College Basketball on the Big Stage (350th new thing).

January 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Prior to day three hundred fifty I had certainly been to Philips Arena. I’ve seen a several Hawks games, a couple Thrashers matches, a Police concert and even worked at a dog show escorting Clifford the Big Red Dog around. However, 350 became the first day I saw a college basketball game in the building: Clemson vs Ga Tech.

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Forms of Orange.

Tech had been playing their season at Phillips Arena while their old stadium was being torn down and rebuilt as something newer, flashier, and generally more awesome. It was sort of like Georgia State University playing football in the Georgia Dome. Neither arena was anything close to being full and you could buy beer while watching a college sport.

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One of my favorite parts of college basketball is hollering “Swoosh!” when the free throw shot goes in.

The game was as exciting as any college basketball game. Clemson won to our delight. And I got to see a regular season college basketball game while drinking a beer. Everybody won, except Ga Tech.

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So true.

Not K2 Bound (348th new thing).

December 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

On Day Three Hundred Forty-Eight, Patrick and I joined friends Jonathan and Jess for a bit of indoor rock climbing at Wall Crawlers. The Js were seasoned scramblers, Patrick had joined them once before a few weeks earlier, but this was my first time scaling anything, unless you count Stone Mountain, which you shouldn’t.

Wall Crawlers Everywhere!

Wall Crawlers Everywhere!

We began our adventure by renting fiercely uncomfortable shoes. I felt like one of the title characters in the Roald Dahl classic, “The Witches.” You know, square toes fitting into pointy shoes? Except that these forced my toes to curl downward with no wiggle room. I was sure the footwear would be great for adhering to the knobby protrusions out of the fake rock wall, but were hell for walking around in a normal fashion.

Balancing Act

Balancing Act

Once the four of had shoed and harnessed up (more comfortable than the zip line harness), we headed over to the first easy wall we would climb. Patrick went first, being experienced and all, and so Jonathan could show me how the harness connected to the safety rope and carabiner. There was a looping process to create a fancy figure eight (sorry for the vague descriptions, rock climbers and knot hounds) that I managed to duplicate, but I was never the anchor on the ground for anyone else. I wouldn’t trust me either.

First Time at the Top

First Time at the Top

After Patrick had had his run up the first wall, it was my turn. I failed my first attempt, but finally managed to touch the bar at the peak on my third try. I felt pretty good about that. Then came the rapelling part, where I imagined myself in a Mission Impossible style descent, bouncing feet first onto the wall and jumping in great arcs. Instead I was slowly being lowered, the only action my feet were accomplishing, in combination with my hands, was keeping me from bopping into the wall. It was probably all they were good for anyway, as sore as I already felt after my first full climb.

More Experienced

More Experienced

Jonathan and Jess took their turns next, opting for far more advanced maneuvers than either Patrick or myself. Jess straight up did the splits across one wall…in jeans. Jeans! Whereas my only goal was to touch the bar at the top of the wall, the pair of them restricted themselves by only grabbing certain colors of hand and footholds, sometimes moving horizontally or diagonally in their quest.

Finally my aching limbs quieted enough for me to try another wall. This one seemed a little more difficult as is sloped toward us slightly at the top. I’d really have to hold on. I even have a video that Patrick shot:

While my form wasn’t perfect, I think I did a damned good job making it up the wall. My favorite moments were when my left foot had only the wall as a foothold around the 1:00 mark and at 1:40 when I took a blind leap at a handhold. Looking back, those were the two most frightening and exhilarating moments of the day.

And then Patrick went up the same route. Spoiler Alert: I was much faster 🙂

Our afternoon ended with a trip to the bouldering wall, an area that our gracious hosts enjoy the most. There are no harnesses or safety ropes in this area, but instead a six to ten foot cave-like wall wraps around an area with a thickly padded floor. Numbered flags waved from a few of the holds. My arms had turned to jelly from pulling myself up into the air, but Patrick managed to hang on for a little while.

Jess Bouldering

Jess Bouldering

Then Jonathan and Jess played their number game on the boulders. Beginning with the hold marked with a “1,” Jess moved horizontally around the wall, her hand only grasping the number that came next. After she made it to about twenty, she dropped down and Jonathan took over for the next twenty or so. They made it further than they had before, past “100.” I was super impressed; I could barely even use my arms to pick myself off the ground. New Goal before turning 31: Develop Muscles.

How to Dweeb it up in Atlanta (342nd new thing).

