I had a brain wave. I thought it had been indigestion at first, “Let’s not go to Atlanta”. I’d heard Athens, GA was a cooler town. To be honest I knew nothing about it other than Michael Stipe was either from there or grew up there and had told me once that it was a nice place. Throwing caution to the wind we headed there.
After leaving the great un-groomed of Asheville we headed out in the direction of South Carolina. Passed a town called Bat Cave, didn’t stop but looked it up and yes it’s a small town with a cave, home to a lot of bats. I love bats - funny little things, I actually have a dried one at home.
Found a perfect driving road; SC route 11. This followed a Cherokee trail, didn’t see any Cherokee but the signs were there, smoke signals etc. It was pretty evident that SC has a lot of poverty, lots of trailer parks and closed business.
If Virginia and NC are in the tobacco business then SC seems to be in the fireworks business with signs advertising them everywhere. This is only interesting in that in most US states it’s illegal to buy or sell fireworks. You can often buy a gun but not a banger; after all you wouldn’t want to frighten folk! We passed through Greenville. A town which had found latter day prosperity after winning the lottery when BMW opened a manufacturing plant there about 20 years ago.
The reality was that Monday’s drive was becoming a little dull. In fact I commented to Jeff that if nothing more happened then I was seriously thinking of cancelling the day due to lack of interest. Of course I was bluffing, everyone knows it’s only the Queen or Pippa Middleton who can actually cancel days.
Then a funny thing happened. To be polite, even though I hadn’t seen him for two years I thought I would mail Michael Stipe to say “guess where I am? Driving toward your home town.” (He now lives in NYC) I received a message straight back saying that he had just landed in Athens. This meant most of the guess work was going to be taken out of our evening.
We had dinner in Michael’s favourite restaurant: The National, a brilliant spot mixing the best of southern culture with a little Mediterranean. After that we walked over to 40 Watt, a music venue started in 1978 and a foster home to Athens bands REM and B52’s amongst many others. It was closed - I guess the Queen had made the call.
The remainder of the evening was spent cruising the many, many drinking establishments in downtown Athens with almost, but not quite, as many bars as there were of Baptist Church’s we had passed on the drive in.
Quote of the day taken from a Vegas style sign outside a Baptist church; “There is only the cross”. Thankfully there is also cable otherwise David Yurman wouldn’t have a business.