31 May, 2008

Atlanta: The Rest of It

I've been putting this off entirely too long. I've lacked motivation, and [insert excuses about work and jury duty and so on here]. You know how it goes. Anyway, now that we've been home so long that even Scott is back to work, it's time to finish up the trip report.

World of Coca-Cola: I have to give the people at Coke props. They really try to make something magical and fun out of what was once just a factory tour. Sadly, for me, the entire experience felt a little - ahem - flat. The best example I can give is of the "4-D" movie (and don't even get me started on how squirting me with water does not add a fourth dimension to your movie!). They obviously spent big bucks on the film, the theater, the effects (and the water), but it was painful to sit through. They should have hired someone from Universal or Disney to teach them about making a story people want to see again and again. Of course, if we wanted to see it again and again, we could... because we got to keep our 3-D glasses. (And check out those sexy double chins!)

Coke as a brand has a built-in nostalgia that rivals Mickey Mouse. It's everywhere, and has been that way for our entire lives. The bottles are an iconic shape, you recognize the logo on sight, you know at least one jingle, and I bet most people can name at least one important life event in which Coke was a supporting player. And to their credit, W.O.C. really gets that. Much of the experience was museum space broken into different rooms full of memorabilia.

But umm... you know how I said that Coke was a major supporting player in American life? It turns out that I'm not interested enough to see Coke take the starring role. While Coke is more interesting than ketchup or mashed potatoes, I don't think it has the entertainment chops to stand up to an aquarium or theme park.

W.O.C. did have two major highlights (and one minor one): The introduction movie cracked both me and Scott up. Some of Coke's more recent advertising has been this goofy animated look at what happens inside the Coke machine when you put your money in, and how your Coke gets to you. The "Happiness Factory Theater" shows a "documentary" on all of the little people in the commercials. I couldn't begin to explain why this was funny, or why the documentary is so much funnier than the actual commercials, but it was a home run.

And of course, the real reason to visit W.O.C. is the tasting area. Here you can sample 70 different Coca-Cola products from around the world. (yes, they have Beverly!) Of course, I can't remember a single one now, but there were some real winners and some major losers. Neither of us actually spit anything out, but the last set of fountains we hit were all pretty bad. I think we left an entire fountain unchecked. Fanta, my friends, has some evil step-sisters on other continents! And set apart from the wacky flavors, there was a section devoted to the different American flavors of Coke. Scott took a moment to stop and enjoy the vanilla!

And the tour ends when you exit into the gift shop. But before you go, you get to take a souvenir bottle of Coke "right off the line" to take home. Of course, our bottles were stamped with a date 3 days before our visit, but the bottles are still cool. We drank the Coke in the hotel, since we were still bound by that 3 oz. airplane rule, and brought one empty bottle back. We bought some postcards and a 3-pack of coke-flavored chap sticks (cherry coke, root beer and something else... maybe cherry vanilla? the cherry is already in my purse. I love it!).

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from the CNN Tour. Of course, that's because you're not allowed to take pictures. I wasn't really sure how I'd react to being in the mecca of cable news. I mean, there was a time that I really thought I'd be working there... or at least somewhere similar. Alas, I never really had the drive for journalism. I became a control room junkie in high school and college, but I didn't have the blood lust to make it in that industry on camera or producing.

The tour was cool. It didn't make me yearn for the path not taken, which I suppose is a good thing. I wanted to linger in the mock control room (which shows about 40(?) different feeds from the actual control room), and got a kick out of seeing the CNN and Headline News anchors doing their thing.

And this tour also ended in the gift shop. Here I bought myself a shiny(!) orange(!) travel mug with the CNN logo on it, and Scott got a mug for work that says "You Look Guilty." Had we been buying souvenirs for other people, we totally would have bought the red state/blue state US puzzle for Janette. Election party, anyone??

I believe this leaves us with the Glenn Hotel still to cover. I mentioned before we left how cool the hotel seemed from the website. And they delivered everything they promised: comfy beds, trendy everything, orange(!) accents... but when all is said and done, I just might prefer a chain hotel.

