Note: It may help to hum the tune of Gilligan’s Island while you sit right back and read this tale.
I heard Jonathan Coulton was coming to Atlanta to celebrate the release of his latest recording, Artificial Heart, so Julie and I planned a simple overnight trip to enjoy the show. It turned out our trip wouldn’t be so simple.
Julie left the workforce at the beginning of July to focus on her education. Working toward her master’s degree in educational leadership while overseeing five departments at her 60-hour-a-week job wasn’t working so well.
We gave this decision a lot of thought. It meant I became the breadwinner at our house. My check, with help from loans, pays the bills and puts food on the table. We had to shore up our household budget to make it and one of my first costcutting measures was to buy tickets to see Jonathan Coulton.
You read it right. As evening fell on that lifechanging day, I saw Jonathan’s announcement that he was bringing the band to Variety Playhouse. His Atlanta performance wasn’t just one in a string of shows. It was his release party for his latest aural celebration, Artificial Heart.
I was powerless. We had to go.
Getting Out of Town
Our lives are busy. Julie has her studies. I have a hectic and stressful job. The kids are in band at the middle and high schools (and you band parents out there know the havoc that wreaks on a schedule).
We needed a break.
I took a vacation day from work, we loaded up the car with a few items, and we headed south to Atlanta. If you’re still humming the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, this may be a good time to switch to The Beverly Hillbillies; at least for a moment.
Smoke Under the Hood
So, Julie and I are packed, loaded, our kids Jordan, Meg, and Katheryn all have a place to stay, and we hit I–75 south. We were about 25 minutes into s1e30 of of Back to Work (“I’m not Working In An Abbatoir”) with Jonathan and Merlin Mann when the engine revved up all itself. While on cruise control. Strange.
I turned off the podcast and turned off the cruise. I stepped on the gas and it revved up again, but no go. I check the gearshift. Firmly in Drive. Then, I saw the smoke trailing behind us. I began to slow down and really saw the smoke curling out from under the hood.
I pulled onto the shoulder of I–75 south just before Exit 278 for Acworth and Glade Road to take stock of the situation. I open the hood and look around. I’m not sure what I was looking for, may a shoe with an untied lace or a snowman with his hat blown off by the wind (apologies to Jake Johansen).
I was sobbing and shaking from the pain. Blood was oozing from under my blackening fingernail. I wondered if we should just hang it up and try to limp back home with smelly white smoke roiling out from under the hood.
Nah. We decided to press on.
The Positive Power of Social Networks
Facebook led to our roadside salvation. Julie’s quick thinking led her to Facebook to scan friends available for chat. She found a few who live in the Atlanta area. Bob was carrying a bus of band students to an away football game. James was out of town with his family. Thomas was in a position to help. He was online, he responded, and followed up quickly with a call to Julie’s phone.
Not only was Thomas willing to help, he turned out to be the perfect man for the job.
This may surprise you, but many people around here don’t know who Jonathan Coulton is. Thomas not only knew who he is, he has seen him live three times and his wife Nikki counts him as one of her favorites. He understood DragonCon and attended as one of several Captain Jack Harknesses roaming the halls of the Hyatt and other host hotels. He knew the back roads to avoid traffic. He even already had plans to attend a play at 7 Stages next door to the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points.
Yep. He was the perfect man for the job and we can’t thank him enough.
Julie and I had worried about finding a place to stay and spent a good deal of time researching hotels near the venue. We found the options weren’t good after reading a string of one-star reviews for several places that mentioned “strong smell of marijuana in elevator and halls,” “roaches all over the room,” and “felt threatened.” Our budget prevented us from booking a room at the easy-to-find options starting at about $300 a night. Julie finally found a place to stay for about $100–the Emory Inn.
Natalia greeted the three of us at the front desk of the Inn. She quickly checked us in before offering a parking pass to put in our windshield. With a pained grin I said, “That is so cruel and you don’t even know why,” before sharing the short version of our saga. A gentleman overheard my need for a sterile adhesive strip (commonly known by the brand name Band-Aid™) and brought me a couple to bandage my pinky.
We dropped our stuff off in the room and Thomas ferried us to Little Five Points. With some time to spare before our respective showtimes, Thomas invited us to join him and his wife Nikki for dinner at Corner Tavern. Our server Jimmy brought our meals: a hamburger for Julie, salmon sandwich for Nikki, and a couple of black and blue burgers topped with bacon and bleu cheese for me and Thomas.
Yes, we were on Paleo vacation. Yes, it was delicious. And yes, our stomachs paid for it later. We’re firmly back on the wagon again now.
On with the Show
Paul and Storm opened the show. All I knew about the duo was hearsay from strangers and a few visits to their website. They have an amazing chemistry on stage together.
Coulton followed with a terrific performance that included most of the “classics” I wanted to hear with great new songs mixed into the set. Skullcrusher Mountain. Good Morning Tucson. Code Monkey. Creepy Doll. Mandelbrot Set. On a side note, I look back on every concert I’ve ever attended and regret that I didn’t record the set list. That continues to be the case. Suffice to say he played a bunch of songs and it was great.
Julie and I have been going through some tough times and Jonathan helped us forget about that for one wonderful evening. For that, we thank him.
After failing to conjure a cab by phone from two different companies, a cabbied stopped alongside us looking for fares. We shared a ride and conversation with a fellow Coulton fan and DragonCon guest hailing from Cleveland, Tenn., just a few clicks northeast of our home in Ringgold, Ga., a nice garnish on the evening.
To rent, or not to rent?
After a decent night of rest at the inn, Julie and I woke to face reality again. We were stranded! We didn’t know who we could enlist to carry us home and had no idea what to do about the Acura stranded in Acworth. We called the front desk to request a late checkout. Natalia answered. She remembered us and our broken down car and recommended the Enterprise car rental service provided on-campus. It was about three minutes away on foot. Natalia came through for us again!
We met Evan at Enterprise Rent-a-Car. He worked up a deal for and pointed out a little Hyundai for us in the lot. He took a look at that car, then another look at us.
“Do you have a lot of stuff with you?”
We didn’t, so he offered up a tiny blue 2012 Fiat. It was awesome and a ton of fun to drive! We took it back after a week even though my car is still sitting idle with no wind in its sails. Julie and I are down to one car.
This story has gone on long enough, so I’ll wrap it up. My finger is smashed. My busted car is parked 70 miles south of home at an Acworth garage I know nothing about. The transmission on my 2003 Acura TL is “toast” (a quote from the mechanic) and will significantly bump up the final cost of our overnight trip to Atlanta. As a point of reference, it costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 to replace one headlight. I think that means a transmission may cost $1 million, but I’m not that great at math.
Irony alert: Did I mention we’re making the final payment on that car this month? Yeah, so there’s that.
But do you know what? We had a blast. It was a little more painful and lot more expensive than we planned, but there is more to life than pinky fingers and automatic transmissions.
We became reacquainted with an old friend and met a new one, his wife. We added a lot of souvenirs to our bucket, and you can’t put a price on terrific memories.