Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Where For Art Thou Rick Grimes? America Part 2

Atlanta feels like the end of the world.

It's almost eleven at night by the time the taxi winds its way through Atlanta. After an airport that feels more like a bus station and the immense orange glow darkness of the stretching freeway, the city appears like a constellation of glass and steel.

The air is thick, like the sun stored itself up in everything and is now escaping through the pavement. There's a tension I can see through the window as the car speeds its way through the centre. It adds to my disorentation, my fever dream of a place that is more foreign than anything I have ever seen, yet intimately familiar. My mind and reality are at battle in my head, and I am also weary from travel.

The city from afar looks like Gotham, a testament to industry. The streets feel like Gotham too, everything filtered through my mind on a screen or a page. I have spent my life studying America, it is the structure of all my creative notion. Or maybe I've just watched too much Walking Dead, the series Atlanta is now famous for.

Have you ever felt an entire city's tension? We step out of the car to people hanging on street corners, jumping on walls and generally looking like they're about to cause trouble. John assures me it's not normally like this, there must be some event going on. We find out the next morning it was the Car & Bike Show, notorious for always causing the city to pour over. The tension is even palpable in our hotel, in the elevator a woman screams at a member of staff as they threaten to call security.

Maybe 2001 really affected me, but I feel hermetically sealed inside the hotel and I never want to leave. It's close to freezing with the air conditioning on everywhere, and the darkness outside seems like a smoke monster, hitting the floor to ceiling windows and sliding down in oppressive humidity.

I taste my first ranch salad, served in a bowl the size of a satellite dish, and experience Southern hospitality. Everyone is attentive, polite and missing that invisible barrier that keeps you from talking to strangers. In London you keep your head down and acknowledge people only with a breathless "sorry" if the smallest part of your fabric touches theirs. American openness may be mocked elsewhere, but it seems genuine and lovely to me.

The next morning we walk down what feel like secret stairs, from reception to CNN Center, which is connected to the hotel. The hallway opens up into the courtyard of a thriving business hub and testament to all things Turner. A practically infinite elevator leads up to an enormous globe, like a set piece from Journey To The Moon. This is where the constantly busy CNN Inside Tours start. Next to it is an Orwellian television screen tuned into CNN. Right next to what is labelled as the CNN Store but is really the Time Warner emporium, a giant statue of Finn from Adventure Time looms over visitors.

Choice is practically infinite, from the rows of fast food establishments offering breakfasts that are deep fried, breaded or covered in chocolate. Not so infinite for a gluten-free diet, which is also part of the reason I am probably the only person who went to America for two weeks and came back thinner. We choose a restaurant that promises fresh and healthy breakfast, and I am awed when I am returned change from $20 after paying for two omelettes, an orange juice and coffee. The omelettes are mountains, and the coffee is unlimited. I can't remember the last time this Mediterranean boy left food on a plate.

It's still hot outside, but that cloying sense of danger has disappeared to make way for a bright, sunny and generally quiet day. Atlanta is mostly a centre for business it seems, with no real heart of the city in which to shop or socialise. We walk to the Coca Cola museum, which once we have arrived seemed like a better idea than the reality. WIth no pressing desire to queue amidst screaming children to be sold a corporate dream, we head to the airport to pick up our rental car.

Surely the entire principle of the American dream is to travel the country in a convertible. John has chosen a sleek little Mustang, and I made a dozen mixtapes full of the perfect music to speed along the highways of the American South. With the sun beaming on us and Dolly Parton singing about home, we travel outside Atlanta to visit our friends in their beautiful home, and my first taste of a Wal-Mart.

- Jonathan Pizarro.

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