Atlanta, GA // Chattanooga, TN // Nashville and Franklin, TN //
Asheville, NC // Savannah, GA // Tybee Island, GA // Williamsburg, VA
In June, Will and I took advantage of a chance we may not see again in a decade or more — we rented a car and spent a month in the South. Though we were lucky to experience a world without traffic and crowds, we understood and respected that what we could see would be limited if we ensured we stayed safe, and kept everyone we interacted with safe as well.
Here are the memories we made…
Our base was a cozy one-bedroom in Vinings, Atlanta. In the afternoons, sunlight filtered in through the grand oak just outside the screened juliet doors. We were right above the entrance to the building’s garage; I fell asleep with headlights dancing across the ceiling as people turned in for the night. We sampled bruléed donuts filled with sweet cream in Marietta and the raspberry chocolate truffle ice cream on Cobb Parkway. I worked every day, sometimes late into the night, at my dad’s desk in the living room. Will made salmon picatta one night and harvested his cold brew every morning. We baked brownies together and made an absolutely legendary pasta salad based on my best friend Emily’s family recipe. We got pedicures together in a stuffy salon behind a plexiglass screen. We walked in the woods by the roaring Chattahoochee, under an overpass, as families along the river filled the thick brush with smoke from their barbecues.
We went hiking in Chattanooga. It was a trail that took us almost vertically up Lookout Mountain — we were out of breath within 15 minutes in the humid heat. It was lush and there was no one else on the trail. Small lizards darted between our feet and I looked for the creek we were supposed to find… with no success. Will tried his best to hold in everything he knew about the Civil War battle fought along the slope. We had ice cream at my friend and mentor Lauren’s recommendation, Clumpie’s — so rich. A well-earned shower and our first meal out. I honestly don’t even remember what we ate — only the red wine, which was juicy and bright.
Nashville was a ghost town compared to its reputation. We caught one live performance accompanied by a whisky cocktail and hot chicken. We drove through Belle Meade and it reminded me of my hometown in its beauty and arrogance. Magnolia trees perfumed every road, lined with grand stone homes that had gas lamps flickering out front. We sat in the grass with Will’s aunt and uncle. We walked through the Cheekwood gardens with his cousin and her family. We had pizza and I browsed the boutiques in the old buildings in historic Franklin, Tennessee.
The Biltmore was so much smaller than I remembered — the gilded-age estate was the number one stop on a trip of the South I’d hoped for for years now. It was all for a high-ceilinged greenhouse room at the entrance — there’s a fountain there, in the center, with broad leafed plants and wicker furniture surrounding it. I dreamed about napping there. The graveled manicured gardens were nice but I loved the cool forest and ponds stretching for acres in the back of the house. We had Indian food at our hotel and then had a vegan breakfast and tumeric latte. We saw the North Carolina Arboretum (which was full of bees) and grabbed a beer in front of a mural of the guy from “Goonies” and Burt Reynolds. In downtown Asheville, shops were boarded up and the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Michael Garner… covered every surface.
“Savannah” was a tuxedo cat who claimed the wrought iron chair in the garden where we ate our grits and bacon in the morning. We found the most incredible BNB in the heart of the historic district. We slept in a four-poster bed. We got caught in the rain while walking down the cobblestone streets, spanish moss reaching down from the noble oaks that created the backbone of a city of brick and moss. Nothing could beat this city. Not from the moment we pulled in at 11:30 p.m. that Friday and the thick heat embraced us — it was the feeling of a city with ghosts and a soul, it was electric and alive. The food was so good. I couldn’t stop eating grits. We watched the sun set on the river while I sipped a rum drink in a bright blue souvenir cup.
It was unlike anything else to be in the South while our country was rocked by a reckoning on racial inequality. Seeing Williamsburg again after almost 20 years was difficult – I wasn’t the same girl in the pilgrim’s bonnet, envisioning myself as one that could’ve walked off the Mayflower back then. The world isn’t the same either – and it made me wonder if a place like Williamsburg can exist in a truly equal America. Churning butter and pounding hot iron was an interesting aspect of the time it sought to emulate, but I thought about the Black stories that weren’t told — and still aren’t being highlighted as they should. The impact that void left on our generation and every generation before us. Williamsburg was a white fortress. I felt like an outsider there, not only in race but in ideals for the world. It rained the whole time and we got soaked three times. I don’t think either of us minded much that we were stuck inside.