Wine “Kuntry”

We drove past homemade wooden signs scrawled with crooked letters that spelled out things like Boiled Peanuts and Pork Rinds. Not the types of things you’d associate with wine country. But we weren’t in wine country, we were in wine kuntry; north Georgia mountain style.

I had found a coupon to a place called Yonah Mountain. My wife was skeptical, since the only Georgia mountain wine she’d tried was some Muscadine that could have doubled for grape jelly. But the pictures of Yonah Mountain online were nice and the price was right, so we decided to do their guided tour.

About an hour or so in the car from our house in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, we pulled off the road and through the entrance. There were some vines on a slope and what looked like a trailer-home on a hill. Alex looked at me like she did after trying that Muscadine.

We then drove past a giant old tree and over a hill to see mountains that looked like Mother Nature lying on her side holding the Yonah Mountain vineyard in front of her. This could have been Italy, France, or California if you substituted chestnuts for boiled peanuts, and prosciutto for pork rinds.

The tour was led by the owner, a character, who started the tour on the grand piano in the tasting room. He was a true storyteller and said that he and his wife had to live in the trailer, since they spent all their money on the vineyard. Besides the vines, they had constructed a tasting room, cellars and event space that looked transported from Napa. In fact, he said their wine-making skills were gotten from California, and they grew Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes among others. My wife and I looked at our empty glasses in anticipation.

The wines were good and the tour was funny and informative, but we passed on taking a bottle home with us as it was expensive for us coupon cutters. We drove home thinking how it was nice that there was some class in the “kuntry”.



Reincarnated as a Horse

We took our French goddaughter, Ines, to horse country while she was here. Not Kentucky, which is no doubt horse country, but seems to be more about the business of horses than the pleasure. No, we took her north of Atlanta, where there are several horse-happy communities.

We passed a house… okay, mansion, with a “stable” built into the side of the place like it was just another wing. It even had a “horse porch” with outdoor ceiling fans… for the horses. We got out and took a picture of a stop sign that said whoa instead of stop. We passed rolling front yards kissed by the sun, the gentle Georgia breeze blowing horse tails and manes.

Our destination was a house in Milton. A friend of ours had heard that Ines was into horses and had offered to let her ride at her house. Ines was confused at first. “Where’s the riding ring?” she asked. “There is no ring,” our friend answered. “Just ride around the property.” Ines couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.

After the ride, we all sat on the front porch for a spell, as they do in horse country. “The horses around here sure seem to be treated well,” I said. “If you only knew,” our friend replied. “There are horse masseuses, horse hair stylists, horse therapists. They are more than pampered. If I die, I’d like to come back as a Milton horse.” Ines’ English was pretty good, but she couldn’t quite grasp that one. “Quoi?” she asked, looking at me for clarification. I translated in my decent but rusty French. She still looked confused. “I’ll explain later,” I told her.

I realize now, I never did explain later. I can just see her telling the story to her friends back in France about the crazy American woman who wants to come back to life as a horse.


Roswell GA not NM

When we moved from LA to Roswell, Georgia, our friends made jokes about hillbillies and aliens. They had the wrong Roswell of course: the only aliens in our Roswell are folks from other countries, like the Frenchman who started a gourmet market with his American wife; and as for hillbillies, they are further in the hills than this Atlanta suburb.

Roswell may not be our be-all end-all, but it has been a nice place to live. The main drag, Canton Street, is about one mile of franchise-free space. It has a unique walkable atmosphere with old houses and brick buildings made into restaurants, bars, art galleries and such. (Alex has some of her fine art photography in Roswell Provisions, the French market. You can see some of her photos here.)

On Canton Street there are always people walking from place to place, or lounging at outdoor tables. There’s an open-carry law, and not the gun kind, that lets you take your drinks with you as you stroll around. The area has even become a draw for the younger, hipper, city crowd. I met a girl in her early twenties at a business meeting who lived in the always desirable Buckhead. When I told her I lived in Roswell, I thought she’d say “that’s nice,” but instead replied, “oh, that’s so cool. We take Ubers up there all the time!”

We’ve found some hidden gems in the area as well. There’s an old mill that harnessed the power of an offshoot of the Chattahoochee river more than 150 years ago. The mill area has a covered bridge, trails and historic markers that lead to a dam. The dam creates a man-made waterfall. In summer kids swim under and even underneath the falling water. So far, the mill area hasn’t been lawyerized with protective fences and redundant signage, or monetized with parking and entrance fees.

