I started writing about Athens about a week and a half after I first arrived there and here we are a month later and I’m finally getting around to finishing this up. I’ve fallen behind on keeping track of things, mostly because I’ve been with friends solid for the last four weeks and I’ve found it hard to justify sitting down to write instead of hanging out with folks and experiencing things. I was starting to get anxious about that, but I realized I need to chill the fuck out because I am on this trip to experience and I won’t have much to write about if I don’t have those. So, I wrote most of this from the passenger seat of my car after my girl, Lesley, graciously offered to drive us to St Joseph Peninsula so I could play catch up.
My drive down to Athens was fairly uneventful. Truthfully, I spent much of it on the phone, talking with a friend. I guess in my mind, I figured that not having a job and being free to do whatever would lend itself more to staying in touch with my friends and family. But, I’ve found that not necessarily to be the case. Generally speaking, when I’m in cell service areas, I’m staying with friends and it feels rude to sit on my computer or my phone for extended periods of time to catch up with folks. Well, it feels rude, but also, I want to spend as much time with these people that I am getting the chance to see sometimes for the first time in several years. Conversely, when I do have time to myself, I am usually camping and the chances of my phone working are slim to none. I guess I just didn’t expect to feel so cut off from folks after giving myself so much freedom.
But anyway, it was a lovely drive through the Appalachian mountains and on into Georgia; the landscape changing from rolling green hills until it flattened into farmland. I stopped at a farm stand, meandered through the produce and listened to the cadence of those thick, Georgia accents. I know people have differing opinions on the Southern accent, but it is my favorite. It’s melodic, musical, and, let’s be real, in some instances, it can be grating. But, ultimately, it makes me think of my childhood and visiting family in Louisiana. There’s a romanticism I’ve attached to it and I love just standing in the background and listening to it sung. Also, I bought some tomatoes and peaches and banana peppers and jalapeño peppers and pickled okra, so thumbs up to that sweet farm stand.
I got into Athens just in time to watch one of those big, gorgeous Southern storms blow in. I never tire of these, especially when they drop the temperature by 20 degrees and leave a sweet smell to linger after. I met up with Dave (see camping outside of Asheville) at his shop. A few years back when Ashley and Dave were living in Providence, he started his own bicycle frame building business, Pedal Driving Cycles (http://www.pedaldrivencycles.com/). When they moved down to Athens last summer, the business moved, too, and it’s really grown like a weed since then. I’ve been looking forward to checking out his shop to see where he builds all these badass frames I see on Instagram. He works in a converted cotton factory that has since been turned into office spaces, workshops, and work/live lofts. From what Dave tells me, the community spirit is pretty thick there and it seems like it’s helped him get to know other small businesses in the Athens area. Later that night, Ashley, Dave and I met up with Michelle (see also, outside of Asheville camping) and her boyfriend, Halifax (his nickname based on origin, though also born a Dave) at the Butt Hut (yes, amazing name) for some BBQ and trivia.
Friday, I took it super easy in the morning, hung out with Ashley and Dave’s dog, Curtis, and did some writing and emailing. I met up with Ashley, Michelle and another of their friends for lunch at this fantastic vegetarian joint, The Grit, and was damn near floored when I got my check for $18.11. I am still having a hard time processing how cheap the rest of the country is compared to New York. After, Michelle took me on a tour of Athens’ downtown, which isn’t large, but really charming.
In the evening, we went to the Friday tasting at Terrapin (http://terrapinbeer.com/). Dave has been doing some welding work for them here and there and has gotten to know the folks at the brewery well. On Fridays (and maybe some other days, too), you can come around happy hour time, buy a pint glass for $10, and have your choice of 8 half-pours. I wanted to do them all, but then I got real drunk after like three or four and had to slow my roll. The beers are all delicious and also all high alcohol content, so you can do the math there. After, we headed downtown to get some food in us (delicious and cheap, as is the trend) and then we went to one of the best bars I have ever been to, The Manhattan Cafe. When I was telling him about this place, my dad asked me what makes a good bar. I don’t think it’s something you can explain with words, it’s just a feeling. And this place was deep with that feeling. The drinks were cheap and there was a lot to chose from, including tons of great bourbons. The people were excellent and the bartenders were older women (always a plus one in my book). There was all kinds of shit to look at on the wall, including this amazing velvet painting of a Nubian Queen. There’s a solid jukebox, popcorn if you want it, and it’s the right level of almost so dark it’s hard to make out objects from far away. It’s perfect. It’s almost reason enough to move to Athens. When we finished our drinks, we went to Little Kings Shuffle Club to check out The Glands, who apparently were a popular band back in the 90s from Athens, but who broke up shortly after having a hit record. I’d never heard of them and it was just okay, so I ended up hanging outside with Dave and a few of their friends. The night wound down and we winded home.
