This southeast experience being new to Alex, I decided to show her around some. It took us 15 years in LA to make our way to most of the drivable spots. I wasn’t sure we’d be in Atlanta that long, so we got started right away.
One of our first outings was to a town called Helen in the North Georgia mountains. “It’s a Bavarian themed town kind of like Solvang,” I told Alex. “Are we staying at the Windmill?” she joked, with a reference to the film Sideways.
Our neighbor friends had invited us to see Anna Ruby Falls just outside of Helen, then have lunch at a place on the river that cuts through town.
From the north Atlanta suburbs you take a two lane road further north, past horse farms, churches, little country antique shops, and more churches. We stopped at one of the country shops and got a bag of boiled peanuts from the fill-your-own-bag honor system out front. Walking in, our friend Bob put a whole shelled peanut in his mouth. “You hungry Bob?” I asked. “The whole thing’s edible,” he said, “plus it’s not bad for the digestion if you know what I mean.” I knew what he meant, and he was right, the shell was almost as soft as the inside peanut, but I didn’t like the idea of putting that outside shell in my mouth. I mean, that’s what keeps the dirt and shit off, right?
Inside the store there were antiques mixed with fine hand-made furniture; little southern knick-knacks next to bejeweled purse hangars; painted boards with sayings like “Kiss My Grits” sharing wall space with original fine-art; gourmet coffees and spices alongside Moon Pies and Goo-Goo Clusters; and trucker hats next to high-dollar haberdashery.
The path to Anna Ruby Falls wandered through towering pines and oaks. Sunlight danced around windblown leaves. The water from the falls blew a cool mist across the scene. We had a brief moment of complete peace… until a wave of humanity descended upon us: screaming kids, barking dogs, the whole nine. Even cigarette smoke from someone who obviously didn’t appreciate the smell of nature, or the people around them who did, and probably thought Smoky the Bear was a pot reference.
Back in town, we took in the whimsy of turrets and cross-beamed architecture; men in lederhosen and women in full St. Pauli Girl attire. We sampled different varieties of pretzel-based foods. We found the restaurant with a deck overlooking the river and settled in for Reuben sandwiches and beer. People floated past us below in inner-tubes as we ate.
“This town is completely packed for Octoberfest,” Jen said. “Not just October, but September leading up to the festival as well,” Bob offered. “You been?” I asked. “No, that’s amateur-hour, we’d rather be here when it’s quieter,” Bob said, just as a pack of Harley riders roared by with open throttles.
Back home, I asked Alex what she thought: “The falls were great, the town a little too Disney.” “Kinda’ like Solvang, right?” “A country Solvang,” she said– a gentler way of saying ‘redneck.’ I don’t think the rebel flag hanging above the Helen Square sign helped with her assessment.
And she was right—Solvang was in the Santa Ynez Valley after all: not far from the American Riviera of Santa Barbara and Montecito; home to mega-celebs like Oprah, Michael Douglas, and Steve Martin; and with top-notch wineries and restaurants.
But hey, Helen is not far from Atlanta. Home to mega-celebs like Tyler Perry, Usher, and… Jeff Foxworthy. And there are even wineries. Oh, and moonshine. Yes, there are moonshineries now (like wineries but with higher octane).
Maybe our next trip will be a wine tour of North Georgia…. We’ll bring a bottle of California cab just in case.