The Midwest behind us, we passed through Tennessee and watched green waves of forest sweep the horizon. The kind of green that is possible in the South is something that imprints on your memory so deeply it becomes a part of the collective unconscious. Your kids and their kids will somehow just know and understand how green the South can be and how good that beauty will make them feel when they finally see it. Tennessee was like this. Georgia was like this. It’s the green of hope, of opportunity. The green that makes you feel like nature is going to put up a fight after all, that we can’t completely screw this world up as easily and quickly as we thought. It’s a hope. And with that said, we had high hopes for Atlanta, having heard so much from so many people about the culture and history and beauty of the city. But one of the first things we noticed was the traffic. Apparently Atlanta is second only to Los Angeles in traffic congestion. Dallas has got to be up there somewhere, too. Why is it that we have only ever managed to make it into these cities in the heart of rush hour? We’ve got to stop doing that to ourselves.
We made it through the labyrinth of construction zones, one-way streets, false starts and dead ends and found the neighborhood where Jamie’s cousin, Laura, lives. It felt good to get off the road and tuck into a quiet driveway for a couple of days and even better that we could stay in the arms of hospitality. This was another first introduction for Eliot, who loved her house, her cat, her wagon, her daughter. It was inspiring to be in her house and be surrounded by her art and we were both grateful for the chance to reconnect. She took us around to a couple of her favorite neighborhoods and showed us a mural she painted for a restaurant. Murals and graffiti were everywhere. I’ve always had a fascination and deep appreciation for good urban art and the walls in the Little 5 Points area were as satisfying to the soul as eating big, fat crepes is to the belly. A neighborhood’s pulse is splattered on its walls. Its breath stains the fingers of artists, its moods shift the direction of students and laborers. We met a street poet named Craig. He asked me for five words and with them he gave me a poem. Jamie, Eli and Laura walked up and he laid another at our feet. He spoke about our trip with truth and beauty.
We went around some more, saw the giant park near Laura’s house, had a picnic with her daughter, Marie, and Marie’s other mom, got some frozen custard and wagoned the little ones back home. By the way, what’s up, Pasadena? Get on the frozen custard wagon already.
We said our goodbyes to Laura and Marie the next morning at a café, grateful for the time we had with them and hopeful for the next stage of our journey. We hit the interstate and headed east, creeping closer and closer to the coast. But before we reached the Atlantic we made a turn down a small state highway toward the town of Milledgeville.
Milledgeville, Georgia, is a small town with Georgia College and State University at its center but its history includes everything from its strong ties to Flannery O’Connor and her literature to being Georgia’s antebellum capital. It’s small but gives you the feeling that you’d be alright there, that it would take care of you with what it’s got. I wanted to see what I could find out about the creative writing program so we got out and walked around the campus. I was happy just to find the right building and my plan was to try to get some kind of ESP vibes from the hallways but then a woman appeared out of the blue (actually just an office, which in hindsight seems like a pretty natural place for a woman to appear from) and was kind enough to drop me into an office with a current MFA candidate. We flipped on the lights and hung out with him there and talked about the program. The whole time I couldn’t help thinking that it was funny how I just happened into that place the way I did, as if a large and invisible hand was pushing me, patiently and gently, but still pushing me forward. It made me wonder where else we’re being pushed. The campus was beautiful, the program sounded exciting, and the buzz from talking shop with an MFA candidate swept away any trivial concerns I had about where to find gas or which onramp to take where.
Funny, that big invisible hand.