I See Georgia: Covington

I See Georgia: Covington

 As a teen, I used to watch “In the Heat of the Night” during the summer. The television series, based on the 1960s novel and film of the same name, focuses on the police force in a small Southern town. I’d watch as murderers, thieves and criminals of all kinds met justice. While the show was set in Sparta, Mississippi, it was filmed in Covington, Georgia.

I’d never been to Covington, but had heard good things about the town of 13,000 in Newton County, about 35 miles East of Atlanta. On a sunny Saturday in early August, we set out to see just what it is about the place that continues to draw film and television crews back time and again.

We left Athens and headed Southeast, passing through Bostwick, home of the Annual Cotton Gin festival (more on this event in later posts!), and entering Hard Labor Creek State Park. We passed through the park, filming location for Friday the 13th Part VI, Jason Lives, and reputedly haunted (again, more on this to come in the future!), before merging onto I-20.  A few minutes later, we were pulling into a parking space in downtown Covington.

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Immediately, I could see why the place is a favorite filming location. Covington is small town America; the epitome of the idyllic Southern town, with a grassy, open square surrounded by historic buildings. We wandered around, eventually stepping into a memorabilia shop if for no other reason than to cool off.

The shop features merchandise from Covington’s movie and television history. The town’s screen credits include shows like The Vampire Diaries and The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as films such as Selma, Remember the Titans, and Rob Zombie’s reboot of Halloween 2.

While we were in the store, we noticed activity in the square, where a group of people were unrolling what looked like a giant canvas or tarp. Someone asked the clerk what was going on, and her answer sent us immediately scrambling across the street to get a good look.

In an effort to break a Guinness Record, a local church group was attempting to inflate, and then set off, the world’s largest whoopee cushion! Seriously. I couldn’t make something like this up if I tried. Why would someone do this? For the same reason humanity has climbed Mount Everest, walked on the Moon, and invented selfie sticks: because it can!

We stood in the shade of a huge tree and watched as several adults spread the giant novelty item on the grass, then connected a large air pump. As final preparations were made, the party was joined by the entire youth group of the First Baptist Church. The church’s pastor, Matt Funk, then took to a microphone to explain that the current whoopee record, held by a New Zealand television show, was 19.8 feet in diameter. The one laid out before us, he said, measured 25 feet.

With that, the pump whirred to life and the cushion began to inflate. As the massive contraption grew, pastor Matt laid out the plan: Members of the church’s youth group would stand in a circle, hold their arms up over their heads, then push down in unison. Soon, the cushion reached its maximum size, and we were ready to go.

A hush fell over the crowd as the kids took their places. It was one of those moments, frozen in time and full of anticipation. I expect that people all over the world felt this same excitement as Neil Armstrong descended the final few steps to immortality. Well, maybe not. But still, we were about to witness history! At last, the time came. At Pastor Matt’s cue, the kids linked hands, raised their arms, pushed down with all their might…

And…

It worked! The cushion let out a sound that I can only describe as a cross between a Harley Davidson at full throttle and a hot air balloon that had been struck by lightning. The kids pushed and pushed, putting all their collective weight into it, until the cushion was fully deflated! They’d done it, and Adventures of the Bear Team had been there to witness it!

When you see something so great, so unusual, so small town incredible, words often fail to capture the feeling of actually being there. Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it. Check it out for yourself!

A post shared by Keith Maxwell (@bigbearjkm) on

After the festivities, we walked around downtown Covington, venturing into a few shops before passing through Southview Cemetery. Eventually we found ourselves standing before the majestic Newton County Courthouse. Built in 1884 in the second empire architectural style, it was added to the national register of historic places in 1980.

As we stood looking up at the picturesque structure, I flashed back to the afternoons I spent watching In the Heat of the Night. Gazing at the courthouse, I could almost see the ghosts of Chief Gillespie, Virgil Tibbs and Bubba Skinner going about the business of solving the murders, robberies and disappearances that continually haunted their small town.

Tired and hot after walking around town, we were in need of somewhere cool to rest for a bit. We found the perfect place at Bread and Butter Bakery. We ordered coffee and sipped it while lounging on a couch and taking in the interior, which was decorated with local art. When we left the coffee shop, it was too early for dinner, but there was one restaurant in Covington we didn’t want to miss: The Mystic Grill.

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We’d come across it online during a search for restaurants in the area, and every site claimed it was the best. We entered the mostly empty place and were seated in the dining room. Housed in a historic building on the square, the interior was warm and inviting, walled with brick and wood. Since it was still early, we elected to go with an appetizer and ordered the fried pickles.

When the food arrived, it was delicious. The pickles were hot and juicy, and the breading was crispy. They came with a spicy remoulade which only added to the taste, and we quickly polished them off. Though we didn’t eat a meal there, I enjoyed our visit and look forward to trying an entrée next time.

By the time we left The Mystic Grill, it was after 5:00pm. Since we were due at a friend’s house at 7:00, we decided to head home. As we drove East toward Athens, I reflected on our trip to the “Hollywood of the South.” We didn’t spend an entire day in Covington, but had seen enough to lead me to want to return.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information on Covington, visit the official website at                         .

Until later…

Next time: We’ll head to Gwinnett County to check out a small town with one HUGE feature: It’s the home of the Mall of Georgia: Buford!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Helen

I See Georgia: Helen

The most recent excursion on our “I See Georgia” tour was different than any that preceded it. On every other trip, we had a destination in mind; well laid plans in place. But this time, unsure of where we wanted to go, we decided to just get in the car and drive. So it was that we found ourselves in North Georgia, cruising along Highway 441 with no idea where we might end up.

