College Tour a Cultural Treat

HER COMPLEXION was as fresh as a Georgia peach. In fact, every girl seemed to have a pinkish hue in this college town of Athens, Ga. Maybe it was the weather — hot and humid and not unlike a steam bath at the local gym. But it didn’t deter my daughter, as this week we followed her dream to tour several Southern schools.

The University of Georgia was high on the list since she wanted a big Southern football school. My teen apparently had no problem with the image of 30,000 rabid fans barking for hours during a Georgia Bulldogs game.

Athens is a young, hip, college town built snugly around the UGA campus. It’s like Berkeley without hippies, but with the funky stores and tiny sandwich shops and countless venues for live music. In fact, Athens is known for its music scene, with bands such as REM and the B 52s calling it home.

The architecture in Athens is stately Southern, with old, ivy-covered brick buildings and proud colonial mansions. Even our hotel, the Foundry Park Inn, was reminiscent of a Southern plantation with its own renowned music venue, the Melting Point, in an old foundry on its lush grounds.

I was impressed with Athens and could see my teen fitting right in, despite growing up in a culture of California smugness. But I encouraged her to keep looking, incorporating some of my own favorite towns in the mix.

Chattanooga, Tennessee has a branch of the University of Tennessee that is well regarded.

“I know it doesn’t sound cool to say

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Chattanooga,” I told my daughter, “but this town has lots to offer.”

I proceeded to take her on a tour that would impress even the most skeptical teenager.

“It’s kitschy,” I said as we drove up the side of Lookout Mountain to Rock City. A slice of Americana, the Rock City gardens were advertised on barns across several states in the years leading to and following World War II. Rock City is 75 this year and one of those comforting attractions that reminds us we can still go back in time.

Lookout Mountain has another natural wonder — Ruby Falls. We switched on lanterns for a nighttime tour of the half-mile cave that led to a glorious underground waterfall. I shuddered when I thought of the man who discovered it — crawling on his belly through a narrow crack in the earth — following the sound of water to this impossibly beautiful place. There was no belly crawling on our tour, but it was just as exciting to take the elevator shaft down to the dark, dank tunnel with its ancient rock formations.

From the World War II duck boats, we took on the Tennessee River to the riverfront aquarium and the Wilderness Drive-in Theatre in a farmer’s field (a drive-in so popular it has the world’s largest outdoor screens), Chattanooga had it all, as far as I was concerned.

But was it all about me, and my college-town expectations? Or was I supposed to let go and let her decide? I felt a twinge of guilt every time I brought it up.

As we toured our last Southern campus, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, my daughter said candidly: “Maybe I’ll just stay in California.”

Not wanting to put pressure on her, I said, “You have plenty of time to decide.”

Regardless of her decision, I feel good that I took time to show her schools in other parts of the country — places like Minnesota, the Dakotas, and the Bible Belt.

They are regions with cultures so different from that of the Bay Area.

Will she end up choosing a school so far away? Only time will tell.

But thinking back to that night at the country drive-in, when whole families got out of their cars to throw Frisbees under the Georgia moon, I know the trip was worth it.


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