supermarket to buy goods for a small party at Sean’s house that evening and I proceeded to crawl through one of my worst, meager track workouts in a raw, constant rain at the Catholic private high school known as Marist Academy. Back at the house, we cleaned up and made ourselves ready for a charming party of Sean’s design. The cast was as delightful and perfect as my stone-colored Banana Republic flat front pants that I was wearing.
Coming through the door were the likes of Karl, Jill, Stephanie, Mike Curtin and his wife Christine, Matt Tichelaar, Tim Binder, Tim Velleca and his wife Mimi and Paul Lawler who was the cause of much laughter on my last trip. Paul brought three things to the party: delicious strumboli of his own making, a professional and artificial lisp and a tendency to swear when he was unknowingly within earshot of my niece. After a quick verbal spanking from my sister Jen, Paul transformed his naughty word into “hiney”.
On the stereo were the smooth sounds of Miles Davis and Eva Cassidy, a fantastic female vocalist who passed away recently due to cancer but is continuing to develop an increasing fan base. As the night wore on, many of the guests began to lobby for a showing of the Patriots-Raiders game in the living room so we begrudgingly shut down the music to watch the Patriots beat the Raiders in overtime as a heavy snow covered the field. It was then brought to my attention that we were running out of beer so I hopped into my brother’s jeep; the same jeep that saw me breaking the cover to the middle storage cabinet between the two front seats on the prior day. I was a menace. I also broke a hanger that evening when I was hiding in a closet during a strategic game of “hide and seek” with my niece Alexandra. But that’s how I am. Without trying, I tend to highlight certain behavior patterns for a few days straight. Typical patterns are breaking things, beer drinking, throwing touchdown passes, working, shopping and fighting.
I returned back with Harp lager, Budweiser, Sweetwater Blue Ale (local microbrew) and Spaten Oktoberfest, which I realized may have not been the freshest choice after Mike Curtin reminded me that we were currently three months past said celebration. While we partied on, my sister Jen and Alexandra went to bed. Meanwhile, Paul, Mike, Christine and I chatted like birds in forest in Sean’s kitchen. After some time and unable to sleep, my sister, with the same free spirit of that of her daughter, casually entered the kitchen in her sleepwear in almost a trance. She stood between Paul and I and poured herself some red wine. Paul could not resist a wisecrack and opened his mouth, “Hey, is that for Alexandra?” My sister barely grumbled back at him and drew back to her room. We laughed at Paul’s inability to drum up a response from my sister and all he could say was “Yup…your sister hates me.” “Paul” I said, “She doesn’t hate you. She just…well…yah, she probably does.”
Around one in the morning, the remaining guests said farewell and Sean and I cleaned up. In case you wondered, we went to bed after that.
January 20, 2002
The four of us awoke the next morning and after breakfast, allowed Sean to show us nice, big houses in Atlanta. Unfortunately, my three companions shared an affinity for James Taylor so I was forced to endure this 30-minute musical hiccup. He’s talented and I can respect him, he’s from Massachusetts, my friend dated his daughter and he sings a song about Lowell, MA but I still can’t bring myself to a point of auditory nirvana when I hear him sing. Although my niece rocked her head back and forth to this music, I knew she would be okay because earlier that morning, without anyone’s coaxing, she walked around my brother’s house singing “Go Hammer! Go Hammer! Go Hammer!” Her singing those dynamite, soulful, hip-hop verses made me know it would all be okay.
In any event, we continued on to the Atlantic Zoo. Entertaining wildlife moments were hard to find since the cooler winter temperatures created a “hung-over” atmosphere among the animals. This didn’t stop one man from approaching my brother at the Gorilla exhibit and asking him in a southern accent, “You ever feed gum to the gorillas?”
“No” my brother replied a bit startled.
With that, the man took out some gum and launched it about 35 yards into the exhibit. The gum landed about three feet from a gorilla and upon seeing it, the gorilla moved over to the piece of gum, picked it up with his hand and put it into his mouth and began to chew. The man looked at my brother with a smile and said, “They’ll chew that all day.”
The rest of the visit was a bit tamer but still included the excitement of a humble train ride through a small section of the zoo. Confused, my niece asked me, “Uncle Chris, why is the train moving so slow?”
“Well,” I replied. “that’s because they want us to think we’re getting the most for our money.”
“Oh,” she responded.