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve done quite a few dorky things is my life. I have even nerded out quite a bit since I turned 29. I used to regularly feel embarrassed about silly things I would do and say, but these days I embrace the effortlessness of goofy geekiness. And on Day Three Hundred Forty-Two I grabbed embarrassment in a giant bear hug and embarked on the most intentionally awkward task of my twenty-ninth year: I went on a Segway Tour of Atlanta. And brought Mr. Sensible himself along for the ride.

This was another of those half-off deals purchased online. I had bought it months earlier and finally scheduled the tour on a day both Patrick and I had free. After dragging him through the Family Feud taping on Day 189, I was really surprised he also agreed to this outing. Bonus points for him!

We arrived at the Segway Tours of Atlanta office a few minutes late after navigating a parking spot in Downtown Atlanta. We were greeted by a man in a long black wool coat and a helmet. “Oh,” he sighed, relieved. “I’m glad you made it or I wouldn’t have earned money today. You’re the only tour.” Always good to start off on the right foot.

We signed some waivers releasing City Segway Tours from danger should we klutz ourselves up or get hit by an errant segway and then relaxed in some hard plastic chairs to watch our “Intro to Segway” video.

The video showed healthy people in helmets smilingly navigate woodland paths strewn with wildflowers and sunshine. So this is how you ride a Segway. Protective dads guided their young over a curb and along a sidewalk. Everyone was blissfully cheerful. I couldn’t wait to try one of my own.

We picked out our helmets and followed our guide (I think his name is Doug so we’ll call him that) out to where three machines were standing before the glass fronted entrance. Like magic they had appeared while we had been inside. Doug walked us across the street with the Segways and began to go over instructions. “Lean forward to go forward. Pull back to stop. Lean to the left and tilt the handlebars so to turn a circle.”

How to appropriately ride a Segway

How to appropriately ride a Segway

I jumped on first. It was surprisingly easy to get the hang of. Within a couple minutes I was racing up and down the sidewalk, turning pirouettes in a fit of showing off. Patrick also managed to get the jist of the Segway rather quickly, despite a jerky beginning. Then off we went to explore our city.

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Find the Shrapnel Scar

Doug began his tour in the adjacent Centennial Olympic Park. We stopped by a fan shaped sculpture as our guide led us in close to inspect the markings where Eric Rudolph’s bomb went off during the 1996 Olympics, forever scarring the metal.  Doug talked more about the Olympics and how they brought him here from Cleveland for work in 1995. He had recently been laid off from his job, but as he looked on the bright side, “I used to just be a flight attendant, but now I’m a Captain!” as he leaned forward to lead us to our next stop.

We crossed the road to The Tabernacle where we were informed that the building used to be a church and now is often a music venue. Patrick gave me a look when I mentioned he had promoted a show there the other night. Doug’s face deflated as he worried that he wouldn’t be able to tell us new and interesting things about the city. It was awkward.

Preparing to Face the Throngs of Students

Preparing to Face the Throngs of Students

But not as awkward as rolling through the streets of my alma mater while bored twenty year olds glared at you. We scooted through scores of college students on the campus of Georgia State University as they barely moved to let us through. I had the stupid grin of someone who finds a moment so absurd that laughter is the only option. Patrick wore a little more of a scowl, which made me smile even more enthusiastically. We stood at least a head taller than any pedestrians and I wondered how many times a given student had been plagued by a similar Segway tour. So I laughed harder, a maniac in a helmet standing on a crazy rolling contraption twisting through the streets.

Georgia State Capital and Ohio's "Miss Freedom"

Georgia State Capital and Ohio’s “Miss Freedom”

We moved from the GSU campus past Underground Atlanta and on to the capital building. Doug informed us that the “Miss Freedom” statue atop the gold dome of the building was actually built in Ohio for their state capital, but was saved by Georgia when the Midwestern state came into money problems. Thanks, Ohio.

Coolest Kids on Peachtree

Coolest Kids on Peachtree

We posed for a few photos in front of the Atlanta landmark and then moved on to the Immaculate Conception Church where my clumsiness caught up with me. The sun was shining at a fantastic angle behind the first Catholic church in the city so I decided to capture the scene on my phone. Unfortunately, as I rested the wheels of my transportation against the curb, I leaned forward a hair too much and essentially fell of the Segway. I caught myself straddling the post, half on the curb and half off. I guess these weren’t the same vehicles featured in the Intro video we had watched earlier. With nothing more than my ego bruised I got my picture standing on solid ground and ignored Doug’s comment about, “This is why we always wear helmets.”

