Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Hotlanta"...Not Really

In a slightly surprising turn of events, I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia for an education conference. Due to budgetary issues combined with a bit of miscommunication, I wasn’t sure I would be attending until a mere week before we flew. However, being the flexible person that I am, I only freaked out for about a half a day. Really, the whole thing seemed to work out and I actually learned quite a bit. In fact, I even had more fun than expected. One of the things I was looking forward to was the heat and humidity, if only to remind myself why the Northwest is a great place to be in the summer. The second I walked off the plane, I felt it. “Ah, humidity. It finally feels like summer…now where’s the air conditioning?” Growing up in different parts of the country, Jon and I have had many conversations about our different perspectives and have come to the ground-breaking conclusion that it’s all what you know. This becomes glaringly obvious when discussing the weather. Maybe if you’re from the Northwest, 70 degrees and no humidity is your idea of a perfect summer day. The same scenario would be a lucky day in early October. But, back to Atlanta… In all actuality, we really lucked out on the weather. The mercury barely made it to 85 and although the humidity was supposedly high, I hardly noticed (my colleagues from the Northwest, on the other hand, were more susceptible). According to local weathermen, this was very uncharacteristic for early July, but it worked out great for us. Most days were fairly sunny, although we did get a brief thunderstorm on our first day, something I miss out west. Who would have thought that the girl who used to refuse to sleep upstairs in her bed during a thunderstorm would get excited at the thunder and lightning?!? It turned out that although we arrived on a Tuesday night, the conference festivities didn’t truly begin until Thursday. We had a quick state-wide meeting on Wednesday afternoon, but were essentially free for the remainder of the day. Perhaps this was not the most cost-efficient choice the district could have made, especially in this time of economic downturn, but it did allow us the time to adjust to a different time zone, get comfortable with the public transportation system, and do a little sightseeing. I know that I was able to focus more on my conference sessions because I was not lamenting the missed opportunity to explore a new city. Plus, it’s providing fodder for this blog post. I’m sure none of you—not even the other teachers—are too interested in hearing about topic-based gradebooks or common assessments and data analysis teams. [Side note: the latter example was a session presented by a group from Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis. While they provided excellent information, I couldn’t help but resent them for their school’s victory over my alma mater in the 1995 State Championship. It’s a small world…] Now that I’ve effectively wasted a considerable amount of white space building up to the trip, I need to get to the interesting parts. Fortunately, our conference was located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, right in the middle of several tourist hot spots. One such spot was the CNN Center, home of, you guessed it, CNN. We went on the official studio tour, and I must say that I don’t really watch the news in the same way now that I’ve seen a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately (especially for one member of our group), we didn’t see Anderson Cooper, but we did see anchor Tony Harris in line at the Starbucks the next morning.
View of the CNN Center from Centennial Olympic Park
In addition to CNN, we also checked out Centennial Olympic Park, which was constructed for the 1996 Olympics. This is where the bomb went off during those Games. We spent about 20 minutes waiting out a downpour. Across the street from this park is where the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium are located. Lucky for us, both of these locations were open late enough for us to visit after our second day of conference sessions. Not being a huge pop fan these days, I still thoroughly enjoyed the World of Coke. Despite the propaganda, it was interesting to learn the history (remember the New Coke debacle?), watch some old commercials, and go on a 4-D “ride.” The highlight, however, was the tasting room, where you can taste over 50 types of Coke products from around the world. I think my stomach expanded to double its normal size due to all the carbonation; I felt a little like Charlie Bucket in that part of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he and Grandpa Joe are floating around in the fizzy room.
Mmm...high fructose corn syrup!
I’m really glad that the Georgia Aquarium extended a discounted offer to conference attendees because I’m not totally sure we would have ponied up the full entrance fee. It would have been worth it, though, because it was an incredible aquarium. We could have spent hours in the ocean exhibit alone. Before gawking at the 60-foot long tank, we traveled through the acrylic tunnel with sharks swimming overhead, a la Jaws. In fact, we even witnessed a hammerhead shark eat a fish, which sounds a little gruesome, but happens so rarely, it was kind of cool to see.
Whale shark front and center
On the morning we left town, we had one final destination to check off on our list: the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. I agree with one of my colleagues that it’s a shame that it took until the 1996 Olympics for any money to be spent on this landmark, but I’m glad that it was. Touring the Visitors Center was a moving and humbling experience; I felt ashamed of our nation’s treatment of African-Americans. I found myself wondering what type of action or non-action I would have taken if I had been alive during the Civil Rights era. Needless to say, I'm glad we made the time to stop at this important location.
The final resting place of the Kings
On a less serious note, the highlight of the trip (besides spending time with colleagues I hadn’t known very well previously), was our BBQ adventure. Thankfully, the other people in our group like to experience the local flavor of a particular destination as well, so we asked around for some restaurant recommendations and were told time and again to check out Daddy D’z. We liked it so much, we ate there twice. Being the fiercely loyal person I am, I won’t come out and say it’s better than Arthur Bryant’s or Gates, but it’s pretty close. We ate some of the biggest ribs I’ve ever seen, along with homemade mac ‘n’ cheese; collard greens; fried okra, zucchini, and green tomatoes; red beans and rice; broccoli casserole; corn bread; and of course, sweet tea (we all ordered different sides and shared). I felt like such a failure when I couldn’t clean my plate.
"We ain't pretty, but we're good."

See, teachers don’t have the whole summer off…

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