Friday, July 03, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

When a new generation of nieces and nephews began making their appearance in our family in 1995, four girls arrived first—more than five years before the first boy.  They were so cute and came at such a fast pace, we began calling them the yaya sisters.  To encourage bonding between these cousins, their older female relatives would take them on all-female adventures, which came to be known as "Yaya Trips."  

Since our nieces had been christened yayas, my brother decided the nephews must be yoyos.  After waiting for the boy cousins—the yoyos—to get old enough to go on a bonding trek, we seemed to have difficulty getting one off the ground.  They had a wild splash at the beach one year and helped their dads with home improvement projects another, but the momentum was lost and we had a long dry spell—until this week when we finally hit on a winning formula.

It all started with an offhand conversation in March.  Most of the kids were on spring break and a lot of us got together for some family time at Myles and Gina's house in Mississippi.  Some of the guys were praising AMC's The Walking Dead and Ken casually mentioned that the show is filmed near our home in Georgia.  Game on!

From there, it was just a matter of finding dates when everyone could be available, making arrangements and getting everyone here—from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Tennessee.  Though it has had its share of problems (can you say teacher cheating scandal?), Atlanta is a great place to take kids on vacation.  There are enough activities in the area to fill a two-week trip—or however long the parents last.  We had five days.  Monday was travel day for David and Myles, bringing four boys with them from Mississippi. The others wouldn't arrive until the following day.  

Tuesday:  Six Flags Day

Batman was no match for the yoyos.  (Photo by Six Flags Over Georgia)
An amusement park was the way to begin this yoyo adventure, and the focus was on the coasters.  Alex.  Andrew.  Carson.  Steven.   These thrill-seeking yoyos never met a roller coaster they didn't like, especially those that turn you upside down, spin you through relentless loops and twists, or drop you from 20 stories at 70 miles an hour.  Rain was prominent in Tuesday's forecast but even it was intimidated by the boldness of these yoyos, timidly making an appearance only when the crew was eating lunch.  Carson had visited the park with a school group a few weeks earlier and, with his keen observation skills, devised a brilliant strategy that minimized the waits in line while optimizing the fun.  At the end of the day, the dads were a bit worn out but everyone was eager to see Clint, Joe and Grant that evening and plan what Wednesday would bring.

Wednesday:  Downtown Atlanta

With so many activities within easy walking distance, Centennial Park was definitely the starting point for a foray into downtown Atlanta.  And among this football-loving group, the College Football Hall of Fame was top choice and first stop.  Opened in August, 2014, the Hall moved from its original home near the Notre Dame campus.  Make no mistake, this is not a collection of tired exhibits trucked in from Indiana.  Filled with technology and interactive elements, the College Football Hall of Fame is 94,000 square feet of college football nirvana.

Three-story Wall of Helmets displays 768 mounted helmets—one for each college football team in the U.S.
For an admission fee below $20, every visitor enjoys a completely customized experience.  Each guest is fitted with a chip-equipped "All-Access Pass" to wear on a lanyard.  The first order of business upon entering is registering your pass with your first name, an email address and your favorite team—information that will be used to personalize your visit.

After registration is complete, a plethora of elements in the museum will read and respond to the chip in your pass.  For example, when you approach the helmet wall, a light is illuminated in the helmet for your team of choice.  Nearby is the Why We Love College Football media wall.  As you come near the 52-foot long, multi-user touch screen media wall, video footage of your team in action begins playing.  You can manipulate the videos by touch to move or enlarge them as you wish.

Clint and Alex watch some Mississippi State highlights on the media wall.
Before we could even think about moving on to the second floor, there was the Skill Zone area to visit.  Talk about an interactive experience.  This 45-yard indoor football field gives fans the opportunity to try kicking a field goal, running an obstacle course to catch a pass, and showing off their throwing accuracy.  Our yoyos, young and not as young, were up to the challenge, with some surprising even themselves with their skills.  All did themselves proud in this test of football prowess.

Able to score a hit even with eyes closed, Joe demonstrated his quarterback skills have not diminished.
When we finally made it to the second floor, more interactivity was waiting.  There the yoyos enjoyed being a virtual guest on ESPN's College Game Day and calling the play-by-play on famous events in college football.  And with the wonder of chip technology, all these activities were captured and stored as interactive takeaways, accessible with a simple login at the Hall's web site when the fan returns home.  The third floor enshrines the legends of the players and coaches who have broken records and established dynasties to become part of the fabric of college football lore.

