Friday, September 28, 2012

Adventure Thursday: Enjoying a Scenic Byway while Having to Pee

One of my new post-retirement goals is, each week(ish), to see or do something I’ve never  seen or done before and that’s what I saw and did yesterday.  I’d read in Brown’s Guide to Georgia that the route voted most scenic by the Georgians they surveyed was the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway out of Helen.

Brown’s Guide describes it this way:
A nationally designated scenic byway, this 38-mile loop winds its way through the area of the Chattahoochee National Forest which surrounds the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. The loop, which begins and ends outside of Helen, has good views of Raven Cliffs Wilderness to the south and Mark Trail Wilderness to the north. It passes Jack's Gap where Jack's Gap Trail leads to Chattahoochee Gap and the source of the river. The drive also passes through Unicoi Gap where the Unicoi Turnpike crossed the Blue Ridge.

It seemed like the perfect time and place to begin my weekly(ish) forays into my version of a bucket list.  The time being fall and a weekday would juxtapose the beginnings of the leaves turning, while ensuring that thousands of other bucket fillers wouldn’t be doing the same thing, hogging the roads and annoying me.  The place was good in that it was close enough for an easy day trip and far enough away not to be the other end of my sofa.  Plus, my first baby was conceived in the general area some 38 years ago, so there was that.

Driving up 400 (the Hospitality Highway 50 cents up 50 cents back) I was enjoying myself. I had a full tank of gas, a Diet Coke by my side, NPR on the radio, and my trusty I Phone in my lap with the GPS up and running.  Little did I know that the Diet Coke and GPS overuse would cause me a couple of problems later in the day.

I knew the small town of Helen would be a disappointment and I wasn’t disappointed.  Re-crafted in the early 1960’s to save a small town, Helen is a German Alpine Village in the middle of the North Georgia Mountains.  On what turned out to be our first conception experience in 1974, The Big Kat and I stayed at the absolutely gorgeous nearby Unicoi Lodge as part of a weekend trip with his new work buddies at Abbott Labs.  For dinner one evening, we all traipsed into Helen and I still remember its cheesiness.

Yesterday, when I stopped by for my Alpine fix, Helen had, if possible, become even more cheesified.  Although it appeared that they've added more walkways down by the river, which is actually quite pretty, there are now lots more gift shops with many more items not handmade anywhere, much less in North Georgia.  There is also a glut of fast food restaurants and chain motels, all sporting the yodel ay hee hoo motif.  Another new addition is that you currently can’t park anywhere in Helen without paying the $5 cash only, all day parking fee.

The $5 parking fee was a problem in that I needed to pee and I didn’t have five bucks in cash after paying the Hospitality Highway toll.  Although the kind ticket taker told me that, if I would hurry, he wouldn’t charge me, I couldn’t find a single place in Helen to pee in the two minutes I gave myself, so I left the parking lot and Helen with my $4.50 in cash and my bladder full, confident there would be a gas station in my near future.

There wasn’t.  I guess one thing that makes a scenic byway scenic is that they don’t allow gas stations and, because this scenic byway was clinging to the side of a mountain, I couldn’t find anywhere I felt safe enough to run out into the scenic part to squat with my pants down around my ankles.  So I kept on, my bladder petulantly undulating with the dips and digressions that made that particular byway so blasted scenic.  After what seemed like miles and miles of freaking scenic beauty, trusting my GPS to read the swerves and the curves, I finally found a sign that said: Brasstown Bald, Highest Point in Georgia, Historic Site and Rest Stop, 6 miles.

Rest Stop!  Thank you God and Jesus! Surely Rest Stop meant Restroom Stop!  I careened onto the road, and six painful miles later, I came to a tiny house with a sign that said Entry Fee: $3.

"Please tell me you have a restroom." I said to the guard, so so grateful I still had $4.50.
"Yes mam,  Right up there.  Three dollars please."

It was as I was sitting on the wonderful potty in the fantabulous Women's restroom at Brasstown Bald, Georgia that I realized my phone battery was almost dead, and no, I didn't think I'd ever need a car charger for my cell phone because I don't drive that much, thank you, Mr. Phone Salesman.