There are examples of antebellum architecture in the handful of columned old founder’s homes that somehow survived Sherman’s fiery path. Bulloch Hall sits on probably the highest point in Roswell with a wide wraparound porch and sprawling grounds. Roosevelt’s mother lived here as a young girl. It’s a good place to have a picnic under the shade of its giant oak trees, or sit on a rocking chair on the porch and imagine you’re Rhett and Scarlett.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all old south antebellum either. Alex wouldn’t have moved here if there wasn’t easy access to a Costco, Trader Joe’s, Michael’s, or Jo-Ann’s. Places I’m sure Rhett would say he didn’t give a damn about, and then find himself following Scarlett around looking for fabric she could fasten into her next gown…just as long as he was able to have a mint julep on the porch when they got home.

We’ve found that Roswell has something for all the Rhett’s and Scarlett’s, LA expats, and even aliens and hillbillies.


The Never-ending Search for Good Cheap Wine

Our local stores must think we’re alcoholics. It’s not that they see us every day, it’s just that when Alex finds a great deal, she takes it. So instead of the normal one or two bottles of wine, we will sometimes roll up with a cart full.

This is great when you’re in the mood to chat with strangers, but not so much when you’re wearing a ball cap to hide the bed-head you haven’t put a comb through since the day prior. You kind of feel like a celebrity as people eye your goods and say things like: “How do I get on that invite list?!” “Just tell me where and when?!” or “I’m partying with you, Cowboy!”

The cashiers are a little more subtle. They’ll say, “this wine must be good,” which I’ll reply “well the price sure was.” Not that we buy two-buck Chuck either. We only binge-buy when there’s a $10 to $25-dollar bottle that’s, say, half-price.

Back in California we took it for granted that there would always be a good wine at a good price; here in Georgia it requires a more tactical approach. When we first moved to town, it was bleak. They didn’t even sell alcohol on Sundays in Georgia for the first couple years we were here. And the choices were either the local grocery store or the local liquor store. We thought when the large national chains came to town like Total Wine and More we’d be set, but that place comes with its own set of hurdles. They’ve got their brands they want to push, and they push them hard.

We used to get J Lohr chardonnay there and every time they saw us pick up a bottle, they would say “have you tried Oak Grove?” We had, and it wasn’t comparable, but they wouldn’t leave it alone. The margins must have been much better on the Oak Grove, but the taste sure wasn’t.

Costco is hit or miss as well. Granted they have some good consistent deals on wines like La Crema, but that’s a special occasion wine for us. The really good deals you see at Costco are usually a name you’ve never heard of, or can’t remember, and sold-out within a week. You go back in there and it’s like that wine never existed; even the employees don’t remember the name of it.

Hence the binge-buying and cart cat-calling. Now I know how J Lo must feel. I’d better start combing my hair before we go shopping again.



Alligator hors-d’oeuvres on the Chattahoochee

I shouldn’t have told my wife about the alligator. She had wanted to take a float down Atlanta’s river, the Chattahoochee, ever since we’d moved here and seen people drifting down casually in colorful rafts and tubes as we drove over the river’s few overpasses.

“Few” is an understatement really. You might not even know Atlanta has a river if you blink as you drive over one of the freeway overpasses. It’s a long and wide river, but on Atlanta’s map it’s like a wisp of smoke floating up the western nose of the city and over its head to the north-east.

The river here is not really used like other cities use bodies of water. There is no River-Walk, there is no grand park with a river view, there’s no real commercial center on any part of the river. There’s really only one restaurant with a river view that I know of, appropriately named Ray’s on the River.

The Chattahoochee is more of a nature-protected area for floaters, hikers and fishing. Unless you own one of the nice homes on the suburban banks, or are floating past one of these homes, you really can’t appreciate it too much as a casual tourist.

So Alex wanted to “Shoot the Hooch” as they say locally… that is until I told her about the alligator. I had read an article about a large one living in the Chattahoochee that had been photographed and seen every so often over the last ten years. This was a 7-foot creature that did not belong this far north, but somehow found himself here and adapted (kind of like my wife and I adapting to Atlanta from Los Angeles).

It took me a bit of cajoling and the promise of a raft, not an inner tube, since there’s at least a bottom to a raft and some space to move around lest you get attacked by anything, but I finally talked her back into the idea.

Well, the day we chose to go happened to be Labor Day and the only flotation devices still available on this crowded day were inner tubes. “Oh, hell no,” said Alex. “I am not letting my toes dangle in that water for the next two hours like alligator hors-d’oeuvres.” And that was that.

I recently read the alligator was trapped and toes are now safe to dangle. When I told Alex the good news, she replied “what about the snakes?”



Gibbs Gardens and Unseen Blooms

Not long after moving back to Atlanta from LA, I ran into a friend at the grocery store; one I hadn’t seen since High School. I asked what he was up to and he said he was a landscaper. Now I had done my share of lawns back in the day, but I never imagined turning it into a real business. We went to the type of upper-middle-class school that turned kids into accountants, doctors, lawyers, or white-collar criminals, not landscapers.

