Marietta, Georgia to Sumter, South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia
The next leg of the trip covered ~1000 miles in two weeks. It’s difficult to remember how we did that.
What I remember: suddenly, we were looping up through part of the country I’d never touched.
It was hot (late June and early July in the South). The air conditioning in our Airbnb in Marietta gave out. I was frustrated with our host who had “just had it serviced” because the unit was from June 1988. There’s some wisdom in useful service life, especially when renting your house to other people. The house had plenty of room to spread out, which did help with the heat. With the AC fixed, we signed away our old house at the kitchen table amid Coca-Cola memorabilia.
I was surprised by how embedded with nature Marietta was. I learned first by feel—then I saw signposts for trailheads—that this is the beginning (or end) of the Appalachian Trail. I tried to keep up running, and the hills and the heat challenged me. But flora and fauna abounded, motivating me to get out and hit the pavement.
Our kids played and swam with Sara’s high school friend’s kids. We shared meals and drinks with old friends. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a good local coffee shop close to us, so this was the beginning of the Dunkin’ experience that would carry through to at least New Hampshire (all right coffee, usually iced).
One evening, I got away to see my best friend’s beautiful, sprawling, ample-windowed house backing up to a wooded creek. We talked about what it might take to replace those drafty windows. My friend and I traded talking about work, house, and home. I spoke about my months-old job and how it enabled my vagabond life. On another night, Sara got away with her friend downtown.
We drove out to see Sara’s grandparents in another far-flung area of greater Atlanta. As adults, you more acutely appreciate the importance of these visits. For my kids, it reminded me of summertime visits to my grandparents’ house in East Texas, where there weren’t any toys, so we tried to occupy the space of our minds sitting on antique furniture. Sometimes, the boredom would overwhelm us, so we sought relief by walking the neighborhood or seeking shade in the backyard.
From Marietta, we left for Sumter, South Carolina. Ensuring we did as the locals do, we stopped at a Waffle House before we left Georgia. Further down the road, we took a break in Augusta, Georgia. It won’t surprise you when I tell you the whole town felt bounded in by a golf course. Still, I thought Augusta was charming. We stopped for coffee at a place with theoretical air conditioning, iced drinks, and outlets to charge the tablets.
Sumter was distinctively southern, where monuments to the confederacy still stand without much fanfare or protest, enthusiastically erected years ago, now lingering with little renown. We were in a large, old, tired house with terribly uncomfortable beds and polyester sheets (why, yes, we did order linen sheets when we were there). The main upshots: its inexpensiveness and its space. We were in town to see my sister-in-law, who was stationed with the Air Force there. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law also were in town. We hung out together poolside and went to the most average Mexican restaurant where its best feature was probably our talking about the food.
I worked at the town’s only Starbucks quite a bit. Sara took the kids to the Swan Lake Iris Gardens, home to all eight known species of swan. She also went to Congaree National Park, a rarely-visited national park that preserves an old-growth forest with several champion trees, where she met up with a college friend. Another feature: we Doordashed Applebee’s. I think it was good. We made the best of this on-the-way stop where the main attraction was family.
Then we stopped in Richmond, Virginia. It was my birthday stop, as I remember it. The best pastry shop with giant macarons and savory croissants was a short walk away. We also were a brief walk from the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. I picked most of the attractions here. I chose the Poe Museum, a “Texas” barbecue place, and an arcade experience. Work gave me a gift card at the latter, so we braved the noise and crowds with more coins than we could use.
I loved Richmond, and Sara did, too. In a brief 48-hour span, we had a stellar dining experience at a Thai place, we enjoyed a delightful hilltop playground with the kids, Sara met up with an artist friend who splits time between Houston and Richmond, and we wrote spooky poems and petted the cats at the Poe Museum. There’s something about it—I want to go back.