But at least I was at the highest point in Georgia and that was something to be proud of.

It wasn't until I was finished powdering my nose and had walked back outside that I realized I wasn't at the highest point in Georgia. Not yet. That would be just a short half mile walk up the path or I could take a shuttle for another three bucks.  I looked in my pocket book and counted out the dollar fifty I still had left, remembering I'd need another 50 cents to get past the toll booth to get back home,  So I started up the path knowing I could certainly walk  that far.  After all, I did much farther every morning back at home.

Straight uphill.  That path was straight uphill.  I stopped a couple of times to read some markers and try to breathe.  One of of the markers said the path had been built by convict labor in the 1950s. 

After about an eighth of a mile (and 4 markers and lots of bending over) I turned around and headed back down.  I could have made it all the way if I'd just had on tennis shoes and if I hadn't had my pocket book with me and if my phone was charged and if there wasn't the chance I'd need to pee again.

I ended up eating my granola bar lunch in the parking lot of the Brasstown Bald History Site, which was really quite scenic.  As I ate, I tried to ascertain if and how my Tom Tom GPS system (Tommy Jr), which I'd just remembered was in my glove compartment,  worked. 

Tommy Jr. did work and he talked me off that mountain a whole different way, a way that was truly scenic, and I made it home in time to watch the end of Katie on ABC. 

See that tiny thing at the top of the picture?  That's the highest point in Georgia.  

 What I learned from my first Adventure Thursday:
The only people who sightsee during the week are old people, some of whom ride motorcycles.
Helen is still Helen.
I need to watch my Diet Coke intake while traveling on scenic byways.
Using my cell phone GPS probably isn't the way to go for road trips.
I can walk long distances but not straight up and not with my pocket book.
I can travel a pretty long way and still get home in time to watch Katie on ABC.
Maybe I do need a car charger for my phone now that I'm such an adventurer.

What my adventure cost me:
$20 for gas
$1.00 for tolls
$3.00 for entry into the Brasstown Bald Historic Site
$1.29 for a bottled Diet Coke

What it could have cost me:
$25.29 for all of the above
 $5.00 for peeing in Helen
 $3.00 for the shuttle
 $10.90 for a car charger
 $10.00 for lunch other than a granola bar
$200 ticket for public indecency if there hadn't been a bathroom at Brasstown Bald

All in all, and in spite of not making it to the top of Georgia, I think I did okay with my first Adventure.   But if you are disappointed that, because I didn't learn all that much about any of the places I visited, including everything mentioned in Brown's Guide, and therefore you didn't either,  see:

Brown's Guide to Georgia

Helen, Georgia

Brasstown Bald

PS. As with the way of bloggers and blogging, my friend Diane, after reading my story, posted a wonderful tale about being stuck in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with three teen-agers, which also included a great, somewhat bi-partisan look at the history of the interstate highway system.  Here's the link:  The Road from Pigeon Forge  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Hours between Lunch and Happy

The hours between lunch and happy.

 I used these words recently to describe my visit to a popular area of Atlanta at a time when a good parking space was mine for the taking and I could get alfresco seating at a trendy restaurant without a reservation in order to drink my Diet Coke and enjoy the view.  More recently, as I've thought about it, I've concluded that these particular hours illustrate my vision for my new and untested retirement, while they also, in fact, offer up a bit of a problem.  On the one hand, I do now have the time to do many of the things that, in the past, I was too tired and busy to do and I’m available during the hours when most people are at their desk, their post, or their station.  On the other hand, some of these very same hours sit and laugh at me from my couch and call me names like loser and has been, which hurts my feelings.

I’m a routine-oriented person which has allowed me to survive and enjoy over 40 years in the field of Education.  I like to do the same things at about the same time and in the same way and I like to know what those things are in advance.  You will never find my picture at the top of a Google search list under the key word “spontaneous”.   

