Georgia – Part two: Rural Georgia (Feb 2016)

Forgive me, I let the football distract me and my Georgia series had to take a backseat. On to part two of the adventure! For those that missed part one, I was in Atlanta, you can read about that here (Read me!) but come the Sunday it was time to move on and head in to a very different side of the state.

Myself and Mella were saying goodbye to the big city of Atlanta and heading North towards her home ‘city’. I say city loosely because its most recent population estimate was a rather modest 739 people. Google and Wikipedia are both insistent that it’s a city but what constitutes awarding somewhere a city status? If you’ve got to drive 20 miles to collect a pizza because they won’t deliver, sorry America, but you’re not a city.

As we drove in to this little piece of Georgia it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. I say 750ish live here but that figure surprised me if I’m being honest, where are they living? Perhaps I just hadn’t been paying much attention whilst passing through but were there even 100 houses here? Myself and Mella ended on good terms but forgetting the company, returning to complete a city-wide census is a tempting enough reason to go back!

Perhaps there are 700+ people living here but nevertheless it is a city with little to it. There’s supposedly a city hall, which I’ve no doubt Mella probably pointed out to me, but it completely bypassed me. Nevertheless I wasn’t here to be entertained, I was here to enjoy the company and meet some of Mella’s favourite people. Plus get a little insight in to how the locals lived and see a ‘real’ side to Georgia I suppose.

Mella lives with her grandparents and with other family living closeby it wasn’t long before I was introduced to various people and beginning to appreciate some of the quirks of the South, including the accent! Perhaps I’d just got used to hearing her voice but I never felt Mella herself had an overly Southern accent but particularly when meeting her cousin, Haley, there was no disguising it! It kept me mildly amused as it was so distinct.

We didn’t do too much over the course of the week, we spent a lot of time relaxing and blitzing through Parks and Rec on Netflix (my first introduction to that and Criminal Minds). However there were still some highlights, mostly the company in truth.

One of the perks to living so rurally is it meant car journeys to do anything, even just picking up dinner. A favourite car-journey game of mine was “count the USA flags” (bonus points for the Confederation flag). The USA’s patriotism is always something that fascinates me. It’s so in your face and so contrasting to England where, sporting events aside, you rarely see the same level of patriotism. Of course it has negatives too, my border control experience (Welcome to the USA – Georgia style!) highlights that thinking America is the greatest place on Earth comes with consequences but nevertheless it was amusing to me to see an American flag every few meters on a ridiculous number of cars, houses, establishments, trees etc etc etc. If you can stick a flag on it be certain that the Americans will do it!

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Flags everywhere you look!

“Fifty flags!! We’ve only driven a couple of miles!”
Seriously, come play the same game in England. “Zero? I’ve been here two weeks!!”

Beyond the few days in Atlanta, my last visit to the US had been in 2008 (and prior) with the bulk of that time spent in Orlando. It was interesting to compare and see little traffic on the roads and pretty scenery throughout the state. I remember us taking an evening trip to pick up some pizza in Jasper which meant driving through winding icy roads, surrounded by trees before arriving in to a snowy city (population: 4,000ish).

Other trips saw us drive in to the likes of Calhoun (16,000ish) and Cartersville (20,000ish) which, whilst miles away from Atlanta’s population (500,000ish), was a little inkling of life in Georgia’s smaller cities. Mella’s home ‘city’ was far too small for my liking but it wasn’t absurd to think I could live locally. Cartersville sticks in the mind and whilst still relatively small, didn’t feel so remote from civilisation haha.

Atlanta had been a fun few days but my best memories of Georgia were a result of that famous ‘Southern hospitality’ I’d heard so much about. Not only did Mella make me feel right at home but the hospitality extended to everyone else too. Time at home saw Mella’s grandmother introduce me to my first real taste of Southern cuisine – the highlight was homemade ‘Biscuits and Gravy. Considered a Southern favourite and it was pretty tasty! Not sure it’ll be taking off in England anytime soon mind you.

Similarly Mella’s friends were also quick to welcome me in to their lives and make time to spend with us. One day saw us visit Christy, Andy and baby Ian which was a day revolving mostly around good food, including some cool little burger place – again in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

Another day saw us hang out with Brianna and visit one of Georgia’s shopping malls before checking out this cool little bar in Cartersville called Ate Track, a little rock-and-roll themed place with good food and a nice way to finish the day off.