We’d decided to head North, hoping for cooler temperatures. After back-to-back visits to towns at or below the fall line, we needed a break from extreme heat. We left Athens just after noon, bypassing Commerce and Homer before crossing the Eastern Continental Divide at the small town of Baldwin. When we passed a sign stating: “Welcome to North Georgia,” we were officially in the mountains.

We cruised though Habersham County, hitting the outskirts of Cornelia (more on this town later!) before passing right through the heart of Demorest. The entire area lies on the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and soon we were in undeveloped land, climbing, descending, and climbing again; all the while watching the sun filter through the tall, ancient trees which lined both sides of the road.

Eventually we decided to go to Helen. Helen is unique, not only in Georgia, but in the United States. A former logging town, it changed its entire image in the late 1960s, when it was remade as a German style “Alpine Village.” Every structure in town, from City Hall to motels to chain restaurants, is built in classic, South German style. Who needs the Alps when you’ve got the oldest mountain chain in the U.S., the Appalachians?

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As a kid, my family went to Helen now and then. Back then, the big thing was to head into the mountains at the beginning of fall, when the leaves began to turn from green to red, orange and yellow. You had plenty of time to look at the leaves too, as you sat in traffic waiting to get into town.

That’s the things about Helen; there is only one main road which passes through the town. This often leads to massive traffic jams, given the thousands of tourists and bikers who visit. But this time would be different. There shouldn’t be too much traffic at this time of year. It was late July, and the only reasons leaves might be changing color was because they’d been scorched by the heat!

I firmly held on to this belief until we turned onto Highway 75 and immediately came to a dead standstill. Apparently leaves weren’t the only reason people flocked to Helen. We inched along, sometimes going several minutes without moving. At last, Helen came into view. Now we just had to find a place to park.

This was easier said than done. Every lot we passed had a posted warning informing us that it was for only for customers of the adjacent business. Finally, a sign appeared promising public parking. I turned off onto a side road and followed the signs to a lot. We pulled into a space and were about to walk away when we realized that there was a $2.00 fee.

I dug in my pockets and only came out with a few cents. Neither of us carries cash on a regular basis, and both of our wallets were empty. I dug in the car’s console and came out with a handful of change. When I counted everything, I came up with a grand total of 94 cents. Shit!

The only option left was finding an ATM. A quick online search brought up a bank nearby, so I set out in that direction while Dena checked out our options for food/drinks in the area. I walked along the highway until I came to the bank, where I paid a $5.00 service charge to make a withdrawal. Transactions were limited to multiples of $20.00, so I was forced to find a place to get change.

There was a Wendy’s right beside the bank, so I ducked inside, figuring I could buy a drink to break the 20. I figured wrong. The line at the counter was like a Ryan’s steakhouse on Mother’s Day. In no way, shape or form was I going to wait half an hour at a Wendy’s.

I stepped back outside and began a frantic search for somewhere to make change. Every restaurant was a sit-down place with a line; every shop a boutique with expensive merchandise. I walked back to the main drag and found Dena. Together we headed down the street, looking for a solution. Finally, we came upon an ice cream shop that claimed to offer fountain drinks. We waited in line and ordered a diet coke.

“Do you want ice?” the guy asked.

“A little,” I replied.

“Sure you don’t want a lot?”

“Why?”

“The drinks come in a can.”

I paid $2.00 for my “fountain drink” and was finally able to deposit the parking fee in the collection box at the lot. Hot and tired from running all over town, and in need of a little relaxation, we put our names on the list for a table at a place called The Troll Tavern. A few minutes later we were seated in the shade, under the bridge by the Chattahoochee River. A few minutes after that, we had beers in our hands.

Sticking with the German theme, I opted for a Paulaner Oktoberfest draft. It was cold and refreshing, with a rich malt flavor. We sat, watching hordes of people float by in tubes, munching on fries while sipping our beers. Not a bad way to while away an afternoon.

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After a couple of beers apiece, we decided to walk around town a bit. We went up one side of the street, then down the other before stopping at Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen. Fighting the crowd to get to the counter, we ordered white chocolate pretzel clusters, then sat outside to enjoy them. They were delicious, with the perfect balance of salty and sweet.

By the time we finished our treats, it was late afternoon and time for dinner. We retreated to the car and headed for a place we’d discovered online: Fender’s Diner.

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This retro, fifties-style diner is located in Cornelia, once a prominent stop on the Tallulah Falls Railway. It features two things: American style favorites on the menu, and classic rock and roll on the jukebox. We sat in a booth and ordered the daily special: hamburger steak with sides and bread.

When the food came, we dug in. The steaks were juicy and delicious, the sides hot and fresh. All around us were relics of America’s past: everything from an old sign advertising Black Kow soda to an antique gas pump. The checkered tile floors and mint green walls only added to the ambiance.

Full and happy, we left the diner. By now it was almost dark, and the time had nearly come to head home. But first, there was one more thing we had to do. We walked along Irvin Street to the old train depot, where we found Cornelia’s most famous landmark, The Big Red Apple.

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Dedicated in 1926 as a nod to the importance of the apple industry to Habersham county, the 5000-pound monument sits on an eight-foot pedestal in a plaza near downtown. Things like this make our visits to towns worthwhile. People like to make fun of attractions like the apple, but they are the essence of small town America.

That does it for now. Thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Helen, visit the official website at http://www.helenga.org/. To learn more about Cornelia and the Big Red Apple, visit http://www.corneliageorgia.org/.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll travel to central Georgia to visit the quintessential small town: It’s the “Hollywood of the South,” Covington!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Augusta

I See Georgia: Augusta

 

I hadn’t been to Augusta in a long time; not since my father lived there in the 1990s and early 2000s. He moved to Augusta after he and my mother divorced, and lived there on and off for more than a decade. He spent time in other places: Myrtle Beach, SC; Hendersonville, TN; West Palm Beach, FL. But he always eventually returned to Augusta. It seemed that the city in Eastern Georgia became home for him.

