Riding the Rails

Today is a funny day, a single work day sandwiched between Christmas week and New Year’s Day. I was planning to send Claire off to Grace for the day, who had last week off, but it turns out Grace is still in Florida visiting her family, and does not plan to be back in Atlanta until Tuesday. So I unexpectedly have Claire for the day. After all the recent hustle and bustle of the holidays, and all the recent travel, and working on the house, I am going back to an old routine — just me and Claire, taking an unplanned day off. Losing the day to unexpected circumstances is tough, with so many things to do and so little time. But that is to worry about later; today Claire and I are going to have some fun with our day off!

I was initially thinking of going to the zoo, but it was foggy and cold and wet, so spending a lot of time outdoors did not seem ideal. But I felt sort of couped up and wanted to get out on some sort of adventure, preferably something new. With Claire’s continuing fascination with trains, I thought it would be fun to take the MARTA train somewhere. Something about zipping around the city on the train in the fog on New Year’s Eve sounded fun and adventurous. It seemed like a very Curious George type of thing to do.

But where would we go? We finally decided on Underground Atlanta because it was right by the main downtown MARTA station, and it had plenty of fun stuff for Claire to see, including, according to the web site, “caricature drawings and fortune telling, homemade candy, delicious dining and souvenir shopping.”

So I packed up a small survival and dining kit (diapers, wipes, a drink cup, a bib, a fork, and some snacks), and we headed out to Lindberg Station. As we hopped on the train, Claire gleefully yelled, “All aboard!” We grabbed the only free seat, with Claire sitting on my lap, next to a sort of rough looking guy with greasy hair, hunched over sleeping (or pretending to sleep). The train car was largely full of middle aged women all dressed in the same goofy black and yellow outfits, as if for some sort of Georgia Tech pep rally. As we headed into town, the train filled up with more and more Clemson fans. I guess there was a football game today, but fortunately things did not get too tense between the GT and Clemson fans. One of the GT ladies said something about a parade and pointed at the rough guy next to me, jokingly saying, “We should put him on charge.” She looked at me and said, “I hope he doesn’t wake up mad.” This was just funny, not scary; that guy looked harmless enough, and besides, he was way smaller than me. Once the train cleared up a bit, though, we did move to a more “comfortable” seat. During the ride downtown came the requisite Claire comments and compliments from all the GT ladies, with Claire introducing herself to our neighbors and saying, “MARTA train” over and over with a big smile.

We got off at Five Points across the street from Underground Atlanta. and didn’t get 10 steps onto the sidewalk before Claire saw something she liked. There were about 10 pigeons cruising the sidewalk among all the pedestrians, hunting and pecking for food. Claire liked to see real birds up so close, and she insisted that we stay for a good 15 minutes just watching them, laughing whenever they flew around a little bit.

I finally dragged her across the street, and there was more great stuff to look at. They were setting up for the big peach drop, which is Atlanta’s version of New York’s big apple drop in Times Square. There were food stands and lights and generators everywhere. Claire was almost constantly saying, “What’s that?” as we walked along. The camen the big wide stairs into the Underground, which was another prime attraction. We walked down each step, probably 100 of them in all, Claire enjoying every step. Awaiting us at the bottom of the stairs was a big bouncy moonwalk, like the one Claire had loved at the Kit’s pathology picnic a few months ago. I steered us clear of the moonwalk, as I knew we would not get a step further if Claire discovered it.

Inside the Underground were more wonders. We saw big colorful balloons, lots of CHristmas lights, life-sized paintings of Dora the Explorer and Mickey Mouse, a big wooden train, and lots of little kid-sized rides, including a school bus, a fire engine, and a tug boat. I wasn’t sure if Claire would be hungry yet, at it was only 11:30 or so, but when we checked out the food court, Claire said, “Daddy, let’s have some dinner.” So we split some lasagna and pizza, which Claire ate very, very slowly as we watched all the people around us.

It was getting late (in Claire terms), so we gradually worked our way back to the MARTA station, dodging pony rides and mini-carousels along the way, stopping for one last look at the street pigeons on the way back. The train was delayed, so I had to hold an increasingly tired and grumpy Claire at the platform for 15 minutes. We looked at the MARTA system map for entertainment, and Claire pointed out where she thought Mommy was.

The train ride back was different than the one down. Instead of colorfully dressed football fans, almost everyone on the train this time was dressed in dark winter coats, with dark hoods and hats, looking sort of glum and serious, or just tough. And then there was Claire, in her little pink pants and yellow jacket, happily taking her own seat on the aisle next to me. The train was pretty quiet. As the train took off, Claire said — no, yelled — “Here we gooooooo!” with pure glee. I could see some of the stone-faced passengers crack a bit of a smile. Then Claire started talking to the guy in the seat across from her, who looked like a tough hip hop artist along the lines of Dr. Dre or Big Boi. She said, “He’s happy!” The guy smiled and said hi. Claire sort of made friends with him, and he was very nice about it and said, “Is she always this happy? She is one happy kid.” Eventually Claire turned her attention back to me and said, “You’re pooping” over and over. I saw some of the people around us cracking smiles again. We finally got off the train, saying goodbye to all of our unlikely friends, waving as we walked away, fetching a couple more smiles for good measure.

We had a good adventure today, worthy of Curious George, but fortunately lacking the disasters that normally accompany George. Yes, another forced day off, and another good one at that.

You wanna cumbo?

We have not really even acknowledged Christmas 2007 so far at home. We have no Christmas tree set up yet, no presents piled up on display in the living room, or even wrapped, or even purchased yet. We have not even been playing Christmas music. This lack of Christmas spirit is not intentional; Christmas has just sneaked up on us this year. So today, to get our Christmas spirit kicked off, Kit had the idea to go see the Festival of Trees at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.

We were hoping the Festival of Trees would be sort of like the Christmas Tree Forest that Kit used to go to in Corpus Christi. It turned out to be classier, smaller, and more subdued than the Corpus Christi version. It featured trees decorated up in the traditional style from several different countries, accompanied by a written explanation of Christmas traditions in that country. But it felt more like a display than a forest, and it did not exactly jump start our Christmas spirits.

So we moved on to explore the rest of the museum. Claire was especially excited to see the big, working toy train track. Along the track were little displays of things like ice skaters on a frozen pond, elves working at Santa’s toy factory, construction crews at work on the road beside the track, and countless other things to look at, each with a button to push to make them go. And best of all was the fact that Thomas the Train was running around and around the track. Things were definitely looking up.

After we saw every little thing on the train display, we went outside and came across an old kid-sized playhouse in the garden. Claire knew it was made just for her, and she went right in to explore. She explored each of the three rooms and then made herself comfortable on the little kid-sized wicker sofa. Kit and I mostly stayed outside, letting Claire explore as we chatted about little things like where the heck we will be living in two years, what jobs will we both have, who is going to be president, and other basic unknowns of the relatively near future.

Over our chatter, Claire was sticking her head out of the playhouse’s front window, looking especially cute in her little green Christmas dress, saying what we could best make out as, “You wanna cumbo?” or just “Cumbo!” We replied, “What’s a cumbo?”, but Claire just smiled and kept saying it.

Finally, when Claire said, “You want cheese?” Kit put it together. Claire was asking if we wanted a “combo”, and she was acting like she was a lady at the drive-through window at Wendy’s or McDonald’s, where they always say, “You want to make that a combo?” or “You want cheese with that?” when you place an order. Kit and I were cracking up, because Claire did this with such as big smile on her face but was also trying to act serious, like she really did want to know if we wanted the combo. At least she did not ask us to “biggie size” it for only 39 cents more.