Our final bit of social interaction saw us meet Meghan for dinner before heading back to Meghan’s to play games with Meghan and Brett. A few beers, a bit of Cards and Humanity followed by a session of Fifa between myself and Brett – accompanied with expertise Georgian commentary from the girls made for a fun evening.

The end to the trip was pretty relaxed. The weather forecast didn’t look brilliant so I ended up getting a last-minute hotel by the airport for the night before my departure to avoid any complications getting home. Myself and Mella said our goodbyes, feeling a little deflated I cheered myself up with room service and ordered in some pizza and a couple of beers. The next day I was back at Atlanta airport pondering when I’d next be back here.

Obviously things didn’t go as planned and things didn’t work out long term for me and Mella but it was a nice week and, after a rocky start with border control, I left Georgia with many good memories. I don’t know if I’ll ever return, perhaps someday as I have friends including Mella who live in the state or in neighbouring states but I’m pleased I got to see more than just the big city.

Whilst Georgia is by no means my favourite part of the US, it ticked off state number two and rekindled a desire to see more of the country.

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up there. Next up on the blog: An easy way for YOU to save in 2019, so you’ll be able to have your own adventure!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Georgia – Part one: Atlanta (Feb 2016)

How time flies, right? This summer Haleigh drove us across the Oregon border and in to my 12th US state – California! That story will have to wait a little longer because I’m going to rewind two years (Feb 2016) and continue my Georgia story, visiting Mella, which just so happened to be my first visit to the USA in eight years and just the second state I stepped foot in to. The second! Three years ago I’d been to just one state and now it’s 12 – how mad is that!?

Anyway I was torn about how to approach this trip on the blog. First and foremost it was a trip revolved around romance and you’ve already had the spoiler – there was no fairytale ending to it. As far as “best case” and “worst case” scenarios go I guess we landed somewhere in the middle and I still remain good friends with Mella. Long-distance is always a gamble and on this occasion things just didn’t go to plan. I’m not going to go in to any huge detail but that chapter ended.

The second reason I was torn on how to approach this was because I wasn’t sure if I should try and jampack two weeks in to one post or split it over two? I’ve decided to do the latter and focus on city life in Georgia and rural life in Georgia over two posts, starting with the big city – Atlanta!

That’s the thing about long distance relationships (LDR’s), they come with a lot of complications but one perk is you get to travel somewhere! Whilst I don’t consider this a typical holiday, it was still two weeks in Georgia, a long overdue return to the USA and a new state to explore. I don’t know if I would have visited Georgia for any other reason and subsequently I didn’t go with huge expectations.

That did all change though. In my last blog post (here) I spoke about my ‘fun’ border control experience which, whilst memorable, also begged the question what are they so desperate to contain from the outside world?
“Co-operate or you’ll be on the first plane back to London!!”

Money-permitting I’d move back to London tomorrow so it was a bizarre scenario to find myself in. I was jumping through hoops to get in to Atlanta to avoid being sent back to my favourite place in the world – it didn’t quite add up. I’d gone to Atlanta with low expectations but having had to prove myself to get in to the damn city, Atlanta now had to prove to me it was worthy of such arrogance.

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“Was it worthy Jason?”

No. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely did enjoy my time in Atlanta / Georgia and I know the officers at border control are just there to do a job but calm down Atlanta, you’re not all that!

Nevertheless I’m not going to stick the boot in any further, let me focus on why I DID enjoy my time in Atlanta. As we discovered in my last post, I was granted access to Atlanta! I had escaped the airport! I was free! We arrived at my hotel in downtown Atlanta on the Tuesday evening and after quickly settling in I was then waving Mella off. “See ya!!”

Mella lives roughly an hour North of Atlanta and had to work on Wednesday and Thursday so having waited all this time to finally meet, we were very quickly separated again. It left me with a couple of days to explore solo before Mella could join me for the weekend.