I’ve been this way since I was a young child.  I remember as a little girl sitting in our small TV room on a summer’s day writing down my vacation schedule, which went something like this:

9:00     Get up
9:05     Brush teeth
9:10     Breakfast and TV
10:00   Draw
11:00   Read
12:00   Lunch and TV
1:00     Get dressed
1:15     Go outside
1:30     Draw
2:30     Make bed
2:45     Read
3:45     Snack and TV
4:45     Practice piano
5:00     Make something
6:00     Supper
7:00     TV
9:00     Read in bed

Aside from some different time slots and an exchange of internet for drawing and the addition of an evening cocktail, I’m afraid my retirement schedule would look very much like that of my childhood.  Also note that, with the exception of "make bed", there was nothing akin to "clean room" on my schedule and that certainly hasn't changed.

Here’s the conundrum:  I retired because I did want more time and freedom and I do want to be able to plan my day my way and I definitely want to be able to spend more time with my kids and grandkids, but I still need something else, especially since I live alone and get tired of talking to only me (and those annoying hours that keep ridiculing me).  However, I do believe, in the past, I’ve allowed my full-time job to keep me hemmed in and safely away from things I might, under just the right circumstances, be interested in doing, things that just might scare me a little bit.  Now that I’m unhemmed, I'm also unhinged just thinking about the possibilities, which seem limitless (within my teacher retirement financial limits, which are definitely limited).

I’m getting there.  I’m holding on to some of the old by continuing to teach on-line for my old college bosses and teaching a writing class at my old school.   I’m also doing some new things with volunteer work at the Atlanta History Center (I get to wear a Civil War-era frock and bloomers) and I’m planning writing trips to North Georgia and Stone Mountain, all within the hours between lunch and happy.

The only problem is that those hours, according to my schedule, are for watching TV, having my snack, and making my bed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Birthday Girl

 Dear Molly,

If I were with you this morning, I’d make blueberry muffins from a mix and I’d put a birthday candle in yours, worrying as always that the melting candle just might be carcinogenic, one of many reasons why there wouldn’t be twenty-eight of them. 

People told me a late-in-life child would keep me young.  I’m not sure if that was true for me with you, but you have certainly kept me going, sometimes from worry, sometimes from necessity, often from your sheer Mollyness, your quirkiness, your dark and dorky humor, your carnsarned cussedness.

Through your more than a modicum of spills and struggles, you’ve managed to come to an understanding of yourself and others that I think is unusual for someone as young as you.  Although you don’t always trust enough to share this quiet discernment, at just the right moment, under the right circumstances, you offer up something so deep and insightful it leaves me slack jawed in wonderment.

People love you because you’ve been there, because you ask so little and offer so much: a sturdy shoulder, a big heart, a from-the-gut laugh, and a thoughtful answer to afraid-to-ask questions.   Your sense of irony comes from your sincere belief that, if it fell apart, it was because you didn't screw it on tight enough.  And, while that may not be all that healthy for you, it sure makes the rest of us relax a bit.  There’s such a comfort in world-worn you.

You worry that, at twenty-eight, you should be further ensconced in your adult life, more firmly rooted in knowing where you’re going and when.  I’m afraid I feel the same way at sixty-two, so I won’t be much help in figuring that out.  I do believe there’s a road map for your journey and an itinerary, both of which will come into your sight-line as you travel your life.  What a surprise that your heart’s own true love turned out to be with kids in high school, the very place that almost did you in.  Talk about courage, and perhaps a perverse form of payback.

You, my youngest child, share with me a love of reading.  In fact, you’re so pitiful and geeky that you profess the home-made Harry Potter coasters to be the best present you’ve ever received, and I’m pitiful and geeky enough to believe you.  We also now share a profession and a desire to pass on what little knowledge we have to anyone who will sit long enough to listen (and especially to those who won’t).  I’ll never forget that your first full-time teaching job came to you at the same moment I was leaving my final one.

The baton has been passed and the circle is unbroken.

Love always,


PS:  Some photos of times you may or may not remember

 And we didn't realize you needed glasses?

 Easter at Houston Lake

 Remember the naked years?

 The first of the "Maw" cruises

With your big brother

 With your big sister.
Reading most likely

 This must have been the Melissa and Billy booze cruise 
before they found the free liquor behind the closed bar.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Buying Toilet Paper in Cabbagetown

It just felt right.  I was in Cabbagetown and out of toilet paper.

