Saturday, December 30, 2006

Way Up North In Atlanta

On Sunday, Christmas Eve morning around 7:00 am, we got into the car for our trip to Atlanta. This was preceded by some agonizing over which car to take. My wife found the sedan provided a comfortable ride, but was difficult to enter and exit. The van was easy for her to get in and out, but the seating was less comfortable. Because I have a pretty good eye for 3-dimensional puzzles, I made the decision to take the van, because we had to take a gigantic pile of stuff with us, including the wheelchair, the commode, the office chair and our suitcases – plus we would be bringing our daughter and her suitcases back with us.

Once we got on the road, the comfort issue seemed to vanish.

The drive was brisk and easy, because anyone who was traveling that weekend had left on Saturday. In Georgia, I was puzzled by the roadside fences lining I-75. Typically, these were 4-inch steel mesh with metal poles. But every hundred feet or so, the metal poles were replaced by wood, with crossbeams, forming a kind of double “H” shape:

This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble and expense, creating thousands of these wooden structures along the highway, and yet I could not figure out their purpose. Were they a kind of stile, enabling humans to clamber over the fence in emergencies? They did not appear to have hinges, but possibly they were gates, enabling firefighting equipment to access woods and fields from the highway. So I called the Georgia Department of Transportation and was only transferred three times by confused, irritable office workers until I got the answer, provided by one of the GDOT engineers. Drop me a line if you want to know.

In Atlanta, we stayed at the home of my wife’s aunt, a delightful, warm woman. She had bought us tickets to the Atlanta Aquarium, billed as the largest in the world. She said, “It’s Christmas day, so there shouldn’t be many people there.”

Unfortunately, she was wrong. The place was mobbed. A sign directed people into two lines of Disney-style switchbacks: “Previous Reservations” and “Purchase Tickets.” We got into the “Previous Reservations” line, which meandered around slowly in a freezing drizzle. Then, for reasons that can only be explained by the geniuses running the place, the two lines merged, forcing wet, shivering families to fight for a place in line.

Once inside, we discovered that wheelchairs are not respected by people who are not confined to them. When we were waiting for an opportunity to see a display, I had to leave about a foot between the wheelchair and the heels of the person in front of us, or they might back up, trip and fall into my wife’s lap. But once you leave that gap, someone will step into it as though the wheelchair doesn’t exist. My wife found the umbrella was an effective tool for defending her personal space.

The displays were in some cases breathtaking, clearly on a par with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Atlanta Aquarium has an enormous tank holding FOUR Whale Sharks, the world’s largest fish. Other tanks held Beluga Whales, Sea Otters, Sea Lions, coral reef fish, freshwater fish and jellyfish.

It was chilly in Atlanta, which sits on that boundary between the cold-weather northern states and the mild south. So they get a chilly winter, and on rare occasions, snow. My wife’s aunt told me that her neighbor actually bought a snow-making machine, so that they could cover the yard with artificial snow on cold nights and their kids could go sledding.

My wife’s aunt was dog-sitting for her son’s dog, Blossom. Blossom likes to pre-sanitize the dinner dishes by licking them in the dishwasher before they’re washed, removing any last traces of sticky egg yolk or smears of grease.

When we left on Wednesday, traffic was bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go all the way to Macon. It took us 2 hours just to drive to the outskirts of Atlanta. Fortunately, the roads opened up and we made good time the rest of the way, but it was a long time in the car and we’re all grateful to be home.

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