Saturday, September 2, 2017

Atlanta

On Travel
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Atlanta, GA

Outside the Game:
With one weekend left in the regular season and the Braves being nowhere near post-season contention, this was the last weekend for me to see the first season of the Braves new field, SunTrust Park. At the start of the month, I took this Friday off work, and prepared to head for one of the worst places in America for the weekend.

Spending all day playing defense at work, I left right at 6 PM to catch my flight. There was a little bit of a subway delay, but nothing major, and I was able to get to the train to Newark International Bald Eagle God Bless America Airport and take a nap on the way there. Surprisingly, I zoomed through security and bought a sandwich for the plane ride. Not surprisingly, my plane was delayed by wind coming in.

We boarded about when we were originally scheduled to take off, and with my ruck sack for the weekend, I didn't have any concerns about when I got on. I got to my seat, and I had the row to myself. The guy behind me had the plague, however, and spent the flight coughing and wheezing the entire time. I had remembered to download the United app before I got on the plane this time and watched a number of sitcoms episodes for the duration of the flight, throwing in a nap to shake it up.

The flight landed about on time, and of course I was at the terminal where I had to walk the entire damn length of the airport to get to the rental cars. I got through the line and picked up my white Honda Accent fairly quickly, but it took forever and a day to check out of the rental facility due to people manning the gates who had absolutely no concerns about how fast they were getting people through.

Thankfully, I picked a hotel right by the airport, and once my GPs got working, I pulled into the hotel just about midnight. I got settled in at the hotel, broke out my new travel slippers for their test run, and showered up. My bed was lopsided, but that was the least of my problems, as it would turn out. I settled in for the night and called it a day.

The Accommodations: 
DO NOT STAY AT THE DAYS INN AIRPORT IN COLLEGE PARK. In case you missed that: DO NOT STAY AT THE DAYS INN AIRPORT IN COLLEGE PARK.

It isn't that the hotel is awful. Sure, it has a security guard in the parking lot, but you can't hold that against them. My room was clean enough. I had a nice king-sized bed with a desk and end table across from a lounge chair by the vanity that led into the equally clean bathroom.

Now, the bed was lopsided, but that also can happen. The reason you shouldn't stay here is because IT IS LITERALLY AT THE END OF THE RUNWAY. The planes that take off from Atlanta airport (and there is at least one an hour even in the middle of the night) LITERALLY TAKE OFF OVER THIS HOTEL AT RATHER LOW ALTITUDES. It is extremely loud, and everything shakes. I have no idea how this place stays in business. It is impossible to sleep here.


On a Really Nice Stadium for Satan in Hell
Friday, September 22, 2017
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves
SunTrust Park
MLB, National League
Atlanta, GA
7:35 PM

Outside the Game: 
 Needless to say, I didn't sleep well. (By the way, DO NOT STAY AT THE DAYS INN AIRPORT IN COLLEGE PARK.) I suppose it wasn't much of a surprise when it turned out their breakfast buffet sucked as well. I ate a little and then went back to my room for a nap, before showering and fleeing the hotel.

I drove to the new stadium, which was in a new commercial development they called “The Battery” (get it?). I figured there would be tours, so I found the ticket booth and grabbed a spot in the next one, which was leaving shortly. Carl, the civil engineer, took us around the park for an hour or so, including the super-expensive places, such as the $500K season-ticket home plate club, and off-limits areas such as the press box. It was a nice tour, enhanced with his engineering commentary on the stadium construction, but diminished a little by that one family who always took too long taking full family photographs at every stop and slowing everything down.

After the tour, I went into The Battery proper and stopped for lunch at a WahlBurger. After a bit more walking around in the shops and restaurants, I made the short drive to my new (and hopefully not runway-adjacent) hotel. And I mean short drive. I was there in under a minute, straight up the road from the stadium.

After checking in, I took a much-needed nap, and then unpacked, grabbed a shower, and took off for the game with my game bag. The hotel had a shuttle to the stadium, and since it was still blindingly hot out, I decided to take that instead of the middling walk. There was one other family with me on the shuttle, which dropped us off near the main entrance of the stadium. Having been on the tour before, I told them to head to the back entrance where the line was going to be shorter. While they debated, I went there, and the line was much shorter, though there was a drum line playing nearby, so you had to suffer through that. Once the gates opened, I was in pretty quickly and off to the races.

