Last Monday night, I was finishing an education story, making a Spotify playlist and finalizing a list of places to visit during my Atlanta day trip. I knew that I could have done and wanted to do more to prepare, but I was too busy tracking down sources for the education story and dealing with laptop issues (I accidentally broke the screen on my laptop when I tossed my lap desk onto the bed, on the eve of two major CUE deadlines).
During the trip, I repeatedly heard my former Dillard University professors' voices in my head saying, "Piss poor preparation produces piss poor performance." Looking back, I know what I should have done to make my trip — which was still amazing — better: made a detailed itinerary, complete with transit instructions; taken my fiance's good cellphone charger instead of mine, with the cord that needs to be wrapped around the phone and charging power that's comparable to sticking batteries in the freezer; not relied completely on electronics, especially when they are so faulty and cumbersome.
However, as another favorite HBCU maxim goes, "Excuses are tools of the weak and incompetent that build monuments to nothingness and bridges to nowhere. Those who use them seldom amount to anything, therefore I have no excuses."
Megabus is new to New Orleans, but old hat to our friends on the East Coast. From what I can tell and from what Megabus fans have told me, the best things about Megabus are the inexpensive fares, electrical outlets, Wi-Fi, double-decker design and centrally-located bus stops. A round trip bus ride to Atlanta on the Megabus only cost me $14, with me making reservations roughly two months in advance. Another great thing about Megabus, as opposed to Greyhound, is that you don't have to pay extra for an exchangeable fare.
Making reservations on 9/18 for a trip from New Orleans to Atlanta on 12/5
Megabus: $5; 9 hour maximum trip.
Greyhound: $24 advance, $44 web-only, $97 standard, $109 refundable; 11 hour maximum trip.
Making reservations on 9/18 for a trip from New Orleans to Atlanta on 9/19
Megabus: $47; 9 hour maximum trip.
Greyhound: $44 web-only, $97 standard, $109 refundable; 11 hour maximum trip.
I didn't worry too much about planning my trip before getting on the bus, since I knew there was going to be free Wi-Fi. However, following a fatal Megabus crash in Illinois, some double-decker buses were temporarily replaced with ordinary buses without Wi-Fi.
(I always have a weird feeling that I'm going to die while on a long trip away from home. I know it's crazy. I also have a fear that people will go through my dirty clothes once I die. Those fears are warranted, though, since people did that with my Mom's dirty clothes after she died. That said, I always wash my clothes before going on trips.)
Thank God I have Barnacle Wifi Tether on my phone and was able to file my story before deadline (4:39 a.m. to be exact) while on the road and get a little bit of planning done. I also learned — after someone momentarily used my connection — that I could password-protect said connection.
Megabus aficionado Ken Gaspard asked me to bear in mind that Megabus trips are never like the one we were going on, and urged me to give it another try once the fleet is restored. He also shared his reasons for choosing Megabus over Greyhound: "The only bad thing about Megabus is that there are no bus stations, but the best thing is that it doesn't stop in all those little country towns," Gaspard said. "Greyhound needs to step up their game because right now they have the attitude like they don't even have to try."
Once in Atlanta at the MARTA Civic Center Station, the first thing I noticed was a sign that read, "No they can't spare a dollar. Don't beg on MARTA." Oddly enough, I noticed a young man begging for money while I was waiting in line to get my one-day Breeze card. When he asked me, I told him I had nothing to give him. "Maaan you mean to tell me you don't even have a nickel?" he asked. "Not even a nickel out of all these people."
My first — and last — time riding a MARTA train alone, I think I got lost. I used the HopStop app like my best friend in New York does, but I guess I'm just not used to riding trains. Truthfully, my only reason for wanting to ride the MARTA trains was so that I might witness another Soulja Girl incident (see NSFW video below).
Later, I successfully used HopStop to find my way to The Flying Biscuit Cafe and to another MARTA station to meet a friend of mine, so I'm still a HopStop fan. Google Transit is more my speed, though.
Before my trip, I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions of where to go. They suggested The Flying Biscuit Cafe more than once and the Yelp reviews were decent, so I made it my first stop.
"Can I get cheese grits?"
"Oh, we already put cheese in them."
That exchange let me know I was in the right place for a hearty, Southern breakfast. Unlike the breakfast specials that I'm used to, the sausage was spicy and made of chicken instead of pork and the biscuit was dense and came with homemade cranberry apple butter — I loved it. My only gripe was that I felt rushed, as the waitress brought the check before I was finished eating and I had to keep her from removing food that I was still working in.
My friend Allen knew that I was going to Atlanta and wanted to hang out while I was there, so I met up with him (I got turned around a bit on my way to meet him because I was standing at the wrong bus stop) right after. I am so very thankful that I had him to help me navigate the city and to keep me company.