To be fair, we booked the room at a steep discount, and I'm sure what we got was their most basic accommodation. The only request I made in advance was for a queen bed and we got it. However...

* The room was small. What you see in that picture above is just about it. The closet was literally 18" wide and came with about 6 hangers.

* Our bathroom had a shower and no tub (and no peek-a-boo window to watch TV). There was literally one hook to hang a towel on, so we had no choice but to get new towels every day (I'm a fan of re-using towels to save water and detergent). And the counter around the sink was barely big enough for our minimal toiletries.

* There was no clock. Again, I didn't call to ask/complain about this, so I'm not sure whether that's intentional. We got by on wake up calls and the clock on the TV.

* Speaking of wake up calls, the first morning we used the service, I answered the phone. Since I had to talk to a human being to set up the call, I assumed a human being would be calling in the morning. Instead, I was greeted by an automated wake up (fine with me!) by what I can only imagine was a part-time phone sex operator. She used her seductive velvety voice to tell me good morning and that she hoped I had a wonderful night in my luxurious bed (or something like that). And then I promptly took a shower to wash the "ick!" off! Sadly for Scott, the second wake up call was just a hotel employee. lol

* I already mentioned the $10 cocktails at the rooftop lounge. What I didn't mention then was that the two waitresses up there were dressed like hookers. In their defense, they were hookers in matching dresses, so obviously that was an actual uniform. I felt terribly out of place there. The hotel/lounge/restaurant are owned by Maxim, and obviously tailor the experience to a demographic that I am most certainly not!

* Housekeeping was not great. We had issues one day getting to our room at 4:00 and housekeeping being 1 room away from our room, so we hurried right back out. The next day, we got back at noon and housekeeping was 1 room away again, so we went to lunch WAY earlier than we wanted to, and they still hadn't been there when we got back (must've been their lunch time too). We ended up staying in the room because I needed a nap, and I was rather surprised there was no courtesy call offering to make up the bed or bring fresh towels. You get that any level Disney hotel.

* The view was great... if you looked above the parking garage! We were on the fourth floor, and the garage went up to the fourth floor. The bonus was we had a corner room with almost two solid walls of window.

So obviously the hotel focused a lot on the details... just not on the details we would have preferred! Here's two pictures of the hallway between the elevators and our room:
"What am I looking at?" Two glass heads filled with glass beads. Why? No clue! The second picture turned out poorly. The hallway was basically lined with these "planters" of fake grass. Again, don't ask me why. I thought it was pretty cool though!
So that's the end of the Atlanta Story. I recommend everything we did (but not everywhere we ate), and if you can get it for a good price, I even recommend where we stayed.
We're already looking ahead to our next vacation. Most likely, we'll be doing yet another el-cheapo stay in Vero Beach for our anniversary, but since it's our 5th, perhaps we'll splurge on something a little more special.

27 May, 2008

Atlanta: The Aquarium

I was going to save the post about the Georgia Aquarium for last, but decided to stick a photo-heavy entry right in the middle of it all. Saves me from having to type all of those words!

The aquarium is broken into five sections. The first one we visited was the Georgia Explorer section. As you can imagine, this exhibit has the stuff native to Georgia. I didn't take any pictures here, but did touch a starfish.

The second section was River Scout, highlighting animals that live in and near rivers around the world. Here we saw Asian otters, electric catfish, and lots of other stuff.

Next up was Cold Water Quest. This was beyond cool - spider crabs (yum), sea lions, sea otters, beluga whales, penguins, giant octopus (it's in that last picture... can you see it?) and sea dragons were all on display.
The Tropical Diver area was where we spent the second-longest amount of time. Aside from the jellyfish (SO cool) and garden eels (which hide in the sand when fish go near them), they had a big coral reef display with tons of pretty tropical fish. They have touch-screen computers set up at the reef, so that you can look up the fish that you see and find out more about them. Sadly, the educational aspect was completely lost on me. I can't remember one single name of the pretty fish I looked up!