After the game, the crowd spilled out into The Battery plazas, and since it was much cooler out, I decided to take the walk back to the hotel instead of trying to grab a cab or deal with calling the hotel shuttle. Outside of dealing with some closed-off intersections, it was a straight shot back, and one that a large crowd of people was taking. As we passed the far-reaching parking lots and came up on the hotels, the crowd starting peeling away until I got to my hotel, which was the last in the strip.

I went up to my room and had a soak in the tub before heading to bed relatively early to make up for the night before.

The Stadium & Fans:
SunTrust Field is the new home for the Braves, replacing the not-that-old Turner Field. An entire development, called The Battery, was built up around it, with shops, restaurants, etc. to make the park a destination before and after the game. And as much as I hate saying anything nice about the Braves, it is really nice.

The ballpark itself in the central feature of The Battery. The main facade faces out from The Battery towards downtown, and the entire park is surrounded by sidewalks and juts into various other buildings integrated into the area. Outside the right field Chophouse Gate is the Georgia Power Pavilion, a large green area that has a stage and video screen at one end for pre- and post-game events. There is a signed walkway next to it connecting with The Yard House restaurant across the plaza. There is a giant championship fountain plaza showing all the team's championships next to a stairway area that is used as a stage for bands before and after the game. Fox News even has a small pavilion for pre- and post-game shows. The clubhouse store is next to the right field gate. A wall of ticket booths run down the wall of the stadium to the executive offices and Fist Base gate, with a statue of long-time manager Bobby Cox. The club entrance is by home plate, and what comes closest to a main entrance is the third base gate, with Phil Niekro statue and fan brick walk. The left field gate has a statue of Warren Spahn, and then the walkway leads to stairs that opens back out onto the Georgia Power Pavilion.

Inside, large promenades run around every level, circling the park on the ground level and running outfield to outfield on the upper decks. There are four levels of seating. The lower deck box seats are separated into the really expensive seats by the field and dugouts and the less expensive lower deck box seats by a small walkway through the entire area. A second deck overhangs the first and at its top has the luxury boxes. The dual-tiered upper deck has the cheap seats, and like the middle deck, only runs from the left field corner to the right field corner. Seating wraps the outfield except for the batter's eye, right underneath the giant digital main scoreboard, with the Home Depot Clubhouse right next to it. The right field corner is dominated by the Chop House restaurant and its seating, as well as the special party room "Under the Chop" that is at field level with a grated wall to see out. A secondary digital scoreboard is at the top of left field, with the skyline in the backdrop of the outfield.

The two main activity areas are behind home plate and in center field. Skills games and a zip line are in the kids’ activity area in center, and behind home plate is the palatial Monument Garden, with the history of all the Atlanta teams and its players over the years, with the centerpiece being a statue of Hank Aaron in front of constantly looped video of his career highlights next to all of the Braves Hall of Fame players. There is also a POW/MIA seat, dedications to broadcasters near the press box, plaques for all the previous Braves stadiums, and giant bobble-heads of Braves greats that get moved regularly throughout the park. The retired numbers are also in the park by the left field foul pole, and the championship banners all hang in right.

All the extras and special areas are almost too much to list. The top of right field is the Xfinity Lounge, and the top of left field has the Coca Cola Patio. The Hank Aaron Terrace is in the mid-level of the park and the increasingly exclusive Delta Lounge and the SunTrust Club are behind home plate.

Disgustingly racist Chief Knock-A-Homa has been retired, and there is no new mascot, though the tomahawk chop and drum is sadly still in effect, to the great spiritual detriment to all involved. The new drum is in a fenced-off area in center. Each arm stroke of that chop is a spiritual wheel bringing them closer to Hell. The crowd was healthy for a meaningless late-season game. Big-time major league entertainment filled between the innings, including t-shirt air guns, the Home Depot Tool Race, and The Freeze. Fans love this particular race, which features fans trying to “Beat The Freeze” (a former college track star in a ridiculous suit) around a race on the warning track where The Freeze spots them half the field. It was fun and all, but the people were way too into it. Not much to do in Atlanta, I guess.

What was nice was when the game was over, it didn't really end there. The park let out into the plazas outside the park, where there were games and bands and all the restaurants, so it seems that the planning in this case worked out for them. Good for planning. Are you listening, Wilpons?