When I first moved to Atlanta seven years ago, someone took those of us who toiled together out to lunch at a funky little restaurant called the Carroll Street Café.  That someone, who was a native, said the restaurant was in Cabbagetown, a former working-class neighborhood that got its name from – well, I bet you can guess.  The restaurant was cute and crowded during the lunch hour and it was difficult to find a place to park.  The area looked like it was in the midst of some gentrification but it still appeared very different from midtown where I’d just moved.

That was the last I thought about Cabbagetown until I discovered Whittier Mill, a former mill town up by the Chattahoochee River, while I was writing my children’s  book about Georgia history.  I was telling a friend about Whittier Mill, saying I hadn’t realized there had been mill towns so close to Atlanta, when she responded with “How about Cabbagetown?”  Duh.  The things I don’t know continue to amaze me.

For some reason probably having to do with being born a Democrat, I’ve been attracted to mill towns since I was a child, riding in the backseat of the family car as we traveled by the collections of houses all looking the same, houses situated in close proximity to each other like a large toothy grin.  I was used to farms, cities, and suburbs and these small communities looked so different and appealing in some way.

So, recently, with my newly-acquired retirement time, time that allows me to visit the Carroll Street Café between the hours of lunch and happy, I decided to give Cabbagetown another look. 

But first, I revved up my trusty computer and did some research and found the following from Profiling Solutions:

In the Battle of Atlanta, The Atlanta Rolling Mill was a primary target of Sherman, as it was one of the South’s largest producers of rail track, cannons and two inch sheets of steel. Destroyed during the Battle of Atlanta by the retreating of the Confederate army, the mill site was acquired by Jacob Elsas and Isaac May, German Jewish immigrants who came to Atlanta during reconstruction. Starting out as rag, paper and hide dealers, they transformed their business into a container business focusing on cloth and paper and incorporated the Fulton Cotton Spinning Company in 1881.

The International Cotton Exposition of 1881 was held in Atlanta in an effort to attract investment to the region. With many industries relocating to the post-Reconstruction South in search of cheap labor, the partners acquired the site and built their factory. Expansion of the complex occurred over the years with addition of a bag mill, but a dissolution of the partnership and change in business direction lead to the incorporation of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill with Jacob Elsas and his family having control of the site in 1889.

Cabbagetown was built as the surrounding mill town. Elsas built a small community of one and two-story shotgun houses and cottage-style houses surrounding the mill. Like most mill towns, the streets are extremely narrow with short blocks and lots of intersections. At its height, the mill employed 2,600 people which consisted mostly of poor whites recruited from the Appalachian region of north Georgia. A protracted strike in 1914-15 failed to unionize the factories workforce. For over half a century, Cabbagetown remained home to a tight-knit, homogeneous and semi-isolated community of people whose lives were anchored by the mill, until it closed in 1977. Afterwards, the neighborhood went into a steep decline which didn’t end until Atlanta’s intown renaissance of the mid-1990s. The mill itself was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

What I found when I went were cottages that appeared to be inhabited by people who didn’t seem to mind being a bit different, some were pristine, others barely hanging on.

  There was some yard art, including a shrub pruned to look like pacman and a large sign on a front porch proclaiming, “You are here.”  And my favorite sight was someone manning a skateboard with a twelve-pack of Pabst under his arm.

I stopped by the Carroll Street Café for a Diet Coke, which I enjoyed out front on a gorgeous and not terribly hot September afternoon, looking up at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill smokestacks that were looking back down on me, as were the inhabitants of Oakland Cemetery,  I was thinking about the people who've walked Carroll Street throughout Atlanta's history. The Fulton Mill is now the nation’s largest residential loft community but the cemetery still only houses dead people, some of whom were famous. 

While I enjoyed the Carroll Street Café and the sun warming my face, I fell a Little in love with Little’s Food Store, just down the street.  Not only do they sell fruits and vegetables and hamburgers and beer and wine, they also have toilet paper.

For more information about Cabbagetown and its history, see

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

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