Hey, Bonita!

A Deeper Athens Experience

I’m not deluded about the reasons why young people flock to UGA for their university experience. My day job finds me walking past campus tours occasionally, and some of the things they say are sweetly naive—no one is going to choose UGA because of group study spaces or a supportive academic advisor. Most kids choose UGA because of the intense party culture on campus that has only been amplified by two big football wins in a row. College-wise, this is a party town and a drinking town—townie-wise, too, at times—but we can’t hold a candle to a Saturday night after a Dawgs win. 

I would like to take this week to tell you all about my favorite non-alcoholic activities, venues and events in Athens, in case you ever feel the need to put down the pint and experience your home for the next four years. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a tipple, but I think I love having my faculties intact even more.  Maybe I’m just old. Or maybe my definition of fun has evolved. Either way, let’s get into it.

Athens is a town bursting with artistic expression, and if you’re curious about local music and illustrators, then you must stop into Wuxtry Records and let the amazing staff talk your ear off about their favorite local acts. It’s OK if you don’t have a record player—they have music in all formats available, plus posters and other cool memorabilia. Then swing around the corner and head up the stairs to Bizarro Wuxtry, our local comic shop that has way more than just comics.  Toys and collectibles aside, you’ll find books and zines created by some amazing local artists, and you might even run into one of them while you’re there.

In Athens it’s easy to eat local. I’d like to give a shout out to the Athens Land Trust and its Young Urban Farmers program, which teaches high school students technical gardening and farming skills, including job training at the West Broad Farmers Market. You can buy produce farmed by these absolute winners at WBFM during its two market days each week, and if you miss the market, don’t fret! Daily Groceries Co-op has got you covered by providing local products and vegetables all week long from some of the very same vendors. They’re in a new building in Normaltown after years on the corner of Prince Avenue and Pope Street. It looks like a spaceship, and I kind of love it.

It used to be easy to be a broke person in Athens, but that’s changing with every football win. (No, of course I’m not bitter.) During leaner times I always avail myself of the tons of trails and green spaces that our city has to offer, and they’re dotted around town in enough places that anyone should be able to hoof it to a park to watch the sunset. The botanical garden is a favorite, but it’s hard to get to—you basically need a car—and they shut down every fall/winter now for some ridiculous light show that costs money and severely impacts access to the trails. There’s still the Oconee River Greenway, Trail Creek and Dudley Park, the Firefly Trail, Bishop Park, Lay Park and other public spaces that are free to use. Some of these trails are paved, which is a godsend, I’m sure, for people who use mobility aids. 

Another amazing free event is the Wild Rumpus Parade and Spectacle, our annual Halloween parade that anyone can join if they want. See you there!

And look, I’m definitely going to be shaking a tailfeather and bending my elbow this fall, but I know now that it’s not the only way you can have fun in a town like this one. When I think of my fondest memories after 12 years in Athens, very few of them include me shouldering my way through a crowded dance floor while trying not to spill a $10 gin and tonic in the flimsiest plastic cup imaginable. Some do, but most don’t. I mostly think about stopping by the Jittery Joe’s roaster back when it was on Barber Street after my morning run. I’d tuck two dollars into my running belt and apologize as I dripped sweat and handed them off to Charlie or Vernon, who never once shamed me for being gross in public. I’d drink my coffee and walk back home while the sun continued to rise, and then I’d take a nap because what kind of idiot goes running at sunrise on a Saturday? Me, I’m the idiot who loves walking our streets so much that I would drink a hot coffee after a summer run. Expand your view beyond downtown and take a bite at the true essence of this place.

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