Another break in the shift pattern, another transatlantic jaunt at breakneck speed to spend what little time I can with my gorgeous and worthy girlfriend dezzikitty.
This one started by haring off to Manchester Airport to fly with Delta to Atlanta. Manchester is easily Britain's biggest airport that doesn't declare itself to be in London; terminal two is bright and unusually spacious landside, though rather crowded airside. (It is also a Burger King zone; normally I wouldn't object, but some cheap McDonalds coupons were recently posted through our door and I only tend to visit burger chains while I'm travelling.) I was pleased to see that the small arcade featured the Star Wars: Trilogy arcade game about which I had heard; perhaps it will get a sequel game, Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy? I was more pleased to see that the game features the canyon sequence from the Star Wars movie itself (the one where the torpedoes are fired into the ventilation shaft to blow up the Death Star) and even more pleased to see that there is an on-screen graphic reproduction of the nixie tube distance countdown as seen in the original film. Retro-futurism to a degree seldom seen.
The Delta flight was decent (pretty good seats, acceptable food and good service by my cattle-class standards, though in-flight entertainment about 10-15 years behind the times) and it was somehow more pleasant to be on a small 767-300 with seats arranged 2-3-2 rather than the usual 3-4-3 Virgin behemoths. After about eight hours, we touched down at Atlanta's Terminal E and I filed myself into what turned out to be by far the slowest of the immigration queues. I was only asked two questions, but the immigration official seemed to be working in slow-motion. After that, while still in international arrivals, we had to check our luggage back in and go through a metal-detection security check, which was a first at arrivals; however, sbisson has explained that the checks are necessary because we're entering domestic departures, and it makes a little more sense that way.
I took my revenge upon the airport by satisfying almost nine years of curiosity and deliberately getting onto the internal people-mover which shuttles between terminals at the last stop, deliberately ignoring the "please leave the train and do not board it" notices and preparing a defence of confusion, just to see what happened. The track is shaped like a tuning-fork, or like a capital Y, with trains travelling up one leg and down the other - once it has come up one leg, it goes onto a track behind the scenes and reverses direction before travelling down the other leg. There is a platform on this reversing-shunt marked "temporary halt, do not leave the train", or words to that effect, so it's clear that I must not be the only confused/nosey passenger to have stayed on the train longer than intended in the past. (There's also a siding off the shunt where trains may be taken out of service if need be and I think I saw some sort of control room by this siding.) Not a vile or drastic revenge to take on an airport, but still fun to see a part of it that wasn't intended.
To business, though, and the MARTA trains smoothly and easily (though not desperately quickly) took me to East Lake station where I had a huggy reunion with dezzikitty and her sister parkingmeters. From there, we headed off to Meg's family, a couple of hours up the road. Along the way, we stopped at Chik-fil-A (sic) which is truly the prince of chicken restaurants. Their chicken sandwich is what I think of more as a burger, though the difference is made by the two
Meg's family live in rural Georgia. After a trip home to greet their folks, we went and checked in at the local bed-and-breakfast in Meg's home town. It is surprising to this urbanite Englishman that it is so frequent to live at this level of population density and this degree of separation from commercial development and yet not be a farmer - home is about eight miles from town. The town itself again staggers with its sprawling nature; while Meg has declared it tiny, measured by counting the stop-lights, I estimate it as being perhaps 50% larger in area than a small Cumbrian coastal town I know (Millom) despite having, I would estimate, something like a quarter of the population. Even US villages punch ten times their weight, by British standards, when it comes to out-of-town shopping.
Additionally, what I have dismissed as "the local bed and breakfast" would probably be at least four diamonds by English standards, maybe five - gorgeous grounds and six rooms, each with their own theme, and I'm sure the five we didn't visit were at least as extravagantly and exquisitely dressed as our own room. Considering how good the breakfast was the next day, I think that British prices for the same experience would be between three and six times as high. If this is typical of Southern small-town hospitality, rather than being exceptional, then I don't know why more tourists don't aim to set out for the small-town experience. Strongly recommended.
Saturday was Meg's silver birthday; a little shopping preceded a very fine taco lunch accompanied by refried beans, which are mushy peas' Tex-Mex spiritual cousin. After a family afternoon, we went out for dinner to Inoko's, my first trip to a Japanese steakhouse. Japanese restaurants are about as rare as Mexican ones in the UK, even allowing for purists like Meg to make the Mexican - Tex/Mex distinction, The diners sit around a central hot grill at which the chef cooks the food and serves it to the diners; suddenly I know what teppanyaki's username means! Part performance, part cuisine, very tasty and lots of fun. Most of the groups there were celebrating; we had a posse of chefs serenade birthday!Meg with a Japanese happiness song to which I bounced along. Meg has a full cast list of attendees and it was great to see you all; it took me a long time to realise that marynotcontrary and thursdays_son had driven the equivalent of "from London to Scotland" to be there, so particular thanks to you both.
