In many ways, the stars aligned for this.
I hardly ever do anything for spring break, so when a friend offered me his extra ticket to Radiohead in Atlanta, I gladly forced my schedule to permit me to go with him. But in no way could I have predicted the trip would include crashing the Georgia Optometrist Association’s State Convention after-party and a visit to Atlanta Medical Center.
Admittedly, I’m wasn’t the biggest Radiohead fan then. It’s not that I didn’t like them; I just didn’t listen to them as much as I should have. Regardless, I knew Radiohead tickets aren’t easy to come by and the band’s fantastic, so I tried my damnedest to make it work.
But it was complicated.
Originally, I thought it was during the week of UNC’s spring break, so all I’d have to do was switch shifts with someone in the event that I was even scheduled to work the Thursday of the show. It was actually the week before, on March 1, during the week of most of my midterms. Luckily, my Friday class’ midterm became a take-home due at midnight that evening, so there was no class that morning. Instead of attending my News Editing class at its regular time on Thursday, I went to the earlier class so we could leave in hopes of arriving in Atlanta without missing any of the show. The simple fact that my schedule worked out somehow allowing me to go to Atlanta on time and without missing any midterms was a small miracle in and of itself.
So we planned it as such: Tyler and I were to roll on down to Hotlanta, aiming to arrive a little after 6:30 p.m. With luck, we would find a place to eat quickly before the concert. Then we would saunter over to Philips Arena, marvel at some fantastic music, relax a little afterwards and head back home, stopping in Greensboro, N.C., for Tyler’s optional morning class. But as long as we were back in time for my work shift at 3 p.m., we were golden. During the trip, I would work on my take-home midterm, which was due via email at midnight on Friday.
But nothing ever goes as planned, and this was certainly no exception.
I struggled to focus during the long car trip to take advantage of free time in the car and only finished two of three short answer response questions and still had the essay remaining. We took a short pit stop at some place in the boondocks of South Carolina or Georgia where two Waffle Houses were separated by maybe 200 feet. With our time cushion shrinking, finding dinner before the show came into question. We parked a few blocks from the arena about 30 minutes before the opening act was set to begin.
The opener was decent, but Tyler and I decided to leave our seats and kill time by people-watching. Among the thousands of moments I noticed, someone shouted “Go Hawks!”, which is probably the largest Hawks cheer their arena’s seen since the Human Highlight Reel. I also saw a man in a weird 19th century explorer get-up. Even more embarrassing, many people wore the Radiohead t-shirts they clearly just purchased on the arena concourse. Rookie move, people. Take note. Moving on, spirits were reasonably priced. Just kidding, it was $7.50 for a light beer.
After a while we made our way back to our upper-deck seats. Tyler had the aisle seat, and I next to him. Two cute girls who seemed to be about our ages (me 20, Tyler 21) sat next to us. I struck up a conversation with them and we chatted a little before the show about where we were from (Me: Charlotte, Tyler: Chicago), where they were from (Atlanta) and about the show and yada yada yada.
Then the concert began. The music was fantastic, only surpassed by the dancing prowess of Thom Yorke. The sound was great; the presentation was impeccable; the experience was just about perfect.
After the final encore, the lights returned and people began shuffling out. I asked Leah, the girl who sat next to me, if she and her friend would like to join Tyler and me for a late dinner. She said she was going to meet up with her friends, but she gave me her number to get in touch with her later to see what she was up to.
While Tyler and I waited, we knew we couldn’t rely on her response as if it were set in stone. So we walked the streets of downtown HOTLANTA, trying to kindly shrug off a panhandler who told us he lost his daughter after she caught herpes. He then pleaded with us repeatedly to “NOT FUCK UP” and begged us for money. We had no small bills or change on us, so we politely declined and went on our way. Cutting through the Olympic Park, Tyler and I made our way back to the center of downtown. Plans with Leah fell through and the only open restaurant appeared to be a 24-hour diner. We headed back to our car in the parking deck to park closer on the street.
The only problem? The parking deck had closed. Metal shackles locked the entrance. ALl color must have drained from our faces. Upon noticing a side door, we pressed the intercom button and security let us in, get our car and opened the gate. And we thought that would be the crisis of the night. Hoooooooo boy, were we wrong.
We parked a block or two from the diner, then got seated at a table. Tyler, who’s vegetarian, desperately tried to find anything he could eat. Alas, the menu was basically a herbivore’s nightmare, and it wasn’t too appealing to me, either — and I eat meat. So we left and once again began wandering the empty streets of downtown Atlanta on a Thursday night in search of food. We tried a couple pubs, but with me being only 20, they wouldn’t let us in.
Eventually we found the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, which had a couple restaurants. We decided to check it out and were seated to a table, but to our dismay, the kitchen had just shut down.
Tyler and I were tired. We were hungry. We didn’t know where else to go. So we asked a hotel employee for any ideas. He told us we could just order takeout delivered to the front desk and we obliged to take his advice.
With 35-45 minutes between us and our pizza delivery, we headed to get water from a bar in an upstairs lobby area. It was oddly crowded for a Thursday night. The bartender, clearly unaware of my age, teased me with Jägermeister after I told him I just wanted a glass of water. I declined. We mingled in the crowd a bit and rode the elevator for shits and giggles to kill time. An elevator companion told us it was an optometrist convention, the Georgia Optometrist Association convention to be exact. “A bunch of drinkers,” he said after drunkenly fumbling his key card and loudly muttering profanities as he made earnest efforts to pick it up.