And of course I saved the best for last: Ocean Voyager. The whale sharks are in this giant display, but they're not in there alone. There are other sharks, rays, and fish (giant grouper, anyone?) to watch. The exhibit begins with a glass tunnel (where Scott first saw the whale sharks), and there is a room with an entire wall of aquarium at the end of the exhibit. Scott and I sat on the risers watching the fish for over an hour. It was amazing.

I think whale sharks are an example of something that just has to be seen in person. Hopefully this video I took helps a bit. (don't bother with the's just kids screaming)

26 May, 2008

Atlanta: The City and The Food

I have to admit, Atlanta wasn't really what I had expected it to be. I had this Gone With the Wind impression: slow pace, heavy accents, southern charm. What I got was really just another city: high buildings, traffic, and homeless people.

However, I do want to make it clear that I really like Atlanta. I'd live there. I didn't feel unsafe at any point. There were interesting sculptures on nearly every street corner. The buildings were high, but not so high that you get dizzy looking up at them like in New York. And there was lots of green space. The above picture was taken from between the aquarium and the Coke building. Face the opposite direction, and you'd see Centennial Olympic Park, with its Olympic Ring fountain and lots more lawn to enjoy.

I appreciate that Atlanta has a really good mass transit system. There's buses and trains to take you anywhere you need to go. It seems cars are a much bigger luxury there, and that people who bother with cars really only have nice ones. Scott saw his first non-Bond-movie Aston Martin, and we saw more Mercedes, BMWs and Bentleys per capita than anywhere else I've ever been. I don't even think I saw a single Hyundai!

Since we didn't really do anything or go anywhere that wasn't at least a little touristy, I can't say for sure that the people were friendly as a whole. But the people in the service industry certainly were.

The food, I must admit, was pretty disappointing. Perhaps we planned poorly. The first night, we found ourselves at a total tourist trap (one that apparently I had visited in my childhood and promptly forgot): Pitty Pat's Porch. The food was o-o-overpriced, the service was slo-o-ow, and we were underwhelmed by the food. Actually, I took a risk and had some curried pork dish that was really good. Scott got fried chicken and ribs and didn't really care for either. The most amusing portion of the meal was the "sideboard" of vegetables that came with it. Salad bar? We wished! There were 6 bowls up there: one with a green salad, one with some sort of cucumber salad, one with pickled rinds of some sort, and three with mystery mayonnaise-based salads. No labels - just guessing. It was like Fear Factor Atlanta!

Other dud meals were experienced at the Golden Budda (for lunch - barely edible), the food court at the aquarium (though it's possible we just made bad choices there), and the Landmark Diner (which wasn't really a dud... just a diner).

Our "big dinner" was at a seafood restaurant remarkably near CNN that shall remain nameless. The service there was really good. And I made a bad choice and ordered salmon for dinner. Just because a fish I don't usually like is stuffed with crab, shrimp and brie, that doesn't mean I'm going to like it! The reason for not disclosing the name? Well, after an iced tea refill, I took a drink and sucked up what I assumed was a lemon seed. I spit it into my hand and dropped it on my bread plate and heard a plink that didn't sound at all like a lemon seed. Turns out there was a small glass chip in there!

As soon as we told the server, he left and returned with the manager less than a minute later. They whisked my glass away and he kept asking me if I was ok. I'm sure he was trying to decide whether I looked litigious. I told him I was fine, just really freaked out. They replaced my tea, he told me he'd take care of my dinner, and Scott and I went back to eating. Scott kept shooting me nervous looks like he expected me to have perforated something and drop dead any second. Frankly, I would have known if there was anything else solid in my tea. I'm sure of it. It turns out the manager comped our entire dinner, so we gave the server the $20 that Scott happened to have in his wallet and we left.

