I think, aside from the understanding nature of a few of my closest friends, part of what has gotten me through this month (so far; there is still a day and a night left) without taking H.L. Mencken’s advice is the fact that I had the forethought back when tickets first were available to plan to go to the Holiday Surprise concert at the 40-Watt Club in Athens, GA, and that I made a much-needed mini-vacation out of it at the beginning of the month.  Holiday Surprise was the incarnation chosen to represent almost all of the bands composed of members of the Elephant 6 Collective, and it was guaranteed to be an interesting show.  Aside from just the temporary escape from a huge set of temporary stressors (thankfully all related to only “first-world problems”), I was really looking forward to seeing some people I know from back in the KLPI day who have lived in Athens for a long time, and to finally seeing the city that so many people have compared to my college town of Ruston, LA.

I took that Friday off, picked up my friend AbC who seemed to also be in desperate need of a vacation, and we left Nashville past noon.  Stopping in nearby Murfreesboro for gasoline, I did something that I never ever do: I left my car while the fuel was pumping, and went into the store to do/get something.  Having learned previously not to vary from the steps in the ritual of fueling up (learned by skipping the step of removing the nozzle from my tank one day before driving away from the pump (the hoses just snap off the pump!)), I paid meticulous attention to the steps:

  • notice that the fueling has stopped,
  • top off the tank in spite of all nearby written to please not do so,
  • replace the nozzle into the quiet pump,
  • take the receipt from the machine (ignoring the fake Receipt Ready – Please See Attendant messages when they appear),
  • then return to the driver’s door.

When I got back to the driver’s door, something was different.  I looked in the window and immediately saw that AbC was gone.   I thought it seemed weird that our paths wouldn’t have crossed in that process, but assumed she had slipped out of the car and gone inside without me noticing, so I went on about the business of readying for the 5-hour drive.  I went to get my water bottle out of the back seat, and saw that there were a lot of school textbooks and teaching materials instead of my computer bag and overnight stuff.   That’s when I realized that I had returned to the grey Sentra on the far left of the fueling lot rather than the gray Sentra on the far right side of the fueling lot.  (There is a reason I write this blog in a manner that does not directly identify the author. =))  I quickly shut the car door and sprinted back to my own car, and then quickly repeated the above steps for the appropriate vehicle and got in it.  As I was driving to the exit of the gas station, I saw in my mirror the guy who owned the other Sentra exit the store and place his soda on top of his car.  I saw him notice his fuel nozzle had been replaced in the pump and his gas tank’s cap had been closed.  I saw him examine the numbers on the fuel pump, and then literally step back and put both hands on his hips, then look carefully around the fueling stations and the parking lots while scratching his head.  He was still scratching his head when I hit the on-ramp.

Then I drove a lot and played music really loud.  For being a young’n to some degree, AbC has excellent taste in music, so we swapped off iPod playlists for most of the way.  (The car-stereo AUX jack is one of man’s greatest inventions.)  Lots of pine trees in Georgia; it reminded me a lot of north Louisiana.  Immediately upon arrival in Athens, we had tacos and beer at the Taco Stand, an easy walk from anywhere in downtown Athens, and seemingly both the touristy and the local thing to do.  I had fish tacos, which were excellent, but there is no photographic evidence (that I know of).

While we were at the Normal Bar later that evening, they played Neutral Milk Hotel on the hi-fi, which was in itself a magic moment since I don’t think I have ever heard that music outside of my own home or car.  Shortly thereafter I was hit on, well, literally bumped roughly into, by a drunkardess who had a large dog on a leash with her at the bar.  She immediately apologized slurringly for bumping into me, then gave me the quizzical am-I-supposed-to-know-you expression while asking if I was eeyun the mealitayry.  I said no, and then she immediately asked if my dad was eeyun the mealitayry, to which I also answered no.  Her immediate response was “Wayell, mah huhsbuhnd is eeyun the mealitayry, and I’m pretty sherrr he could kick yerrr iyuss.”  Luckily, her friends who were babysitting her heard her proclamation, seemed like maybe they recognized it as one of the milestone lines their friend crosses while over-drinking in public, and whisked her and her dog to some backyard part of the bar.  This was about the time that we figured out that the folks who said they were going to meet us out were actually not going to, so we finished our beers and called it a night.  Aside from the interaction with the chick with the dog and the ass-kickin’ mealitayry husband, I think the Normal Bar would be a place I’d frequent if I lived in Athens (or open if I were to ever open a bar).

Next day, AbC got a peanut-butter-and-banana-and-bacon donut (called the Elvis Special, I believe) at Ike & Jane.  Even though I watched people do five jumpingjacks at the register in front of the sign that says a 10% discount is applied to your order if you do, and even though I told AbC that I was going to do them, I still forgot to do my jumpingjacks when it was my turn to shine at it.  (And I still haven’t done any.)  I got a chocolate-covered donut and a cinnamon roll, as is my custom when assessing the offerings of new-to-me purveyors of such finer things.  These hippie-made donuts were tasty, but they still paled in comparison to the hippie-made donuts I had on my Seattle trip last year with 17 Words for Yeah.  That said, the line outside the door at Ike & Jane was justified and worth it, though I am not sure the jumpingjacks would have been.