(As an aside, I tried to speak Japanese to our chef, based on the tiny amount I remembered from my year studying it at night school in 2001-2. Here's how it went.
Chris: Good evening.
Chef: Hello. (Something else very fast.)
Chris: Excuse me, I do not understand.
That was that. At least I was polite.)
Sunday was a day of recovery (read: sleep) and time spent with Meg's family, at least partly preparing for a very busy Monday; Monday saw us fill ourselves quite to the brim, with take-in from a very inexpensive and high-quality Chinese restaurant called Peking where a shade over thirty dollars bought enough food for two sizeable meals for four, a trip to a famous drugstore which sells excellent ice-cream for half a dollar a throw and a noted student hangout with justly - nay, internationally - famous milk-shakes. All of this surrounded a trip to the local park with a duckpond and ducks. After talking about it for a year or more, we finally got to feed ducks together! They were satisfyingly wobbly and fluffy, which is exactly what we were hoping. I took particularly great pleasure in feeding the little ducks and the sleepy ducks, rather than the honking great geese.
The main event of the evening was a trip to see the rock'n'roll band Cowboy Mouth. This would be the first bona fide rock'n'roll concert I had ever attended (though, being fair, I did see D:Ream play at the Keble College ball in the summer of 1995) and, at the age of 29½, this was perhaps not the sort of new experience that many would be having at this time of life. Meg had long spoken very highly of them and described their concerts as secular paeans to quasi-religious celebratory fervour, so we stuck their CDs on the car stereo pretty much non-stop while we were driving and I tried to absorb the choruses of their most famous songs to shout along with the best of 'em. As to how I found the rock'n'roll experience, I am tempted just to say
it was good
and leave it at that, but it's fun to read what people write about the first time they're a passenger on an aeroplane and I shall proceed in that vein.
Cowboy Mouth are a four-piece band with drummer Fred LeBlanc front and centre stage between three geetarists of various register (two male, one female). They sing what I understand to be good old Southern rock'n'roll in which many of the songs concern women who have done them wrong. Fred is extremely flamboyant and animated and encourages all the crowd to forget how they look and their thoughts of self-image - essentially, to remove any obstacles that might stop people from enjoying themselves. Fair enough. Their songs (or, at least, their concert staple songs) often have fairly simple choruses, or elements of call-and-response, with all sorts of exhortations from Fred to try to get the audience into it. Fred also throws used drumsticks out into the crowd (and, indeed, everywhere) as gifts. One got knocked to ground reasonably near me and caused some scrambling on the floor; happily I was the first to get both hands to it, which was sufficient to make it mine by nine points of the law. In her fifteenth Cowboy Mouth concert, unfairly-disadvantaged-by-being-short!Me
Lots of audience interaction, as discussed, not least with the drumsticks; Meg's sister has a cute tale of interactions they engendered. I think I managed to hi-jack someone else's shout-out. Let me tell you what I think happened. Fred called out to "you with the red collar". (Who, me? Is that... eye contact?) "Yes, you! You having a good time?" (Not sure if you mean me but, heh, what the hell... YES SIR!) "Don't call me sir, just say yes or no. I said, you havin' a good time?" (at top of voice YEAH MAN!) "I can't hear you. Speak louder, boy, this ain't selling insurance, this is rock'n'roll. You enjoying yourself?" (YES!!!)
The others around me later confirmed that they thought he was talking to someone else - after all, there were about 200 or 300 crammed onto the dancefloor, at a guess, and I was probably in the back half; it probably was just coincidence that what the intended shout-out recipient's replies matched with what I said and I am sure that they are right and I was wrong at the time. Surely it is the hallmark of a great frontman to make every single person in the audience think the band is singing personally to them.
The set started at 11:15 and lasted, ooh, about 75 minutes or so, culminating with their seminal ten-minutes-of-Bacchanalian-"Pavlovian scream" song, "Jenny Says", which was the first track - the intended hit single? - on one of their earliest CDs. Meg thought two of their songs were new, one of which was about Joe Strummer of The Clash. Inevitably, there was an encore. We rolled out of there with triply-signed drumsticks shortly before one, sweaty, exhausted and pleasantly hoarse. Meg had felt somewhat very tired, somewhat throatachey and, in general, rather under the weather for much of the day - in fact, she had to take a break from the concert for fresh air, which was rather unlike her. Alas she then had to drive us back to Atlanta where we managed to check into our hotel at 3am and check out again by 6:45. Yes, by design; on reflection, by unduly self-punishing design. We did catch up the sleep we missed on the 'plane home. :-)
I definitely enjoyed the night greatly, though (or, quite probably, because) it's very much the sort of thing I wouldn't do without Meg and would still be fairly reluctant to do without Meg and a crowd of lovely other Atheniennes. Turns out that men apparently tend not to dance at rock'n'roll concerts, however much provoked and exhorted to, which was sad; I bounced copiously and often even in rhythm but didn't try much more complicated than combining a bounce with a sway, except when everyone else was doing the same thing. Apparently this was still rather more than what most men were doing.