Saturday morning we woke up and checked out the West Broad Farmers Market. Hands down, this is the best farmers market I’ve been to. They don’t have but a few folks selling produce, a few more selling food, and another handful selling wares, but it was the most inclusive market I’ve come across - folks from many different walks of life. It is held in an abandoned school that had been sitting empty for years and much of the produce they sell at the market is grown in the former playground, which, coincidentally, was also used for food production for the local community back during the Depression. It’s also Athens’ first community-based urban farm and many of the locals work it in some capacity.
Later that day, Corbin (see again, outside of Asheville camping) drove in from Atlanta to hang out for the night. We had some beers at Normal Bar and ordered up a few pizzas from Automatic Pizza. I will admit, this pizza was pretty goddamn good. I’d like to think I have a high pie standard after living in New York for so long and, let me tell you, I could live with Automatic if I had to. It would do just fine.
There were a lot of thoughts that got sparked while I was in Athens that I haven’t had the time to process yet. To some extent, that has to do with just not having much time to sit alone and think lately. This next month will continue to be full of friends and family joining me along the way, so, I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to fully realize what Athens triggered until I finally get to be by myself again for a stretch of time. But, basically, I had been looking forward to going to Athens for awhile - partially to see my buds, but also because, from what I’d been told, it seemed like it might be a real viable candidate for my next home. And, I liked it. There were a lot of charming things about Athens - I really dug the community vibe and all they had to offer their folks that live there, the town is pretty into music (big plus), and it is super affordable. But it didn’t STRIKE me. I wasn’t like, “FUCK, I cannot wait to get back here and make this place my home!” That’s where the sparked up stuff starts.
How does one go about finding their next home? It’s been so long since I’ve done that and, really, the only major adult living choice I’ve made was moving to New York. Though I had vowed never to live there again, my move back to Los Angeles after college was because of a job that was way too good to pass up at the time. It didn’t necessarily feel like a choice so much as a necessity for my career (that ended up getting thrown out the window anyway). When I finally decided to change course, I was able to make the first thoughtful decision on where I wanted to live and New York had always been it for me. So, I just moved. I’d wanted to live there since I visited for the first time at 16, so it was exhilarating and inspiring and hilarious and difficult and, really, well, life-changing. It was everything that I’d envisioned it being as a teenager and then as a young adult. And that is the thing about New York City, man. It fucks you for the rest of your life because nowhere else will ever compare. Even now, being older and finding that I want certain things that New York can’t provide me (a yard, a big dog, an affordable living situation, easy access to the outdoors, a simpler way of life, a place where I can start over in a new career and find something that I truly love to do without also moonlighting as a prostitute in order eat), that city still has me by the balls. I expected this. This whole “New York, I can’t quit you” mentality is something I’ve talked about with my friends for years now. But, the problem I am facing right now is, when you don’t know where you want to live, how do you go about finding the next place that feels right when the memory of one of the greatest cities in the world still looms? What is the feeling that’s supposed to hit you when you know? Is it supposed to seem like a flawless choice, or are you supposed to shrug your shoulders and mumble “well, I guess it’ll do”? That’s the thing...I’m realizing this is much more difficult than I initially expected.
Anyway, my last day in Athens consisted of a brunch that included a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar (score!), a real lovely backyard barbecue and a few games of cornhole, in which I finally WON! It was hot, but real great. Thanks to Ashley, Dave, Michelle, and Halifax for showing me their amazing little town and really getting my mind wheels turning.