There was a time when I’d drive a thousand miles straight, stopping only for gas and food and not give it a second thought. Those days are long gone. I can make it only six to nine hours with kids in the car, and even alone I wouldn’t have the stamina to drive overnight anymore. Now the journey has become part of the adventure, making time for interesting destinations along the way.
I’d been building-up Stone Mountain for a couple of weeks prior to the trip as a means to get the kids excited about the long drive. They weren’t as keen to forgo airline travel as I was, and they needed a little motivation. I’d been to Stone Mountain a couple of time before so I knew the gondola ride to the top would certainly entertain them.
This ride would provide close-up views of the world’s larges bas relief sculpture, an homage to Confederate icons, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (not that any of those names would be even remotely familiar to the kids). They would also be able to see for miles once atop the mountain, all the way to the Atlanta Georgia skyline on a clear day. We set our sights on the massive quartz monzonite (not granite!) monolith as we drew closer to the city.
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We somehow lucked out with a perfectly cloudless day, not too warm, not too cold, and absolutely stunning. We arrived at the ticket booth and… the gondola was shut down because of wind that was forecast to arrive later that afternoon. We briefly considered the 1.3 mile uphill trail but we weren’t properly prepared. A hike wasn’t going to happen this time.
I sensed an impending meltdown from our two young sons who’d just spent the last seven hours confined in a car and who’d been held in check with the expectation of a gondola ride and a memorable mountaintop view. Thankfully the park included other activities such as a large, noisy barn-like structure where the kids could run around, holler, shoot each other with foam balls and things like that. It salvaged the day but mom and dad left the barn with splitting headaches. It was still worth it and a lot better than the tantrum we feared.
I pondered the vast array of cultural diversity that is modern Atlanta enjoying a wonderful spring day. I wondered whether anyone else understood or even cared about the irony of the situation. Stone Mountain was the 1915 birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan. This gets little if any mention at the park. I toured through the small museum and saw lots of information on Native Americans who once lived nearby, about the farmers who tilled the soil in post-colonial times, about the armies that formed on both sides of the Atlanta Campaign and things of that nature, but I didn’t see anything related to that dark, hateful event. Maybe it was there but I missed it.
I felt somewhat torn. As a student of history I believe that lessons can be drawn from both the good and the bad episodes of our collective experience. On the other hand, perhaps modern Stone Mountain and its mosaic of visitors sharing a peaceful coexistence provided the ultimate revenge for a century-old racist event. Does that shameful past still have meaning in a successful, largely African-American suburb that has grown around the mountain, or has it finally been relegated to the dustbin where it probably belongs?
There are certain signs that one has entered the south. The prevalence of Sweet Tea provides a primary clue. My family thinks I’m nuts but I love the stuff. It’s almost impossible to find a proper Sweet Tea in the North. It’s a fairly simple recipe that involves adding way-too-much sugar to hot tea before it has an opportunity to cool. Those of you who remember junior high school science class will recognize this as the basic formula for supersaturating a solution. In other words, it allows one to dissolve lots of extra sugar into the tea, locking all that sickly-sweet goodness within it.
Another manifestations would be the increasing ubiquity of Waffle House restaurants as one pushes deeper into southern territory. One situation, however, surprised even me. We stopped to refuel near Thomson, Georgia, and noticed two Waffle Houses practically within sight of each other on opposite sides of the Interstate 20 overpass.
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Eastbound traffic can stop at this Waffle House…
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While westbound traffic can stop here.
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Apparently there is enough demand to keep both franchises in business. Nobody has to deal with the "inconvenience" of traveling two-tenths of a mile to the other side of the Interstate.
Finally, "Welcome to Mississippi." This signaled our impending arrival, less than an hour away from our ultimate destination along the Gulf.
It’s nice to be back with family. Yesterday evening we dined on shrimp pulled from the Gulf. We’ll be feasting on crawfish before you know it, too. It’s time to kick-up our feet and relax. I might still have time for a couple of geo-oddity surprises so stay tuned.