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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

One Weekend In Athens

October 3, 2011

"When the Turbin gets going, look out!"
-Comment made about Utah State RB Robert Turbin

"A hustler and a player, nowadays it pays to be."
-Dr. Dre "Xxplosive"

Have you ever had a gun pointed at you? I can say now that I have, though not in an intentionally menacing way. Someone involved with this weekend brought a handgun along, and not some low-end piece: this gun had a light and a laser-pointer scope. Straight (or skrait) business. Another person (who didn't bring the gun) was looking at it and picked it up, and for a second or two it happened to be pointed in my direction. I immediately instructed the person to point it away from me, loaded or not.

For a split-second this horrifying line crossed my mind: "Investigators say Pickney, 34, was shot and killed when the gun accidentally discharged." That isn't quite how I want to go out, with a hole blown through my head or my chest in an enigmatic incident in a dingy hotel room in Georgia. Luckily nothing went wrong. I don't fear guns, but I do have concern about them being pointed at me.

The only upside is that, if someone tries to mug me at gunpoint in the future, I can use this great line by Jules in Pulp Fiction: "I don't mean to shatter your ego, but this ain't the first time I've had a gun pointed at me." Though, for the record, I would prefer not being mugged.

I'm leading with this separate from the story of the weekend since I don't want to implicate anyone with this. It might involve a person or persons not mentioned in this story. So there.

This past weekend I made my first-ever visit to Athens, Georgia. For years I had heard that Athens, home of the University of Georgia, is a fun place. Those reports are true. Athens is a great college town with friendly people, a beautiful college campus at UGA, and a remarkable nightlife scene. I'd recommend it to any high school student mulling over college options.

To make the trip I had to miss Friday night's broadcast of the Father Ryan/MBA football game. Sadly, MBA won 17-10, continuing their streak of consecutive wins over FRHS. The last time Ryan beat MBA was in 1997 in a 10-7 game held at Vanderbilt Stadium (which had astroturf at the time) to win the state football title. Since then, MBA has rattled off 17 wins in a row (including three playoff games) over Father Ryan over the past 14 years. Brutal.

As a birthday present planned out before the season (and before I knew I would be doing FRHS football broadcasts), my brother Matt hooked me up with a ticket to the Miss. St. game, transportation to and from Athens, and a place to stay there. Thanks to my bro for that; I'm "much obliged" as Bubbles from The Wire would say.

One of the belts in the engine of Matt's BMW was in rough shape, so we ended up making the trip along with Dustin, who drove his car. It was amusing to see Dustin get flustered dealing with traffic, particularly as we skimmed the northern edge of the Atlanta suburbs and caught some 6 p.m. EDT traffic. He rode up close to the bumpers of cars in front of him, was often distracted, and in general did all sorts of things that I wouldn't do while driving. In addition, him looking down at his phone usually lead to the car jerking a bit, which nearly made me motion sick both going there and particularly returning yesterday.

The road from Atlanta to Athens (Highway 78) is loaded with red lights, which I imagine is very annoying for people who have to make that drive regularly. That stretch of highway reminded me of the Lloyd Expressway in Evansville, a road you wouldn't expect to have red lights that is loaded with them.

As we neared Athens, it was obvious that they had some strict sign ordinances in place, with most of the signage we passed being on small signs. That annoys me -- I get that the idea is that the area will look classier without signs everywhere, but it's private property and it bothers me that Americans in general accept that limitation and, for the most part, shrug their shoulders about it. But Americans in general put up with all kinds of nonsensical government intrusions in their lives, so this shouldn't surprise me. And, really, it doesn't.

One cool big sign that clearly was grandfathered in was a giant Arby's big hat style sign circa late 1970s. The Arby's on Nolensville Road in Nashville near Harding Place used to have one (before it closed and relocated into a spot closer to Harding Place) and I'll always think of that huge hat sign when I think of Arby's.

We were hungry when we made it to Athens, bordering on being ravenous, and we hunted down a restaurant that Matt had wanted to eat at for some time: The Varsity. There's a hilarious video online of a guy working at The Varsity shouting out their trademark "Whaddya have, whaddya have, whaddya have?" line. It's actually "What'll Ya Have?" but, when said quickly, sounds like "Whaddya have?" You are expected to know what you want to order before you get to the front, and I suppose if you don't then you'll be peppered with "Whaddya have?" over and over until you decide.

As it turned out, the chili-covered burgers I had were quite tasty. It's a unique restaurant experience, with locations in Atlanta and Athens only and a decidedly local/regional feel along with its non-conventional approach with some things, such as "ladies first" as shown in the video linked above.