After three hours, we finally dragged ourselves away from this exciting attraction and walked to nearby Centennial Park to check out the commemorative bricks placed there on the occasion of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.  Needless to say, none of the young boys had a brick, but the young men did, as did the parents of the yoyos.  For most, it was their first encounter with their Olympic legacy.

Checking out their bricks in Section 110
The lunch hour had come and gone by the time we left the park and there was no place more fitting and more quintessentially Atlantan than the Varsity.  Established in 1928, the Varsity covers two city blocks, earning it the title of the largest drive-in fast food restaurant in the world.  Moreover, it has long held the record for the highest annual retail Coca-Cola sales in the world. Paper hats of the type worn by Varsity employees are distributed to every customer, so after our greasy, cheesy meals, we had a great opportunity for a photo op Varsity style.

How much grease can ten guys consume?  The Varsity tried to find out.
Since we were so close to the Georgia Tech campus—a brief jaunt across the freeway—Joey suggested a stop at Bobby Dodd Stadium, located at historic Grant Field.  In addition to the football Steven had bought at the Hall of Fame gift shop, no self-respecting coach would be found without one in his car.  So we had plenty of pigskin to toss around.

Artificial turf let us stay off the newly sodded field and still toss the ball around in a college stadium.
Eager to avoid Atlanta's legendary rush hour, we all hotfooted it south to our hotel home in Peachtree City upon leaving Georgia Tech.  The hotel pool and Taco Mac awaited us, providing a welcome respite at the end of a busy day.  Steven's mom Kathy arrived Wednesday night just in time for tomorrow's Walking tour.

Thursday:  The Walking Dead

The compelling event of the trip began in the little town of Senoia (pop. 3,307) Thursday morning.  At 9 a.m., we met Melissa, a Michigan transplant and self-described Walking Dead geek, at the gazebo in town.  A few weeks ago, when we realized this yoyo trip was coming together, we walked into the Senoia Welcome Center one day, looking for information about tours in the town.  It was our lucky day because Melissa was volunteering in the center that day.  By the end of our conversation with her, we had hired this font of Walking Dead knowledge to design a custom tour and be our guide for the day.

Melissa points out a filming location.
As the fictional home of both "Woodbury" (season 3) and "Alexandria" (seasons 5 and 6), Senoia was filled with filming locations.  We took an hour-long walking tour of the town, during which our fans recognized spots where different events on the show had occurred, sometimes even before Melissa pointed them out.  One that resonated with the yoyos particularly was a place called the "pudding house," where Carl, a young boy of their age on the show, sat on the porch roof and ate from a can of pudding.

Yoyos at the pudding house-- (L to R) Grant, Carson, Alex, Steven and Andrew
When our tour of Senoia was complete, Melissa polled the guys to see whether they wanted to follow her tour as planned or head to the town of Hampton where active filming was occurring that day.  Oh, yeah, they went for the filming.  According to Melissa, there is a rather large contingent of "stalkers" who hang out near filming locations.  Hampton had its share that day, and we were happy to join in.

We had hired the car service that we take to the airport to drive us on our tour, and they came in a black Mercedes Sprinter van.  Conveniently, that was the very vehicle type that the production company was using to ferry stars around the filming site.  So when we arrived in the area, fans were poised outside our van when the doors opened, certain they were about to see some actors.  They seemed disappointed, but we were certainly amused.

We couldn't get close enough to see the action but did observe a lot of walkers moving around between sets.
It goes without saying that a tight perimeter had been set up around the area where the action was taking place.  After all, there wouldn't be much drama when the show airs next season if word leaked out about scenes that are being shot now.  The yoyos recognized a couple of major stars from quick glimpses as they moved from one set to another, and we saw a significant contingent of "walkers" (zombies, for the uninitiated).  Fortunately, none were interested in us, so after an hour of stalking, we moved on to our next destination in the tiny hamlet of Sharpsburg (pop. 341).

Hanging with the neighborhood zombies
Along our route, we stopped for a photo op at Southern Country Steakhouse & Saloon, whose front driveway hosts an aged truck used in Woodbury filming, complete with a few mannequin zombies.  As we were in transit to Sharpsburg, we pulled out our picnic lunches and got lunch out of the way.  In Sharpsburg, we visited the place where some significant events took place—at the "Carriage Bar" and "Steve's Pharmacy."

Joe and Grant in front of "Carriage Bar" (actually the Old Sharpsburg Auction building)
Next up was Grantville (pop. 3,041), an odd little village whose downtown is virtually deserted.  Like other small towns in Coweta County, Grantville once had a thriving economy based on the textile industry.  But after the industry declined and the town's last cotton mill closed in 1991, residents fled, storefronts emptied, and buildings began a slow decay that eventually gave the town a post-apocalyptic look that appealed to producers of The Walking Dead.  Grantville posed as Rick's hometown in one of the later episodes of the third season.

