Four Fiestas in Fulton County

January 5th to 12th

This first week in Atlanta had four parties in it. I will remember these nights for a long time. Each one was bigger, more extravagant, and more fun than the last. Unfortunately for the readers, but I think fortunately for myself when I was in these stories, I didn’t take so many photos, and I didn’t risk bringing my camera out on nights like these. Word pictures will have to do.

* * *

The First Party on the 5th
We started small at the I-House. On my second night in America, I had a beer (or was it Korean vodka) in my hand and was talking happily in the dorm corridor outside Akib’s room to Australians, Italians, Kiwis, Koreans, and many people from all over the world with whom I had the good fortune to be living with for the next four months. Everyone was in a cracking mood Mel, Alec, Ellen, and I were well introduced. Alec left the party early to meet Shauna at the airport.

* * *

The Second Party on the 8th
Hosted by Skylar and Piers and supplied by a trip to Mac’s Liquor Store was the craziest I-house party night. At Mac’s, while I was picking a drink for myself carrying a box of Alec’s craft beer request in my hand, Piers – the honourable and mischievous Kiwi studying engineering design – came up to me and calmly said: “Conall. You are having a Four Loco with me tonight.” I looked down at the multicoloured half-litre can of beer in his outstretched hand. Between the jigs and the reels and his explanation of what Four Loco was, I obliged him. It was the best mistake I’d made on exchange thus far. Four Loco is blue sugar beer with the caffeine of red bull and the alcohol concentration of wine. A downer and an upper in one.

The night proceeded splendidly. Skylar’s room was lit with fairy lights, and the bathroom between the two rooms was a great dark space where the music was loudest. Someone had put the speakers in the shower. Since we were all roaring drunk, a select few of us decided that getting into the shower and pulling the curtain closed for an intimate chat was the perfect thing to do.

Two Four Locos and many normal beers later, we all danced in Piers’ room to Abba and Viggy was giving Orange Justice Lessons in the hall, I was his most enthusiastic student. I even taught Linda how to do the famous dance. After a little while though, Shauna and I became concerned with the whereabouts of Mel. Some more conversationally inclined persons, who I would later come to know very well, had spirited him away to an unknown location in the building and were surely interrogating him. It became our mission to find him. We shamelessly knocked on doors, woke people up to ask them “Have you seen Mel?” (Very sorry about that Katie.)

In the end, we found him. Talking to Akib, Cheryl and some others in Cheryl’s room. I don’t understand to this day why we were so determined to find him, but we had fun along the way.

The night ended with me unable to get my room key in my door and someone laughing hysterically with me at my predicament.

* * *

The Third Party on the 9th was our first foray out into the wider Gatech social scene. Skylar – the well-connected native of excellent character – was our guide on this night. We went to a block of apartments on the west side of campus past the C.R.C. Huge high-rise things more than ten stories tall. On the walk there, he told me that he was from California.

Inside, the party was on a floor halfway up the building in a plush apartment with a balcony and a view of the massive Mercedes stadium. There were drinks and snacks for all the guests and the thirty or so I-House residents who Skylar brought with him to this party. I couldn’t believe the amount of people who were crammed into that place. We circulated around the kitchen to the balcony and back into the kitchen again. talking at length with Julien, Juan, Javier, Alec, Shauna, Mel, Ellen, Piers and Skylar.

After a few hours there, we ubered to the Spanish club. It was not nearby. 20 minutes later, we got there in several taxis. It was like a nightclub in the middle of nowhere. Inside, the music was sometimes Hispanic I suppose. Drinks were extraordinarily expensive but the fun on the dancefloor was outrageous. I’m not a dancer at clubs but on that night, I danced with enthusiasm until I was so thirsty that I paid the five dollars for a bottle of water at the bar.

I got tired then and looked for some fellow tired souls to go home with. Mel was the only one. We got garlic fries and bacon from the food truck outside at 2am where we met Linda and Maggie who were also quite tired and we shared food while sitting on the asphalt outside the club waited for an uber in the cold early January morning.

* * *

The Fourth Party on the 11th was the one that took the biscuit. The tour de force of Atlantan undergrad life. The casus belli was Hannah The Dane’s and Yeseo’s 21st birthdays. I have never been to a party with a pool before. Nor have I ever heard of student accommodation having a huge lounge and pool halfway up the city skyline. But on this night, Skylar with his excellent connections once again had some friends in ‘The Standard’ apartment block. And boy did this party set the bar high for all parties that came after.

First, the size of the communal lounge was immense. There was a huge high ceiling with a mezzanine area half the size of the main floor again. There were pool tables, sofas, and even a bar (with no alcohol but we brought plenty of our own.)

Then the pool. I have never wanted to jump into a pool as much as I did on that night. Partly it was because of the stories that the Spanish, and especially Javier, had told me about the last semester when impromptu pool parties were a whale of time, and because I had never seen a pool like it before.

