Terminus: Weeks 48 and 49

Greetings from Tarpon Springs, northwest of Tampa on Florida’s gulf coast. Apologies for the utter and complete lateness of this blog. Since departing Atlanta, the subject of this blog, we’ve been in Florida, which has had a bit going on lately, if you haven’t heard. More on that to come, someday. Suffice to say, it puts everything we did and are doing in a different perspective.

The title for this blog actually occurred to me long before we even arrived in Atlanta. Terminus was what many people referred to the city as in its early history since it only existed because of its location at the end of the Western & Atlantic railroad line. Atlanta is, of course, our terminus as well. Just shy of one year on the road, we wrapped up our journey with two weeks here – and they were a doozy.

Our drive from Memphis to Atlanta was a looping route down through Mississippi and Alabama that was fairly unremarkable. From the point we left Memphis to the point we crossed the Georgia border, it would have been basically impossible to tell which of the states you were in. Northern Alabama has more hills than I thought, I guess.

While our drive to Atlanta was fairly unremarkable, I think we need to take a moment to discuss driving in Atlanta. As far as I’m concerned, after driving in nearly 20 different states in the last year, nothing even comes close to the pure havoc and chaos that is Atlanta driving. The highways have a deservedly bad reputation, enormous 12- or 14-lane behemoths that come together where multiple major interstates merge.

No one, not even the people with Georgia plates and their cars decked out in Falcons and Braves gear, knows where they’re going or what lane they should be in. Almost every time I got on the highway, I saw an accident. Not the aftermath of an accident, mind you – an actual accident occurring in front of my eyes. Some were practically Final Destination-esque, like when the truck hauling junk lost a giant metal flower, which hit one car that then crashed into another before being rear-ended by a third.

But what’s really frustrating is the general level of poor driving skills and poorer social skills exhibited by Atlantans. If I had to live in this city, I would burst a blood vessel. By the middle of our second week, I was content to see the things I could access by scooter, Uber, or foot.

Luckily, our Airbnb in Atlanta was located in a great location! It was the Old Fourth Ward, a little over a mile from downtown and just a few blocks from Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home and the National Park Service monument.

Since my book for the Atlanta area was a biography of Dr. King (“Let The Trumpet Sound,” it’s free with Kindle Unlimited), I figured this would be a good place to start off the visit. The site is anchored by the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Sr. was pastor before his son took over in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it’s in the middle of a massive renovation, so outside pictures were all I could get. Across the street is the new Ebenezer building where the current congregation worships in a much more spacious fashion. You may be familiar with the current pastor as well – Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock.

Right next door is the visitor center for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which serves as a nice, free introduction to King’s life and the major civil rights campaigns he led. Among the exhibits is the cart that carried him to his grave from his funeral. There’s also the sculpture below, which is awkwardly lifelike from a distance – especially considering real people were wandering through it when I arrived!

While at the museum, I was able to snag one of the free but apparently difficult to get tickets for the tour of King’s birth home down the street. It was a really great tour, showcasing the house and how King grew up in a relatively affluent family, yet still just down the street from homes where blue-collar workers lived. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the inside! The National Park Service, in its infinite wisdom, does not allow pictures for whatever reason. This is always irritating to me at NPS locations. I understand restricting flash photography, but these are public lands and buildings, and it’s especially irritating at sites where access is restricted anyway.

King’s final resting place is only a block away from where his life began, near The King Center and next to the church where he preached. It’s a really beautiful area with a fountain, an eternally burning flame, and the tomb of King and his wife Coretta. The whole area feels like a very fitting tribute that’s definitely worth the trip if you’re in Atlanta.

Georgia also has what I’ll call a different connection civil rights as well. Just outside the city is Stone Mountain, sometimes called the Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy. On the side of this massive hunk of bare rock are carvings of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee, dozens of feet high. In a truly classy move, the park that surrounds the carving was opened exactly 100 years to the day after Lincoln’s assassination. Talk about sore losers.

I didn’t pay to go into the park – not for any ideological reasons, but mostly because it cost an insulting $40 per person to see a visitor center, some old homes, and a few kids’ exhibits. The ticket price also includes a cable car ride up to the top of the 825-foot mountain, but I decided to do things the hard way – walking, which didn’t require purchasing an entry pass to the park.

It’s only a shade over a mile each way, but on a hot, late-summer day, I was feeling the burn and wondering how in the world I ever hiked at elevation in Santa Fe or Colorado Springs. It was a pleasant walk, though, especially looking at the surprisingly detailed graffiti from people who climbed the mountain a century ago or more.

Some of this was pretty damn steep, particularly the part below. And don’t even think of trying to hold onto that metal handrail, which was roughly the temperature of the surface of the sun or the inside of a pizza roll. The views were pretty unbelievable, though, which made it more plausible that I was just looking at views as I caught my breath.