The free dinner wasn't actually our best dinner. Our best dinner was at Max Lager's, a grill/brewery that Scott picked off the AAA website. When we got there, we were seated in a section without a server. Oops! We were exhausted from the long walk, and barely noticed that we hadn't been helped. They ended up throwing in free dessert to make up for it. We both got the ahi tuna with "spicy vegetables" for dinner. The vegetables? OMG... they were spicy! And the tuna... was perfect! Of course, the deep-fried cheesecake for dessert was the most divine thing I've ever eaten! It's more like a deep-fried crepe with cheesecake filling... soooo tasty!

Scott told me that I wouldn't be able to get un-sweet tea in Atlanta. He was partly wrong. I always got it, but it was an adventure. Pitty Pat's brought me un-sweet for my first glass, and then all of my refills were sweet. At the brewery, I ordered un-sweet, and the waitress apologized when she brought it out to me - "the sweet tea hasn't been brewed yet." The seafood place got the drink right... but were apparently trying to weed out the un-sweet drinkers of the world! And as you can imagine, we didn't see Pepsi in any dining establishment!

One other thing I wanted to mention: the broken windows! Atlanta got hit by a pretty bad tornado last month, and all of the skyscrapers seemed to have a lot of damage. It took me a while to realize that's what I was looking at. Boards, tape, and plastic could be seen on almost every building. Our second night, wicked storms passed to the north of the city, and the local weather man was pooing a brick. I understand that!

Scott and I both enjoyed Atlanta. I bet we'll go back there some day. And if we win the lottery, I promised him we'd get a cheap condo downtown and annual passes to the aquarium.

24 May, 2008

Off His Rocker?

I can't decide what to think of Keith Olberman's "special comment" from last night. Mostly, I think that he's really feigning his outrage and stretching to make his point. But he does give me pause.

I wonder if people who remember 1968 are more likely to go along with him. Opinions?

Atlanta: Travel

I got the e-mail that I made it into Encore this year, and that has lifted my spirits. At least it's something to look forward to in the month of June! So now that I've stopped pouting a little bit, I can start to think about vacation again.

Chapter One: Travel
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

We flew Spirit Air to Atlanta, thanks to their notoriously cheap fares: sure you have to pay for snacks, drinks, and checked baggage, but you're not going to find a cheaper flight!

I was starting to freak out because I hadn't been able to print my boarding passes online the night before or the morning of our flight. When we got to the airport, I tried again at an automated kiosk and still couldn't print them. Thankfully, the lady at the desk had no trouble. I thanked her and we headed toward security. As we walked away, I laughed because the agent had circled information on my boarding pass and not on Scott's. Ha! I'm special!

"Special" is apparently a synonym for "selectee." As we got through security, I got taken to a special line (they let Scott come with me) where my bags were x-rayed, opened and swabbed for mystery chemicals. I meanwhile was walked through the metal detector and then frisked. I couldn't believe that some strange woman was squeezing my armpits (no, not boobs... though I may have just blocked that part from my memory) and patting me down. It was mercifully quick, and I was reunited with my stuff and had my shoes on before Scott did! He missed the whole episode.

Then I spent the next two hours sitting at the gate being pissed off and traumatized. As much as I'd like to believe that it was the suitcases, I know that my "random" selection was made before we even got to the airport. That's why I couldn't print my stuff from home. My immediate reaction was something along the lines of, "the TSA reads my blog...and isn't a fan!" And when two TSA agents showed up at the gate (the woman already wearing her rubber gloves), I nearly threw up. I was so thankful to get out of Orlando.

Aside from a pilot who was sort of a dick, a little lap-sitter who kicked my seat the whole time, and a sweaty man in the seat next to me who asked to borrow my cell phone, the flight was quick and easy and we made it to Atlanta only 1/2 hour late. In Atlanta, we managed to navigate through the airport to the train station, buy our round trip tickets from a machine that gave change in $1 coins, and get on the train with almost no difficulty. We got off the train at the correct stop and made it to the hotel with a 5 minute walk.

The area in a one-block radius of the station was very ghetto, but I never really felt unsafe. And for the remainder of our vacation, we walked everywhere. I love that about cities.

