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.
Atlanta is home to a few major companies with international reach and historical impact. Among them, CNN was closest to our hotel. The 1980 brainchild of local media mogul Ted Turner, best known to our generation as the guy who brought us Turner Classic Movies and who thought it would be cool to have It’s a Wonderful Life garishly colorized, CNN was the first 24-hour all-news channel, back in the days before every hobby, profession, concept, or word had its own dedicated 24/7 cable channel out there.
The building has been around since 1976, but it’s been the CNN Center since 1987, when CNN and its eldest offspring CNN Headline News relocated and made it their broadcasting home. CNN’s primary programming now shoots in NYC, LA, and DC, but HLN and other CNN offshoots still call ATL home. As it happens, the CNN Center offers tours to the public. We thought it sounded fun. Neither of us watches CNN regularly, though Anne dabbles in HLN’s true-crime programming. Sadly, our tour did not include a meet-and-greet with the narrator of Forensic Files.
In the center of the Center is a food court, a view of the many office levels rising above, and an Earth. Back when the CNN Center was known as the Omni Complex, its features includes an indoor amusement park (just like the Mall of America) called the World of Sid and Marty Krofft. The park’s largest remnant is a 196-foot-long escalator, certified by Guinness as the longest freestanding escalator in the world, which carries group tours upward into the center of the Earth.
We approached the main desk and bought tickets for the next available tour. After the usual “where are you guys from?” exchange, one of the two clerks on duty told us he happened to be from Indianapolis, though not our neighborhood. Curiously, the same thing happened when we toured 30 Rockefeller Plaza in 2011 and met a page who said he had coworkers from Fishers and Zionsville. That’s…an interesting coincidence if true. Call it the Great Hoosier Diaspora, I suppose.
We had a good twenty minutes to kill until our tour time. While Anne headed straight for the nearest smashed-penny machine, I wandered their gift shop, loaded with official CNN merchandise as well as select items from other companies that share their corporate umbrella.
When the time came for our tour, we reported to the appointed gathering spot, marched through metal detectors, and were accompanied by security guards up the escalator and all throughout every single stop and step on the tour. On the occasion of our August 26th tour, things were not copacetic in America between our journalists and our politicians in power, to say nothing of the latter’s occasionally unscrupulous fanboys. CNN was taking no chances.
…and that’s the last point at which we were allowed to take photos on the tour. However, no such decree was proclaimed about taking notes while we walked. Other things we saw on our heavily guarded tour:
- Studio 7, where HLN’s Elizabeth Prann was anchoring Morning Express live and swigging some water as the cameras cut away
- The CNN Newsroom itself, viewed from above like a medical theater, filled with dozens of employees at computers monitoring spreadsheets, documents, and videos
- The CNN Digital room, which felt a bit less exciting
- The CNN International studio, unmanned upon our visit
- The CNN en Español studio, likewise empty
- Studio 3, used only on weekends for fare such as New Day Weekend, CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, and Vital Signs with Dr. Sanjay Gupta
- The exterior of that giant Earth up close, which needs some hammering along its seams
- A short film about Golden Jellyfish
- A 1990s satellite phone, monstrous and capable of inducing hernias
- A 1970 concept diorama of the Center itself
- A Ted Turner cardboard standee
For the final act, we gathered in a freezing mini-auditorium to watch a self-promotional video about the importance and awesomeness of CNN, the critical function that its mission plays in American life, and the accomplishments of its anchors including but not limited to Anderson Cooper. We were prepared to be patient and polite as clips began to roll from past major breaking news stories. Then came the background music — a very familiar piano tinkling, joined by a subtle drumbeat, then an increasingly louder, somber orchestra behind them…at which point Anne and I looked at each other because we had both just recognized Hans Zimmer’s theme from Man of Steel.
We spent the rest of the video stifling our laughter while Cooper and other correspondents shared true, deadly serious, sometimes life-changing tales and reports over bombastic strains that once accompanied a superhero flick in which Superman murdered a bad guy.
On that note, the tour ended and the guards escorted us back to the main lobby. Before heading out to our next Atlanta destination, we grabbed lunch from their food court at a fast-food place we’d never heard of called BurgerFi. I’d assumed at the time that they were small and/or exclusively Southern, but a quick check of Google Maps confirms they have a location two hours northeast of us, up in Fort Wayne. Who knew.
For some reason our order took a good ten minutes or more to make. A few customers behind us in line got their meals before we did. That never impresses us in a restaurant, and effectively killed any interest we had in paying attention to whether or not the food was any good. Once we got ours, we shoveled it down while more guards looked down upon the crowds from an overhead catwalk.
To be continued!
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