Making it to the top was a very satisfying feeling, only slightly diminished by seeing the crowds of lazy tourists pile off the cable cars into the air conditioned visitor center up top. The 360-degree views were as amazing as anything I’ve seen in a while, and I snapped a selfie with our soon-to-be home of Florida in the distance to the south.

Stone Mountain isn’t the only eyebrow-raising Civil War relic in Atlanta. On one day, I visited the Atlanta History Center. I try to always see the local history museums to get a better sense of the area, and while I think this is valuable, I don’t always think it makes the best reading for all of you. I was probably going to skip this place altogether in the blog. Then, I found the cyclorama.

For those unfamiliar (like I was), a cyclorama is essentially an immersive piece of art. This one is nearly 50 feet tall, more than a football field in circumfrence, and even spills out into 3D with dummies bringing the Battle of Atlanta off the wall and into real life. Looking back, I’m a bit frustrated with my pictures and video – I don’t think I can provide any sense of how huge and impressive this thing was.

It’s had an unusual history – initially painted to accurately depict the Confederate loss at the battle, southern sympathizers eventually bought it and repainted it to look like the Confederacy had won, instead. Eventually, the city of Atlanta acquired it and restored it to its original, historically correct display, along with adding the 3D element. Upon his request, they even put actor Clark Gable in the display – as a dead Yankee.

Dead Clark Gable, looking very weird. Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA – Sept. 2022

Atlanta is, surprisingly, not that big of a city, strictly speaking. Officially, there are only a little over a half-million residents – which would make it smaller than Memphis, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, Fresno(!), San Diego, Tucson, and Austin, among places we’ve stayed. But as anyone who’s been to the city can tell you, this is one of those pieces of data that can be extremely deceiving. With roughly 5 million people in the metro area, including the many close-in suburbs that flow right into the city proper, it absolutely felt like the biggest city of our trip. Part of it, I think, is that is has one of the most developed, skyscraper-filled downtown we’ve been in. These buildings were always looming, no matter where you seemed to go in the city.

After a few weeks of staying in small towns and not-so-impressive cities, it was nice to wander through a bustling downtown with real businesses and lots of people. Unfortunately, like the other big cities of our trip, there was also a distressing amount of homelessness, often of the aggressive variety. You may have heard about Underground Atlanta – you should not go there, unless you have time machine to take you back to the early 2000s.

One spot downtown that is definitely worth wandering around (despite the large homeless population) is Centennial Olympic Park, a sprawling green space constructed for the 1996 Olympics. It was also the site of the bombing that marred that Olympics, though you won’t see much sign of that.

It’s a really lovely area to stroll through, and it’s surrounded by a number of other attractions like the College Football Hall of Fame.

Right across the street is the CNN center, a building I feel is horribly insecure for the kind of world we live in. Connecting a large hotel to the studios of a controversial news channel? Hmm. On the plus side, there’s a cool interior courtyard with gift stores and other shops. There’s even a Chick-Fil-A, which, naturally, was busy.

Atlanta also offered me my last chance to check out a state capitol on our trip. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me because I, for some reason, did not think Atlanta was the capital of Georgia until I saw the dome of the building from the highway.

This is the sixth one I’ve visited this year, and I’ll be honest – I think our nation’s capitol building architects need to get a bit more creative. Yes, they’re all nice – but how about something that’s not just aping the U.S. Capitol? This, combined with a lack of any real tour, made it a relatively short visit and a last-place finish for Georgia’s capitol. Number one? Santa Fe rules, home to the Roundhouse.

Remember how I mentioned my steadily increasing anxiety about driving on Atlanta roads? The great news for us was that we were also just a short walk (or scooter ride, as it usually was) from the Atlanta BeltLine, a more than 20-mile long series of walking and biking trails that will one day loop around the entire city. We were closest to the East Side portion, which for a variety of reasons is considered the best part.

Along with some beautiful green spaces that feel much removed from the city, there’s a ton of public art, nearby housing, and two very cool food halls/markets in refurbished mid-20th century buildings – Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market. They are pretty similar – in fact, they even look almost the exact same, the extent of which I didn’t realize until I uploaded these pictures.

My first destination along the BeltLine was Atlanta’s popular Botanical Gardens, which did not disappoint, even if I almost melted in the humidity (my body is apparently still attuned to the mountain-west levels of dryness that nearly made Morgan blow away in the wind.) The gardens are located in the city’s largest, most peaceful green space, Piedmont Park. It almost has a Central Park vibe, with the skyscrapers looming in the background.

I’m a big fan of botanical gardens in general, but this one was particularly nicely done. Some of the creations were just breathtaking.