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My brother Matt and I would visit him there; driving over for a weekend every month or two. Dad was constantly in motion, and from one visit to the next he often changed addresses, workplaces, and acquaintances. This made for a somewhat fragmented idea of what Augusta had to offer. Most of what we saw involved going out to dinner, or whatever bar he currently frequented.

Not that we didn’t have fun, at least some of the time. Now and then we’d do something different, like go to a sporting event. Augusta boasted both minor league baseball (the Green Jackets) and hockey (the Lynx), and we’d go to the games. Or we might drive to Athens for a UGA football game or Atlanta for the Braves or Falcons.

Then there was our New Year’s Eve tradition. Every year, in late December, we’d make the 100-mile drive to Augusta to spend the last (or first, depending on how you look at it) holiday of the year. Most years we’d end up at a bar, counting down the seconds. The big exception came in 1999, as we spent the evening at my Dad’s house, watching coverage of the wild celebrations on television due to the huge law enforcement presence all over town.

Those visits had long shaped my view of Augusta. I hadn’t visited in nearly fifteen years, and the time had come for a return engagement. Dena and I left Athens at 10:30am on an (extremely!) warm Saturday in mid-July and headed East. Traffic was light and we quickly passed through such towns as Lexington and Washington. Things went great until we merged onto I-20 near Thomson.

A mile or so after hitting the interstate, traffic came to a dead stop. Due to road construction, the highway narrowed to one lane in both directions. No problem, you might say. The big flashing signs that informed drivers of the situation should lead everyone to switch to the left lane in an orderly fashion. If you think that was the case, stop reading right now. Seriously. Get off my blog! Everyone knows that this is never the case.

What actually happened was what you experienced travelers would expect. Oblivious motorists, seeing a wide open right lane, roared past the line of cars to the left. Then, when they reached the point where the lane was blocked, attempted to merge back, causing one of the biggest clusterf**ks you’ve ever seen!

Eventually we made it through the jam, though not before much wailing and gnashing of teeth. We exited the interstate and entered Augusta just after 1:30pm. Tired and hungry, we were in need of some comfort food. Where better to get it than Rhinehart’s!

It was a place I remembered well from visits past. The quintessential hole-in-the-wall joint with graffiti all over the walls, Rhinehart’s is known for two things: seafood and alcohol. We took a seat and ordered both: po’ boy sandwiches (catfish for me, shrimp for Dena) and beer (Savannah River IPA).

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When the sandwiches came they were massive. The fish fillet on mine was big and crispy, served with cocktail and tartar sauce and mounds of fries. We ate all we could hold, chasing the food with sips of beer.

When we left Rhinehart’s, we were full. So full that lunch would be the only meal we ate in Augusta. In need of a walk after our gigantic lunch, we headed downtown. Cruising along Broad Street, we passed a host of restaurants, bars, churches, and shops. Eventually we crossed over to Greene Street, where we parked and headed for an Augusta landmark: The Riverwalk.

Augusta is an old city, beginning life as a fort built at the head of the navigable part of the Savannah river in the mid-1700s. Later serving as Georgia’s 2nd state capital for a time, it became a market town for the state’s growing cotton cultivation. This history is evident in the area, with markers all along the river detailing various events in the city’s near 300-year existence.

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The Riverwalk features both an upper and a lower option. We took the lower path, which winds along the bank of the river. Beginning at the 6th Street railroad bridge, we headed North, passing playground areas full of children and dog walkers; all the while marveling at the view of the rolling water.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a hot day. I’ve talked quite a bit about the difference between hot in North Georgia as opposed to South Georgia. Anywhere at or below what I’ve heard dubbed as the “gnat line,” an imaginary border between North and South Georgia that stretches from Augusta to Macon to Columbus, ninety-five degrees always seems hotter than above.

After 45 minutes of pouring sweat, we’d had all we could take of the sun. Needing a place to cool off, we made our way to the Augusta Museum of History. The inside of the museum was blissfully cool, and we gladly paid the $4 admission fee.

Beginning on the ground floor, we moved through time; checking out exhibits ranging from the days when Native Americans inhabited the area to the Antebellum South to modern times. A few of my favorites:

-An old locomotive, complete with passenger cars

-The sports exhibit, featuring items from both Augusta’s hometown teams to athletes who were either born in Augusta, or lived there. Of particular note, a baseball glove and bat which belonged to perhaps Georgia’s most famous sports icon: Ty Cobb.

-The music exhibit, covering musical icons from Augusta’s history.

-Military memorabilia from the Civil War and beyond.

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Once we’d seen all there was to see, we headed back downtown. We parked and walked along Broad Street, taking in the sights and sounds of this slumbering giant of a city. The consolidated Augusta-Richmond County population counts nearly 200,000 people, though you’d never have known it judging by the mostly empty sidewalks.

We continued down the street until we came upon the Godfather himself. In a small open area in the median of the street, stood a statue of Augusta’s favorite son, the legendary James Brown. Known for such hits as “I Got You,” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” Brown was known for his incendiary live shows and incessant touring.

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We spent a few minutes gazing at the statue and reading the accompanying plaque. There has never been an entertainer quite like Brown, for both good reasons and bad. We hung around the area until the first bolt of thunder rolled over the city. In need of a place to ride out the storm, we ducked inside Blue Sky Bar and Kitchen.

By now, it was late afternoon. With a long drive ahead of us, we ordered a couple of diet cokes in lieu of beer and waited for the rain to stop. We sipped our drinks, which were refilled by a man dressed in a black suit with shamrocks on it. I swear. I couldn’t make this man up if I tried. All I can really tell you about Blue Sky is that it was cool, it was dim, and the drinks were cold.

