Atlanta, My Hometown

I had been in the U.S. for less than an hour when I had my first conversation with an American. After clearing my kava bowl, kava powder, and an assortment of odd South Pacific souvenirs through customs, I was waiting in line to board my connecting flight from LAX to Atlanta. Behind me, a plump man about my age stood accompanied by a tired looking young woman. The jovial fat man (are there any other kind?) was eager to strike up a conversation and asked if Atlanta was my final destination. I mentioned that my parents lived just outside of Atlanta and he happily informed me that although he was from Alabama, he often visited Atlanta for business. In fact, he was fairly certain that he had opened up a dance club near where I was going and he mentioned some town that sounded like it could be in Georgia. I explained that I was unfamiliar with the area and that, in any case, I’m not really much of a dancer. Speaking with a pride unbefitting his station in life, he quickly clarified that “dance club” is a euphemism for “strip club.” Trodding on unfamiliar ground, I quickly tried to steer the conversation to less risqué topics and asked what brought him to Los Angeles. Perhaps a vacation with his girlfriend? Nope. He was traveling with one of his dancers to film a porno. At this point, there were several possible directions that I could have tried to steer the conversation. I could have pursued his obviously desired intention to describe the ins-and-outs of his burgeoning pornography business, an industry about which I am embarrassingly ill informed. I could have rushed to judgment and condemned his hedonistic profession, which would have likely pleased the half of the line listening to the conversation that were not chuckling with amusement and staring with newfound respect toward the apparently oblivious girl. Or, I could have solicited his help in spicing up my website in an effort to drive up the number of hits by the targeting the coveted 18-35 year-old male demographic. Ultimately, I shifted the discussion to college football. By the time we were boarding, he had given me a thorough rundown of the SEC and lamented what a terrible year his beloved Crimson Tide had been having. Welcome back to America, where everyone has a story and, apparently, a website showing graphic pictures of their story. Thus began a reassimilation process that was anything but smooth. The first few days were a welcome vacation from the responsibilities of the boat. I basked in the conveniences of being back in America. During this brief honeymoon, I enjoyed the abundance of food and my Dad’s well-stocked wine cellar. Having unlimited access to television and the internet for the first time in a couple of years, I quickly realized that not all that much has changed. People are still fighting in the Middle East and aspiring celebrities are still trying to get famous on reality TV while the rest of us self-righteously mock their naked ambition. These lazy days were not without obstacles. I discovered that my defenses against the constant stream of marketing have been weakened by a lack of exposure; whenever a commercial for food came on the air, I found myself running to the refrigerator. To my Mom’s endless amusement, I had white knuckles gripping the handle on the car door as we sped through traffic, although I maintain that this had less to do with the six lanes of traffic hurtling along at 80 miles per hour mere feet apart than with her terrifyingly slow reaction time. Luckily, one large difference between cars and boats are that cars have brakes. As the uneventful days passed and I had pretty well filled my parents in on my goings-on, an inescapable ennui descended and I found myself cold, bored, and lonely in a seemingly foreign land. After a year and a half of sailing throughout the southern Caribbean and the South Pacific, I had grown accustomed to standing out. My pale complexion was an instant giveaway that I was not from those parts. In places where tourists, particularly Americans, are rare, I received constant attention. Natives stole sideway glances (or, more often, openly gawked), children pointed in my direction, and English-speakers were eager to practice their language skills and wanted to hear my story. For someone who is self-conscious about forcing an introduction on strangers, my uniqueness meant that I rarely had to make the awkward effort of trying to meet people. Instead, locals came to me. In this way, despite prolonged periods of solitude between islands, I have enjoyed a healthy amount of social interaction. However, after returning to the U.S., I have found myself in a sort of limbo as I impatiently wait to figure out what I will do next. This uncertainty is unsettling and I am frustrated that I cannot sign up for a gym, take classes, or generally get into a healthy routine until I know where I will be and what I will be doing in the near future. On the boat, I was always moving. At home, everything is readily available and whenever I need to go somewhere, I just hop in the car. Likewise, even though it was still cold in the Southern Hemisphere as winter was coming to an end, I was always outside and exposed to the sun. In Atlanta, the frigid temperature (in my opinion) keeps me confined inside and, after only a few weeks, I already appear tubercular. One friend aptly summarized my current situation as “a 29-year-old with no job, no girlfriend, and living at home with his parents.” Fortunately, the monotony of my first month back in the U.S. has been periodically interrupted by occasional socializing. For Thanksgiving, we traveled to North Carolina to visit my Uncle Jay’s lovely new home. It was nice to see family and to share stories and pictures from my past couple of years abroad. Also, my isolation in Atlanta has been relieved by the arrival in town of one of my friends from high school. Longtime readers might remember Joe, who joined me for a visit on Audentes in the Galapagos. Oddly, Joe