Wednesday, April 20, 2005

April 20 Macon, GA and Albany, GA

Macon is prettier than you might think. It's sort of an Albuquerque to Savannah's Santa Fe - rougher around the edges but made of the same charm.

Old houses here are immense. Maybe they knocked down all the little ones, maybe it was a far less egalitarian world back then, and these rich folks up on the hill were the anamoly, not the rule, but the size and scale and beauty of the homes here is formal and breathtaking. And then it evokes a nagging thought that labor to build these homes, the heavy labor anyway, was cheap. Really, really, horribly, awfully, cheap. Somehow that history feels closer in Southern Georgia, particularly in Macon, than other places I've been, though they were no less slave owners here than the folks in Raliegh or Atlanta or Montgomery.

Waking up early in the Hawthorn Inn off of Highway 75, which was creepy in a way I couldn't quite identify, I checked out and zipped out to the car. I really have no idea what it was, but I wanted to get away from the place as quickly as possible. Something in the geometry of the place, in the smell, in the gloom of the staff. If a room is bad enough to make the rental gold Chevy Malibu Maxx seem like a nice environment, you trust your gut and get on with it.

I pulled out of the parking lot of the hotel and into the similarly gloomy dunkin donuts next door. Passable espresso, passable crullers. In general I felt sort of bullied by Macon, and I was happy to get on the road to the meetings.

Meetings were productive, and mood improving steadily, I set out to get lost in downtown Macon before heading out to Albany. Ended up circling around the campus of Mercer College, which was beautiful. Lunch was a sub shop - Dawson's Subs, I think. Seemed to cater to the college crowd, which was a good sign. It's maybe the third sub I've had in Georgia, and they all are traditional deli style - the meets are arrayed still whole, and they cut the slices to order with a large deli-slicer. It was a tasty sub, and it felt good to be in a place that bore some evidence of being handled by an actual owner. The walls were decorated with old board games, pieces neatly glued into place. I ate under a sort of yellowing Sorry! board, and the booth next to mine had a Star Wars: The Board Game above it. The booths themselves were old and hard, and it looked to me like the place had been in more or less constant use since Sorry! and Star Wars: The Board Game were in common circulation. Maybe 20 or 25 years? I mistakenly ordered a "whole" rather than a "half" sandwhich. I'm not sure what the term "whole" was intended to mean. Sliced in half it neatly covered an entire large plate. A "whole" busload of hungry people, maybe. I ate the first half, and then took a bite out of the second, if only so that the people working there wouldn't think I was a wasteful idiot who could have done just as well with a half. Why I cared about what the people behind the counter thought about my spending habits, and why I thought that they would take any notice at all of the amount of food I threw away on my way out of the store will be sorted out at some yet to be defined point in the future.

Thusly fed, I set out for Albany, about 2 hours south.

It was (and is) a gorgeous day in Georgia, and my room in the cheap, but not at all creepy, Albany Mall Holiday Inn lets in nice light. The windows even open. I opted for a restaurant a short walk away for dinner. The Rocket. Sort of like Dawson's, it was without art or pretense, someone's effort at a little business. The Rocket, if anything, had even more heart. Its a standalone building, square and squat, standing out in the middle of it's parking lot, looking a little like a Chili's or TGI Fridays. The theme of the place is kitchy space, and they take the theme far enough that my reciept reads Aliens, Peaches In Space, and well, side salad, but side salad was the only descriptively named item on the menu. Really. See the menu for yourself. It was one of those places though, where the kitch is maybe not as consistent as it could be. You get a menu like that, you sort of want goofy 60's lighting and checkerboard lineloeum floor. You want it to ooze space, to get the joke, to really embrace the thing. But to me, the effort was timid, and the result was a place that seemed like it was build by someone who really wanted to please everyone. Still, it felt much better than being stamped and churned through the turnstile of the big chains.

I walked back to the hotel after dinner, taking a couple of turns off of the shortest route to see what was there, and to breathe and feel the breeze. It was a nice walk.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

April 19 in Savannah and Macon

Today started with waffles. This isn’t that unusual. Most days, at least most days on the road start with waffles. I don’t know who started it. Some enterprising analyst at Marriott, I imagine. He’s sitting at a broad glossy table in a board room, late in the evening, working out the kinks of the Courtyard concept with a handful of recent vintage MBAs. They are working on breakfast ideas, faced with the data that their target audience wants something hot with syrup, faced with the limitation of no chef, no kitchen to speak of. They rack their brains, can’t come up with it. The enterprising analyst leans over and breathes out “waffles”. He pictures a waffle maker laid out on a buffet. It’s well received.

And so first Courtyard, and then all the Marriotts, and then everywhere else, got these waffles. And I eat them. Just about every day. This morning I ate waffles in a non-descript corner of Savannah. It came with diner coffee and juice, and fruit. It was $8.

Hotel breakfasts are essentially all like this. The amount of wood and marble in the lobby determine the price. At the Century Center Marriott in Atlanta, this breakfast is $14. At the Waterford Marriott in Oklahoma City, as woody and marbley as they come, it’s $18.

Lunch was Gyros on a greasy table along River Street near downtown Savannah. It’s a gorgeous city, but right on the edge of the river, it plummets from quaint to tour-bus-bermuda-shorts-t-shirt-shop schlock. It wasn’t bad for what it was, but the environment was vaguely grating. I ate fast, and was relieved to leave.

Only coffee of the day was Starbucks, too late in the day to fend off headaches, but early enough to fend off nausea.

By dinner I’d made it to Macon. Having had the most miserable steak on the planet last night, I decided that I’d go for something a little lighter, and ended up at the Carraba’s just up the street from my hotel. I had a rigatoni and sausage thing, the special of the evening. The very fact of the specials menu made me laugh a little to myself. I think the attempt was to evoke the image of a master chef checking the market that day for the best and freshest ingredients, lovingly coaxing them into some speciality he recalled from childhood. It was in all ways as insulting as the Gyro stand, only a bit more subtle about it.

I was craving something sweet, and spotted a Dunkin Donuts next to the hotel. Dropped in for a Cruller to eat in my room. Bought two. Stale as small, light pieces of cardboard. An interesting match for the hotel room, perfectly acceptable but with the faint trashiness I associate with prom-night rentals.

Everything I ate today was built for speed. Everything I ate was designed to evoke emotion through trickery, at the lowest cost possible. Today, I ate capitalist food, and didn’t mess with the artists. It made me want to cook, to shop somewhere with lots of green things, to explore home, and revel in the retreat of not being on the road. It made me want to pluck something from the ground and eat it, raw and unadorned. Tomorrow I lunch here, and set off for Albany, GA early afternoon. Coffee will be a challenge, but I remain undaunted.


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