Our first stop together was to Mac's Beer & Wine Midtown Liquor, as I was looking for craft beer for my fiance and a coworker and specialty soda for myself. The selection was nice, but they didn't have the Duck Rabbit milk stout that my coworker wanted and I didn't want to lug heavy bottles around all day, so I left without buying anything. Knowledgeable and friendly staff, though.
Allen and I walked through what I later found out was the AT&T Midtown Center. It reminded me of what the Riverwalk is like now, so I wasn't impressed, but I was snapping photos while we were looking for the exit to the bus stops because at the time I thought it was a part of MARTA, which would be pretty cool.
"Ma'am? Ma'am? Excuse me, ma'am?" Those security guards aren't talking to me, so I keep walking.
They catch Allen's glance. "Her? What? You're talking to her?" Allen asks them while pointing to me, as we approach the top of the escalator.
"Girrrrl they want to talk to you. Ha!"
"Ugh, what the f*ck, bruh! Ain't nobody got time for that! Lemme go see what these broads want," I say as I stomp down the stairs.
"Ma'am, we were trying to get your attention. What are you doing?"
"I'm a journaliiist, I'm with Gambit in New Orleaaans, I'm on assignmeeent," I say while trying to sound nice, though my aggravation is evident in my singsongy tone.
"Ma'am, you aren't allowed to take pictures here unless you have permission, you're going to have to delete them."
"What do you mean? Why not? I don't see a sign that says that. I'm a journalist; it's my job."
"It's an AT&T rule. Let me see the pictures you took."
I show her my camera and delete the last picture, knowing my camera will go back to the first picture of my trip, leading her to think that the deleted picture was the only one I took — color her outsmarted. Had I not been wearing my Gambit shirt and had I not been pressed for time, things would have happened differently, you can believe that. You know I can't stand being told I can't take pictures in public places. The rent-a-cops let us go, and Allen and I headed to Ponce de Leon Avenue.
I read about a guy from New Orleans who moved to Atlanta after Katrina and opened a snowball stand, Orleagian Snowballs, so you know I had to make a stop there.
While waiting on Orleagian Snowballs to open, I saw a man selling fruit. Peaches! In Georgia! Fresh peaches from a stand in Georgia. You'd be a fool to pass this up! I thought to myself when I spotted the fruit vendor in the gas station parking lot — I should have passed it up. He was a little odd and his peaches were really dusty. To me, the best peaches come from Ruston, Louisiana.
New Orleans native and University of New Orleans graduate Kenneth Woodfin founded Orleagian Snowballs four years ago, after he evacuated to Atlanta for Hurricane Katrina. When Katrina hit, Woodfin was a single dad (he's been married for a few years now); almost immediately after he evacuated, he secured a job and found a school for his daughter, making returning to New Orleans impractical. He still misses home, as the rest of his family has since returned to New Orleans, but he's proud to be "the face of snowballs in Atlanta." Of introducing Atlanta to snowballs, Woodfin says, "After a little education and reading our website and so forth, they understand what a snowball is. Because you know initially, everyone thinks it's the yucky snowcones, ya know? But a snowcone (catches a handful of snow from the ice shaver) doesn't have ice this soft (gestures at Allen to touch the snow)." East Beasts will be glad to know that there's a gummi bear at the bottom of every Orleagian snowball, just like at Rodney's.
Our next stop was to the World of Coca-Cola, just so I could try the sodas from around the world. Upon entering, my stupid camera stopped working. I hit it a few times and it started working again, thank God. The World of Coca-Cola was a lot more fun than I imagined! I met the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, virtually stood inside of a glass of Coke (they fill the room with Coke-scented cool air, play the sound of soda being poured into a glass of ice and display a video on a 360-degree floor-to-ceiling screen of Coke being poured into a glass of ice), watched Cokes being bottled and tried sodas from all over the world.
Speaking of Coke products and my obsession with unique sodas...
Did you know that Diet Barq's Red Creme Soda exists, but isn't available in New Orleans? Caffeine-free Barq's Root Beer, Barq's French Vanilla Creme Soda and Diet Barq's French Vanilla Creme Soda also exist, but aren't available in New Orleans either. One would think that all Barq's products would be available in the city where Barq's Brothers Bottling Company was founded. Last Christmas, I called Coca-Cola corporate, our Coke bottlers in Harahan and every major grocery in New Orleans looking for Diet Barq's Red Creme Soda for my best friend Allen (not the Allen in this story). Not happening. I did find it on SodaFinder.com, though.