In the midst of all the pure, unadulterated chaos that is most of Atlanta, this was a nice little respite. However, I’ve still not learned my lesson about avoiding rainforest exhibits during extremely hot and humid weather, and only barely escaped without turning into a puddle.

Take a slight detour off the same BeltLine, and you’ll find yourself right in the middle of a former president’s hangout – The Carter Presidential Center.

Carter Presidential Center, Atlanta, GA – Sept. 2022

I know there are a lot of feelings about Jimmy Carter and how he was as president, but it’s impossible to go through a museum of his life and not come away impressed by the guy. From a start as a poor rural farmer, he became a distinguished Naval officer, won the governorship of Georgia as a pro-Civil Rights Democrat, beat an incumbent president, and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize (and a Grammy). I can’t think of another president who’s done more to make the world a better place after they left office. Plus, the peanut farmer stuff. There was a lot of peanut-themed memorabilia, ranging from existentially terrifying to only just a little bit odd.

Also, for the second time on this trip, I got to visit the Oval Office (sort of.) But the Carter Center version was actually true to size, unlike the strangely unsettling 7/8ths-size version at the Lyndon Johnson Library in Austin.

Whenever I looked up the top things to do in Atlanta, there was always one looming at or near the top of the list – the World of Coca-Cola. I’m mildly resistant to paying for an “attraction” that’s essentially just paying to be advertised at (the Walmart museum was free!), but I had fond memories of coming here as a kid, and I figured Morgan would enjoy it. The place has a little bit of a Willy Wonka’s factor vibe to it, though notably less dangerous to children as far as I could tell. Then again, I wasn’t paying too much attention.

It’s a fun but slightly bizarre experience. You start with a quick history of Coca-Cola from what I could only describe as a Coke hype man, before being led into a theater where you watch a five-minute long ad for soda. It was a pretty good ad, though. Afterward, you’re let loose inside the cavernous exhibit hall, filled with all sorts of Coke merchandise from the retro-cool to the terrifyingly bizarre.

One of the biggest exhibits (and the only one with a line) was the vault where they supposedly keep the actual, handwritten secret formula for Coca-Cola. It’s protected by what presumably look like real alarm systems, but as a piece of marketing, it can’t be beat.

There were also a variety of other exhibits, like the Smell Lab below, where Morgan and I learned we’re not as good at identifying scents as perhaps we thought we were. There was also a kiosk where you could create your own Coke ad – I made the one below, which I think strikes a satisfying balance between old-school classic advertising and something out of a surreal vintage horror movie.

The real star of the show at World of Coca-Cola is the international tasting room at the end of the tour. Hundreds of people swarm the dozens of different types of Coke products from around the world, ranging from delicious to positively stomach-turning. I learned of a new appreciation for pineapple Fanta, and Morgan found an apple soda from South America that she enjoyed a lot. Most were just kind of bleh – certainly not made for the American pallatte, and we questioned how popular they even were in their countries of origin.

Earlier on in the experience, our “hype man” had mentioned his favorite flavor was a sour plum Fanta from China. He described it as tasting like barbecue sauce which, surely, couldn’t be true, right? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a tasting experience in four photos.

Honest to god, it tasted like carbonated Burger King barbecue sauce. I cannot imagine a world in which people drink this willingly. People who pay money to consume this product should seek help immediately.

After a hard day of exploring the country, Morgan and I enjoy kicking back and relaxing with a few episodes of a quality TV show. One of the ones we’ve been watching over the course of this trip was The Walking Dead, which, along with being blessed with a prolific amount of episodes and seasons for Morgan’s binge-watching desire, is a pretty interesting show to boot.

As anyone who’s watched the show knows, the setting began in Atlanta, ranged around the south for a little while, and then inexplicably moved to the DC area, despite the locations looking nothing like northern Virginia (ask Morgan how many times I raged about this.)

In fact, the vast majority of the series was filmed within the state of Georgia, or Y’all-ywood, as some have taken to calling the entertainment capital of the south. The Walking Dead specifically was mostly filmed in a little town about an hour south of Atlanta called Senoia (seh-NOY, not seh-noy-UH, no matter how you hear cast members pronounce it.) If you’re a fan, the following pictures should probably look pretty familiar! If you’re not, then…scroll ahead, I guess. That’s your problem.

Downtown Senoia, GA – Sept. 2022

Downtown Senoia is instantly recognizable as the location of Woodbury, a major location in the show’s third season. The town was also the site of the even-more-familiar Alexandria community. It was extremely cool wandering through such a familiar set, though it was by no means the only Walking Dead-related attraction here. Tucked on a side street is The Woodbury Shop, a combination fan store and Walking Dead museum that’s home to a selection of real props and costumes, including Negan’s baseball bat Lucille.