A hilarious sidebar was Dustin not getting cheese on his hot dogs at The Varsity and mustard somehow coming into the mix. Dustin hates mustard, kind of like how I hate pickles, so of course Matt and I busted his chops about the fact that there was a bottle of Heinz mustard on every table. He went back to the front and, after some delay, finally got hit hot dogs the way he wanted them.

One nice thing about The Varsity is that it had a television airing the Utah State/BYU game. Hilariously, the last name of Utah State's starting running back is Turbin. The concept of turbans (the proper spelling is turban, not turbin) has been a running joke for Matt and Dustin and Jimmy DT and others dating back a few years to the fantastic "My Turban Is Dirty" prank call made by Sal Governale and Richard Christie for the Howard Stern radio show.

Our hotel was just down from The Varsity, less than two blocks, which worked perfectly. We stayed at the Travelodge near Georgia's campus, which gave me some cause for concern going into the trip. The last time I stayed at a Travelodge was with Melissa '05 at St. Pete Beach, more than six years ago.

You might recall that, in the write-up I did about that weekend, I suggested that the Travelodge bear should be replaced by a large rat. Sadly, the Travelodge I stayed at this weekend did nothing to change my mind about that. Between electric outlets that didn't work, an embarrassingly pathetic continental breakfast (you had to ask the front desk clerk for milk, for example), and one of the beds in our room apparently having a partial break, it wasn't exactly luxurious.

But we didn't go there for the amenities -- I'm just happy that we found a place close to the action. I only slept about five hours the night before, and unable to sleep on the drive over, I opted out of hitting the bar scene on Friday night in favor of some shut-eye. Matt and Dustin hit the bars, and they (loudly) made their entrance around 3:30 a.m. It woke me up, but luckily I'm a deep sleeper and soon after that interlude, I zonked back out.

Saturday morning hit, and with the game starting at noon EDT, we didn't have a long time to prep for the game. John Pouncey arrived around this point, which was great since I hadn't seen him since 2010. He's an intelligent guy but also wildly unpredictable, with some of the things he has said through the years making me laugh long and loud. My 13 months in the Birmingham area weren't particularly crazy, and most of the wild moments from my run there involved nights out on the town with Pouncey. There's seldom a dull moment with him in the mix.

One good example: Pouncey abruptly proclaimed that he was on three grams of caffeine (he wasn't) to be energized for the game. He hadn't had much sleep the next before, but he managed to tough it out and fight through his drowsiness until he was able to get a nap later that afternoon.

They were out of coffee.
After going through some debate over trying to find the bar with a "free" breakfast that Dustin heard about the night before, I made my way to the Travelodge lobby to get what I could from the sparse continental breakfast. I had a small meal: Frosted Flakes from one of those large clear plastic holders where you turn a knob to get the cereal to come out. I had milk to go with that (acquired from the desk clerk) and the last remaining two-pack of pre-packaged blueberry muffins on the rack.

Matt scrounged for what he could, while Dustin and Pouncey opted to forego the sparse breakfast options there and instead walk over to The Varsity. I had my doubts about that place having breakfast, and as Matt and I left the hotel we encountered Dustin and Pouncey walking back in our direction, looking rather glum and each holding a soda cup. It turned out that The Varsity opened at 9 a.m. that day, presumably because of it being gameday, but they only offered their regular menu. Want to have a chili cheese dog at 9:30 in the morning? Me neither.

We made our way to Barcode, one of the many, many bars located close to the University of Georgia's campus. Because of the location of Sanford Stadium relative to the campus, it's not an ideal tailgating area. But, with so many options for drinking at the bars before the game, it's not a big deal to not have a designated tailgate spot near the stadium.

Pouncey (right) waited for a morning drink during our pregame visit to Barcode.
It turned out that Barcode was the bar in question with the free breakfast, but I heard after arrival that the breakfast was only free if you spent at least $6 on drinks. That's not exactly what I'd call free. Also, I checked in there on Foursquare and saw an online discount available for checking in for $2 off my first drink.

I made my way to the bar and, spotting it in the cooler area, requested a Woodchuck Cider. I showed the Foursquare check-in to the attractive young woman working behind the bar (shown in the photo to the right). She sported a tight, low-cut t-shirt that showed off her cleavage. I'm never one to complain about that, but it was disorienting to see that at 10:30 in the morning. Then again, the entire experience of being at a bar that early was disorienting.

She looked at the Foursquare info like it was written in Korean. I tried my best to explain it to her, but she clearly didn't understand what it was indicating. It only cost me $2 for the drink (and $1 for a look at her cleavage... err, I mean, for a tip), so maybe she gave me the discount, or maybe they only charge $2 for Woodchucks -- I don't know.

