Sunday, October 2, 2011

Venturing into the Deep (South) - Atlanta, GA

September 2011

This weekend I properly ventured out of the safety of Chapel Hill and into the big bad world of the wider USA. I’ve been in Chapel Hill for 6 weeks now, and to be honest I was chomping at the bit to get out and start seeing a bit more of the States, and this weekend provided the perfect opportunity. Fiona had decided to travel down to Atlanta to see a friend of hers, and I jumped at the opportunity to tag along! To those of who don’t know, Atlanta is a rather large city in Georgia, the state dubbed by Stephen Fry as the “Heart of the Deep South”. It’s also home to the busiest airport in the world, which is the one I flew into when I arrived in the States, and consequently hate with a passion.

The weekend itself didn’t start off too well with a drama involving flight tickets (booked for the wrong day – oops!) and an hour long traffic jam on the way to the airport. We arrived safely in Atlanta on Friday evening and were met by Grant, Fiona’s sisters ex-boyfriend (bit of a mouthful I know!) who was a nice enough guy with a lot of chat, but very Scottish. I mean, I had trouble understanding him at times so god knows how Americans cope! Whilst he and Fiona chatted away about various things back home and what he was up to, I tried to keep up with the full speed Scottish accents but soon gave up and window watched as Atlanta city approached us. We stopped off for some food on the way to Grants apartment, at a restaurant called ‘Chillis’ – very good food, massive recommendation there, but also so much of it too! Me being a bloke managed to stuff myself silly on chicken fajitas (dam they were good!), but Fiona took the sensible option with her pasta and asked for a box to take away the extras. As we arrived in Atlanta at about 9.30pm, and didn’t get back to Grants apartment till about 11/12, we didn’t go out that evening. Grant also had a game the next day, and as such wanted to get his head down, which suited me to the ground as I was knackered too. 

The next morning Fiona awoke nice and early (grrr!) and we decided to get going and make the most of the day to see Atlanta city. Grant gave us a lift to ‘The World of Coke’, and left us to it whilst he prepared for his game later in the evening (by that I mean sleep loads). Now the ‘World of Coke’ was an interesting experience. At not too shabby a price ($16 – I was expecting it to cost a hell of a lot more), it seemed a good thing to go and see. It was quiet there too (it being 9.30 in the morning), so meant there weren’t too many screaming kids high on sugar running around. I say it is an interesting experience because it was obviously trying to strike a medium between entertaining for the kids and informative for the adults. Which, to be fair to Coke I think they did fairly well. But in a very American way. Obviously. We were first greeted to a room of a hideous red nature, displaying a ridiculous amount of coke merchandise from the ages. It was mindboggling how much red and silver there was in the room! We were then given a 5 minute spiel on what was coming up (why they couldn’t just let us get on with what was coming up I don’t know) by a guy who kept extending all the vowels in words he said so it soooounded liiiiike thiiiiis the whole time. Once he had finished introducing the place and how amazing it was (cough cough), we were ushered into a cinema type place to watch “an introductory movie” about coke. This was where the true subtle messages came into play. To be fair to coke, as said before, the film was aimed at keeping little kids entertained, and so animated creatures (loosely used term there) danced about on stage and sang songs about love, hope and happiness, with lots of red and uses of the coke logo everywhere. With the suggestion that coke brings people together and makes everything alright. Because obviously a massive corporation like Coke has the best interests of others in its heart. Clearly…

Coke, Coke everywhere!

Yep, a muppet. In 3D glasses
Once the movie had finished (with some horrendous sing-a-long bits within it – hard lyrics such as “La La La” were repeatedly flashed across the screen), we were used on towards the experience bit of the place. Here there was a mix of interaction and museum-y bits, and I have to admit I quite enjoyed seeing the mini-bottling plant they had in motion there, and seeing the history of Coke bit. However, it was amazing how much coke branding there was in the place – a bloody red sensory overload! I am going to get a little cynical here, and mention the pride the place seemed to have in itself and the ‘amazing’ work its done for itself. I know for a fact Coke has caused massive problems around the world with its forceful branding campaigns and locations of bottling plants in LEDCS. But I won’t bang on about that here. I do want to mention the branding of Coke in relation to Christmas. If you didn’t know, the modern day concept of Father Christmas with a big beard and red coat has all been brought about through the marketing og Coke back in the 60/70’s. It just goes to show how powerful big brand marketing can be, especially if what we now consider to be a ‘traditional’ image of Christmas was actually bought about by the creativity of someone tasked with advertising a product.
God knows what that was...
Anyways, there was some crazy thumb type creature running around the experience bit, which was very weird as we really couldn’t work out what the hell it was. Furthermore, whoever was in the costume must have been hyper of Coke coz good god they didn’t stop being so bloody energetic. Someone must have loved their job to be like that at 9.30 in the morning! There was also a mental 4D experience in the place too, which was so over the top in effects it was ridiculous. At every opportunity the chairs rocked back and forth (and this rocking was violent enough to give you whiplash I swear!) and water being sprayed in your face. There was one bit where a dragonfly fly past you and then you got stabbed in the back (no, really). I mean, come on what’s the point in that?! The last part of the experience was the tasting section, where loads of different flavours and coke products were available to be tasted. This was actually quite cool as there was a wide variety of stuff from all over the world to taste from – some quite nice, others horrible. Though I did become a little sceptical when in the UK bit there were a few products I had never heard of… After that was the obligatory Coke shop where the amount of stuff for sale branded with the Coke symbol was phenomenal, and the amount of stuff people were buying (at the prices it was in there too) was incredible. 

