Or My 2010 US Deep South trip (part 1 of 4)
I like to be in America, Okay by me in America.
Everything free in America, For a small fee in America.
West Side Story
Andrew saw me off at the Brisbane international airport for the Qantas 11 am fight to LA. I sat next to an Indigenous man and his wife who were on their way to Seattle for a world-wide indigenous conference, which happens every year in different localities (I think it’s the First Nations conference or some such). They lived in an over-50s gated community somewhere around Brisbane. We arrived in LA international airport (LAX) at 6-30 am the same day as we left, thanks to the International Date Line, after a 13-hour flight.
Despite worrying that I wouldn’t have enough time to get through customs to my connecting flight, I had absolutely no problems getting from LA to Atlanta – it took half an hour to get through LAX immigration and pick up my luggage in LA and get through customs. This included queueing for passport check and finger-printing and retinal photography – the joys of living post 9/11.
A curious and heart-stopping moment in LAX airport: I had wound my way around the looong queue to get into the American Airlines terminal (very efficient queue-minders there) and was walking through the nth security check when four big, tall African-American security guys ran through, shouting ‘Boom, boom, boom’. We all stopped – they shouted ‘Stay still, don’t move!’. We all froze. About 30 seconds later, an announcement over the PA said it was a drill. Phew! I asked the nearest person what it was about, and they shrugged and said they had no idea.
I then had a 2-hour wait to catch a connecting flight to Dallas with American Airlines, then another 2-hour wait at Dallas for a connecting flight to Atlanta. It was great to be on the ground and able to people-watch – the US is much more multiracial and multicultural than Australia, at least in the areas I visited. It was curious that on American Airlines you must pay for your food or drink (even a US$1 bottle of beer) with a credit card – no cash accepted. I suppose it eliminates muggings. My luggage appeared on the carousel in Atlanta airport just as Alan and Jane arrived to pick me up at 7 pm-ish Atlanta time (14 hours ‘behind’ Lismore time). It was roughly 29 degrees C and fine, though a bit muggy. Imperial units (miles, Fahrenheit and gallons) are generally used in the US.
We had a sandwich snack at the airport before driving (this was the first time I experienced the large size of American meals, enough for two, but I was starving so polished it off no problems) in Alan’s Prius (I’d heard hybrid cars are very quiet and it’s true) to their home in Decatur (pronounced ‘Dec-A-tur’, not ‘Dec-a-TUR’). It is a quiet neighbourhood with lots of trees and manicured lawns, a few kilometres from Atlanta’s centre. It was a bit disconcerting to be sitting in a car driving on the ‘other’ side of the road, and to have a road rule ‘right on red’, so that you can turn right when facing a red light if it is safe to do so.
Emory University was in the neighbourhood and has a huge campus. Jane worked at the Centers for Disease Control, a huge organisation doing research on health and epidemiology. She’d wanted to show me through, but I would have had to have serious security checks – not practical for just an afternoon’s visit. The facility has lots of very nasty diseases on site, like smallpox and Ebola.
I awoke at 3-30 am raring to go – fortunately Alan and Jane have a great library with books of much interest to me, so I started reading The Lost City of Z, about the search for a ‘lost city’ in the Amazon – well-written and gripping. Later I read My Stroke of Insight, by a neuroanatomist who herself had a stroke, describing her attack and recovery – another well-written and fascinating book.
After the sun rose, I moved to the breakfast table where I was able to look at the back deck and bird feeder. Jane and Alan put out seeds to attract birds. I saw a male and female cardinal this morning at the bird feeder – and a squirrel! Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are apparently considered a nuisance, but have novelty value for me. Possums in Australia are often considered the same way in urban areas, where they find cosy places in roofs and rattle around to the annoyance of humans. (Apologies for the less-than-perfect photos. I was shooting them through a window.)
We don’t have any of these birds in Australia, so I was happy to see the red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) …
… the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) …
… the Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) …
and the brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) …
The Fernbank Museum website is a good one for ID-ing Atlanta birds.
After breakfast Alan drove me went to the independent bookstore, the Book Nook, to fill a hole in my “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” comic collection. I ordered the missing one, to arrive in a couple of days.
Then after lunch we went to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore – it was as massive as I remembered from New York a few years ago. I was keen to get to US book stores as we don’t often have access to US editions in Australia, and there are an awful lot of books we don’t get. I think book lovers in Australia were stunned by the size of the Borders franchise stores that opened here a few years ago. Borders has now gone bust in Australia – we just don’t have the population to sustain them.
I bought some magazines (there are no newsagents [separate stores selling mostly magazines] as such, except apparently in California, and I was able to get some titles we can’t get in Australia except through the Internet) and ordered the animated DVD Samurai Jack, and the books Handmade Electronic Music and Automata and Mechanical Toys for Andrew. The bookstore couldn’t get the others on my list as they were UK-published. The weather was good – sunny and 28 to 30 degrees C (Fahrenheit is used in the US) and not yet too humid. Apparently the temperature and humidity in Atlanta are very unpleasant in high summer, but this was still May and they hadn’t kicked in yet.
In the evening the three of us went for a walk in the woods near Alan and Jane’s house – there were interesting different types of trees to those at home, plus a lake – saw a heron somewhat like our white-faced heron, which Jane thought was a great blue heron (Ardea herodias). Some of the trees were witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which we don’t have at home. We saw a male American robin (Turdus migratorius, yellow beak, reddish chests, nothing like our robins). We also heard bleating frogs and they sounded much more like real sheep than our bleating tree frogs in Northern NSW. Jane says West Nile virus is in this area – I felt right at home, as northern NSW mosquitos give us jolly Ross River fever and Barmah Forest virus. Fortunately there weren’t any mozzies during our walk. Jane showed me what we dubbed the “Graffiti Temple Archaeology Site” – old, falling down waterboard buildings that local graffiti artists had drawn impressive paintings on.
Back at Alan and Jane’s, I saw chickadees and more cardinals and yet more squirrels, coming in for the seeds Jane puts out (there is such a thing as a free lunch). Jane helped me identify more native birds (which I didn’t get photos of):
- the eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), about the size of our noisy miner
- the downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), and
- the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor).
Continued in part 2