Another reason I was interested to make the trip was to see the Georgia Guidestones.  The site is a monument constructed of huge slabs of granite at one of the highest points in the region, designed to be instructions for recreating and maintaining a civil society after the one we know has collapsed as a result of whatever is going to make it collapse.

There is really no there there; there is no paved parking lot, welcome desk, nor happy docent to greet you with a glossy hand-out.  The information about the site that is available at the site is limited to a kind of map & legend (also granite) that is set into the ground adjacent to it.  (The Wired Magazine link provides way more information and background.)  It is obvious from looking at the English tablet that some folks take exception with the advice given by the guidestones, as there are visible spots where multiple attempts to deface the messages have been scrubbed away.  It is not immediately obvious that you and your car’s license plates are also on CCTV-cam upon driving up, but this is the case; I assume the vandalism attempts eventually prompted it as a kind of security measure.

We examined the Guidestones, read the English instructions, and tried to recall what we had read about the position of a hole that is drilled into the central slab.  While we were trying to recall what type of Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-type phenomenon occurs and on what interval, we were approached by a fellow in motorcycle garb who was assured by one of his buddies that something happens every day right at noon that is the result of the sun shining through that hole.  While I have forgotten most of what I learned in college astronomy, AbC and I both decided we had a firm enough grasp on planetary physics to assure each other that nothing happened every day at noon that had anything to do with that hole and the sun’s rays.  After re-reading the article (which could not be reached via smartphone from the site, since no cell signal was available that far out in the sticks), it seems we were all right.  If you plan to visit the site, print the article from Wired and take it with you!

(There is a geocache there, too, not to spoil anything for your geogeeks.)

Georgia Guidestones Diagram from Wired Magazine

Owl PurseOnce we got back to town, I took a friend’s advice who knows my taste in junky crap and went to Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, which was like the old Spencer’s Gifts stores on steroids.  If I were a student in need of a new blacklight or hackysack, crystals or geodes, a Beatles or Misfits lunchbox, or pieces for a Captain Caveman costume, this is where I’d go.  I did not see any Bad Brains shirts, but I did see a cool owl purse.

We ate lunch at 5 & 10, which I cannot recommend strongly enough if you are looking for a traditional Deep South menu.  I had a wonderful omelet made from fresh everything with a side of cheese grits, bacon, and a biscuit and gravy.  The place is tiny; plan ahead, but wait if you have to.  I am a sucker for cheese grits.  mmm cheese grits.

We also saw the exterior walls of REM’s offices, which are above the record store that I was afraid to enter for fear of disrespecting the seriousness of my impending tax bill, not to mention blowing my music wad before Record Store Day.  I rode in the back of my friend KevEv’s truck-garden to a park with a river (and lots of dogs) running through it, then through various neighborhoods and past various sites in town, then back to the thrift store downtown whose name I have forgotten (where I actually put back 2 old Oscar Peterson records).

We got back to the car to find that you do actually have to feed the parking meters in Athens on Saturdays.  However, this also caused me to understand that it is cheaper to pay a parking ticket in downtown Athens, GA than it is to park in downtown Nashville, TN.

I can’t imagine there being a better burger joint in Athens than a place called Clocked, which happens to be next-door to the 40-Watt Club.  Mine was easily on par with some of the best cheeseburgers I have eaten.

The Holiday Surprise show at the 40-Watt Club was a real treat.  I got to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen since college, and meet some people whose names I’ve known of for years.  There were a few people I had hoped to bump into on the trip who either didn’t make it out that night or no longer live in Athens, but everyone who I truly expected to see was there.  I can’t describe the show any better than the link above (although this one is nice, too), except to say that it was more creative with regard to audience participation than any show I can recall over the past 20 years.

At one spot in the show, the band finally alluded to the huge snowman that was off-center, but pretty much in the middle of the room.  It was a construction designed to reflect a lyric in one of the songs that one incarnation of the band was performing that night.  Audience members were invited to use something that looked like a padded tennis racquet (not racket, which is a completely different word) to launch a huge puffy ball at a tissue-paper-on-wire-frame moon 25 or so feet away.  The deal was that the audience member who first was able to throw the snowball through the moon got to request the next song for the band to play — and the song couldn’t be from any record from any of the bands represented onstage.  Finally, after 6 audience members failed at 2 attempts each, the fellow in the picture above made it, and his request was the “Cantina Theme” from Star Wars.  The band members retreated backstage, made a small amount of racket (not racquet, which is a completely different word), and then came back and played it in true Elephant 6 Orchestra style.  A fun time was had by everyone I could see; there were way more truly smiling faces in the crowd than I think I have seen at a live show in years, and I thank everyone involved for making it so much fun.

Next morning, we stopped at Jittery Joe’s to take care of the coffee monkeys that AbC and I both seem to carry on our shoulders, talked about the show, ogled a fine fine antique car, completely forgot to drive by the Tree That Owns Itself (I do not think I have ever ever checked off every item on a to-do list that I tried to keep only in my head), then got in the car and hauled ass back to Nashville.  My estimation is that 20% of the tree canopy in Athens had blooming wisteria vines all throughout it.  The whole town smelled like wisteria from the time we got there til the time we left.

A Night At the Hip-hopera is highly recommend as drive-time music, by the way.