The Pause That Refreshed Us

We did make it to Rio, honest. More on that in a while. First, I’d like to get my thoughts down on our one-day detour in Atlanta. Neither of us had ever been there (though I did blow by it at 75 MPH en route to LA when I was 26). Although we were disappointed and a little angry not to make our connecting flight to Brazil, we were pleasantly surprised with what we saw in Atlanta – mostly downtown, the airport, and the metro.

We took the MARTA from the airport to the city center. Unlike New York, which is otherwise supremely navigable by subway, Atlanta’s metro goes right to the damn airport. No buses, no monorail connections, no $15 New Jersey Transit tickets. (New York has three major airports, all of which require some kind of connection if you want to take the subway.) MARTA (great name) was clean and efficient.

The Olympic Park is a triumph of parkitecture (did I just coin that? Quick Google search says nope). On a warm autumn day, we were surrounded with layers of red, orange, and yellow trees and bushes, brighter than what we were used to. Of course, after connecting with nature and relaxing in the sun, there was only one thing to do next: Pay $15 to a major corporation to advertise to us its already famous products, over and over, and then spend a couple more bucks in a gift shop so that we could take home portable advertisements and show them to our friends. That’s right: The World of Coca-Cola.

(I wonder how many brands can get away with self-congratulating museums. Pennsylvania has the Hershey Museum, and Battle Creek (home of Kellogg’s) had Cereal City, which is now closed. In Minnesota there is in fact a Spam Museum. I’m not sure Spam even belongs in the conversation, but maybe that’s the point – open a store or museum based on your product, and it’s suddenly canonized in the firmament of American treasures along with the ’57 Bel Air, the Constitution, and Mr. T. That people walk in and pay for your products in your advertoreum only confirms its legitimacy. I’m guessing we’re five years away from an Activia museum or a Goya World.)

That’s not to slight Coca-Cola – the most successfully marketed product on the planet, and the most recognizable phrase to boot. I’ve always been a big sucker fan of Coke; when I was a kid I collected cans, bottles, and souvenirs. Later, I would bring home Coke bottles from the countries I visited. (I got tired of moving them and later keeping them in my parents’ basement, so I eventually got rid of them.) Eons from now, when aliens visit our long-abandoned ruins, they will find that one red and white icon united us all before (and in spite of that) we nuked ourselves to oblivion: Coca-Cola.

The museum itself includes an introductory animated film; a “4-D” film experience; a theater showing famous commercials (Mean Joe Green, and those hillside hippies, among others); galleries of old bottles, cans, and memorabilia; a factory exhibit on the bottling process; and a room with fountains representing every continent, featuring Coke brands from around the world and available for sample. (Our favorite was Stoney from Tanzania, a ginger beer with such strong carbonation that the effervescent sensation literally goes up your nostrils. I would have this for breakfast each day if I could.) They were also handing out samples of Peppermint Coke – we gave that thumbs down.

The World of Coca-Cola actually offers discounts on tandem tickets that include the Georgia Aquarium, just across the park. By gallons of water, it’s the world’s largest (8.5 million), and it showcases some breathtaking floor-to-ceiling and tunnel views of equally  breathtaking marine life. It’s a terrific place to bring children if you have them; the central area has the appearance of a theme park, making one agonize over which attraction to visit first. The belugas were definitely my favorite.

We didn’t have time for much more than that as we had to head back to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and catch our flight. Incidentally, it’s a well-run airport, although as the busiest in the world it can feel overwhelming. The security and passport control lines we encountered on our way back were long but efficiently handled; workers were stationed all over to corral travelers and amiably herd them to the right place. If you’re flight’s delayed, there are plenty of things to keep you occupied. And the monorail going from terminal to terminal is fast and spacious.

That was Atlanta. On to Brazil…

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