Immaculate Conception Church. Nice light, right? Totally worth a tumble.

Immaculate Conception Church. Nice light, right? Totally worth a tumble.

Carnegie Library Arch

Carnegie Library Arch

Next we passed by the Terminal Rail Station, now a federal building, and learned that at one point Atlanta was close to being named Terminus. How Sci-Fi. We delved into more Atlanta history and architecture when we followed up the stop at Terminal Station with a visit to the place where the old Carnegie Library once stood. The original marble entrance stands nearby in homage. And as I know from my Atlanta Prison Farm tour, other marble pieces of the library lie amongst weeds in a field belonging to the city.

Tallest Building in Atlanta.

Tallest Building in Atlanta.

We stopped by the tallest building in Atlanta before a brief repose at the Varsity and an unexpected bonus journey around GA Tech.  Apparently since Patrick and I were so quick to learn the maneuvering of the Segway, we had extra time. I was happy for the bonus, but after the two and a half hours of Segway riding we had done thus far, I was pretty knackered.

We rolled around the campus briefly before hitting Tech Parkway and moving back to Centennial Olympic Park. On the way Doug stepped off his wheels to put out a fire possibly started by an errant smoker. Not cool, smoker!

The Beluga Whales live here.

The Beluga Whales live here.

We capped off our educational tour with a little “fun” (Doug’s words). Centennial Park boasts circular green spaces with paved walkways around the outside of the foliage. Maybe they are in the shape of Olympic rings, who knows. Either way, they are a Segway rider’s playground. Patrick followed Doug and I followed Patrick and we looped around the park in crazy figure eights in the second most absurd activity of the day (the first being rolling through a crowded urban campus). Patrick glanced back several times with a “What the hell?” sort of expression across his face. It made me laugh even harder as I whipped around the bends, nearly tipping over once or twice. As we raced back to the offices to end our journey, I pulled out my phone to capture some video.

Warning: it’s not super entertaining, but you may get a glimpse of the absurd fun Segways can bring into your life.

We pulled to a stop outside of the office and Doug reached out his hand to shake ours. I inelegantly thrust his tip money into his outstretched palm, in a manner I somehow envisioned as being “slick.” Patrick looked at me with laughter dancing in the corner of his eyes. So dumb. We still had to go inside to get back the credit card on hold and turn in our helmets. And when we did the woman manning the desk gently encouraged us to not forget to tip Doug.

Segways and cityscapes!!!

Segways and cityscapes!!!

He didn’t say anything about how we’d already been through that informality and I just turned bright red and pivoted to leave. At this point my embarrassment had overcome my sense of humor and I just wanted to be in a car. I sure do hope he didn’t let his coworker think he’d been stiffed.

So if you’re looking for something fun to do with out-of-town guests, or maybe you just want to pretend to be a mall cop for a day around the city, I would definitely recommend a Segway tour. Except maybe don’t opt for the three hour version. Half that time should be plenty. And just so you know, there’s probably a tip jar at the end of the tour so you don’t have to palm it like a cool kid.

Open Air Biplane (341st new thing).

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

I bought a Groupon type deal for a biplane ride not long after I turned 29. As the days ticked by, and the expiration date neared, I figured I should use the deal so I called to schedule a flight. Unfortunately, part of the deal meant that two people would be squeezed into the front of the plane. I, with just my single ticket and no passenger, would have to wait until at least April when another single person had made an appointment. April, as in a month after I turned thirty. I frantically called around to any friends, or even acquaintances who could be interested in taking an open air flight high above Atlanta with me. Apparently I know quite a few who suffer from mild Acrophobia. I finally convinced my friend Chris to join me in the skies and with his knowledge of aircraft and daredevil enthusiasm, he turned out to be the best candidate. So off we went on a frigid Day Three Hundred Forty-One to ride in a biplane.

It was incredibly cold on that Sunday morning. Driving back from Athens, I received a call from the pilot himself, asking if I wanted to reschedule. Everyone else who had booked for the day had opted out due to the near freezing temperatures. I called Chris to see if he felt the same way as the pilot, but fortunately, he was ready as much as I, so we assured the captain we would bundle up tight and be there at two o’clock.

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If you live in or near Atlanta and have visited the 57th Fighter Group, you’ve probably seen the yellow double winged plane posted outside of the restaurant. This is where Biplanes Over Atlanta set up its headquarters for possible passengers. Some people pay to fly after visiting the restaurant, others (like me) plan a little more in advance. I think either option was viable on the windy day of cancellations.

