You can’t go WOOF WOOF WOOF again.

DawgustusFor this vacation, the family’s been indulging me in a bunch of nostalgia trips. The other day was The Georgia Aquarium, which is tough to be nostalgic for seeing as how it only opened a few years ago, but it was my first time back in downtown Atlanta in a long time.

For the record: the Aquarium has a big, friendly staff, and you could tell a ton of money had been put into it, but the whole thing struck me as overly Disney. But in a bad way. I didn’t think it would be possible for me to say this about anything, but it was too theme-park-like. Right down to the 3D movie with CG fish and a turtle that sings like Aretha Franklin — it was all slick, but empty. Which I realize are two good qualities for fish in general, but I wanted something meatier. On the plus side, there’s a pretty cool mural by Shag outside the theater. And we skipped the new World of Coke museum entirely.

I’ve eaten at The Varsity twice, Chick-fil-a once (so far), drove by the restaurant we always called the blue hamburger (which used to be the most distinctive building in the Atlanta skyline, but is all but invisible now), and got caught in the traffic that’s now choking my hometown to death. All that’s left is The Big Chicken and Stone Mountain, which I guess I’ll have to re-visit on another trip.

Today we went up to Athens, my home for four years, which I haven’t seen in at least twelve. Like most fits of nostalgia, it was an eerie combination of being surprised at how much has changed, and simultaneously surprised at how much was exactly the same.

There’s now an enormous Starbucks across from the campus, of course, but I can’t claim to be that upset since I can’t remember what used to be there. My favorite concert venue, the Georgia Theatre, is still there; so is my favorite bar, the Globe, across the street; and my favorite record store, Wuxtry. Guthries, which had phenomenally good chicken fingers, has been replaced by some slick new place that we didn’t try. Also gone is Lowry’s, the most irresponsible thing possible for a college town: a bar that had nickel nights every Thursday, with stands giving out free cigarettes at every table. And you could smoke indoors back then! You just had to go outside to vomit. It was just like Pleasure Island without the turning into donkeys.

Today I made the exact same circuit I always made, from the campus to my favorite spots downtown, and it was all just familiar enough to be pleasant, but not enough to make me think I actually missed it. At the time I was there, I didn’t have any great love for the place, so it would be phoney for me to suddenly claim some great attachment to it. Still, it was nice to go back.

One semi-interesting story: back when I was at UGA, I was just getting into the LucasArts SCUMM games, and was a fan of the Sam & Max comics in the back of the Adventurer magazine that came with every game. I hadn’t realized they were a real comic until I started going to Bizarro Wuxtry, a great comic shop in downtown Athens. They had all kinds of Sam & Max stuff that turned out to be pretty rare: one of the first T-shirts, a couple of the comics, the color collection, and Steve Purcell’s Toybox comic.

Right after I moved out to California, I somehow lost that Toybox comic. I’d gotten Steve to sign it, and had safely packed it away in geek storage, but I must’ve loaned it to someone and never gotten it back. It’s one of my favorite comics, and going without it all these years has been like adjusting to a phantom limb. Today I went back to the same store, and right there, probably in the exact same place I’d bought it 14 years ago, was another copy of the comic book.

I snatched it up and was telling that same story to the guy who was working the counter, and he offered to track down some more Sam & Max-related stuff, but it turned out I already had most of it. He was nice enough to warn me not to pay the 300 or so bucks that people are charging for Surfin’ the Highway, because some company is about to reprint it. I was having warm feelings of fond memories and the realization that I’m doing exactly what I’ve wanted to be doing for a long time, and then he told me he hadn’t played the games because they’re Windows only.