But the explosion of new sub-divisions around Atlanta since the ‘80’s has created some unusual success stories: Tradesmen who moved here from other depressed cities, with just a tool-belt to their name who now run multi-million-dollar construction businesses. I know a guy who banged shingles on roofs in Michigan, moved to Atlanta and started his own roofing company. He now has a King Air jet with 8 seats to take him to his homes in Florida and Montana.

So when Alex found Gibbs Gardens I wasn’t too surprised that it was owned and operated by a landscaper and his family. This was back in the spring when Atlanta comes alive with blooming plants like a time-lapse fireworks show: The whites of dogwoods, the reds of azaleas, the yellows of daffodils.

I don’t know who counted, but Gibbs Gardens claims they have 20 million daffodils. Whether it’s 20 million, or 20 thousand, it’s a pretty impressive sight. In fact, the entire place is worth the price of admission (about $20 each, if memory serves). There’s a Monet’s garden pond with an arched bridge, Japanese garden, and wooded trails that lead to many more. They even have trams to move people from site to site. It’s like a flora-Disney.

If I’d have known there was so much money in landscaping, maybe I’d have reinvested some of that cash I made cutting lawns as a kid into a fleet of lawnmowers. But then I’d probably never have started my own valet parking service, which come to think of could of been another one of those scrappy Atlanta success stories had I not moved on to “more important” things.

Hindsight is full of unseen blooms.

Good ol’ Boys and Girls

Atlanta is a multicultural place with mosques and temples and churches of all shapes and sizes. All the colors of life’s rainbow are represented here.  And yet there is still an undercurrent of good ol’ boy that exists. It’s not as obvious inside the perimeter—the concrete circle that surrounds the city in freeway form—but outside it hangs like the humidity in summer.

I was at the doctor’s office the other day and the receptionist was ringing up my co-pay. The place smelled of antibacterial gel, and looked just as antiseptic. The receptionist pulled my receipt out of her little machine and batted her tarantula eyelids at it. “I’m sorry, you don’t have a co-pay until you meet your deductible. I’m going to have to redo that.” She blushed a little more red than even her red tinted makeup. A few minutes and a couple hundred dollars later, she handed me another receipt. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I went to school for this and I still can’t figure it out…. Obama,” she exclaimed in exasperation.

I had worked in the pharmaceutical industry before Obama was first elected and I remember the frustration of medical insurance then as now. I wanted to say something but held my tongue, probably because I was about to see someone who hired this lady and had my life in their hands. I couldn’t help but think I wouldn’t have even been in there, pre-ACA, for fear of a pre-existing condition being marked on my permanent record.

Later that week, I got a ride to the airport from a car service and the driver waxed on about “the way things used to be, you know, before Obama messed up the whole taxi and car service industry by letting in Uber.” Once again I was unable to respond the way I wanted, being at the mercy of this man behind the wheel who obviously was not so interested in the details of what got us where, or how regulation is a bad word until it’s needed for your cause.

I’m surprised Obama’s not blamed for the humidity here, or the traffic, or the things Atlanta has had to deal with well before Obama was ever in office. It’s become so ludicrous (not referring to the Atlanta rapper) that my wife and I will sometimes jokingly proclaim, “damn you Obama!” to just about anything: Weeds in the yard, “damn you Obama!” Car won’t start “damn you Obama!” Hangnail, “damn you Obama!”

Perhaps the cherry on top of the Georgia good ol’ boy pie is the U.S. congressman from Georgia, Tom Price, who was quoted as saying that anything Obama proposes, good or bad, he will reject outright simply because it’s coming from Obama. I guess you can’t blame Obama for everything then after all.


Bear Scare

Remember back in grade school when your teacher wanted to show you how a rumor spreads? You’d sit in a line and the teacher would whisper something to the first person who would whisper something to the second, and so on until you got to the end. By then the poor soul unlucky enough to grab that last seat would only have a patchwork of nonsense to repeat out loud to the teacher.

Neighborhood email groups can be a good thing, but they can also go the way of that grade school rumor line, especially when the email is about bears and my wife is involved. “Oh my God, we have bears!” Alex shouted from the other room one day. I grabbed a hockey stick—like that would help—and ran into the room to see what she was so excited about.

Indeed there were bears sighted in our community, but they were not at our door. They had apparently come down from the North Georgia mountain area some miles north. We are in a leafy suburb of Atlanta called Roswell, so this was news…. Just a little exaggerated.

“A bear attacked someone and knocked their teeth out!” Alex reported next. The man claimed he was face-to-face with the giant bear, but there was little proof. Turns out he fell and knocked his own teeth out. I know if I saw a bear, even at the end of my driveway as I stepped out the front door, I’d probably turn and fall and knock my own teeth out too.

We had weathered the occasional snake, the coyotes, the mini scorpions, and the squirrel that wanted to move in, but this was different. There were numerous reports on the neighborhood internet vine, but not too many pictures. People were on edge. Alex was afraid to go out to get the mail. “Take a hockey stick,” I offered. “Not funny,” she said.

