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Our 2019 Road Trip, Part 3: Welcome to Atlanta

Olympic Torch Tower!

The 123-foot-tall Olympic Torch Tower, is one of several reminders of that time Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’d been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we aimed for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness. Before we went to D*C, there was the road trip to get there, and the good times to be had before the great times at the big show.

Interstate traffic in the major cities we visit tends toward one of two prevalent modes: perpetual gridlock or expert death race. I prefer the latter, but I can deal with either. Atlanta on a late Sunday afternoon was the latter. The drive from Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park on I-24 East to I-75 South was swift and painless in a good way, measured by my criteria. Anne kept herself distracted from the derby around us by taking a few shots of downtown as we headed toward our hotel.


I-75 intro!

Past the Appalachians, he southern skyline flattened for a time until skyscrapers began to emerge on our left.

Atlanta downtown!

A fuller view of Atlanta downtown, where we spent most of the next six days.You can see Suntrust Plaza at far left, and the 73-story Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel in the middle.

Amid all those looming towers were the hotels where Dragon Con’s main programming would be held beginning Thursday. Our accommodations were a few blocks south at the Residence Inn by Marriott Atlanta Downtown (as opposed to two other ATL locations with different modifiers), adjacent to the campus of Georgia State University. It was a short walk to the con to our north, a shorter walk to a series of eateries to our south, and slightly longer paths to some of the city’s major attractions. We’d originally had reservations at another hotel within the same corporate structure, but shortly before takeoff I did some more digging and swapped hotels at the near-last minute for a good $700 in savings. Large downtowns are rarely cheap.

Residence Inn!

Temporary home sweet home. Scooters everywhere.

Once we left behind the interstate for the city streets, the driving experience got a lot less endearing. If Chicago’s Loop and the French Quarter in New Orleans had a baby, it would look like downtown Atlanta. Cramped, dingy one-lane streets in tight grids catty-corner to each other, all surrounded in the shadows of super-sized architecture that felt less oppressive once we got used to the layout. I had to drive two laps around the general hotel vicinity till I could figure out exactly which street would take us to the front door, as opposed to across the street from it. For the first two days, until I could begin keeping all the intersections and compass directions straight in my head, the neighborhood was daunting on multiple levels.

Our hotel staff were southern hospitality personified in every conversation. The first gentleman to welcome us at the front desk was surprised to see Dragon Con attendees showing up so early in the week. We explained our half-vaca/half-con plan. He reciprocated by showing us a pic of his very accurate cosplay, talking up his experiences in the D*C parade (as in, actually having marched in it), and making a few restaurant recommendations that would later come in handy.

The room itself had its problems on and off. We had no small washcloths or shampoo until Day 2, and I had to bug them directly for shampoo. A few of the cable stations came in pixelated. The bed was the level of firmness I needed, but all the other furniture was the wrong kind of firm. One towel rack fell apart in my hand. Once I began availing myself of the free coffee supplies, the condiments were never restocked all week long. Those parts were not great.

Our worst enemy was noise level. Upon our arrival, the next block over saw a large crowd of South Asians holding some sort of jamboree, either a protest or a concert, with call-and-response rhythms going for a few hours. Street ambiance varied each night — car radios turned up loudly enough to discern the lyrics from the fourteenth floor, ubiquitous sirens, frequent racing and/or race-like high-horsepower revving, late-night shouting crowds, and so on. Some of that is typical downtown nightlife, but compared to our other big-city stays, Atlanta’s noise was way above the median decibel level. Other hotel guests around us were generally endurable, except one particular night of intense hallway chatter, and then Friday night when I couldn’t fall asleep until the folks next door, um, finished.

We were happy to be in Atlanta anyway.

After dinner (more about that in the next chapter) we wandered downtown for a bit before returning to the hotel. That’s partly because I got us lost in the diagonals. We paused for a moment at a bit of decor we hadn’t expected, the Andrew Young Tribute Plaza at Walton Spring Park, just off Andrew Young International Boulevard. Young was a beloved civil rights leader, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and good friend and associate of Martin Luther King’s. He was there for many of the famous marches and victories. In 1981 Young won the Atlanta mayoral race, defeating the incumbent who recently had a recurring role in season two of Netflix’s Mindhunter. In the 2014 film Selma, Young was played by Andre Holland from Moonlight.

Andrew Young statue!

The Andrew Young statue at the plaza, a 2008 work by John Paul Harris.

Andrew Young Obelisk!

Combined with his statue, the Andrew Young Obelisk (Curtis Patterson, 2008) and the surrounding circle represented a $1.5 million addition to this modest park.

German sundial!

Near the plaza is a German sundial, a gift from West Germany in 1983 in honor of local German heritage.

Emerging!

Also nearby is Emerging, a 1981 work by local artist Mark L. Smith.

Back in our room after we stopped being lost, we took some time to appreciate the view before we collapsed for the night. The kindly staff gave us a corner room on the fourteenth floor with one of the best views we’ve ever had on vacation. That’s a low superlative to use because our views are usually terrible. In our time we’ve seen plenty of concrete walls, rural ditches, next-door competitor hotels, ugly urban forests, and mall parking lots through hotel windows. In this department, the folks at Residence Inn spoiled us by our meager standards.

Westin Atlanta!

To our right side, that shiny Westin preens like the proud, distinct landmark it is. Down and to the right is the Marriott Marquis, a.k.a. the heart of Dragon Con.

Atlanta skyline left!

The view to our left, with Centennial Tower hogging center stage.

Atlanta skyline night!

Yes, the view improved at nighttime.

Buildings in that last picture, left to right: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons; 101 Marietta Street (formerly “Centennial Tower”, which is cooler), a boring office building; the CNN Center, which we’ll come back to in a future chapter; and the Omni Atlanta, whose lobby was recreated in the aforementioned Mindhunter and which was sold out for D*C dates several months in advance.

At far right, the Ferris wheel is called Skyview Atlanta. When I first saw the name, I had assumed it was a skyscraper observation deck. For fourteen bucks, riders get a view of the city from on high, but carnival-shaped. With a hotel view like this, we crossed the Skyview off our to-do list and saved another $28 on top of the $700.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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