Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stories from the Road -- The Georgia Aquarium

It seems I always write about how much I love places -- or at least write about the positive things in questionable places. This makes sense, because we generally tend to travel to places that we believe we will like.

Unfortunately, with conferences, you do not have the power to control where you travel. So it is with Atlanta.

Atlanta, America's answer for the generic big, ugly, cold (in feeling, not in climate), boring city. I try to find the good things about a place, but Atlanta does not have very many of them. The airport? A disaster area. The downtown? Completely uninteresting. The traffic? Self-mutilation (or worse). The food? Greasy fast food does not make me a fan.

I've known a lot of people who have lived in Atlanta at one time in their lives. Many of them rave about it. The ramblin' wreck of Georgia Tech (read that as you like). Home of the Falcons. The Falcons! We have a dome. A nice dome.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. If you have nice property you'd like to "sell", at least tell me it's in an exotic location. Atlanta? No thanks.

My question is...who vacations to Atlanta? And better still...why? If you have family in Atlanta, why don't you meet them somewhere cooler? Savannah isn't that far away. Chattanooga is an easy drive on 75. Charlotte is just a half-day's drive on 85. There are mountains nearby. Nice ones!

The American Meteorological Society, in all of its wisdom, likes to have the Annual Meeting here. So it was in 2010. I generally don't look forward to this conference anyway. My grant sure doesn't like the bill, and I get so little out of it science-wise -- that I tend to look forward to the extracurricular activities far more than the actual reason for being there. Perhaps one day I'll write a rant on the AMS. I've had one coming for a while -- maybe the time is coming. I digress...

One of the extracurricular activities involved (free) dinner (and drinks) at the Georgia Aquarium. This was easily my favorite experience during my stay in Atlanta -- but even this was a letdown. Perhaps my pictures from the aquarium express my indifferent mood. That's how I interpret them.

The aquarium was dark -- darker than usual for aquariums. It was after hours for the place, and not all of the exhibits were open. Not all of the lights were on. Fair enough. As it turns out, the photos I took here perfectly captured my mood of Atlanta. Drab, dull, boring. Despite the cool aquatic life I was seeing. Steve Zissou would have had a ball here. Maybe the fish would have been more cartoonish, but I could see him staring at a fish that killed his friend -- and he would say, "Wow."

Actually, the aquarium was beautiful. It's hard not to just stare at all of the life, mouth ajar, music filling your ears with the appropriate ambient soundtrack. But the dark silhouettes against a monochromatic blue backdrop were enough for me to remember it wasn't that much different outside of the aquarium. And some of the fish were sharks...

On the last night of my stay there, the hotel room window was open and the random sounds of city life were heard endlessly. It was relatively cool that night, and a breeze blew into the room. That is a favorite memory of the place. Why? Because I didn't see the streets, the buildings, the cars, the people. I imagined some place better.