Meg often boosts the band by saying they always give 100% whether they're playing in front of a festival of 100,000 or a crowd of 200; while the band don't receive a great deal of radio airplay, they do rack up millions of attendees to their concerts annually - which, presumably, isn't quite as impressive as it sounds because of the festival numbers therein. While she is the expert and I believe her, I get the impression that this may have been the closest to an A- effort that the band gives - the concert was a charity show and they only shared the headline with another band, playing a set of equal (slightly restricted?) length, albeit as the closing feature attraction of the evening. I'm sure they'd've faced more receptive, more fannish audiences in their time, too.
Back to Boston, then, and Meg returned to face a week and a bit of work, through the entirety of which Meg's head and throat woes annoyingly continued. (She's allergic to my British germs, it seems.) During that time, we visited our usual meal haunts, Papa John's pizzas (excellent take-out, particularly the breadsticks, plus wonderfully-low-number-of-clicks Internet ordering), succulent but highly spicy Sichuan beef from the P. F. Chang's Chinese restaurant, and the superb and well-located Indian restaurant Bhindi Bazaar. They do an all-you-can-eat buffet at lunchtime: unlimited salad, pickles, vegetable pakora, veg curries, tandoori chicken and a single meat curry, plus kheer rice pudding, for a very reasonable price. Meg believes I had six plates of savoury and three tiny bowls of dessert in an hour; I cannot confirm or deny this, but I certainly did fill myself up to the brim and a little further.
We also visited Legal Sea Foods, after having threatened to do this for over a year, and expanded my taste in marine morsels beyond tuna. (Crab cake and scallops for me; shrimp aplenty for Meg!) I had a dessert of poached bananas in sauce with some excellent vanilla ice cream, too. More expensive than our usual fare, but recommended. I also visited Anna's Taqueria, my first trip to the staple of Cambridge student life and a queue of over twenty processed very quickly through the human conveyor belt producing very large burritos at top speed. There were some Scientologists lurked outside Porter station opposite, but they did not attract my attention and so I did not use my scathing remarks about clams upon them. Possibly a no-score draw, possibly a fist-fight avoided.
We enjoyed going to see Fever Pitch, a reworking of Nick Hornby's novel so that the central sporting passion is baseball rather than association football. (Clever dual use of pitch as verb rather than noun, there.) Hard to say without bias whether it really was a good sport-themed rom-com or not, but certainly seeing it in Boston in 2005 - as fresh and topical as the film can get! - was a real highlight. There are surprisingly many advertising-supported free newspapers in Boston, one of which, Barstool Sports, unashamedly pushes the blue-collar sporting agenda - a more tasteful, clothed version of our Sunday Sport, if you will. I mention them because they objected to the film on the principle that sports and rom-com do not belong together.
There was also a trip to see dancingrain for Thai and good conversation, but unfortunately no trip to see other Boston friends. I would love to see Boston's Potterites and gamers alike; Meg would, too, as I taught her the simple rule-changing card game Fluxx (an earthquake1906 favourite!) which she enjoyed and is looking for opponents. Not sure how many more times I'll be back to Boston, though! It's a town I like greatly, but who knows where love - and my love in particular - will take me?
Another sad trip back home on General Election day, flying back from Boston to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Manchester. Atlanta has horrible Internet access: no official wireless yet, though some have reported success with leeching hot-spots through the walls of frequent flyer clubs' clubhouses, Laptop Lane at $0.65/min and three dial-up computers in Terminal E who don't make their pricing structures clear and then sting you for $8.88 for ten minutes' access. Not recommended. Remember, get your revenge on the airport by using the people-mover to see parts of it you shouldn't. The flight back had good food, but was even worse still for entertainment; the in-flight magazine promised us some hammy formulaic big-panted fun with the latest Bridget Jones, but the truth was Lemony Frickin' Snicket. Best thing that can be said about the flight is that I must've got about four hours sleep...
I misspeak. The best thing that can be said for the flight is that it got me enough Skymiles to reach the magic 50,000, after about 4½ years' effort, which turns into a free transatlantic flight - in the height of summer, which this booking must be, that's at least a £450-£550 value. The next dates are set and I have the tickets already: USA here I come once more, July 2nd to 14th!