At the Game with Oogie:
Any trip into an Atlanta stadium is a visit to hell for me, and SunTrust field was no exception. As an extra special twist of the knife, the giveaway this evening was a small version of the Bobby Cox statue outside the stadium. He is a man that I can hate, but I cannot disrespect. Even if he was never able to close the deal on World Series victories. I'm done. I swear, I'm done.

Anyway. I walked around the stadium again, but having had the tour earlier in the day, it was more a recap than a new experience. I spent some more time getting better pictures in the Monument Garden and doing other photography coverage. Perhaps with the giveaway, they had a big turnout that night, so even with a full house, it didn't get overly congested in the park.

I eventually settled on some chicken fingers and a souvenir soda for dinner. When I went over to the condiments station, I nearly lost my grip on reality. In addition to your ketchups and your mustards, there was an entire shelf of powders based on snack food, like Cheez Doodles and Doritos and the like. We have offended god. We have gone too far. CHEETOS DUST IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE CONDIMENT.

Shaken but still moving, I eventually settled down to my seat in the lower deck just past first base. There was an inoffensive family to my right, Dodgers fans (for some reason) behind me, and a nice old lady to my left. She was interested that I was scoring (which she considered "old fashioned,” like me) and was a very nice person all around. However, when she started in on the tomahawk chop, I very much wanted to rip her arm off and beat her with it.

The Game:
It was the last weekend of the season, and the visiting Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves were playing out the string to see who would be slightly better than the bottom-dwelling Marlins. It was essentially over in the first, and the home team went out happy, but with another contest between the Phillies and the Braves, the only real winners would be if both teams and the stadium blew up.

The Phillies only managed a leadoff walk in the top of the first that was promptly erased on a double-play. Atlanta, however, came out swinging. A leadoff double was followed by a single, a double, another single, and then a two-run homer to right to total up five runs in the bottom of the first. Philadelphia went in order in the second, and the Braves kept going with a leadoff walk that came in after another walk and a single, to extend the lead to 6-0. Both sides went down in order in the third.

The Phillies showed some life in the third with a leadoff double, a single, and a sacrifice fly bringing in a run to kill the shutout, 6-1, and Atlanta only had a hit batsman on base in the bottom of the frame. Philadelphia went in order in the fifth, and the Braves only managed a single. The Phillies got on their scoring ways again in the top of the sixth with a leadoff single, a walk, a fly out to right, and a single getting another run across to close it to 6-2, while Atlanta got another solitary single.

Philadelphia had a sole, one-out double in the seventh, while the Braves also had one hit: a homer to dead center to make it 7-2. The Phillies got a ton of baserunners in the top of the eighth, but nothing across, and Atlanta just had a single and a walk in the bottom. Philadelphia took their last licks and started with a strikeout, got a walk, then struck out and grounded to second to end the game with a 7-3 Atlanta victory.

The Scorecard: 
 The scorecard was part of the truly immense "Braves Magazine," Second Edition. The scorecard looked to be a hold-over from the old park, as once again it was a single page of cardstock, with only one side devoted to the scorecard and the other devoted to a Coke ad, just because. It was all neatly organized on good paper stock and a white background for plenty of note space, but the player lines were crunched up as before. Although they added dotted lines for replacements, it was still a short, long box, and it especially got dicey with replacements for pitchers and pinch hitters, but the scoring boxes, while small, lacked a pre-printed diamond, so it was adequate for the task.

This end-of-season game between two also-rans was pretty conventional, scoring-wise, and only had one play of note in the bottom of the fourth, where a grounder to short was originally judged too late to clip the runner at first, but it was over-turned on a successful review by the Phillies to a 6-3 putout.

The Accommodations:
I was staying at the Country Inn & Suites literally down the road from the new "Battery" complex. A clutch of hotels sprang up across all price ranges, hoping to service the new stadium. Time will tell if that was a wise investment or not.

My new room in the new hotel was predictably nice. I had a king-sized bed, end table, and lounge chair on one side of the room, and a dresser, TV, and desk on the other. Since my room was a corner room, by windows came together in the corner in an odd arrangement I hadn't seen before.

The bathroom was right off the entrance to the room. It was also clean and new, with a room-long vanity across from the toilet and the tub, that got some good use during the trip.

Also, it wasn't at the end of an airport runway, so I was able to get good rest to make up for my first night in Atlanta.


