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» Thursday, March 18, 2021Home to the Hills (Atomicon, Day 1)
Last year at this time we had need to make a serious decision: did we want to go to Helen at all? Everything in Atlanta was closing down due to coronavirus, but the hotel had begged us to come, said that they were taking additional precautions and there would be pre-packaged breakfasts instead of the breakfast bar. And we were desperate to get away before being housebound, for how long we didn’t know. In the end, some people did drop out of the trip, but most of us went. Helen was surreal that weekend. The streets were nearly deserted and some places had already shut down. We had dinner at Spice 55 (Thai) and the very next day they closed for dine-in. Bigg Daddy’s was already social distancing with a vengeance the following night. Some restaurants were already closed, as was the place we usually went for ice cream. On the Sunday we left we took up a collection for the hotel staff , knowing they would have tough times ahead. Next day Helen closed down for business.
This year, prep was about the same: James worked on the phone and I worked packing, checked off lists, added more stuff, and then packed more, including seed for Snowy and a shirt of James’ for Tucker to sleep with at “camp.” We had to remember the charger for the chair, the chargers for the phones, the charger for the tablets… And then there were the cookies for the crowd.
But it was eventually all in the suitcases, then all in the truck, and we even found a proper plastic trash bag that the birdcage fit in. As always, Tucker was harder to load than Snowy, so the bird was the last one out of the house (twice, because I had to run back in for James’ glasses and his kangaroo bag). There happened to be three hawks overhead wheeling and calling out, Snowy spotted them with huge eyes, and he was jittery on the drive as we started. Thankfully they let me into the vet’s office–they’re still doing the damnable curbside service–to place Snowy in his cage and prep him to stay (food and water), although the rest of the arrangements were made over the phone as we stared into the office from the parking lot.
And then we were James and Linda again instead of pet-Mom and pet-Dad, and by then it was after lunch time. We crossed Jett Ferry to the Williamsburg shopping center and I ran into the East 48th Street Market to get us both Italian sandwiches, a couple of zeppoli (since tomorrow is St. Joseph’s Day), and of course I bought a pack of fusilli (twisted pasta) to bring home.
It was the warmest day of our four-day weekend, so we were able to drive to Helen with the windows down, eating half of our enormous sandwiches and sharing a couple of mandarin oranges in the cab of the truck. When we first started driving to Helen over twenty years ago, our route was mainly country. At least one shopping mall (North Point) in Alpharetta, a small outlet mall in Woodstock, and a huge outlet mall in Dawsonville have gone up since then, and we remember when the North Georgia Premium Outlets and a couple of restaurants were the only thing on the road in Dawsonville! Now there’s a Publix, a Kroger, a Walmart, nearly two dozen restaurants, and more nail places than you can shake a stick at. It’s only when you pass the last of the stores that you’re in the country again: horses grazing in pastures along the river, places selling boiled peanuts and baked goods, little antique stores, and of course, our favorite little bookstore, the Mt. Yonah Book Exchange. When we pulled into the Country Inn and Suites we were greeted by Alice and Aubrey. After setting up things in our room, we were able to finish our lunch in the common room, spread out our cookie contribution, and talk with folks as they wandered in. It was a good thing we ate so late because supper took forever.
This was at Spice 55, which has killer food, but man, the service was s-l-o-w Thursday night. I’m not sure if they were down some employees or they just weren’t prepared for a crowd on a Thursday night, but we got there at quarter to six and didn’t get out until after eight. This wouldn’t have been so bad had we been able to talk properly, but they had very loud music playing in the background, so people had to talk loudly to be heard over it, with the result that the cacophony was dreadful. The food was still killer–I have had pad thai in several Thai places (and they all seem to make it a little differently), but Spice 55’s pad thai is by far the best I’ve ever eaten, with a rich, deep wonderful flavorfulness, and you get a great portion with a lot of meat. I was able to take a third of it back to the hotel. Juanita ordered some beef noodle soup that was a whole meal unto itself, but she didn’t like the cinnamon flavoring they had put into it, so James was the happy recipient of the remainder. The heat of the day (and the light) had gone by the time we emerged, and the wind was delightfully cool.
Then it was back to the hotel for the best part of Atomicon: talking to each other! It was especially sweet this year when some of us had been separated for so long. Shari even managed to make it from Alabama this year. Some folks colored as they talked, and the subjects ranged from coronavirus to other events of the past year to television to books.
I remember the days when we stayed up until one or two in the morning playing games and talking, but except for the young ones these days, we mostly wandered off to bed around midnight, looking forward to the rest of the weekend.