In a hilarious moment, we joked about them playing all '80s music when "Locomotion" by Kylie Minogue began playing over the Barcode sound system. Pouncey lamented not being able to play '80s music out of his boom box (which he seriously brought along on the trip) as he has done in previous tailgating situations. Also fun was JC Cuadra (pronounced "Quad-ruh") breaking out a roll of Mississippi State stickers, one of which I affixed on the left top part of my maroon shirt. Others friends of Matt's from his college days, some of who were part of the group loosely known as the "Big Tymers", met us there. Matt's friends have become my friends, and it was great to see JC (and the woman he brought along), Manny Fresh and Caleb. It was Caleb who was nice enough to let Matt and I stay at his place during WrestleMania weekend in Atlanta this past April, something I appreciate greatly.

As kickoff time approached, we left Barcode for the stadium. As you would imagine, we were surrounded by mostly Georgia fans. Amazingly, not only was there not any trash talking, but there were several people who went out of their way to be friendly and welcome us to the city. I didn't experience any rudeness whatsoever from UGA supporters, and it seemed to me that Georgia fans (and Athens residents themselves) take pride in not being rude to visitors to their city. It's the exact opposite of how Arkansas fans treated my crew and me during our trip to Little Rock in 2007.

One humorous moment inside the stadium involved a group of 2-3 kids trying to give away earplugs. I'm not sure if they were hustling for a "donation" or attempting to do a Jedi mind trick type move about anticipating a loud crowd (which never really was all that loud) or what, but particularly after the game, Matt and I remarked on how unnecessary they would have been.

This was our view of the action from Section 610 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA.
The game itself was a letdown for State fans, as Georgia was able to control the bulk of the game, going up 21-3 in the first half and ultimately winning 24-10. But, unlike most situations where road team fans are heckled as they make the "walk of shame" down the exits and out of the stadium, we didn't catch any grief from Georgia fans. That was refreshing.

The only casualty from the game was a Mississippi State pom-pom with a broken handle that Matt brought along which fell into the abyss behind us. Our seats were in the back row of a small three-row area up in Section 610, and there was a gap of about an inch where things could fall and not be retrieved. That's where the pom-pom ended up, and it's presumably still there. I feared that either Matt or me might end up accidentally knocking one of our phones into the opening, with it effectively being eaten by Sanford Stadium.

One other oddity: it's policy at Sanford Stadium for them to NOT allow bottled soda to have caps on them when sold. I presume that is to prevent them from being used as projectiles, but it created a tough situation in keeping them from spilling. During one exciting play early the shake of the metal stands nearly toppled mine over. But, seriously, banning soda caps?!? Dumb.

As we filed out of the stadium, we walked back through Georgia's campus, which as I mentioned before is beautiful and picturesque. The interior of Sanford Stadium was a bit disappointing compared with how nice it looks from the outside, but overall it was a fun place to see a game. But the UGA campus is worth seeing as a visitor if you ever find yourself in Athens.

Deliberations commenced about what to do next. My phone died at the 4:04 mark of the fourth quarter of the game, so I had a valid reason to want to return to the hotel. Between me using a few plugs to power equipment used to record Athens radio stations for and people needing to charge their respective phones, it was a bit of a challenge logistically, but we made it work. From there I settled in and did something I do quite well: control the remote when multiple football games are on TV, prioritizing the importance of each game and keeping track of which one is on which channel.

Where's Waldo? Up against the police car being arrested, that's where.
Once annoyance was Dustin smoking cigarettes just outside the door to the room where we were staying. He technically was outside smoking it, but the putrid stench of cigarette smoke still wafted into the room and annoyed me. Sometimes you have to pick your fights, so I let it go, though the running joke of "Shut the front door" (in place of STFU) from the weekend actually applied in that case.

A hilarious sidebar during our afternoon relaxation time was a fight and subsequent arrest in the parking lot, which I tipped to my Twitter followers moments later. I'm not sure who was involved or what happened, other than the guy in the Where's Waldo shirt had blood from a cut in the fight, which is why the cop is putting on rubber gloves in the photo.

After going to Shane's Rib Shack for dinner (where I had a tasty barbecue meal), we all doubled-back to the hotel, showered and got shorned up, and then took some stuff called milk thistle that supposedly helps with hangovers. Between that and another supplement that Pouncey had (an over-the-counter supplement that I need to find out more about), we hit the town. The quartet involved: Matt, Dustin, Pouncey, and me. Of the four of us, I was the only one in a long-term relationship, so I was in full wingman mode.

From left to right: Pouncey, Dustin, me and Matt.
That night we hit a slew of bars, trying to take in the full Athens bar scene experience. I was amazed at how many young women were out on a chilly (by local standards) Saturday night in short skirts. Quite impressive, I must say. They do things right in Athens.

Keeping track of all the places we visited was tough, but here's my best shot at it. IIRC, we started back again at Barcode. From there we were rebuffed from a place called the Allgood Lounge because of Pouncey wearing an Affliction shirt (which apparently is no good at Allgood), then went to an '80s themed bar called 8E's, then went to a place called 40 Watt Club, which had a $7 cover -- the first and only cover we encountered that evening.

