In the fall of 1987, after one of my high school games, I was transported (I probably shouldn't blog about the means by which I was transported) to Athens, Georgia for a recruitment visit. To a senior in high school, Athens was a very big deal; and to this senior in high school, it was even a little overwhelming. By now my recollections of that visit are rather dim, but they're tinged in red, black, and the greyish-white of a bulldog. That was a loud visit. There was the noise of the marching band--it was one of those choice, busy weekends late in fall where the football and basketball seasons overlap--and so the UGA fight song merges in my memories with the shrieks of the coach Andy Landers in the dressing room, yelling at his players, ridiculing, really. I stood off to the side imagining myself looking him in the eyes and taking it. (I didn't think I could.) Afterward, one of the players who did look him in the eyes and take it took me to hear live music of the non-marching-band variety. I'm pretty sure that marked my first time seeing music performed in a venue that wasn't a big arena, a church, or a stage in either my high school gym or at the county fair.
And even though I returned to Athens twice more in the next four years to step on the court as an arch-rival, I only remember two things: the inside of the hotel, and the inside of the arena. Both were unremarkable.
In fact, it would be twenty more years until I would be able to really inhabit and fully appreciate Athens. My visit this time included a nice stretch of morning time with Cara at Walker's, a brick-and-tile cafe/pub that throws up a garage door every morning, probably to keep its hipness from combusting; a lovely, hospitable hour in which I got to share my work with the Speech Communication dept (currently ranked the number one rhetoric program in the country); a retrospective/prospective convo over yummy indian food with the good people from my days at Penn State; a sprawly afternoon of shopping and beer tasting with my cousin Jim, who is in his first year of law school at UGA; a lively, warm, and chatty happy hour at 283, and a knockout dinner at Farm 255. (Apparently the number of hip places in Athens are quickly approaching 300, and why bother naming them when numbers will do?)
I have seen more exposed brick and, counting the middle-eastern lunch the next day at The Grit with CF and JM, enjoyed a wider range of cuisines than I did last week in NYC. Also, augmenting the joy of seeing old friends was the pleasure of meeting people I really, really should have met before now--they know who they are. And no one--not one person!--came close to yelling or ridiculing. For that I had to go to Jim's tort law class on product liability, and even there the ridiculing was gentle and good-humored: total kid gloves. (But exceedingly witty kid gloves.)
Add in the waggy cuddly pets in my host home, and it was, in all, a perfect visit. The Platonic ideal of visits. Thanks to everyone involved, most especially John Murphy. Athens rules.