There must have been over a hundred people in attendance. I played stack cups or whatever the game is called with over a dozen people. It involved bouncing a ping pong ball into cups of beer. If you miss – You drink. You had to drink for many other reasons too which I didn’t understand and perhaps for that very reason it was tremendous fun. Later, I remember the Irish gang had run out of beer and Shauna and I, the only 21-year olds of the group were commissioned to carry out a resupply mission. I remember simply searching ‘alcohol’ in google maps to figure out where the nearest source was. A service station, half a mile away. Someone else came with me and Shauna but I’m afraid I don’t remember who it was. It was raining and we were in awe of the city lights and that we were drunk and at huge party three thousand miles and a week removed from home.

We returned with beer. There were more people than when we left. Mel was down dancing outside in the cold and rain by the pool. Some fellows had gotten into the small hot tub closest to the door. I needed a leader to jump into that pool. Someone to do it with. I was scared of getting thrown out. The volunteer was Beaux. A fellow with a history of getting thrown out of parties (he told us himself) and so he had no qualms about it. He told Mel. “Ok we’re jumping in the pool now.” Mel said ‘OK.’ But he didn’t want to take his bracelet in with him, so he came and gave it to me for safe keeping. I held it in my hand, hesitating, this was the moment.

 I ran down to the pool bank after him, but Beaux and Mel were in their boxers and already airborne. Into the pool they jumped, and straight out they came. It didn’t look it. But the pool was freezing cold. I had to do it then. I stripped down to my boxers, and left Mel’s bracelet in my pile of clothes and ran to the pool. I tried to do a backflip and I landed gloriously and ungracefully on my back.

I think when I was in the air, falling towards the water and looking up into the rainclouds illuminated by the orange city lights, was the peak moment of that party for me. I hit the water. It was very cold. I got straight out like my predecessors. I got dressed quick, but I couldn’t find Mel’s bracelet. This scared me because it was of extreme sentimental value to him and he had given it to me for safe keeping. Thankfully, I found it and we returned to the party a little chilly but satisfied with our swim.

On the way home at two in the morning, we all went to Waffle House. A 24-hour…waffle house. It was exactly what it said on the tin. We ate like kings in that place. Pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. Waffles with chocolate honey and cream. Onion hash browns all washed down with sprite and coca cola.

And that was the first week. I’ve never partied like that before, but I’m delighted that I did. Putting in the hard miles at the start with people who you know you will spend a lot of time with during the semester was well worth it. It really set a great tone for the rest of the term.

20,000 Leagues Over the Sea.

The most wonderful time that I ever had in my life, was when I went on a university exchange to America. I have never known such a deep and rich experience as that, and I hope that I will someday feel that way again. To understand what made me feel this way, it’s not necessary to know the minute details of the day to day happenings of my life there. I believe that the essence of the time can be conveyed in handful of stories which exemplify all that was great and good about that time and place. I have some 35mm film photographs to show here as well which will help show you what it was like.

This account is retrospective. I am writing now in May, 6 weeks after I left. What happened at the end of the trip and since, will colour my view of what came before it. Instead of trying to write an accurate objective account, using my journal as a reference, I think it will be better to recognise the perspective from which I am writing and let it into the story.

This account is personal. I will be writing from my point of view in the past. It would be wrong of me to publish an account in which I try to write like a fly on the wall, when I was not. I was there, participating in the stories you will read here.

I’d like to say too that none of the fun that I had would have been possible without the friends I went with and the friends I made there. It was the people that made the place what it was.

20,000 Leagues Over the Sea.
3rd and 4th of January

It had only been 13 days since I was drinking beer in the Neiderdorf and saying goodbye in Zurich, but today I was going again, further away, and for longer this time.

On the morning of the 3rd, I awoke from my bed and went downstairs to have breakfast. The sun had not risen yet but my father had. My mother came down soon after and was eager to be off. We couldn’t be late. She was followed by my two sisters who were sleepy eyed and reluctant to be going to Dublin so early in the morning.

The drive felt short because I slept most of the way up. At the airport, we parked the car and all went inside. I checked in my huge heavy bags with a nice lady in at business check-in, while my family got themselves breakfast. On my way up to the cafe I met Mel with his whole family and then some, coming down the elevator to do the same as me. A happy reunion. I said I’d meet him at security after breakfast.
                They had finished eating when I came up and I had only a croissant and a damp cup of coffee. My mother kept asking for the time. I don’t remember what we talked about. They were eager to send me on my way. My mother was anxious, my sisters were tired and apathetic, but I could tell that my father was happy that I was going. Even a little proud. We hugged and said goodbye at the start of security where they could follow me no further. They were all smiling at me when I looked back to give one last wave.
                Inside, at the start of the duty-free, I met Mel and Alec. Looking back, I consider this as the start of the trip. It was then that I joined with the two friends who I would rarely be without in Atlanta. We went straight to the US pre-clearance centre, got through (with some difficulty) and headed for the business class lounge. We flashed our tickets to the ladies at the front desk and we were in. A set of huge floor to ceiling windows gave us a panoramic view of the taxing planes. The rising sun was bright and was beaming down through the east window onto the food. We set down our bags and scooped ourselves a huge fry with coffee and ate it watching the airplanes go by. I took this first picture on my camera then.