Once Chris and I walked into the restaurant, in fifteen layers each, we met up with the biplane coordinator and sat to fill out (yet another) waiver. She told us Captain Jeff Clark would be our pilot and described what we would see and how long we’d be in the air (about fifteen minutes). The lady talked about the plane and asked if we had any questions. Chris asked about the plane’s manufacturer, when it was built, and generally showed a deep knowledge and curiosity. Most of the names and numbers and dates washed over my head. I was dreaming of open air and awesome views.

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Then it was time to board. Captain Jeff quickly demonstrated how we were to climb into the compact space in the front of the plane. “Step here, never here. Hold here, but not here.” Chris climbed in first and I followed, sucking in all my breath in order to squeeze in. The side door  squashed into my shoulder, but with my giant down parka I was well cushioned.

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We maneurved around to put on the headsets and took turns adjusting the volume while the pilot took his position in the hole directly behind us. I gripped my camera on my lap, strap tightly wound around my wrist as we began to move forward. I couldn’t see where we were going, so contented myself looking through the hazy glass to my left. I had a brief flashback to steering a plane myself earlier in the year. This was much less stressful, but also one hell of a lot colder, especially as we picked up speed.

And then before I knew it, we were airborne, the cars and buildings on the ground growing smaller and smaller until I felt like I was looking down upon metro Atlanta in miniature. It’s my favorite part of any flight.

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There wasn’t much talking; the wind made far too much noise for us to hear anything through our headsets, although occasionally I caught a bit of Captain Jeff’s descriptions. “There’s Stone Mountain” he crackled. I looked over through the haze of the afternoon and could barely make out a gray lump in the distance. That’s Stone Mountain, alright.

We flew over downtown as I tried to take a few photographs. I had brought my point and shoot with its wrist strap but found that I enjoyed using my iPhone better. However, my phone didn’t have a strap. In order to get a clear shot I had to raise the device above the fogged window protecting me from the outside wind which was strong enough to jerk the hands holding the phone. I had a quick flash of saying so long to my phone as it was wrenched out of my hands, but through brute strength and determination I was able to hang on. The feeling in my gut remained for a couple seconds, that twisted sensation you get when you lean too far over the edge of a railing and see the ground coming up from below. A healthy edge of vertigo to keep you sane.

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Before too long we were circling back to the Peachtree-Dekalb Airport. The buildings and trees and cars became larger and larger as we neared until finally everything was eye-level again and the wheels of the plane touched the runway. We taxied back to the displayed parking in front of the 57th Fighter Group and reverse climbed our way back out of the plane. Reverse climbing your way out of a plane is immensely more difficult than climbing in. It took me a few tries, and I nearly ended up doing the splits on the bright yellow wing, but I made it to solid ground alright. There was the typical (for me) awkward tip exchange and then Chris and I went back inside to collect whatever belongings we had left, waiting just until people were out of reach to declare (with emphasis),” “That was Awesome!”

We watched the next people go through the motions of climbing into the plane and take off before we headed back to the car. I remembered driving back home after I had taken a flight lesson on Day 202 and how strange it felt to be on the ground. It was like walking across the gym after spending a good amount of time on the treadmill. Except instead of gliding across a room full of sweaty people, I was gliding down Clairmont Rd, effortlessly changing lanes and hovering just slightly over the road. So it felt.

While I still don’t think piloting a plane myself is a goal I will achieve in my lifetime, I certainly wouldn’t say no to another trip in either a biplane or a single engine two seater. Especially because I can always have the window seat.

Goat Farm (337th new thing).

September 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had never been to the Goat Farm in Atlanta’s Westside area of town. I had also never seen Thurston Moore play. I have seen Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Jim O’Rourke play an awesome live film/soundtrack collaboration called “Perfect Partner” ago in Gateshead, across the river from Newcastle (that was in England, y’all), but no Thurston Moore. I remedied both these lack of firsts on Day Three Hundred Thirty-Seven when Patrick and I headed to the Goat to see Thurston Moore.

The Goat Farm is a creative commune with studios for all kinds of artists.  I did not see any goat, but I did see aged brick buildings clearly used to hold machinery and livestock a hundred years ago. It was night and the darkness seemed to add a mystical aura across the rocky footpaths leading towards the performance space. We passed a small tea shop that housed the only indoor bathroom with a line of people to the door.