By the time the storm passed and the sun reappeared, its rays were slanting and faded. Soon it would be time to head home. But first, there was one last place we wanted to visit. Regular readers of this blog know that the Bear Team often visits cemeteries in the cities we visit. So it was that we found our way to the gates of Magnolia Cemetery.

Founded in 1817, Magnolia Cemetery covers more than 60 acres. During the Civil War, the East wall was fortified to help defend Augusta from Union attack. We drove through the empty streets, keeping an eye out for the Gray Lady, a ghostly figure that supposedly haunts the cemetery.

At the end of 3rd Street, we encountered a crape myrtle which, according to Augusta’s official website, is the oldest tree in the state. We got out of the car to take a closer look. The tree was obviously ancient, with undergrowth shooting up all around it. By now shadows had grown long, and the dim light, combined with the granite tombstones jutting up from the earth like crooked teeth, gave the area an eerie vibe. Time to get moving!

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We got back into the car and drove through the historic district, passing large old homes on both sides. Before we knew it, we’d crossed the Butt Memorial Bridge over the Augusta Canal and were headed West. Wanting to avoid the mess on I-20, we elected to take the back way home.

Passing into South Carolina, we cruised through small towns and open countryside. A light rain began to fall as the miles fell away behind us. Eventually we came once again upon the Savannah River, which snakes back and forth all around the area. As we crossed a bridge, we were treated to an array of sights unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Behind us, the sky was nearly black with storm clouds. To our right, an absolutely gorgeous sunset blazed across the horizon. To our left, a beautiful rainbow descended into the trees. And directly ahead, blue sky welcomed us back into Georgia. Not a bad way to begin our trip home.

Our trip to Augusta was fun, though a little bittersweet for me. I enjoyed the things we did, but everywhere I looked was a reminder of the time I spent there with my father, who passed away in 2011. He was everywhere on this trip: Watching fireworks over the Savannah River; eating boiled shrimp at Rhinehart’s on a Monday night;  enjoying himself at the Cotton Patch downtown. That’s the thing about losing someone close to you: You are forced to say goodbye to them over and over again.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Augusta, visit the official website at http://www.augustaga.gov/.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll take a trip into the Alps without ever leaving our state. It’s the Alpine village nestled in North Georgia: Helen!

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Warner Robins

I See Georgia: Warner Robins

When we began our tour of Georgia, we had a list of places we planned to visit. Macon, Milledgeville, Savannah; But we knew that eventually we’d be going to towns that weren’t on our radar at the beginning. Sooner or later, we’d find ourselves in a city we’d never considered spending time in before.

Warner Robins was such a place. To be sure, we’d heard of it. What other town was renamed for the express purpose of allowing its military base to be granted the same name? It happened like this:

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In the early 1040s, Wellston was a small farming town. During World War II, the War Department made plans to build an air depot in the Southeast. Wellston community leader Charles Bostic “Boss” Watson worked with officials in Macon to make a bid to locate this air depot in Houston County. In June 1941, the U.S. government accepted this offer, which included 3,108 acres of land.

This air base was initially called Wellston Army Air Depot when it opened in 1942. The first commander was Colonel Charles E. Thomas. He wanted to name this depot in honor of his mentor Augustine Robins, who was called by his middle name, Warner. Regulations prevented him from doing this, which required the base to be named after the nearest town.

Colonel Thomas persuaded Boss Watson and the other community leaders to rename the town of Wellston. On September 1, 1942, the town was given the new name of Warner Robins. Soon after, on October 14, 1942, the base was renamed to become Warner Robins Army Air Depot. The city has a unique name, shared with no other town in the United States.

The only other thing I knew about Warner Robins was that it is the hometown of one of my favorite former Georgia Bulldogs, Ben Smith. Smith, a great defensive back in the late 1980s, was the 22nd overall selection in the 1990 NFL draft. He went on to play several seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles and Phoenix Cardinals. Beyond that, the city was a mystery.

We left Athens on a hot, early July morning at just after 11:00am. Heading South (as we have on so many other occasions during this tour) we passed through the small town of Shady Dale before entering Monticello. A quick question for you Monticello natives: Is there a local law that requires every vehicle in town to pull a trailer behind? I just want to know. Each truck or car we encountered was towing a trailer, many of which did not carry a load.

After navigating the sea of empty trailers, we passed through the Piedmont wildlife refuge. Huge trees lined both sides of the road for miles and miles. We drove along, enjoying the view and making good time in the light traffic.

We bypassed Gray, skirted Macon, and covered the last few miles of our 108-mile trip. We entered Warner Robins at just after 1:00pm, and immediately set about finding a good meal. For much of our tour, we’ve tried multiple restaurants in each city or town. But lately, due to both cost and the relative small size of many of our destinations, we’ve focused on one meal.

For this trip, there was one restaurant that stood out as a must-try: Greek Village. We here at the Bear Team love Greek food, and this place promised to satisfy our cravings. All the reviews were good, so we made our way there.

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When we arrived, the situation didn’t look especially promising. Greek Village was located in a stand-alone building in front of a mostly vacant strip mall. But sometimes the best food can be found in unlikely places, so we parked and walked inside.

As soon as we entered, I knew we were in the right place. The floor was checkered tile, and the walls were covered with photos obviously taken in Greece. We were directed to a booth by the window and immediately began to peruse the menu, which featured both Greek and Italian food. Everything sounded good, but I eventually settled on a falafel sandwich with fries, while Dena opted for a gyro sandwich with salad.

When the food arrived, it was every bit as good as we’d hoped. The falafel was crunchy and delicious, and the gyro was great. We polished off everything, including the extra salad that we mistakenly received free of charge.