The Frenchman’s idea of an Irish breakfast. Look at all that cheese.

We didn’t talk about what was to come. Only how delicious the food was and about the planes outside. It was an ideal breakfast to start the long journey.

                On the plane, an Aerlingus A330, we were shown to our business class seats. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times. But only because it’s special. We left the booking of our tickets quite late. The fares were volatile and it just so happened that the business class fare was cheaper than economy on the day that we booked it. We simply had to. I still cant believe we could have paid more for a seat in economy than what we got.
                The seats were huge, and they lay down totally flat for for sleeping. I took my second good picture of the day then. A little dark, but you can see them smiling,

All comfortable on board. You can see Alec’s first glass of white on his table.

The first glass of wine was offered before they even finished boarding. Alec accepted. Mel and I remained temperant until after take off.
                The whole flight was an experience. The food, the wine, – Alec had five glasses by the time we landed in Boston – The conversation with some rich Americans sitting nearby, the comfort. Being able to lie flat and sleep after my roast beef and two glasses of red was simply marvelous.

The food on this flight was better than many meals I’ve had on the ground.

I had the pleasure of a window seat too. I saw Ireland pass under me from Dublin to Galway, then over Inis Mór and Inis Méan. the last piece of western Galway receded to the right and we were over the great blue expanse of the Atlantic. After some hours of food drink and relaxation, Newfoundland started appearing through gaps in the clouds.
                We arrived in Boston after 8 hours over hurtling through the air. I was a little sad that the flight was over. It was a gray day, around 1 pm local time when we touched down. Mel and Alec were good friends in UL with a girl in Electrical Engineering called Theresa who happens to live in Boston. She came over to UL for the cheaper price of college. She was our cicerone for the day. And what a wonderful 5 hours of walking around Boston we had. She took us to Fanueil Hall, Boston Common, the freedom trail, the grave of Benjamin Franklin. Boston is a city which wears its history on its sleeve. A history which is longer and grander than that of any other American city. And Theresa knew the place well. I took a good few nice photographs then.

Mel and Alec acting the fool on the Greenway
Boston reflects.
History and modernity both well behaved on the same street
One from my phone. (Pixel 3a). Late evening in central Boston.

Because of its density, and older age, Boston feels like a European city. Although the buildings are tall, I felt like its scale was still human. It reminds me a little of London.

                Theresa was a fantastic guide and lovely to talk to. I don’t know why I had never really spoken to her before then. My favourite part of the tour was Boston Common. A huge public park, one of the oldest in the world. It had fountains, statues, well kept grass, big old trees, many grey squirrels, and an ice rink. We considered getting on for a skate, but the evening was getting on and we were getting hungry.

We had dinner in a Thai restaurant. I don’t remember much about it, except that the food was OK and filled me quite well and when I we emerged from the place, the streetlights were on, and two boys were playing with a baseball on the steps. I wanted to keep walking around. The city was beautiful at night, and I savoured the sights as they came to me on our walk back to the bus station. A man playing jazz on a street corner, a woman feeding the pigeons from a bench. Crowded intersections of people crossing the street under the lights of the city. At the airport we all hugged and said goodbye to the Theresa. She had been great company on our flying visit. We made our way to the gate for the flight to Atlanta. Tiredness was beginning to set in. I don’t remember what time it was, but I know that I must have been awake for at least 20 hours by the time they called our boarding group.

A person sitting in a chair

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“Delirium. The new fragrance for jet-lagged fuckers.”- Alec

The flight to Atlanta was three hours. Pittance compared to the eight hours we had spent crossing an ocean. But that was in business class. And oh! How I missed those comforts on this second flight. I couldn’t sleep a wink, the lights were kept on the whole time, and no free food. We landed in Atlanta at one in the morning. It was pouring rain outside.

                Finding bags and making our way through the rain to the uber pickup was a challenge after having gone so long without sleep. We found the uber and drove to the I-house on Techwood drive. Driving through Atlanta late at night in the rain while sleep deprived gave me a certain type of first impression of the place. More big lights, a six lane highway through the city center, People sleeping rough in the underpass tunnels. As a city, not as impressive as the London of the west we had come through. We reached the I house and noted how the bank of America building whose orange-lit spire was half obscured by the rain clouds, looked a bit like Sauron’s Tower.

A city street at night

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Is the what Mordor looks like? We would soon find out.

We called a resident’s assistant number and waited outside in the rain for someone to let us in. We were shown our rooms and we collapsed into bed. Mel had to walk a half mile to his accommodation at North-Ave in the rain. I did not envy him. We had been travelling for twenty-five hours and thousands of miles to get to our beds in this place. They had no sheets, so we slept in our clothes. The long journey was at an end, a new age would begin the very next day.