Because we here at Team WestEnders firmly believe that it's good to mix it up a little bit while on vacation: yesterday we had some culture...today, COKE! I had visited the World of Coca Cola attraction the first time I came to Atlanta, decades ago during grad school. But the rest of the family had never experienced the...cheesy-yet-extremely-entertaining phenomenon. So after breakfast we made our way downtown for what was sure to be an amusing...sugar-filled...morning.
Our first impression upon arriving was an inevitable comparison to Disney World. Like all things in the Mickey-related realm, it was well-orchestrated and efficiently-run--beginning with the brisk Security line, scripted introductory spiel, and short film presentation...a tear-jerking montage of gooey advertisements, all featuring prominent product placement and designed to warm the cockles of your heart...or something. (Okay, okay, I admit that it worked on me, and I did find myself getting all misty-eyed--don't judge!)
Then you were free to explore on your own, wandering through displays devoted to such topics as the history of the secret Coke formula, Coke-inspired art, and the bottling process. All very interesting and engaging, no doubt, but really just a prelude to the REAL reason you paid the price of admission...the factor I used to lure my crew into enduring the over-the-top-commercial aspects of the museum dedicated to a fizzy drink....the famous Tasting Room. Or, as I immediately came to think of it: Command Center for the Highly Sugar-Buzzed and Caffeinated Masses. It was seriously chaotic...and sticky...and loads of awesome.
The way it works is: you grab a cup, and sample any of 100 flavors of Coke, from all around the world, most of which have NO resemblance whatsoever to the cola we're used to consuming here in the States. The first one I tried happened to have a pleasant lemony taste...but there were many that were not nearly so...palatable. Such as the bubblegum version from somewhere in South America. Or the kind that tasted EXACTLY like liquid toothpaste, sold in Djibouti, Africa. In my opinion, the fruity options--mango, peach, and even apple--were somewhat strange...but generally not bad. However, I was prudently being careful to take a small mouthful of each, and being selective about which ones I tested.
Then...there was Derek...the kid who rarely drinks soda at all...and then, only Sprite or decaffeinated Root Beer...went a little bit nuts in the joint. He made it his mission to do carbonated SHOTS of...darn near everything. Then when we'd had our fill and were preparing to leave, he admitted that he might have overdone it...and swore off ingesting anything sweet for "at least a week". He was honestly acting almost tipsy--giddy, giggling, talking a lot but not making much sense--and (since I knew the cause) it was pretty doggone hilarious. So we laughed at him as we walked back to the car...as was clearly required in this situation.
But...there was no time to waste, as our next destination awaited. We navigated to Turner Field next, for the 1:35 Braves game, against the Colorado Rockies. Again, I had seen the stadium, back in the 90s, but it would be a new one for all of the guys. We noticed two things fairly quickly upon arriving: 1) unlike what we're used to, at Camden Yards, there were very few fans streaming toward the entrance and 2) It. Was. HOOOOOOTTTT. Both of these would directly affect our afternoon, in fact; since not many people ended up attending the event, and the weather didn't pull a miraculous cool-down, we abandoned our ticketed seats (in the scorching sun) and moved up into the shade whenever necessary (as did everyone else during the course of the 3-hour contest, it appeared).
How uncomfortable was it, you might ask? Let me put it this way: although we'd basically skipped lunch in favor of our Liquid Refreshment Tour, it was too steamy outside for any of us to consider actually eating. (Yes, even the perpetually-starving teenagers...shocking, right?) Fortunately, this gave me plenty of free time to meander around and take photos, such as the iconic Coke bottle, situated above center field; the skyline beyond the outfield wall, with vistas that included the gold-domed Capital Building, a towering statue representing the Olympic torch from 1996...and the future home of the Braves, SunTrust Park, under construction right next door.
Alas, the game itself was a snoozefest, with no offense and precious little of interest happening on the diamond. So the liveliest topic of discussion happened to be...why on EARTH do they play Christmas music before the game and at every inning break? I mean, they even had Santa Claus drive around the perimeter in a convertible, tossing t-shirts to the crowds (or, you know, "handfuls of loyal baseball folks who courageously faced the heat...and hometown team's ineptitude...to sit through the futility"). What the WHAT, Atlanta? The only thing we could come up with was that it was a ploy to make us feel cooler. Well, news flash: it didn't work...even a little bit. But it did crack us up...
Anyway, after 7 frames of zeroes, Riley announced that he was D-O-N-E. The only one who protested leaving at that point was Derek--who usually insists upon sticking it out for the full 9, no matter what--but he was overruled by the sweaty, tired majority. (Hey, we'd made it past the obligatory 7th inning stretch, which we always try to do, so we can hear what special song each team plays after God Bless America. If it's Take Me Out to the Ballgame, we're not impressed, as we deem this too standard and boring. But in this case we were not disappointed by the very appropriate.... Devil Went Down to Georgia. (Well done, Braves.) Besides, we had yet another activity planned for the evening (I know: what are we, cuckoo? Quite possibly...). We were meeting an old friend (from The Original Playgroup, circa 2000) for dinner, since she moved from Maryland to the outskirts of Atlanta in 2003.
Since she's more familiar with the area...and keeps to a gluten-free lifestyle as well...I left it up to her to suggest an appropriate and appealing eatery. She in turn got a recommendation from a pal, for a place called True Food Kitchen--which advertises itself as "eco-friendly" and "health-conscious"...and clearly labels items on its menu as gluten-free, vegetarian, and/or vegan...BUT also incorporates plenty of meat options for the Male Posse. (Can anyone say "right up my alley"? Sold!) Happily, it satisfied everyone in our little gang with the offerings--and was delicious, to boot. Finally, because (diet be damned) it was simply impossible to pass up, we strolled across the parking lot to Sprinkles for cupcakes. (Eh, I'll just eliminate everything again...tomorrow...yeah?)
Wow...no wonder I'm wiped out! Between the glucose-overdose...the sub-tropical conditions...and the ambitious agenda...I need a nice long nap. It was a fabulous last day in Atlanta, but one thing we've already realized is that there's so much more to do. So, we need to return someday and pick up where we left off. For now, so long, Georgia, and thanks for the food, friends, and fun!