Full and happy, we headed across town towards the main reason for our visit, the Museum of Aviation. The museum, which is listed as the second largest aerospace museum of the U.S. Air Force, is located on the grounds of Robins Air Force Base. We parked in the adjacent lot and headed inside.

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The museum consists of several structures. We entered the Eagle Building and plunged immediately into a world full of military planes and memorabilia. I’m not much of a war buff, but the sheer number of displays and the volume of information was impressive. Everywhere we looked stood a decommissioned plane from the past, with a placard explaining when and where it served in battle. We walked around, checking out planes from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars.

Eventually, we crossed a courtyard featuring flags from each state and entered another building. The most impressive display inside was entitled “Fallen Defenders of Middle Georgia,” and honored soldiers from the area who died in battle. For the next couple of hours, we moved from building to building, checking out everything there was to see. It was an educational experience, and only deepened my respect for those who serve in our defense.

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When we left the museum, it was hot! I don’t mean normal hot. I mean dangerously hot; the kind of hot you only get South of the fall line. We decided to check out downtown, but immediately encountered a problem: There was no downtown. It seemed that Warner Robins had grown up around the base, with government buildings like courthouses and police stations sandwiched in between restaurants and retail stores.

There didn’t seem to be much else to do, so we merged onto I-75 and headed North. When we reached Macon, we decided to try to find a way to access the Ocmulgee River, something we’d been unable to do on our visit to the city in April.

We went to a website which gave us the address of a park which supposedly ran parallel to the river. Dena programmed the address into her phone. The GPS, in a decisive manner, guided us promptly into a subdivision. We passed house after house until the robotic voice suddenly announced: “You have arrived!” Given the fact that we were stopped directly in front of a group of kids playing basketball in the street, I found this statement to be highly improbable.

A little more online research turned up the Ocmulgee River Greenway. We programmed the address into the phone, and then spent the next 45 minutes swerving across lanes of traffic, cursing, looking for any likely entrance, dodging jaywalking pedestrians, cursing, questioning the family lineage of the iPhone programmer and the creator of Google, crossing over the interstate, cursing, and developing facial tics.

Suddenly, as we crossed the I-75 bridge for the 14th time, there it was! We took a sharp turn onto a paved driveway and we were there. We got out of the car and, a few steps later, stood looking out over the river.

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We took a walk along the greenway, taking in the view. By now, it was early evening, and the area was mostly deserted. We crossed a bridge where a feeding creek backed up behind a pile of brush and saw a duck and several ducklings of various colors swimming happily on the dark water.

We’d been walking for about half an hour when a rumble of thunder told us that the time had come to head home. Soon we were back on the road. Things went well until we turned onto the Gray bypass, at which time one of the hardest rains I’ve ever encountered exploded overhead. Huge raindrops pelted the windshield as water began to pool on the road. At least it cooled things off a little!

As we crawled along, the realization hit me: this is what explorations are all about. What would a road trip be without its fair share of hardships? Travel is wonderful, exhilarating, terrible, and draining; sometimes all at the same time! I wouldn’t trade the time we’ve spend on these trips, even when that time seems to last forever.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Warner Robins, visit the official website at http://www.wrga.gov/.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll venture East to a city whose motto, “We Feel Good,” says more about its history than a text book ever could. It’s the hometown of the Godfather of soul, Augusta!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Athfest

I See Georgia: Athfest

 The Bear Team has a lot of experience with Athfest, in both official and unofficial capacities. We’ve often attended the annual festival, and despite the customary throngs of inebriated revelers, severe thunderstorms, and soaring temperatures, we’ve usually had a good time. Before we dive into the 2017 edition, a little background.

Athfest is a three-day music and arts festival to benefit music and art education. It takes place in late June, in our hometown of Athens, with both free outdoor stages and nightly club shows. Held yearly since 1997, the festival routinely features some of the best local bands, as well as visiting artists from all over the Southeast and beyond.

For years, we’ve cherry picked the bands we wanted to see each year. Between young upstarts, popular local favorites, and bigger, more well-known headliners, there were always at least a few must-see performances. So, we’d brave the elements and head out, slathered in sunscreen and drinking water by the gallon in an attempt to stay hydrated.

In addition to going as fans, we’ve also been involved in other ways. For several years, Dena participated in the artists’ market. The market is held on Washington Street, within site of the main stage. To say that it was hot would be akin to saying the ocean is deep. Despite having a tent to provide shade, we would spend the entire day covered with sweat and uncomfortable.

Artists received a free wristband which granted entry into all of the club shows, though we were always too drained to take advantage. It was so hot that in consecutive years, Dena was driven home by heat exhaustion and I was laid up with laryngitis. Plus, some years sales were good, while others they were not.

More recently, Dena has been covering Athfest for a website called “We Heart Music,” a gig that also grants free entry into all shows. The main difference from before is that she can now actually make it to the shows! Substituting a camera and note pad for a tent and a fan; not a bad trade off!

You can find Dena’s coverage of Athfest 2017 at

http://weheartmusic.typepad.com/blog/dena/

Due to the costs involved in attending the club shows, I ordinarily stick mainly to the free outdoor stages, supplementing with a club show or two. Such was the case this year, as I spent the week leading up to the festival making plans for the bands I didn’t want to miss. My experience with Athfest 2017 began on Saturday afternoon, when we headed for Little Kings Shuffle Club to take in a set by Atlanta garage rock favorites MammaBear.

We parked in the parking deck and entered the club, where we ordered Tropicalia drafts and took our place in front of the stage. MammaBear, fronted by high-energy singer/guitarist Kyle Gordon, took the stage and commanded the room for the next half hour. The band’s reverb-heavy sound worked well in the small space, and the crowd tapped its feet and nodded along to every song.