Unlike most of the relatively small sized bars we hit, 40 Watt Club had lots of space and live music. Unfortunately, there was a sparse crowd there, and we didn't know before we entered that it was a live music venue. Pouncey was turned off by what he described as "hippies" being there, like he was channeling Eric Cartman from South Park.

At this point a blonde in a tight black dress came up offering to buy us drinks. I was taken aback, not knowing what to think of this. Something didn't seem quite right, though when I sat down and chatted with this mysterious blonde, she told me her name was Kirby. I came to find out that she was friends with Dustin and that she claims she hides her intelligence by playing dumb when people expect her to be just some dumb blonde.

It turns out that Kirby had been involved in a bizarre encounter with Matt and Dustin the night before where she was rude to Matt (according to him), acting like he wasn't there, which is something that normally never would happen to Matt. And she had met him previously, so that behavior was odd to hear about.

Pouncey, not happy with the scene at 40 Watt, headed back to 8E's which is (I think) where Matt had stayed behind to talk with some Sig Ep fraternity brothers of his who he spotted there. Finally, Dustin and I and Kirby and others headed back that way. We waited up front and then ended up at yet another bar, a place whose name escapes me. The 2 a.m. EDT closing time was approaching.

Dustin and Kirby sat in front of me on the cab ride back to the hotel.
I mentioned to Kirby that, back at 40 Watt, I was taken aback by her and thought she was trying to hustle us. That was the WRONG thing to say to her, as it set her off in an angry tirade against me, into a near Crazy Tonya type of frenzy. I tried to apologize for offending her, but in an incredible act of rudeness, she kept condescendingly telling me to calm down when I tried to talk. I was being completely calm -- you just had to speak loudly to be heard over the music in there. Finally I decided enough was enough and ignored her.

If Kirby ever reads this (and I've found through the years that people have a way of, sooner or later, finding out about what I write about them), a suggestion: work on your social skills, don't carry yourself like you think you're better than others, and quit acting like an entitled bitch. I don't care how much money your father has. I really don't.

But Kirby didn't put a sour note on the evening; I had a blast hanging with my bro and friends who I don't get to see as often as I'd like. Also, I was feeling good since I had been telling everyone who would listen (and then some) for weeks about how great Alabama's defense is and how they are in position to run the table all the way to the BCS Championship Game. So, when the Crimson Tide went into the Swamp for a night game and crunched the previously unbeaten Florida Gators, I felt vindicated.

The next morning was interesting in that the milk thistle and whatever other anti-hangover remedies I took the night before, amazingly, worked like a charm. Normally hangovers for me involve big-time nausea, which really sucks. But in this case? I felt like my head (in hangover mode) had been put on a non-hungover body, which was a very odd sensation. But it sure beat being violently ill.

We packed, checked out, and then stopped at an IHOP for a late breakfast/early lunch before leaving town. They were slammed and it took some time for us to finally get our drinks, which lead to a hilarious moment where Dustin drank two of the creamers as Matt, Pouncey, and I laughed at him about it. "It's half-and-half, not creamer!" responded Dustin, who incidentally claimed that the milk thistle didn't do anything to help him.

Pouncey split off from us, and we began the trip back to Nashville. Matt brought along his Sirius Sportster, which allowed us to listen to NFL radio broadcasts from all across America. Unfortunately Dustin's car didn't have an Aux In port, nor did it have a tape deck (like my Honda Accord has) where a converter device can turn the deck into a modified Aux In.

Because of intense pressure put on Sirius and XM by the National Association of Broadcasters circa 2006, manufacturers of sat radio receivers had to begin producing units with much weaker FM transmitters than their earlier counterparts. That's why, in part, why I was able to make $35 selling my old Sirius Starmate on eBay since it was from 2005 and before the power rule change -- and that's despite the power in connection barely working after years of taking it from my car to my apartment/house and back out again, including a few drops along the way.

It was frustrating trying to find an open signal in the non-comm band that wouldn't overpower the weak transmitter signal. Along with the weak transmitter, Matt's Sirius unit doesn't allow the 87.9 frequency to be used, which was my go-to signal in cities that didn't have a Channel 6 television station. I could pick up Fox 6 in my Birmingham days on 87.9, but with the switch by TV to digital, it's wide open right now. Sadly, 87.9 wasn't an option for us, so we heard NFL games through frequent interruptions by waves of static and/or interference.

Overall I had a great time in Athens and I'm glad I went. Between seeing old friends, visiting the University of Georgia for the first time, and enjoying the many great things that Athens has to offer, it proved to be an enjoyable, entertaining weekend.

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