On New Acquaintances
Saturday, September 23, 2017
Atlanta, GA
 
Outside the Game:

I took a lazy morning the next day, getting up just to grab some breakfast and then have another lie down before getting up the gumption to shower and head out into the world.

Killing a day in Atlanta is not easy, but it is possible. I drove downtown and found a parking garage pretty close to everywhere I wanted to go. The first stop, of course, was the CNN Center, and, more specifically, the Cartoon Network store. There was a *Rick and Morty* statue on a bench outside the store, which was a good sign. I went in and paid too much for a lot of *Rick and Morty* and *Teen Titans* stuff before grabbing lunch at the Arby's in the food court.

The next stop was a walk over to the Georgia Aquarium, which is actually one the nicest aquariums I've been to. There are lots of big glass walls and experience areas. I even went to the indoors dolphin show, which was literally filled with people. In the upper area of the packed house, there were an empty row of seats. as soon as you sat down, you found out why: you couldn't see anything. I retreated to an empty seat the next row up and got bored trying to warm people not to sit in the row with small children because they ignored me, sat down, and then moved.

Eventually right before the show started, a dirty hippie came in and sat in one of the last seats in that row. And he stank to high heaven, pun intended. Not from the ganja or anything, but this guy hadn't washed in at least a month. People fled to get away from him, but the staff wouldn't do anything about it, so all of us in his vicinity watched the dolphin show covering our noses. I wonder if the dolphins smelled him or not.

I went through the rest of the aquarium and then headed out into the Georgia afternoon. The next inevitable stop was the Coke Museum across the way from the aquarium, because you almost have to. They have updated it since I was there last, but the classics are still there. There is still no mention of the word "cocaine" anywhere in the place, and they still have the Coke products from around the world section, where you can try the worst-tasting soda in the world, the now-discontinued "Beverly." They have a place where you can make your own Coke ad, but lack the common sense not to give you access to the racist imagery they used in the past, which let me put together a "Coca-Cola Tribute to Thinly Veiled Racism.” I don't think it will win their contest they had. They also have a communal activity puzzle to open the door to the safe that holds the secret formula. I have to wonder these days if anyone cares. They certainly can reverse engineer it at this point, no matter what the wacky scientists in the movie they showed would have you believe.

After having my fill both literally and figuratively of corporate back-patting, I took a little walk through Olympic Centennial Park on my way back to the car. I drove back to the hotel and had a soak and a nap. My WIFI stopped working, so I had to call their tech support for them to reboot the router for my floor. So that was fun.

I decided to walk down to the Battery again to eat at one of the restaurants there. I decided to go to the C Elliot steakhouse across the plaza from the ballpark. I was one of the few patrons, as the game was still going on next door, so I sat at the bar. I had some Asian whiskey, steak tartar starter, and I was talked into getting a "Eureka cut" steak for my main course.

Just as my steak arrived, two guys sat down next to me at the bar. It was a British guy and his American associate, and the British guy was one of those outsized personalities that takes over a room. He started ordering for his sidekick, and then we got to talking. They were both there on business and were going to the Sunday game the next day. They seemed to be involved in the music industry in some way, but they were already buzzed, so it was hard to keep up with them. He kept calling everyone "Boss." In a way that guys at a bar only can, we started drinking and eating as we went. And they were drinkers. By the end of it, I was pretty well up. Having a really early start the next day, I eventually took my leave of them and walked unsteadily back to the hotel to pack up and hit the hay.

The Accommodations: 
 I was at the Country Inn and Suites again, but I didn't spend much time there at all, except to sleep.


On Going Home
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Jersey City, NJ

Outside the Game:
So mostly hung over and having to get up early, I got some breakfast at the buffet when it opened at 6, finished packing, and checked out. Along the short drive to the airport, I got some gas to top off the tank, and dropped of my rental car without much incident.

Going through security was an exercise in stupidity that I eventually survived. The flight, at least, boarded on time. I didn't get my own row, but I was next to some 20-year-old kid who didn't look up from his phone the entire flight. Or at least, I think so, because I napped for most of it, and he was still on his phone when I woke up.

We landed on time, and I got a cab home with no incident. I spent the rest of the day doing laundry and packing up and wondering what the hell went wrong on work on Friday that was waiting to ambush me tomorrow.

The Accommodations:
Jersey City, sweet Jersey City

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