We remained at Little Kings for a couple of hours, sipping a few more beers and listening to some other bands, including an impromptu acoustic performance in the middle of the crowd. Eventually, we headed home for dinner and a break before the night’s festivities commenced.

As nightfall approached, Dena headed back downtown to check out an eclectic group of bands she would be covering for the website. But for me, Saturday night was about one thing and one thing only, metal!

The Caledonia is a small club; even when you count the outdoor patio in its total area. Over the years, it has become the home of hard rock and metal in Athens. I’d hoped for some killer music during Athfest 2017, and as soon as I saw Lazer/Wulf on the schedule, my wish was granted.

I’d seen Lazer/Wulf, an Athens band relocated to Atlanta, during Athfest 2016 and been blown away. Now I had my chance at a return engagement. They would hit the stage at 1:00am. Not wanting to risk the club hitting capacity, I left the house at 11:40pm and headed downtown.

I parked directly across the street from the Caledonia, a feat unheard of in Athens, and paid my $7 cover charge. I entered the club just in time to hit the bar for a Tropicalia before another Athens favorite, Savagist, took the stage and set about turning our eardrums into swiss cheese.

A brutal three-piece sludge metal outfit, Savagist isn’t for the casual fan. Never deviating from their hard-edged riffing, they thrashed their way through a head-banging set that only served to further excite an already raucous crowd.

By the time Lazer/Wulf hit the stage, the energy in the room was off the charts. The band, a mainly instrumental prog metal trio, is known for the intensity of its live shows, and this one was no exception. As they blazed through song after song of blistering guitar licks, rumbling bass and jackhammer drums, fans crowd surfed, moshed and generally went crazy!

The frenetic pace of the show hit its peak when a crowd-surfer somehow ended up in the rafters, first hanging by his knees, then propping on his elbows like a gymnast while gyrating his legs, which narrowly missing kicking the drummer in the head. As the show headed into the home stretch, the crowd took it up yet another notch by throwing cans and cups all over the club, drenching all of us in beer, water and god knows what else.

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After the show, I headed home; exhausted but exhilarated. Dena arrived home at around the same time, and we immediately settled in to get some sleep. It had been a long weekend of music, and there was still another day to go!

Sunday dawned, bright and early, with a breathtaking sunrise coloring the sky to the East. Probably. I can’t say for sure because I didn’t see it. I woke up at 10:00am, tired but excited. Sunday would surely be the best day of Athfest, featuring two of my favorite local bands.

First up was long-time Athens mainstay, Five Eight. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and never miss a chance to catch their legendary live shows. We headed downtown at 5:00pm to catch the 6:00pm show. With a little time to kill before show time, we stopped in at the World Famous for a Tropicalia. We were just finishing our beers when the band emerged.

Playing the Hull Street stage, they launched into their set. We moved in front of the stage and were immediately engulfed by the crowd. Every Five Eight show is memorable, and this one was no exception. Front man/ guitarist Mike Mantione was his usual energetic self, jumping up and down and giving every ounce of energy to the performance. The other band members, bassist Dan Horowitz, guitarist Sean Dunn, and drummer Patrick Ferguson, fed off of Mike’s energy, playing an assortment of old favorites and new songs from the band’s forthcoming album Songs for St. Jude.

As soon as Five Eight wrapped up, we headed for the main stage to take in the final show of the festival. We hurried along Washington Street, approaching Pulaski Street just as Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ took the stage.

Those of you who have followed our ramblings around our great state from the beginning will know that these Southern rockers from Atlanta hold a special place in the world of the Bear Team. We’ve both been fans for years, catching live performances whenever we can. We even borrowed the title of this blog series from one of their songs.

Opening with deep cut “Eastern European Carny Man” from 1993’s Smoke, Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ proceeded to rock out for the next 90 minutes. Playing both newer songs like “Ain’t Waitin’ on Tomorrow” and “Jesus Christ,” and classic favorites like “Scarred but Smarter” and “Fly me Courageous,” they had the crowd singing along the whole way.

The highlight for me came when front man/guitarist Kevin Kinney launched into the 1989 hit “Honeysuckle Blue.” Of all the band’s songs, none capture the essence of Georgia like this one.

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Before we knew it, it was done. As soon as Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ left the stage, volunteers began breaking it down. Athfest was over for another year. As we headed back to our car, I couldn’t help but reflect on everything we’ve seen so far during our travels: lakes and rivers, sunsets and storms, cities and towns. So many adventures, and so many yet to come.

I was filled with nostalgia but also bursting with excitement. There are so many places yet to visit. Perhaps my feelings are best summed up by Drivin’ n’ Cryin’:

Have you ever seen the Blue Ridge Mountains, boy?
Or the Chattahoochee?
Or the honeysuckle blue?

That’s it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Athfest, and the bands we checked out, visit the official website at http://www.athfest.com/

Until later…

Next time: We’ll venture South to check out a place synonymous with its military base. It’s the Air Force town of Warner-Robbins!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Terrapin Brewery

We’ve visited a lot of cities so far on our “I See Georgia” tour. As we’ve traveled around the state, we have seen and experienced so much: architecture; history; food. We’ve also tasted quite a few beers; most of which were local, either to the city we were in, or the state at large.

In Rome, we sampled Downtown Brown and Big Mama Peach at Rome Brewing Company. While touring our home city of Athens, we downed several glasses of Creature Comforts Tropicalia and Bibo. During our vacation in Savannah, we tried brews by Sweetwater Brewing Company, Jeckyll Brewing Company, and Tybee Island’s Coastal Brewing Company.

I enjoy sipping local beer. So you can imagine my excitement when we received invitations to attend a release party for Terrapin Brewing Company’s new offering: Blueberry Thyme Saison.