I didn’t really do much Tuesday evening, I figured I’d adjust to the five hour time difference and get an early-ish night. So following a decent sleep I was raring to go bright and early on Wednesday morning. I hit the streets and found a grey and dreary looking Atlanta. I decided to make my first stop the civil rights museum which was only a short walk away from where I was staying.

I’m not typically the earliest of risers when it comes to my travels so I was quite pleased to stroll up to the museum and see nobody around. My early approach meant I’d beaten the crowds and walked right up to the entrance without a person in sight. Unfortunately nobody was around with good reason, they didn’t open until 10am! I’d got here hoping to beat the lunchtime/afternoon rush and was quickly disappointed.

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Plan A had had a small setback but no worries, what else is nearby? I took a little stroll and it’s relatively close to the aquarium and Coca Cola World, two things I knew I’d be doing with Mella later in the week. I soon stumbled upon a children’s museum and thought that would be perfect! Closed on Wednesday’s!!

Really Atlanta? I wanted you to bring your A game and instead I’ve got your zzz game!
“Sorry, we don’t work before 10am or on a Wednesday! We need that lie in”

Accepting defeat I headed back to the Civil Rights museum and just decided to wait it out, making myself “one of those” people I used to dread in my supermarket days. I’d arrive at work and finding a flock of customers waiting for the doors to open – “it’s a Sunday morning, go back to bed!!”
Roles had been reversed and now I was clock-watching until 10am hoping for a prompt opening.
“Excuse me, it’s 10:01. Open up!!”

I wasn’t waiting long before I was joined by a woman, she was awaiting the rest of her school entourage to arrive and we quickly got chatting. She was friendly and offered some recommendations and, at last, I was experiencing some of this Southern hospitality that the South is famous for. Things were finally looking up!

Soon enough an army of school children arrived and given the setting it was interesting to see the diversity of the group. The museum was focused on civil rights with a large exhibit particularly focused on the persecution of black people in the South. It was nice to see all these little kids running around, playing and laughing with eachother, irrespective of their differences. Yet any moment now the doors would open and we’d be reading about the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

Ironically having clock-watched until 10am I then held back to allow the school party to jump ahead of me, it allowed me to experience the museum at my own pace and really take in a lot of what I was reading. It was interesting, fascinating, educational and more than anything humbling.

Some of the stuff I was reading seemed too inexplicable, how was some of this propaganda and vitriol ever deemed acceptable? I’d say the rest of the museum gets easier but it’s equally thought provoking and turns its attention to discrimination and inequality of other people based upon their gender, sexuality, disabilities and so on.

It’s a museum I’d fully recommend visiting if you’re in Atlanta. I left feeling rather privileged, aspects of the museum showed we’re heading in the right direction whilst others also highlighted that we have some way to go. Looking 600 or so miles North and seeing a black president in the White House gave me some hope for the future. Hindsight is a funny thing mind you, the remainder of 2016 saw political victories for Nigel Farage and Donald Trump which made me wonder if that hope had been a bit premature.

Feeling hopeful, I turned my attention to getting some lunch and was quickly ticking off another Hard Rock Café (HRC) visit – my love of which began in the neighbouring state of Florida so it was nice to be enjoying it once again on American soil.

I didn’t really do much following on from lunch, I planned to cover a lot of Atlanta’s main points of interest later over the weekend with Mella so it was a fairly chilled day.
Thursday took a relatively similar pattern. I took some time to go and explore Piedmont Park, a peaceful spot in the city that makes it easy to forget you’re in such a big city. Within the park you’ll also find Atlanta’s Botanical Gardens which I figured I’d take some time to visit.

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I liked it, the location probably added to that but it felt good to escape the busyness of Atlanta for a little while. Beyond that I didn’t do too much, wandered the city a bit before grabbing some dinner at a restaurant. The couple of free days I’d enjoyed in Atlanta had allowed me to familiarise myself with the city on foot and given me a good indication of where things were, particularly the attractions that I had planned for the coming days.

Friday saw everybody arrive in to town. Mella and a friend of hers joined me for the weekend. However a couple of penpals, Samantha (Alabama) and Crystal (Florida), had also made their way to Atlanta for the weekend. Sadly the “penpal curse” struck and things unfortunately didn’t quite work out. I’ve since seen both Crystal (in New Orleans) and Sam (in Nashville) but we’ve yet to successfully meet up with all three of us at the same time.