We took the same route back - walked to the train station, train to the airport, etc.

Atlanta airport security seems to be more efficient than Orlando. I was surprised, since I never really thought of Atlanta as more than a hub. We made it through security with no special surprises, but I did make an observation: it's probably best to not wear your bedazzled shirt to the airport. Those little baubles are going to set off the metal detector, leaving your husband to deal with your four children and all of the bags by himself. And he's not going to have the common sense to get out of everyone else's way. And people may or may not feel bad when they accidentally bonk one of your children with their carry-on bag, bouncing their head into the plexi-glass wall behind them.

...not that I know any of that from personal experience!

Our flight home was an exercise in tolerance. There was a group of five drunk loud lesbians who thought the rest of the plane was amused by their shouts to each other. Really, most of us wanted to strangle them. I know it wasn't just me and Scott - there were other people talking about them at baggage claim.

Oh yeah - baggage claim! Because the flight was full, the airline asked people to voluntarily gate check their wheeled suitcases. Well I didn't want to pay to check the bag, but was perfectly happy to not have to deal with the overhead bins, so I passed my bag over to them. The highlight of our travel day was seeing our suitcase come onto the carousel, Scott go to grab it, and me yelling, "YARGH! Tis my luggage!"

No one was amused but me... but I laughed all the way to the car!

23 May, 2008

County Government: Sucking the Joy Out of Life

I have roughly five vacation posts to write (Atlanta impressions/food, Travel, Hotel, CNN/World of Coke and of course the Aquarium), plus a post about today's unexpected gift and the new Indiana Jones movie, and no desire to write anything at all except this:

Can't a girl catch a break?!?!?

I got a jury summons today.

For Monday June 2.

For a three week civil trial.

And judging by the name of the case, I'm guessing it's medical malpractice.

I called The Boss and asked him to write me a letter begging for me to be excused. He said he'd talk to his boss, but was pretty sure he couldn't. His suggestion? "Punk up" my hair and dress radical.

It's not like I'm against jury duty. After all, I sat through a trial back in 2003. The problem? Let's see...

- The courthouse is basically in the opposite end of the county from my home - probably a 90 minute drive.
- Report time is 7:45 am.
- If chosen for the trial, I'm likely going to need to work on Saturday & Sunday because there's just no one else to fill in for 21 straight days.
- If chosen for the trial, Scott and I will be home together literally for 4 hours per day. And we'll be asleep. He gets home from work around 2, and I'd be leaving at 6. That is SO uncool!
- Let's not even discuss the gas my car will need to get me that far.

Oh yeah, and someone from The Restaurant recently was on the jury for a MURDER trial that only lasted 5 days. Some girls have all the luck!

I have a pretty general sense of foreboding about this time. Last time I got a summons I didn't even have to report. What are the odds my luck will hold?


22 May, 2008

We're Home

...and it looks like all the pets survived, despite Milo's creative Photoshoppery to the contrary!

I have 199 photos from the trip to go through and edit. I'm sure you'll see them in bits and pieces over the next few days. To start, here's four: the view from our hotel room (yeah - that's the CNN Center!), the view from the rooftop lounge (worth $10 a drink? you decide), two of the whale sharks (the reason for our visit), Scott and I wearing yet another set of 3D glasses (at World of Coke).
Did you miss me??

21 May, 2008

Self Defense?

Look. Kilo just... wouldn't... stop... crying.

It's been two days of non-stop meowing, and I just couldn't take it any more.

You would have done the same.

20 May, 2008

Swim with the Fishies

Today Mommy and Daddy are at the Georgia Aquarium. I hope they bring me back a tasty fish!

Sadly, at 40 feet long, I doubt they'll be able to bring me a whale shark... especially since Spirit charges so much for checked baggage!

19 May, 2008

Milo in Charge

Mommy and Daddy have left me in charge. My first act as House President? Control the remote, of course!

Now if you'll excuse me please, I'd like to get back to watching Meerkat Manor! You can show yourself out.