Ready to take on some walkers
By the time we left Grantville, it was almost 3 p.m. everyone was ready for a little break and a cold drink.  Our driver Ronald found us a McDonald's, and we all relished the icy beverages and chilled air.  Even though the weather was ten degrees "cooler" than the previous week, we were still dealing with upper 80s and a humidity level to match.

Woodbury Arena (a.k.a. water tank factory)
Before returning to Senoia, where our tour began, we had one more stop—the "Woodbury Arena," where a gladiator-style combat between brothers was ordered by the Governor in season 3.  Though it looks as if it might have been abandoned in the last century, this site housed a Caldwell Tanks factory manufacturing state of the art water tanks before it closed in 2013.

5 yoyos, 5 men and 1 terrific tour guide (Alex won the t-shirt in Melissa's Walking Dead trivia contest.)
Back in Senoia, we had a group photo with Melissa and thanked her for a great job before bidding her and our driver Ron goodbye and checking out the Walking Dead store and museum.  After some exploration and some purchasing, we headed back to Peachtree City for dinner at Mellow Mushroom, followed by a secret yoyo ceremony.

Secret Yoyo Ceremony
I would tell you what was in the ceremony, but I'm a yaya, so I was not invited, of course.  Suffice it to say, these dads and uncles knew what they were doing and took care of yoyo business.

Our Mississippi group (and Clint) had to return home tomorrow morning, but, hey, these dads had taken almost a week off work to make this yoyo trip happen.  Though we would miss them, we certainly couldn't complain.

Friday:  The Zippers

After we all had breakfast together at the Hilton Garden Inn, David and Myles and their boys packed up for home (Clint had left before dawn), and we headed off to a zip-lining adventure with Joe, Grant, Steven and Kathy.  Let the record show that—appreciating that this was a yoyo/guy trip— Kathy and I decided to take a step back and let the guys have the zipping glory.  (And, yes, there was also the fact that we are both height averse.)

When the yoyos first started talking about ziplining on Wednesday, we tried to figure out a way for everyone to participate.  But it just couldn't work out with the other things everyone wanted to do.  So when it was determined that we would pursue it Friday morning, we went for the nearest zipping facility, which just happened to be the "world's longest zipline," as certified by the folks at Guinness.  Ken, Joe, Grant and Steven opted for the two-hour canopy tour:  "Fly over 900 and 1000 foot-long zip lines at 200 feet high over the gorge. These are not baby ziplines! Get up close to Mother Nature with another 9 sky bridge walks that range up to 80 ft. in height. On this tour you will experience a total of 12 ziplines and up to10 sky bridges."

Suiting up to zip
As soon as they geared up for their zipline experience, the rain began to fall in earnest.  OK, it was pouring.  But we never saw these zippers waver.  They were ready for whatever the adventure brought.  And the photo above reveals who the ringleader was.

Traversing some slippery wet skybridges
Protected by our umbrella, Kathy and I hung with them until they climbed the first tower to begin their ziplining adventure, totally disregarding the dampness.  Two hours later, we reconnected with these valiant skywalkers, and oddly, they seemed none the worse for wear.

Our Zipper Heroes
At the end of the course, Joe and Grant had to depart for southwest Alabama, but we still had Steven and Kathy's company for another few hours.  In fact, we rather enjoyed the gradual nature of the goodbyes.  After dinner, Steven introduced us to the first episode of The Walking Dead—a brilliant idea that gave us another hour to enjoy with him and his mom.

Saturday morning, Kathy and Steven headed home and we returned to our regularly scheduled and sadly yoyo-less lives.  It had been a fantastic week with these awesome boys, their fathers, and their uncles.  We are eager to see the momentum continue.  Can't wait for the next adventure.  Yoyo!  Yoyo!  Yoyo!


The yoyo mojo begins
A little play-by-play at the Hall of Fame
Carson approaches
Game face!
Does Joe still have it?  (He does)
Registration at the Hall of Fame
Media Wall
David kicks
Grant Field group shot
Clint and Grant were wary of the walkers...
...but Joe seemed to want to make friends!
Alex and Steven were hedging their bets.
At the museum, Joe and Clint try to keep the walkers bottled up.
Hey, Mickey D!
Joe and Grant at the old cotton mill ruins in Grantville.
Alex checks out the museum.
Everywhere we went, it was all about Grant!