I continued texting with Leah. I sent her a winky smiley face. I’m quite smooth, you see.
Tyler mentioned he didn’t feel so hot, which we blamed on the whole ‘We Haven’t Eaten Since Noon And It’s Now About 1 A.M.’ thing. It had now been about 50 minutes. We retired to some large comfy chairs to wait by the bell desk for “Mama Mia” to finally arrive with our veggie pizza. While we waited, a different intoxicated optometrist tried his hand at comedy, asking us “Where are your skateboards?” Ha ha ha, because we’re punk skater kids? Anyway, the pizza finally came about 10 minutes later. We quickly scarfed down a few slices. It wasn’t very good, but hell, it was still pizza. We tossed the pizza in the trunk so it wouldn’t stink up the car and left downtown Atlanta.
Our plans had changed. It was well after the point that we could make it back in time to Greensboro. With nowhere to spend the night, we decided that we’d park the car at a Whole Foods parking lot. Tyler would sleep and prepare to drive back and hopefully I would knock out a few more questions of my midterm.
It just so ended up that we did neither.
I was more exhausted than I thought and drifted in and out of sleep trying to concentrate on the ideology of South Park. Meanwhile I heard Tyler hurriedly opening the driver side door. He rushed to a patch of dead grass in a median in the lot and vomited. Oh shit, I thought. Tyler was in some rough shape and there wasn’t anything we could do. He seemingly finished and fell back into his chair, hoping the worst was behind him and perhaps he could find some sleep. But he would continue to vomit intermittently throughout the early hours of the morning.
At one point around 5 a.m., a short, pudgy man walked by on his way to work. Through broken English in a Spanish accent, he suggested to Tyler that he should probably go to the hospital. Tyler resigned to the fact that this had become the only option. There was no way he would get better otherwise at a healthy rate, at least. Luckily, Atlanta Medical Center was barely five minutes away.
Tyler was admitted to the ER and immediately got hooked up to an IV and received some medication. His phone dead, he was essentially cut off from the outside world. I stayed with him a little while, but exited to finish my midterm at the Starbucks in the adjacent hospital building.
After finishing my last short answer question, I returned to check on how Tyler was doing at 7 a.m. He was asleep in his bed. I quietly woke him up to ask him how he felt. I told him that I’d be in and out between the ER and Starbucks and left him my number if he needed me since his phone was dead. There was no way he’d be discharged in time for me to make it to work on time, so I called in and told my manager what happened and everything was fine. I returned to working on my midterm.
Looking ahead, I texted Leah to tell her I was unexpectedly in town longer than I had anticipated and to ask if she wanted to join me for lunch. But as it turned out, she was still in school — in high school. The stigma attached to that forced me to question myself at first, but after all, I’m only 20 and she’s 18, so no big deal. She told me that she’d be out around 4 p.m. and I told her I’d call then.
The day took a turn for the worse from there when my order of Chick-Fil-A fries at lunch were clearly unsalted, or in the least, undersalted. I managed to push myself to finish my essay and hit the send button to finalize my midterm.
It was now 3 p.m. and I returned to check on Tyler. He told me the doctors had been incrementally notching up his medicine after he couldn’t keep down water. I began to wonder how much longer they would keep him in the emergency room. And so I decided to hedge my bets. I told him the situation with Leah and reminded him that I left him my number. I instructed him to call me immediately if he was discharged and I would end my get-together and pick him up.
I felt terrible about leaving but didn’t want to have regrets about not trying hard enough to get to know Leah better while waiting hours for Tyler’s discharge as he slept.
My call a little after 4 p.m. went unanswered. I left a text message. I could feel the window closing with every ticking second. I drove Tyler’s car back to the Whole Foods parking lot to kill time as I waited and to charge my phone. After about 15 minutes, I gave up amid conflicting feelings to go back to check on Tyler.
Upon returning to the ER, I showed security my visitor’s pass they had given me earlier, which listed Tyler’s name and room number. The guard squinted to read the room number. Tamika? he asked. No, Tyler. Room twenty, I said.
Oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. He’s been discharged and he forgot to call me, I thought.
I wandered through the normal places in the lobby and hallways searching for him. Nothing. I went outside, now wide-eyed and fearful that this could turn into a long search.
But then I saw him in the adjacent building. We both showed visible signs of relief and exhaustion.
You ready to leave? I asked. Yeah, let’s get out of here, Tyler said.
It was 5 p.m. Rush hour. In Atlanta. On a Friday afternoon.
Throwing caution and intelligence into the wind, we picked up I-85 from smack-dab in the middle of downtown Atlanta. Tyler was obviously not in the shape to drive, so I took the wheel. I had only gotten an hour or two of on again-off again sleep, but yes, I was the man behind the wheel.
I made it barely outside of Atlanta in the middle of bumper-to-bumper traffic before I knew I had to stop for caffeine and sugar or else I would kill us both.
I’ll skip the boring details of a 7-hour drive for your sake, but we survived. Another bout of vomiting outside Charlotte and massive fog threatened to set us back, but the one stop in Charlotte was the only one before we got home.
Unfortunately, Leah and I never got to meet again, but c’est la vie.
What a trip. What a way to begin spring break. I couldn’t have predicted or asked for anything more.