Being in Atlanta, I wanted to have Southern soul food. Some friends suggested Busy Bee, but the Tuesday menu looked a little too soulful for me so, at the suggestion of other friends, I tried Mary Mac's Tea Room. Deeelicious food and deeelightful service. First-time guests get complimentary pot likker & cracklin' cornbread and the yeast rolls are so soft and buttery. The decor reminds me of a church parlor, which is a perfect complement to the cuisine. Between Allen and I, we had fried green tomatoes, a fried porkchop, chicken & dumplings, broccoli souffle, macaroni & cheese, greens, peach cobbler and sweet tea. The meal was everything I hoped, with the exception of the greens that were a little too bitter for me — but at least I could tell they were fresh.
Allen and I parted ways after Mary Mac's, which was exciting because I could try to navigate the city on my own again. I wanted to go to Hop City, a craft beer store, so that I could find the Duck Rabbit milk stout for my coworker and so I could bring some beer back to my fiance. Instead of HopStop, I used Google Transit, because it works with the navigation on my phone. Of all the national apps, Google Transit is my favorite. However, once a transit provider releases both the schedule and real-time data, third-party apps designed by actual residents who use public transit (for NORTA riders, there's NOLA Transit by Joel Carranza and RIDE by Chris Boyd, which is slated for release in early November) easily take first place.
Of course, I was standing at the wrong bus stop. I realized this after I didn't see my stop while riding. I hate asking for directions, so I hadn't asked the driver if the bus was going where I needed to go. Luckily I had a day pass and could ride back in the right direction. Outside of Hop City, my camera broke again and I fixed it by hitting it again. I can't afford a new camera right now, so I'm stuck with this camera that I've had since 2006.
Hop City had the beer my coworker wanted, beers that my fiance would like and gourmet sodas from Sprecher Brewery for me. Another section of Hop City is Growlertown, a place where you can fill growlers (64- or 32-ounce jugs) with beer for less than buying bottles. There's also a homebrew supply area and a wine section. The employees are so kind and knowledgeable and the prices are reasonable, too. For about $19, I bought three sodas and six beers. I'd consider riding the Megabus to Atlanta again, if only to visit Hop City.
After Hop City, I knew I needed to find a place with electrical outlets and Wi-Fi so I could get this posted by the end of Tuesday. (Spoiler alert: That didn't happen.) There was a place across the street called Octane Coffee which would have been perfect, except for the fact that all the outlets and tables were taken. I left Octane Coffee and hopped on the first bus I saw, just praying I wouldn't get lost. Rather than try to navigate MARTA, I jumped off as soon as I reached a stop that I knew. I had to walk a quarter-mile carrying a paper bag full of bottled drinks, along with my laptop bag, but I'd rather that than getting lost. I stopped at The Broadway Diner to use their electrical outlets so I could recharge my phone and find a place with Wi-Fi that was open late and near the Megabus stop.
Cypress Street Pint & Plate seemed like something I'd like and it was only half a mile away, so I started heading over there — so I thought. I got turned around again! Cypress Street Pint & Plate reminded me of The Bulldog with the outdoor patio and vast beer selection and of Capdeville with the jazzed up pub fare. After finishing my Sublime Doughnut dessert — not to be confused with the Sublime Doughnut bacon cheeseburger — and Tommyknocker draft served by customer-favorite Tommy, I made my way back to the MARTA Civic Center station to wait on the 11:59 p.m. Megabus to New Orleans.
While walking down West Peachtree Street, I noticed so many homeless people, more than I see in New Orleans. I'm not usually one to give strangers money — especially when I'm going through a rough financial patch — but a man in a wheelchair outside of a church asked me if I was a Christian and started a conversation with me; there was something about him that I trusted. Maybe he swindled me — we'll never know — but I gave him $5. The homeless population in New Orleans might be bigger than in Atlanta, but the square footage of New Orleans is almost three times as big as that of Atlanta, making the issue more visible there, bringing us back to why there are signs at the MARTA stations condemning panhandling. Here are the 2011 numbers:
July 2011 population per census: 432,427
Size of the city: 132.4 sq. miles
2011 core homelessness (includes transitional housing, shelters and those in imminent danger of eviction): 5,987
2011 unsheltered homeless: 2075
(UNITY includes Jefferson Parish in the homelessness data)
July 2011 population per census: 360,740 in Orleans Parish + 432,640 in Jefferson Parish = 793,380
Size of the city: 350.2 sq. miles in Orleans Parish + 642 sq. miles in Jefferson Parish = 992.2 sq. miles
New Orleans/Jefferson area
2011 core homelessness (includes transitional housing, shelters and those in imminent danger of eviction): 6,687
2011 unsheltered homeless: 5374
To "think globally but act locally" to help our homeless brethren, consider signing up for emailing lists or liking the Facebook pages of groups including UNITY, Covenant House, New Orleans Mission, Lindy's Place and Responsibility House. In addition to organizations with the sole purpose of combating homelessness, local companies like HERO | farm often plan events to provide resources to the homeless community.
Here are the outtakes from this bus adventure and a link to my Facebook journalist page where I'll put the outtakes should you want to comment on them.