recently moved to Atlanta and will likely end up living closer to my home here than he did when we grew up together in Connecticut. Since Joe attended Florida State University, many of his college friends have migrated to Atlanta, so he already has a social circle awaiting him. During my first weekend back, I accompanied him and his friends to watch the highly anticipated Ohio State-Michigan game. We went to a crowded local bar to enjoy the festivities. It was here that I experienced culture shock for one of the few times in my life. During my past travels, I have been exposed to Maoist rebels armed with machine guns rummaging through my belongings in Nepal, people dying in my arms in Calcutta, and a two-year-old toting a machete in Vanuatu. However, nothing has been more terrifying than being faced with the harsh reality of being suddenly surrounded by hundreds of people that talk, look, dress, and act just like me. In a horrifying revelation, I could not help but realize that my uniqueness is far less than I had previously thought. While my experiences may differ from others, I am really just another upper-middle-class suburban raised yuppie. Through a messy alcoholic haze that teetered dangerously between irrational euphoria and sappy maudlin speeches, I struggled to articulate my angst-ridden discovery, but only managed to traumatize some poor girl eavesdropping nearby. I still can’t quite describe the horror and, when all is said and done, the costs of the years of therapy that I may need, might exceed the costs of my world voyage. Aside from my few social outings, the past month has been consumed by searching for a job. I am eager to enter the workforce and am hoping to find a challenging job that will provide some much needed structure to my life. In the meantime, I have been submitting articles to various magazines. Thus far, I have had several articles published in Ocean Navigator, SAIL Magazine, and Blue Water Sailing Magazine (a short article on the San Blas Islands of Panama can be found in the current issue of Ocean Navigator). In addition, I have been attempting to branch out into non-sailing publications, although the process is slow and uncertain. Along with these forays into freelancing, several people have offered other creative ideas for attempting to capture my unique experiences. The ideas range from writing a children’s book to inventing a bed that simulates the gentle rocking of a calm anchorage (minus the fear of the anchor dragging). As always, I am open to both new ideas and stimulating, well-paid job offers. As I spend my days at home waiting for something to happen, I have kept in touch with Anna and am pleased to hear that she is enjoying her triumphant return to Poland. Like me, she struggled with jet lag and the rigors of returning to life in a cold, non-tropical land. Likewise, she enjoyed seeing friends and family, eating good food, and just generally doing Polish things. We have been interested to read about the unrest throughout the South Pacific that appears to be trailing us by about four months. Around Thanksgiving, riots broke out in Nuku’Alofa, the capitol of Tonga, where we spent over a month. According to newspaper reports, roughly 80 percent of the downtown was destroyed and at least six people died. The tensions seem to be a result of the passing of the king and the desire for democracy in the impoverished monarchy. In the past week, a coup took place in Fiji, resulting in the overthrow of the elected government, although both sailors and published reports assure me that the coup was most certainly of the South Pacific variety. In fact, the coup was originally planned for two weeks earlier, but was postponed first to accommodate the 12-grade exams, then rescheduled because the coup leader’s granddaughter was being christened, and, finally, it was put on hold because of a rugby match between the army and police (who were set to face off in the coup). When the long-awaited coup finally occurred, it was bloodless and confined mainly to the capitol of Suva. Fortunately, sailors on outlying islands remained unaffected and the television show “Survivor,” filming on one of the small islands in the west, continued shooting without interruption. Since discontent seems to follow in our wake (albeit with a four-month lag), I would recommend avoiding Atlanta in mid-February. And so, I continue to struggle to adapt to a very different lifestyle in my homeland. As could be expected, I miss the adventure of exploring new places and the stimulation of learning something new without really trying each day. Most of all, I miss my boat and the calming presence of the sea. Far from water, I find myself anxious and uncertain. Change is always an opportunity and I am trying to make the best of my new situation. Throughout my travels, I have frequently been reminded of how fortunate I am and I have never realized it more than I do now that I can look back on the past couple of years.

One Reply to “Atlanta, My Hometown”

  1. I am glad to come across your site. I too am from the Atlanta area.

    I served in the military for 8 years, joining the corporate world after becoming a civilian. I traveled and moved quite a bit. For the last 7 years, I have been self-employed and a single parent. My daughter is graduating this year and I am looking towards doing things that put me on the move again. I have planned a kayak trip up the east coast, from Savannah to Maine, then hiking the AT back to Georgia. I have also planned for a horseback trip from Georgia to Montana, following that trek.

    That being said, a friend of mine has a 35′ boat that I have spent some time on in the past few months. I now, out of nowhere, have a bug to go to sea, alone, as most of my life has been spent and enjoyed. Stories like yours are inspiring. I wonder if folks will look at me strangely when I pull into port wearing a cowboy hat.

    Take care.

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