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If you’ve never visited a brewery, why the hell not? Seriously though, you should check it out! A cover charge at the door gives the visitor access to the entire lineup of beers. The Terrapin release party was open to the public for a reasonable $12 cover. Of course, due to the fact that Dena would be photographing the event in exchange for our admission, we entered free of charge.

The release party was scheduled to last from 5:30-7:30pm. We arrived just at 5:15 and were given plastic cups, along with six tickets good for 6 ounces of beer each. Not bad, you might say. I agree that 36 ounces of beer for free is a good thing. But it gets even better! When I approached the bar, and asked to try the new blueberry release, I was handed a full 16oz cup in exchange for one ticket. You can already see where this is going!

Over the next 2 hours, I sampled six of Terrapin’s offerings. I’m no beer expert, so this review will not be one of those with a lot of talk about hops and malts. It will also not feature a bunch of abbreviations like ABV and IBU. Instead, I’ll merely give my impressions of each beer I tried.

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First up was the star of the show, the Blueberry Thyme Saison. The first thing I noticed was the combination of tart and sweet from the blueberries. By definition, a Saison is generally highly carbonated with a 7-8% alcohol content. The Blueberry Thyme was no exception, and after just a few sips, I could feel it. In addition to the fruit flavor, there was also the herb taste of the thyme. A very refreshing brew!

After polishing off the Blueberry, I returned to the bar and came away with a Maggie’s Peach Farmhouse Ale. I could immediately taste the peach, along with the somewhat stout flavor of the ale. Being from Georgia, I can’t help but like just about anything involving peaches. But Maggie’s featured a bit too much of a good thing for my taste. Good, but not one of my favorites.

After a pair of fruit-tinged beers, I decided to take a break from flavored brews and go with an old standby, Hopsecutioner. A light-colored IPA with an aroma of pine, this one has long been a go-to option when ordering at a bar or restaurant. I took a seat and sipped it while people-watching.

Next up was Watermelon Gose. I don’t have much experience with Gose style beers, but the main things I noticed were the tartness and the saltiness. It seemed like the type of beer you might bring along to a picnic; the type where kids run around and play while the adults kick back and take it easy. A perfect companion to a hot summer day.

By this point, I was more than a little buzzed. I’d used four of my six tickets, and found myself wondering if I could handle redeeming the last two. Fortunately, about halfway through my Watermelon Gose, a man walked through the crowd of drinkers. He was holding a sign stating that a tour of the brewery would begin in five minutes.

Dena was still hard at work, so I decided that at least one of us should take the tour. I followed the sign-carrier across the room and into a small foyer where, along with about 10 others, I received safety glasses and tips on what to expect on the floor.

Now, over the years, I’ve spent my fair share of time in warehouses. From books to furniture to pharmacy items, I’ve been in the fray as goods were distributed to retail stores. But never before had I entered a workplace as cool as the Terrapin warehouse.

First and foremost, tourists were allowed to take their beers into the warehouse! Yes, you heard that correctly. As we walked along, learning more about the beer-making process with every stop, we sipped from our cups and gave thanks to anyone who might be listening for our good fortune. We passed people who were making, packaging, storing, and stacking cases of beer; all while sampling the wares. Where else can you get a deal like that?

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Back in the main room, Dena handed me her current beer, a Tart Cherry Wake-N-Bake, which was still about half full. I sipped this newest concoction and was immediately struck by the strong flavor. Terrapin’s normal Wake-N-Bake is a coffee oatmeal stout, featuring coffee brewed by local favorite Jittery Joe’s. But this particular brew added a tart cherry flavor on top of the coffee taste. Unique, though a bit strange.

Just as I was finishing the Tart Cherry came an announcement that the brewery would stop serving in ten minutes. Oh, the horror! I immediately got in line to try one more beer. Though I didn’t set out to do so, I ended up saving the best for last. I stepped to the front of the line and ordered a Walking Dead Blood Orange IPA.

Oh, how we here at the Bear Team love The Walking Dead! This show has everything: violence, sex, drama, violence, gore, confrontation, violence, weapons, loyalty, survival, and violence. Plus, it is filmed right here in Georgia! Sundays when new episodes debut are events; days planned entirely around 9:00pm.

I know what some of you are saying: “I don’t watch that show. I don’t like shows about zombies.” To you unfortunate souls, I would say: just try it. Just try it and tell me that you don’t like it. I was once like you, resisting being caught up in the mania. But this show is so much more than a zombie/horror show. In fact, after a while, the zombies almost fade into the background; a minor nuisance to take our minds off the human drama that unfolds in an apocalyptic world.

So, given our affinity for the show, it was only natural that I try a beer named for it. I took a sip and was immediately taken in. The citrus flavor reminded me of Tropicalia, a favorite that regular readers will be familiar with. As I sipped on my beer, I met up with Dena, and we headed outside to check out the patio area.

We stepped into the warm evening, joining a throng of others who were enjoying their beverages. For reasons I’m not sure of (perhaps a nod to the previously mentioned Hopsecutioner), there was a guillotine outside. We took turns taking our pictures with our heads beneath the blade, though by then, I’m not sure I’d have cared even if the thing had been operational.

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Soon, the time had come to end our visit, so I finished my beer and tossed my cup into the recycling bin. I’d used five of my six tickets, but had actually tried six beers. I’m counting it as a 100% success rate!

We headed home, still buzzing from all the beer we’d consumed. While the Terrapin Brewery is not a city or town, it is as Georgia as can be, and we are proud to offer it as a destination on our tour.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information on Terrapin, and a run down on all of the beers I sampled, visit the official website at http://terrapinbeer.com/.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll dive head first into our favorite summer festival. It’s the annual musical smorgasbord, Athfest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Dahlonega

When most people think of Dahlonega, one thought comes to mind: gold. After all, this small town nestled in the mountains of North Georgia was the sight of the first major gold rush in the United States. Even the town’s name is derived from a Cherokee word which means “golden.” We’d always been aware of Dahlonega, but had never visited. Now, on a hot and muggy Saturday, we found ourselves cruising North along highway 129 to find out if, like the often misquoted saying goes, there actually was “gold in them thar hills.”