Mella I had more fortune with and it didn’t take long for our plans to start taking shape. The highlight of Friday was a trip to Shakespeare’s Tavern – a cute little theatre which houses Shakespeare plays. Mella had bought us tickets to see Romeo and Juliet which was good fun. It was an intimate setting and one of the perks to that was the cast meeting us in the lobby area after the show to thank us and similarly allow us to compliment them on the play. It was a nice little touch to have that cast/audience interaction.

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On Saturday we visited Atlanta’s aquarium, supposedly one of the best in the US and of the three I’ve been to (Dallas and Mall of America) it’d be hard to disagree. There was one room with a large tank that we sat at for a while just enjoying the fish swimming on by.

Next up was a trip to the nearby Coca Cola World. I’ve never really entered the Coke/Pepsi debate as I don’t drink either so theoretically it was a bit of a pointless attraction to visit but in the home of Coca Cola (didn’t realise it was Atlanta) it seemed the apt thing to do. It was actually quite enjoyable. It was interesting hearing a bit more about the history of Coca Cola and it had some interesting stuff. The final piece of the attraction is the tasting room where you can taste a variety of drink products from around the world. I can’t particularly remember which were delicious / disgusting but it was a fun way to round off the visit.

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We ventured from there over to the nearby Centennial park which is a small public park with statues and things dedicated to the 1996 Olympics which was hosted in Atlanta. It’s a nice little park in the heart of the city.

Beyond that we didn’t do too much else in Atlanta, just ate food and relaxed mostly but it was a fun introduction in to life in Georgia. It’s a nice place to visit for a few days but it has a long way to go before competing with places such as London and New York City.

It’s somewhere I’d potentially go back to but I feel like if I didn’t I’ve seen enough of the city and ticked off enough of the main things to do that I’d be content with a one time visit. I’d enjoyed my time in the ‘big city’, next up was a week experiencing a more rural side of Georgia.

Stay tuned for that!

Jason

Welcome to the USA – Georgia style!

I think it’s naive to suggest with 7 billion people on the planet that the person you’ve supposed to end up with is automatically going to be on your doorstep. Nevertheless there’s a practicality to dating local isn’t there?

I remember going on a date a few years ago and this woman lived relatively locally. I spent the day at work, we went out for dinner and I was home again the same night – a traditional date! She was friendly, we had plenty in common, she was relatively attractive and we had a nice meal together but that was it. She ticked all of the right boxes on paper but it was just nice. It wasn’t a bad date as such, it’s just that it wasn’t a date-date, it was a mate date. There was no chemistry, no butterflies, no spark and ultimately no second date.

As practical as finding someone that lives locally is, you need that something extra and for whatever reason I always seem to find it in people that live millions of miles away from where I live.

I’ve given some mention to my romances in this post here (Read me!), when explaining why I visited Salzburg, so you might recall that before dating Haleigh (Washington State) that my love interests were with Mella in Georgia.
Things had fizzled out with Nicole but of course, Germany wasn’t far enough away to find love so I made my first trip across the pond in eight years.

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I’d only ever been to the USA on family trips to Florida (1997, 2002, 2004, & 2008) and my parents had pretty much taken the lead on those trips so it felt like this was my first time visiting the US as an ‘adult’. I was traveling solo and the first piece of business was to get a valid visa. It’s actually pretty simple, you can easily do it online and it wasn’t too expensive. Visa granted – I’m going to the USA!!

The excitement and nerves kicked in. I was going to meet Mella finally, plus some of her friends and family, but on the flipside I was going to meet Mella finally. On one hand it was exciting but on the other hand, it’s a bloody long “first date” if you can call it that. I was going to Georgia for two weeks!

Maybe. That’s the thing about booking a trip, you do so assuming you’ll reach your destination without any issues. US border control had other ideas –  “don’t be nervous about meeting Mella, there’s no guarantee we’ll let you in to Georgia anyway!!”

Booking your ticket and having valid documentation is only step one of entering the USA. On arrival I walked up to the next available desk and the entry process began. Passport checked, visa checked, fingerprints checked, eyes (retinal scanner) checked!

“Congratulations, you’ve passed step two! Now for the questioning!”
“I’m sorry, what?”