There were also some surprisingly good cosplayers dressed up as characters – you should have seen Morgan’s eyes when a very convincing Rick Grimes walked into the gift shop. I was even starting to wonder until the fat, short version of Negan showed up next to him and ruined the illusion.

Senoia offers Walking Dead tours of locations from the show, which was the main thing that brought us all the way out here. We’re not usually big tour people, but this one certainly did not disappoint. One member of our six-person group had been on the show several times as a walker, as had our tour guide who’d also been a living extra several times. This was actually one of the coolest parts, hearing about their experiences on the set and meeting the stars.

In a case of ultra-bad timing, our tour came literally one day after the famous metal wall around Alexandria was finally taken down. Instead of one of the show’s most iconic sets, we got to see a pile of rusty sheet metal. That’s not to say it wasn’t still extremely cool to get a look inside “Alexandria,” which in reality is just a few rows of pretty nice houses across the train tracks from downtown.

From the way our tour guide told it, the owner of the development had no idea he was signing up for essentially eight years of filming when he allowed the homes to be used and was pretty eager to finally sell those houses now that the show has wrapped up. In any case, he can probably charge a nice little premium for the notoriety. For what it’s worth, those who already lived in the community during filming had their mortgages paid by the show every year from May through October. Not a bad deal, even if you may not be able to leave your house on some days.

Fans may recognize some of the houses below, particularly the top right (where Rick and Carl lived, along with other characters), the “pudding house” on the bottom left, and Negan’s house on the bottom right.

Setting aside the coolness of hanging out on Walking Dead sets, Senoia was an utterly charming town. With tons of beautiful homes, gorgeous scenery, and a quaint main street, there’s a lot to like. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Nic and Norman’s (owned by Walking Dead executive producer Greg Nicotero and star Norman Reedus) before heading back to the big city.

Morgan’s excited fangirl face after the tour. Sept. 2022

We’d known what our final night in Atlanta (and therefore, our final night of the trip) would be for a while now. Way back in April, we had purchased tickets to the Outlaw Music Festival, headlined by Willie Nelson, for a show in Alpharetta, just north of the city. It seemed to make sense as a final stop, and we’d seen Willie just a few days before leaving last year, which felt like a proper way to close the book on our journey.

The venue (Ameris Bank Amphitheater) was pretty great, outdoors but covered, with a big lawn section in the back. It reminded me a lot of Merriweather Post Pavilion back in our old stomping grounds near DC.

Forgive me for a minute while I expound on my Theory of Willie Nelson. I will admit I was the first person to roll my eyes at the ludicrous tone of the coverage when the Queen died, so aggressively that they nearly fell out of my head. But one point did stick with me – the Queen’s first prime minister was Winston Churchill, born 1874. Her last was Liz Truss, born 1975. By the same token, Willie Nelson was born in 1933 (the same year “the Father of Country Music” Jimmie Rodgers died), and was already writing hit songs for country legends like Patsy Cline and Faron Young six decades ago. Today, he’s headlining shows with the likes of popular artists like Billy Strings (born 1992), Zach Bryan (born 1996), and his own youngest son, Micah Nelson (born 1990 – you do the math.) In between, he’s performed or recorded with pretty much every country artist of any significance.

The result of this is that Willie’s shows predictably have the strangest mix of people I can remember at any concert. There are old people. There are teenagers. There are people dressed up as honest-to-goodness cowboys, whether you’re in DC, Georgia, or anywhere else. There’s the hippie crowd, the jam-country frat bros, hipsters, families, and pretty much everything else. It’s a wild scene, and Willie is the one responsible for bringing them all together. He’s been around so long that he represents a lot of different things to a lot of different people. When he’s gone someday, I don’t know anyone else who could quite hold the whole thing together.

Our installment of the tour included sets by Charley Crockett, Billy Strings, Jason Isbell, and of course, Willie and family. What else is there to really say about seeing a living legend perform? For what it’s worth, we bought thought he seemed a little sprier than he did when we saw him roughly a year ago back in Maryland. When you’re 89, I suppose it’s all a matter of degree if you’re still out there performing.

And so, that was that.

After 49 weeks on the road, we packed up our life once again and headed back to Florida. The next time we’ll leave the Sunshine State? To be determined. But it’s safe to say we’ll be here longer than four or five weeks, which is the longest we’ve been anywhere without moving since leaving our condo in August 2021.

We’ll have a lot more to say about the trip and our future plans in the weeks ahead. For now, we’re focusing on taking it a bit easier in our temporary (or perhaps not so temporary) home of Tarpon Springs. The start has been a bit unsettled, but things seem to be settling in well. We’ll keep you posted.

The end…?,

Nick and Morgan

2 thoughts on “Terminus: Weeks 48 and 49

  1. What a year it’s been! So glad you had the chance to do this. I’ll miss the blogs. Looking forward to living in the same state again after many years.❤️

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