Leaving the ‘World of Coke’ we headed downtown, and after walking down more than three roads with Peachtree in them (apparently there’s over 100 roads and streets with Peachtree in the name – someone in the planning department really didn’t think that one through!) Stopping at Hooters for lunch (on Fiona’s insistence – honest!) we managed to feel like true American’s eating fried chicken, drinking Coke and watching the American Football on the TV (Carolina was playing Georgia Tech). Hooters was an interesting experience too, originally branded on serving fried chicken and beer by girls with big boobs in not much clothing. With that as my image of the place I was imagining it to be full of men either on their own perveing or in a group being raucous. I was rather surprised to find groups of females and professionals and families with young children in there that’s for sure! The food itself was amazing (god I love Southern fried chicken!) and the Hooters experience was topped off with the purchase of a t-shirt for Fiona and a calendar and picture with our waitress for me – happy days!

Happy as larry!
Looking towards downtown

From there we caught the MARTA (Atlanta’s subway system) down to Five Points and had a poke around there – this was the area that Martin Luther King grew up around, and it definitely had a very Afro-Caribbean cultural feel to the place. It was cool though and I like having a look around, especially when we stumbled across the Underground, which is street built below the surface with lots of random little shops and stalls down there.  From there (after Fiona got her fortune told to her) we headed back up to Downtown (not sure how that works, but that’s what we did!) to the Sundial restaurant, which was recommended by Amy, another international student, who had been in Atlanta a few weeks earlier. This place was AMAZING! Situated at the top of the tallest hotel in Georgia, you could see the whole of Atlanta, and the floor the tables were on rotated. Fiona was hilarious in the life ride up, as the lift was on the outside of the hotel, and se you could see yourself get higher and higher, and feel your ears pop as you ascended. Fiona didn’t like it very much and held on the handrail VERY tightly looking away from the glass windows…aww bless! Up in the restaurant we had the obligatory camera moments, and then went and found the bar and had the biggest cocktails ever. They were huge, but sooo good (expensive too, but that’s part of the experience I guess!). We were up there for a good while, taking in the view. Eventually we had to get picked up by Grant and get taken to the football (soccer) stadium where he was playing that evening.
Big ol' cocktails

Looking out over Atlanta from the Sundial

Grant is a professional football playing on loan to the “Atlanta Silverbacks” from Miami (he lives in Miami the lucky git). Now, as most people know, football (soccer) isn’t a big sport in the USA, and this was especially obvious at the Silverbacks stadium. With only two stands, neither of which were filled, the stadium was small and quiet in comparison to even conference level teams back home. However, in a way this was cool, because it was possible to hear what the players were shouting to each other, something that wouldn’t be possible at the UK game. We were given tickets to the ‘VIP tailgate’ through Grant (obviously because he played there), which involved standing behind one of the goals, getting free beer (result!), sitting in the sun listening to a guy sing on a guitar and playing a bit of beer pong and flip cup (American drinking games those of you who don’t know). It was a cool experience, but a little bizarre when the teams came out to practise and balls started flying over the goal into us! The game itself was good to watch, with the hardcore fans not afraid to scream and shout themselves hoarse, and light flares every 30 seconds. To be honest I’m not sure why they bothered because you could hardly hear them anyways! Even the announcer seemed to love his job, getting the crown to cheers in between advertising everything under the sun at breaks in the play – even in a continuous sport like football, these Americans still manage to ram adverts in at every opportunity! The match itself was lost 4-0 by the Silverbacks (there were playing Montreal) and it was clear to see that although the Silverbacks is a professional team, some of the players really weren’t that great, with a few key players having to drag the rest of the team along with them. I guess with a lack of money in the sport means a ‘great’ players wouldn’t want to really play in the States, especially when such dumb massive wages are offered in Europe.

VIP tailgating

Game in swing - notice how close to the sidelines the stands are!
After the game we went out with the team into Downtown Atlanta to a few bars and clubs. I really had a great time, chilling out and chatting to both Americans and the international players who played for the Silverbacks. The only issue was the cost of going out – everywhere had covers, and drinks weren’t exactly cheap either. But never mind, it’s part of going to a big city I guess! We left to go back to Grant’s apartment around 3, and with a dispute between him and Fiona we stayed in the apartment ourselves. This meant the next morning we had an issue with how to get to the airport whilst feeling rather rough and with no access to the internet to find a cab number, which eventually ended up having to bother a church in the middle of their service for numbers for taxi companies which never seemed to connect to the dam offices. In the end we managed to get a taxi to the airport (after a fair bit of small talk with the locals!) and managed to make it in time for the flight with some amazing fried chicken beforehand (I’m serious, fried chicken here is amazing!) flying back to Raleigh where Pat very kindly came and picked our tired selves up from the airport, thus ending a weekend that had all the parts of a good weekend; sightseeing, good weather, lots of alcohol, drama, getting stranded and spending far too much money! Just back to the bad weather in Chapel Hill and classes again…

With some of the players and WAGS (can they be called that in the States?!) on the night out

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