You’ve literally matched my fingerprints! What more do you want from me? The man at the desk asked me why I was here and in the back of my head was this little voice – “honesty is the best policy”.
So naturally I explained I was visiting somebody. In most places you visit that’s followed with a “have a nice trip Sir” but not here, not in the USA! It had set the alarm bells ringing.

“YOU’RE DOING WHAT!? NOT ON MY WATCH SON!”

Moments later he’d picked up the phone and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. Shortly after an announcement was belting out of the tannoy system.
“Can someone please come and take this high-risk criminal away from desk number..”

It might have been a little more subtle than that but was effectively the message behind it, I looked up and wasn’t surprised to see it was my desk. Great. I’ve failed already.
“Can you follow this woman please?”

I foolishly thought I might get some sort of greeting but no, she snubbed my entire existence. The back of her head was as close as we were acquainted with eachother. This is the famous Southern hospitality I’ve heard so much about? She dropped me off at this small waiting room where I was left to ponder my fate. Fortunately they didn’t keep me waiting long and I was called up for further interrogation by some guy – another new face to try my luck with.

Round two! Fail this test and I’m going home! A thought that had me a little torn in truth. A one way trip to London is my punishment? Don’t get me wrong, it was far from ideal but this is the charade I have to bow down to?
London is my favourite city in the world, it’s home for me, and you’re wanting me to jump through hoops to get in to Georgia? Georgia!! Are you bloody mad?

“I’m already slumming it coming here mate.”

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Co-operate or you’re going to this awful place!!

Nevertheless I figured I’d keep my thoughts to myself. The US border probably isn’t really the setting to start pointing out all of the USA’s flaws. You’ve got to understand that across the pond they believe that the USA is the biggest and the best and the land of the free and blah, blah, blah. I played nice and I tried to be as co-operative as possible. Time for a game of 20 questions!!

“Why are you here?” “How long are you here?” “How did you meet?” “Where are you staying?” “Are you visiting anywhere else in the US?” “When are you going home?” “Have you booked your flight?” “What does she do for a living?” “Are you employed?” “When do work expect you back?” “How much money do you have?” and on and on and on.

I’ve visited some places and you half-wonder if they’ve even looked at the photo on your passport before passing it back to you.
“That was a black woman in the photo by the way..”
“Just hurry up and enter the country!!”

This was the complete opposite and it does get exhausting getting interrogated to determine whether you’re worthy of entering the US. One final question – “Do you have Mella’s phone number?”
SHIT! I don’t! I hadn’t anticipated this debacle and assumed I wouldn’t need it. Luckily I managed to find it on Facebook, passed it over and then had my phone confiscated.

He obviously didn’t want me giving Mella a heads up but it was a tad frustrating. I was sent back to my little waiting room whilst he tried to get hold of Mella.

Now personally, I don’t accept phonecalls from numbers I don’t know. If it’s that important they’ll leave a message, right? I’ll decline and generally give the number a quick search on Google afterwards.

“Oops, that was US border control? I probably should have taken that!”

Fortunately Mella was much more sensible and did pick up, albeit unprepared for her own interrogation as this officer was keen to discover if our responses were consistent. A little time passed and my enthusiasm for Georgia was draining out of me. I mean if you’re going to send me home can we just get on with it?
Fortunately he was soon calling for my return and it was clear that, with Mella’s help, I’d passed the test! I’d been granted access in to America.

I can’t really remember what my reaction was. I think I was pretty apathetic by this point so I forgot to show my gratitude by doing cartwheels.
“Thank you so much for letting me in to Georgia..”

With that said it was clear the non-English speaking guy at the desk to my left was being advised by his Spanish translator that he wasn’t getting in to US so I suppose it could have been worse. I went and found my suitcase and soon enough I was free to stay in the US forever!!! Muahaha!

Alright, calm down Big Brother (I know you’re reading), I’m joking! I didn’t plan to stay, I was free for the next two weeks though and quickly found a friendlier face awaiting my arrival – Mella. Unsurprisingly we didn’t stick around at the airport for too long and made our journey to my hotel in downtown Atlanta. I was finally in Georgia!

More on that to follow soon! Stay tuned!

Jason