It’s good luck to miss a flight connection in Atlanta.
The previous night, I’d been over the Atlantic Ocean on a Delta flight en route to Monrovia, Liberia, when the plane suddenly lurched downward. Moments later the pilot announced that a mechanical problem was taking us back to Hartsfield-Jackson airport. On the ground again in Atlanta, a smiling Delta agent gave us hotel vouchers and assurances that we were booked on the very next flight to Liberia.
Two days later.
I joined my fellow passengers in a collective wail of complaint but then stepped back and considered the situation from another perspective. I’d been hankering for a jaunt to the Big Peach. I’d heard the buzz that a once-stuffy Atlanta is the new sass of the South — Hotlanta, some call it — with excellent art and food scenes, among other attractions. And this delay might be an unexpected gift of 48 hours in which to find out whether all the hype was true.
So the next morning, I caught a MARTA train headed downtown. Out the window, a major metropolis sped by, complete with three distinct skylines: downtown, midtown and Buckhead, the uptown financial and commercial district. Although Gen. William Sherman burned Atlanta in 1864 (his March to the Sea left it in ruins, with practically every business and two-thirds of all homes torched), the city quickly rebuilt itself after the Civil War, and today Atlanta is the South’s largest metropolitan area, with about 6 million people.
After the Georgia Aquarium, I was off to the botanical gardens. But first I had to dodge the World of Coca-Cola. Sure, the company is headquartered in Atlanta, and, yes, some folks here call Coke the table wine of the South. But sampling 60 varieties of soda is hardly a Napa tasting tour. So I left it behind, setting off on a long stroll to the gardens.
Alas, I blundered into Georgia Tech.
I got lost on the campus somewhere between the Marcus Nanotechnology Research Center and the Ford Environmental Science and Technology building, with the company logo etched in cement at the top. (We separate church and state in America, but apparently not academia and advertising.) By the time I’d looped onto Power Plant Drive NW for the second time, I felt fully confounded and remembered an old joke: When you die, on your way to heaven you have to change planes in Atlanta. I was beginning to wonder whether the trip to Hell connected through Georgia Tech when a skinny guy with a pocket protector mercifully pointed me toward the Atlanta Botanical Garden.