Trip to Atlanta 2002

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.

Trip to the South 2001

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.

May 26th 

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.

May 27th

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.

May 28th

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.

May 29th

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!