Back at the house, some of us napped while others watched television. My brother and I decided to enjoy a pleasant, 45-minute, toxin removing run. Some quick freshening up lead to a departure to Maggianos, a fantastic chain of high quality Italian restaurants. With our hungers overly-satiated, we settled the bill, drove home and went to bed.
January 21, 2002
This day marked three important things: Martin Luther King Day, my brother Sean’s birthday and our departure from Atlanta. To end this wonderful trip appropriately, the four of us met up with Karl at one of my favorite establishments in Atlanta: The Flying Biscuit. Renown for its mastery of breakfast-oriented delights, it provided the perfect backdrop for our last meal in this relaxing yet active city. The MVP of this meal was, hands down, Karl Schneider for his bold decision to absolutely hurl caution into a 100-mph wind and order grits for the first time in his life. I realize that I often comment on Karl’s German nature but his ability to explore this pasty, Southern mess resembled that of an early American practicing their belief of Manifest Destiny and taking over new and uncharted territories. He made me proud.
After the meal, I said goodbye and thank you to my brother and traveled to the airport in Karl’s Stratus in attempts to parallel our stunning arrival. On the way, we stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank as required by the car rental company. This time around, it was Karl’s German and efficient nature that seized the moment. To our distaste, we happened to pull into one of those annoying gas stations that forces you to pay before you pump your gas. Not wanting to risk overpaying, Karl tried his best to figure out what the least amount of gas we would need to get us to the “F” line. Karl made his way to the counter, shelled out some minute amount of cash and returned to pump some gas. After he finished, he sat down in the driver’s seat.
It was an entertaining scene. On the radio played some strange station that played German opera music while Karl put the key in the ignition, turned it slightly and the both of us stared dramatically at the gas needle. As those strange German voices seemed to crescendo, the needle followed suit and the two of screamed on with voices of encouragement.
“Come on!! You can make it!! Do it! Do it! Yah…ahhh…ohhhh…damn it!!”
The needle fell noticeably short and our spirits with it. Karl had to gather together the scattered bits of his pride and face the gas man behind the counter one more time ( One of the greatest things about this moment was that as Karl was getting out of the car for the second time to buy more gas, he lightly chuckled and said, “I guess you can put this in your journal.” Yes I can Karl. Yes I can.). I was just glad that it wasn’t me that had to go back in there and say: “Hey yah, it’s me again. My friend and I are the tools that just bought a dollar’s worth of gas. Well, it appears that won’t be enough. I mean, I never imagined that one dollar of gas wouldn’t be enough! Who knew? Like, anyways, here’s two dollars for some more gas. Now I think we’ll be in business! Later.”
We finally got over this hurdle and after doing a few unplanned victory laps around the airport, we decided it was best for me to try and book an earlier flight and let Karl get lost as he tried to find the car rental return office. Forty minutes later, Karl and I met up in Concourse A and were unable to fly out early so we waited patiently for our original flight to board. Again the two of us were forced to sit apart so unfortunately I was not witness to the pristine exchange between Karl and a fellow passenger in the line to board the plane.
As this man in front of Karl was being frisked by security, this very large, overweight woman with a soulful voice turned to Karl and said, “You know, I know a way to increase security on flights.”
“How’s that?” Karl asked
“They oughta just make everybody go on naked. That way, you can’t hide nothing! Besides, if they saw me coming with no clothes, no one would bother frisking me.”
Unfortunately, there are certain moments and visions we can’t remove from our lives. They continue to weigh down our souls for the rest of time. I think I speak for Karl as well when I say that I have no dislike or inability to form a meaningful bond with someone that is fat. But for Pete’s sake, please don’t force me to picture you naked. To be honest with you, I would rather not think of most people naked. The creation of clothes was no mistake. It wasn’t just to keep us warm either. If it was just an issue of warmth, I’m sure there would be a lot more of us running around naked on the equator. There is definitely some ugliness to cover up and clothes make it happen.
Back in Boston, we waited to deplane at the gate and it was at that time that I noticed how foul the air is in a plane when it sits at the gate after a flight and the circulation is minimal. The odor is like a mixture of coffee breath, dirty laundry and a public bathroom. It forced me to move quickly off the plane and meet up with Karl out in the gate. The two of us grabbed a cab and returned to our domain of South Boston. The trip was officially over and all that was left to do was to put it into words.