I looked up some bear facts, and found out that these guys were probably black bears, probably not much bigger than a large dog, and less prone to chase you than a large dog would be. I even showed Alex a picture of some cubs in a tree. “So cute!” she said. But reading further I noted, “Cute until you accidently get in between them and their mother.”

The next day Alex took a courageous breath and said, “I’m going to get the mail.” “That’s the spirit,” I said “don’t let a little bear family scare you from walking out your own front door.” “Did you say family?” she asked. “Okay, where’s that hockey stick again? I might need your helmet too, maybe the gloves… hell, just suit me up!”


Craig’s List for Dummies

I’m not saying Georgia is dumber than any other state, but if Craig’s List was a bellwether, I’d have to assume as much. In California (specifically LA) we sold couches, tables, TV’s… all kinds of things on Craig’s List, and 9 times out of 10 it was a quick and easy proposition.

My wife Alex does the posting, so I know the ads are thorough and well organized—put it this way, she has worn out more than one label-maker since I’ve known her—but out here people still ask the craziest things.

We had a table top for sale and the lady asks “how tall is the table?” “Well, it has no legs” I said “so…” But I was thinking, “didn’t you read the ad or even look at the pictures?”

People call and ask the price of something or how big it is, when Alex always puts the price and dimensions right there in the short ad next to the pictures. It’s like they expect us to know all the measurements off the top of our heads, or have a tape measure at our hip at all times. Or re-read them the ad.

Here in Georgia they will ask if we can bring them the item like we’re Amazon or something. “Let me just send out one of my drones,” I’m tempted to say next time.

And I can’t tell you how many people have made appointments and not shown up, or called an hour after their appointment and said they were running late, but can we wait for them. “Sure, another hour of our day is worth the $10 you may or may not pay for that ceramic pot you already talked us down on,” I almost said one time.

“What is it with these people?” Alex asked. “They are dumb, lazy and inconsiderate. Not a good combination.” “The Trifecta!” I answered. “You can make up for dumb with hard work, or lazy with smarts, or inconsiderate with either.” “No,” Alex said wisely, “there’s no making up for inconsiderate.” And she was right.

Just be considerate folks. And put on some pants!


The Georgia Justice League

Alex sat in the hot car waiting patiently for me to fill up. The lever clicked and the pump asked if I wanted a receipt or not. I pushed yes and got nothing.

I walked angrily into the Exxon station, muttering to myself. This was the 4th time I had paid with a credit card at the pump at this place and had to go inside to get a receipt. Wasn’t the whole pay-at-the-pump movement created to make this process more convenient? Hell, these places have the word convenient in their descriptor.

The first time it happened, I figured they’d just run out of paper, and I suggested as much. The second time I thought maybe their machine was broken, so I nicely brought that up. But this was too much: One of those daily injustices that needed to be fought.

I noticed a ‘Lottery Winner Here’ sign as I opened the door and I found myself questioning the validity of the claim. I looked around the store and it seemed darker and dirtier than I remembered. I approached the counter, unenticed by the pork rinds and Slim-Jims and other grab-and-go stuff this receipt scam was probably trying to draw people inside to buy: “Just get ‘em in the door” right?

I recognized the guy behind the counter as the same guy that shrugged off my earlier suggestions to replace the paper or fix the machine. He was on the phone, speaking in what I now thought was a menacing middle-eastern accent. He didn’t hang up the phone but just looked at me like “yes?”

“Receipt, pump 4” I said. He started to print one out like this was nothing new. I spoke loudly to make my point and divert attention from his phone conversation: “I don’t know if you’re trying to save a few pennies on receipt paper, but you’re going to lose at least one customer if I have to walk in here again to get one!” I said. The man whispered something to the person on the phone with him and hung up. I continued with my diatribe: “I’ll go across the street if I have to,” I said, “I’ll bet they have plenty of receipt paper there.” The guy behind the counter handed me my receipt and nodded like he understood.

I went out to the car and climbed into the driver’s seat, proud of making my point and maybe making things right for future customers. “What took you so long?” asked Alex. “Just fixing things, one injustice at a time,” I joked. “Receipt paper didn’t come out again?” She inquired. “Fourth time,” I said. “So what’s that?” Alex said as she pointed to a little white piece of paper hanging from the front of the pump. I looked and saw it there, blowing in the wind like the figurative Justice League cape that had just been ignominiously stripped off my back.

I pulled up to the front of the store and got out again. “Pork rinds or Slim-Jims?” I asked my wife. “Huh?” “Never mind,” I called back with a smile.

I returned with a bag full of grab-and-go, and a half-dozen lottery tickets. “This might be your lucky day, they’ve already had a multi million-dollar winner here” I said to Alex as I got back in the car and quietly retired my imaginary cape for the day.