Oh Atlanta

As Wikipedia informs us, the city of Atlanta, Georgia is the thirty-third largest city in the United States.  There are approximately fifty-five streets with the name of Peachtree. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coca-Cola were both born here.  It is also home to the world’s largest indoor aquarium where one can see giant whale sharks, aka “tofu sharks”, as the Taiwanese call them (or so Ko informs us). Though I fancy myself an aspiring marine biologist and avid aquarium-ista, the team went to the aquarium after I flew out to Boston. But their pictures and stories  seemed so cool, I am going to post a photo of them anyway. At the aquarium, they spoke Taiwanese to the tofu sharks, and I got many a text message about all that was there. Next time I’m in Atlanta, I am definitely going to this Aquarium.

Inside the Georgia Aquarium, with the Tofu sharks
Inside the Georgia Aquarium, with the Tofu sharks

We drove into Atlanta, Georgia from New Orleans on the 27th. The MacDonald household was our venue, (the parents of Worth MacDonald ’11 our gracious hosts) and our hostess was Jane Kell ’76, the regional president. The Atlanta event was one of the largest events of the trip, topping off with over fifty people. There was much conversation, mingling, and advice-giving to soon-to-be students, like Tarun Narasimhan ’13. Tarun is heading to Williams this year, and Ko and I spoke to him for awhile, giving sage advice that would ease the transition from the real world (high school) into the purple bubble. These were special, life-changing lessons: things about frosh dorms (he’s living in Willy B where Ko was a JA), just when to hit up the vegan line in Whitman’s in Paresky Student Center (5pm- the geriatric special- is always a good decision), which classes to take (my recommendation was the introduction to creative class with Professor Karen Shepard since he had just come back from a creative writing seminar in the midwest), and other priceless gems (enjoy mountain day while you can, take as many liberal arts classes as you can, try not to worry about grades too much, etc.  It makes us feel like we’ve earned our diplomas to impart this info upon 2013-ers as wise and wordly alums.)

I got a chance early on in the party to ask Jane Kell what it was like to be at Williams so soon after the admission of women. She said that women from other colleges were bussed into Williamstown for parties and events as, in her words, you couldn’t throw a good party with only one hundred and fifty women on campus. (I don’t know about that- those odds seem pretty good to me.) I’ve been fascinated by this question, as there are many alums along trip – and I’m guessing across the country (you know who you are) – who have interesting opinions about the decision to include women. These comments usually lead to a talk about the abolition of fraternities  at Williams, and the ramifications of that move. Hearing all the different sides, old alum and young alike, is really enlightening, as it is incredibly hard to imagine a women-less Williams College. Or even single-sex JA’s! (Shout out to Godfrey, Helena, and Mo’ Mideast if you’re reading this!) Fun fact: if you ever happen to find yourself at a loss for a conversation starter with a Williams College alum, the topics of Williams before women, fraternities, and most recently neighborhood cluster housing lead to really wonderful chats.

Charlie Safford ’75 was one of the first guests there, and the last time I saw him (save a parent’s weekend event in the Paresky Student Center) was with the Habitat for Humanity spring break service trip during my junior year, when our group of 15 Williams students and his son, Zach ’09 had to crash at his house due to a snow storm delay and flight complications. Williams connections really do come through in a clutch! Zach left for Vietnam a few weeks ago, where he  studied during his junior abroad. He’s teaching theater and already got hired as a Director of an organization there, which is incredible.

Mingling at the MacDonald's House
Mingling at the MacDonald’s House

Rachel Ko caught up with English Cook ’12, a friend who had just come back from Tanzania and work on her nonprofit: the East African Children’s Education Fund. It gives disadvantaged children with academic gifts educational opportunities in East Africa. Jamie McKay ’01 regaled Jason, Ko and I over dinner with stories from Japan and when he did the Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme, or JET. He’s traveling back there in a few weeks as he works in Japanese tractors at the moment, and it’s cool to hear that there are a ton of alums, both young and old, who get to travel as a part of their job. (For the expedition team, who are currently seeking employment, that is a very attractive feature. ) We missed seeing a fellow Accidental member, Taylor Stevens ’11, who left last week for her study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but we did get to meet her parents. The Stevens graciously housed Ko and Jen, and thanks to our quirky GPS, we all got a scenic view of the midtown area as we attempted to traverse the streets of Atlanta to get there. Our GPS has provided many a bonding moment on the trip, uniting us in our collective animosity towards inanimate objects. Those of you with GPS’s will understand.

There was a tour de force of young alums at the MacDonald’s house, who also happened to close up the party by talking late into the night in the front room before the Expedition team had to concede that we were, actually, exhausted, even though it hadn’t hit midnight yet. We got made fun of a little bit, but these 20 some-odd days on the road have made us all appreciate comfortable beds and the perks of going to bed early. Jen and Jason had a mini ’08 reunion with Denise McCulloch and Tosin Adeyanju, both medical students at Emory and fresh into their second year. Denise was Ko’s WOOLF leader, and also my friend from Habitat Humanity on campus. Tosin and Denise both looked surprisingly happy and collected, which is a good omen for the rest of their second year of med school. (GOOD LUCK!)

Young alums in Atlanta: Tosin Adeyanju '08, Emily Flynn '09 (me), Jason Kohn '08, Kara Brothers '07, Denise McCulloch '08, Jen Bees '08, and Courtney Bartlett '06
A group of young alums in Atlanta: Tosin Adeyanju ’08, Emily Flynn ’09 (me), Jason Kohn ’08, Kara Brothers ’07, Denise McCulloch ’08, Jen Bees ’08, Rachel Ko ’09 and Courtney Bartlett ’06

We were in Atlanta for only twenty hours, but the friendly people we met with and the sites made it feel much, much fuller. A favorite question of the Expeditioners that we pose to our hosts is, “What is one thing you would do in <insert city here> if you only had a few hours?” I like this question because it serves our trip- we really do only have a few hours of free time in each city we’ve seen. But it also allows us to glimpse what makes a city tick, because usually the events or places that people suggest at those things that embody the spirit of the city (if you will). By asking this question, we’ve seen Niagra Falls in upstate New York, the Bean in Chicago, the St. Louis Arch in Missouri, and the Miller Brewing Factory in Milwaukee (you laugh, but this was the most suggested place in Wisconsin), and the French Quarter in New Orleans, among other really amazing, distinctive places. I think we are all in awe of how many places and people we’ve seen.