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Dahlonega lies just 67 miles from Athens, so we were able to take our time getting there. We left home just after noon, and passed through Jefferson and Gainesville before crossing into Lumpkin County just after 1:00pm. We climbed steadily, then drove parallel to a river covered with kayaks until we reached the town proper.

Our first stop was Bratzeit, a must-try on every top 10 must-see list we could find. We pulled into the tiny parking lot and entered the restaurant, which specializes in German cuisine. The interior was colorful and inviting, blue and white which German decour hanging all over the walls. After studying the menu for a few minutes, we approached the counter and ordered Jaegerschnitzel, Currywurst, and Koenig Ludwig Weissbier beer.

We retired to the patio which was adorned with umbrellas and blue and white checkered table cloths, where we sipped our beer as we waited for the food. The beer was cold and refreshing on a warm day, with subtle hints of fruit and cloves. We finished it off and leaned back to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.

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Soon, the food arrived, and we dug in, taking turns sampling each entrée. The Jaegarschnitzel, thin, breaded chicken covered with mushroom gravy, was nothing short of delicious. So were the potato pancakes with sour cream that accompanied it. The Currywurst, bratwurst with home-made curry ketchup, was spicy and juicy, and the house fries were hot and crispy.

By the time we’d polished off our entrees, we were just about full. Still, there was room for one more thing. What would a visit to a German restaurant be without trying the strudel? After the first bite, we were glad we did. The flaky pastry was stuffed with apple filling and covered with a vanilla sauce. Pure decadence!

After lunch, we headed for Cane Creek Falls. Following posted signs, we turned on Camp Glisson Road, which was narrow and lined with trees. A few steep hills and sharp curves later, and we found ourselves at the entrance to Camp Glisson, where visitors could access the trail leading to the falls.

The falls are a natural wonder, cascading over dark rocks before collecting in a picturesque pool at the base. They are beautiful. Probably. We can’t say for sure because we never saw them. There was a chain across the road leading to the falls stating that the area was closed to visitors. That’s right, they actually closed a waterfall. As we turned around, we couldn’t help but remember the scene in My Cousin Vinny where Joe Pesci is forced to buy a ridiculous suit from a second-hand store since the only place in town to buy a new one “got the flu. The whole store got the flu!”

Next up was a visit to the downtown area. Much like Helen, Dahlonega is full of shops, boutiques, and traffic. We moved slowly along Chestatee Street, looking for a place to park. We circled the public square, then turned onto a side street which promised  parking. We stopped in a public lot and made our way back toward the square on foot.

We walked along the street, which was teeming with shops. We visited several of them, including Cranberry Corners, which features everything from souvenirs to clothing. We purchased Father’s Day cards and stamps to mail them with, then took the cards to a post office box and dropped them in. Would our fathers notice the Dahlonega postmark? With all of our recent travels around the state, we thought it likely that they would.

After walking around a little more, we stopped at Dahlonega Fudge Factory, which specializes in handmade chocolates and fudge. We checked out the various candies and treats before eventually purchasing a small piece of chocolate fudge with pecans, which we ate before going back outside.

Across the street from the fudge shop lies the public square, in which stands the old Lumpkin County courthouse. It was from the steps of this building that, in 1849, Dahlonega Mint Assayer Dr. M.F. Stephenson tried to persuade miners to stay in Dahlonega rather than joining the California gold rush, saying “There’s millions in it.” It is this statement that is often famously misquoted as “There’s gold in them thar hills,” a line that was never actually uttered at the time.

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Today the courthouse houses the Dahlonega Gold Museum. We crossed the street and entered the square, which featured a bluegrass band performing beneath a tent. We worked our way through the crowd on onlookers and approached the museum, which holds a wealth of information. Inside, visitors can find out all there is to know about the history of the Dahlonega gold rush. Probably. We can’t say for sure because we didn’t go in.

Instead, we skirted the courthouse and made our way to Shenanigans, an Irish pub and restaurant located on Warwick Street. We walked around to the back of the building and entered. The day had become obnoxiously hot, but the inside was blessedly cool. We got a table and sat looking at the walls, which were covered by $1 bills with messages written on them.

When the waitress came, we ordered an Angry Orchard cider and a seasonal draft beer whose name, regrettably, we can’t seem to remember. We spent an hour or so in the bar, cooling off and watching huge plates of food leave the kitchen and head for hungry patrons.

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Sufficiently refreshed, we left the pub and checked out a few more stores, eventually winding up at the Dahlonega General Store. If ever there was a place that had a little bit of everything, it has to be this wooden structure near the square. We browsed through the store, which overflows with food, candy, clothes, novelties, toys, and outdoor goods.  A scavenger’s dream.

Eventually we returned to the front of the store, where a giant wooden bear held court. It was a fitting way to end our visit to Dahlonega, sanding side by side, gazing up at our namesake. If there is one thing The Bear Team enjoys, it’s anything bear related.

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We headed back to the car and drove around the square one last time. Minutes later, we were headed South, back toward the lower ground of home. Dahlonega is a beautiful place, though a bit on the touristy side for our taste. Still, we’d enjoyed our visit. Certainly, we’d be back in the future. But for now, we were Athens bound.

That wraps it up for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information on Dahlonega, visit the official tourism site at http://dahlonega.org/. We’ll be back soon with further ramblings around our great state.

Until later…

Next time: something a bit different, as we check out a true Georgia institution: the Terrapin Beer Company.

By Keith and Dena Maxwell