I arrived in Atlanta on Thursday. I was attending the Aiming Low Non-Conference, which was convening at Callaway Gardens, a resort/hotel an hour outside of the city.
I went to Avis to pick up a car. Â After the nice salesgirl with the Southern accent unsuccessfully tried to sell me a GPS, extra insurance, and a complicated gasoline plan, she took a different tact in order to earn Avis some extra of my money.
“You look like the type of man who likes to drive a Mercedes sportscar, and you are in luck, because just today I can give you…”
I told the Avis sales rep that she misread me (pay $30 a day extra for a sportscar — was she crazy? I wouldn’t pay that even if Georgia State’s homecoming queen was my chauffeur!).
Soon afterwards, I drove my bland American economy car towards Callaway Gardens, travelling along Atlanta’s highway, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the ugliness of the Los Angeles freeway
About ten minutes of driving, I noticed a yellow sign on the side of the road that read, “Waffle House – next exit.”
I have never been to the “real” South, but I am lover of movies that take place below the Macon-Dixon line, and I had heard quite a lot about this famous Waffle House. Â I made my way off the highway for a quick breakfast.
The Waffle House was as grungy and wonderful as I expected. I was the only white person there and everyone was super friendly. Â I ordered the specialty — the waffles with some sort of white creamy blob smothering it, a pile of steaming grits, and overly-buttered raisin toast. Â It was perfect, and I could feel my cholesterol rising by the moment. Â Proud to tell the world about my new worldly achievement, I went on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, announcing to the world that I had finally made it to THE WAFFLE HOUSE!
Unfortunately, when I returned to the road, I noticed another Waffle House at the next exit, and then a Waffle House at every exit for the next fifty miles. I had thought I had just eaten a meal at the ONE-AND-ONLY famous Waffle House, not just one in a ubiquitous chain of 10,000 Waffle Houses!
The Aiming Low Non-Conference was terrific, a 180 degree turn from the chaos of BlogHer in New York City. Â It was a quite small group, and we were all trapped in the middle of nowhere. Â Even the local BBQ place down the road seemed to close at 8PM. Â The whole weekend was extremely mellow, mostly hanging out, chatting, and taking photos in front of this fake nature background they had set up in the lobby. Â I loved it!
Sure there was parties, but it all seemed so manageable and friendly. Â Â The only real “superstar moment” of the conference was the arrival of The Pioneer Woman, but even one of the blogging world’s biggest stars seemed to appreciate the low-key atmosphere of the event, posing with everyone for silly photos.
This photo says a lot about the hierarchical relationship between Ree and myself in the blogosphere.
On Saturday morning, I lead a mobile phone photowalk around the beautiful grounds of Callaway Gardens. Â It was a great honor. Â If anyone had told me two years ago that I would be a trusted person in anything photographic, Â I would have laughed!
That said, I was probably the wrong person to lead this particular photowalk, which consisted mostly of trees, flowers, and butterflies. Â Â You know something is wrong when the “instructor” is saying “these butterflies are boring as hell,” and the participants are arguing with you, trying to get you to appreciate their beauty. Â So while my “students” took photos of the butterflies, I fell back on my forte, taking photos of the cute women participants taking photos of the butterflies.
Thank you, Anissa. Â Thank you Faiqa. Â Thank you everyone at the conference. Â It was a lot of fun.
And thank you, Muskrat for our BBQ lunch back in Atlanta. Â Definitely a cool city that I still don’t quite understand. Â Black. Â White. Â Rich. Â Poor. Â Conservative. Â Liberal. Â I even found myself getting lost in the middle of Atlanta’s Gay Pride Parade!
Enjoyed our bbq…hope next year I can make the actual conference!
Every time I saw you you appeared to be relaxed and having a great time. This made me very happy.
“It was a quite small group, and we were all trapped in the middle of nowhere. ”
And this made me laugh out lout.
It was so nice meeting you, Neil. I love this and next year, will teach you to eat collards and hog jowls 🙂
The caption on that photo of you and Ree made me laugh out loud.
I very much enjoyed being trapped in the middle of nowhere with you & the rest of the internet people. That was a nice weekend.
That last photo with the flag is out of control–my phone takes the crappiest photos ever, and yours are vying for a Pulitzer! Might need to take your photowalk next year… Good to see you, however briefly!
Now I should have been on that damn photo walk with you… boo me! I love all those ladies like crazy and would have been so happy to get some time to actually talk to you. And to meet Ree… love her almost as much as I love you. 🙂
Never been in the Real South? Excuse me? Virginia is insulted. Hello, you were in the state that hosted the capital of the Confederacy in a town where 40,000 soldiers were killed in a single Civil War battle. Harumph!
Yeah, Virginia doesn’t really seem like the “real” south to me. It’s like a fake South.
Even though I may never speak to you in person or online, these posts amuse the hell out of me.
I lived in Riverdale for a few years in the early 1990’s. They had their own very strange cable network which had constant ads for an Olive Garden. For years I thought it was one Italian restaurant on Arthur Avenue (the Italian section) in The Bronx–and couldn’t understand why people would go into hysterics when I would suggest going there. I moved back to Manhattan, got the Internet, and one of the first things I looked up was The Olive Garden.
When I first came down here I ran to a Waffle House. Didn’t like it–live in what must be the pancake house capitol of the world (scared to look that up) and love IHOP more than ever.
I kept meaning to sign up for that conference until it was too late
This is by far one of the best stories told about the NonCon. I told my family about this when I got home.
Oh, how we laughed.
WITH you, Neil, laughed WITH you.
I hope you’ll be present for the next NonCon. I’ll have a much better phone with a battery that will survive a photo walk.
I love that last photo. Incredible.
And the non-con seems like my kind of con.
I would have you lead a photowalk every year so you would come and then write about your Waffle House experience again.
Seconded. Thank YOU, Neil, for adding so much to this event. You’re a gem. Also, every Waffle House is unique in its own way. Um. No. Not really.
Neil, we all fell in love with your accent–which played larger than life when thrown against the drawl y’all of the south.
You were are one favorite piece of chocolate in the center of the box.
Thanks for a great time, great conversation, meta contemplation, and your interest in everyone and their lives away from noncon.
It was so great to see you, that I had a dream about you Saturday night–where you took me around the butterfly garden and reassured me, that yes, I could be an instagrammer.
Peace out, you know, because of you 8-milin’ in in that red sweatshirt.
Glad the Waffle House story made it in here. I laughed so hard about that.
I love the first photo and the last. You are fabulous.
You didn’t want a Mercedes sports car? I need to work harder.
I live an hour east of Atlanta — the other way from Callaway. Or about 22 Waffle Houses in the opposite direction. People in the South are very friendly. Black and white folks get along quite well — side by side even. Astounding I know. It is a deep, rich perfectly flawed part of the country. Glad you had a great weekend and didn’t meet up with any man-eating butterflies.
I had an equally great time at the Noncon and I actually learned stuff on your photo walk, so don’t sell yourself short.
I wish I didn’t have to work on Sunday or I would have accompanied you on your Varsity and Pride outings! LOVED hanging out with you, Neil. You’re a gem!
we’ve always loved your IG and suddenly noticed the URL on your profile – voila! here you are on the interweb – genius.
love the comment about home-coming-queens as drivers and that is one Fierce flag in the parade.
waving from rainy manhattan.
Wait, the last guy is gay? I’m not convinced.
I love ev-e-ry thing about this post. You always make me think, smile or both!
The richness and color in that last pic was astounding. I need to quit cooking and blog a bit more.
Thanks, Neil! 🙂