We walked on, following our noses to a food truck selling tasty desserts and hot chocolate just outside the entrance to the show. The performance was held in a giant high school gym sized building with broken windows and ivy growing up the sides. It was a pretty fantastic environment. I suppose it would be considered more of an event space (as opposed to venue) considering that the PAs, lights, electricity, and video screen all had to be brought in from outside sources. But it sure did make a gorgeous picture.

Matthew Smith/Shadowboxer Photography

And here is the point where I mention that I really enjoyed the show, despite not being a Sonic Youth fan. Well, not that I’m not a fan, but more that  at the time of the band’s heyday I was dreaming of England and filling my ears with Britpop the likes of Pulp, Blur, and even Oasis. If you want to know what the sound was like, a fortunate soul recorded the entire performance. See all 83 minutes here.

After the show, Patrick and I trudged back to the car which was parked just over the entrance. I laughed to myself as I overheard two hipsters on dates discussing how great the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens was. “It’s not the best, but for $100, it’s the closest thing you can get to a disposable lens. It sucks if you have to replace it, but at least it’s only a hundred bucks.” I mostly laughed because I kind of agree. Does that mean one trip to the Goat Farm and I’ve turned into one?

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel (330th new thing).

August 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Patrick had been working on a super secret show for years. Literally…two years. If I walked into his office and he was emailing an agent about this high level secret he would cover the screen with his hands or minimize the window. Curiosity aroused, I managed to catch the initials “JM” in the subject line. I started spouting off names of any act I could think of who may have fit the JM description. And some who didn’t. Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Mungo Jerry? I didn’t even stay in the parameters of the living. At one point I suggested Jeff Mangum, but Patrick didn’t flinch. Still, I felt it was the best guess so far. And I was right. So finally on Day Three Hundred Thirty for the first time ever, I saw Jeff Mangum play live.

I arrived late to the Neutral Milk Hotel fan world. I bought In the Aeroplane Over the Sea when I was twenty-three, four years after the band had essentially stopped touring and recording, in the Newcastle HMV. However, it only took one listen for me to move the album to an imaginary top ten list. I found myself almost daily putting in headphones and jumping manically around my tiny grad school dorm room in frigid England, lip syncing to “King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3.” So while not a long-time super fan of Jeff Mangum and his music, I only had positive associations.

It was raining as I hurriedly parked my car a block away from Variety Playhouse and rushed in before the headliner began. I met Patrick in the lobby, waved hello to a few friends and acquaintances, and ordered a beer. Despite the fact that the show was sold-out and the standing areas along either wall of the theatre were beyond packed, we managed to find a couple of empty seats toward the back of the room, with a clear view of the stage. And shortly after a tall scruffy looking man called Jeff walked on stage to begin the acoustic rendition of “Two Headed Boy Part 2.”

The crowd roared into anticipatory applause. Nineties Athens indie rock was brought back to life in Little Five Points for a night. Chills ran down my arms, and stayed there throughout the show. At one point I looked up at Patrick and saw him begin to well up under memories and nostalgia. Seeing Jeff Mangum was a huge burst of youthful remembrance for him. He grew up with this music, in college for the heyday of Neutral Milk Hotel.

As the more popular songs were played with minimal instrumentation, the audience sang along. I wanted a big musical crescendo as “King of Carrot Flowers” (all parts) was played, but the additional musical support on stage was spaced out. Andrew and Laura from Elf Power, Scott Spillane from Gerbils and Neutral Milk Hotel, and another musician all took turns joining Mangum on stage.

It really was a fantastic live music experience. Even without the electric guitar and drums and even the theremin. the show rocked. And now I have another happy memory to associate with what is still an album on my imaginary “Top Ten” list.

Even as a thirty year old I will still listen to “King of Carrot Flowers” with headphones and thrash madly around the room.

Fox-a-roni (313th new thing).

April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Day Three Hundred Thirteen found me eating dinner with Patrick at Fox Bros. Having had a busy day without any new activities, I turned to a food challenge and ordered the “Fox-a-roni” with my smoked wings. It was a combination of Brunswick Stew and Mac ‘n Cheese, two of my favorite bar-b-que related sides.

Unfortunately, this combination did not prove to be equal to its two parts, at least to me. However, the wings were deliciously smoky, fall-off-the-bone tender and I gobbled them up without a second thought. Next time, though, I’ll probably just stick to Mac ‘n Cheese as my side. Or get extra wings.

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