For those who don’t know, I’ve been MIA for about 10 days because I’ve been doing some traveling. While the original plan was to head up to the Northeast this fall, because I’m not yet well enough or strong enough to handle a holiday visit (and honestly, don’t mind celebrating the holidays with my “adopted” family of friends here in Atlanta, and The Guy I Am Currently Dating, rather than the blood relatives that like to chain smoke and show endearment via verbally abusive commentary.). However, the plan didn’t work out due to timing reasons, and financial reasons, the two being extraordinarily related.

It can safely be said that October has not been a stellar month for me. When I began planning my travels, I was still working full-time for a company in New Orleans I’d been with for over two years. By the end of September, I’d lost my job, but had non-refundable tickets and hotel bookings. I’d been working doing freelance work when available, but I really felt my heart wasn’t here. Friends suggested working on putting the finishing touches on my upcoming book of poetry (still set for publication in December, 2012) or taking the time to work on creative projects. Yet, I mostly felt uninspired, lost, heartbroken, and as if I were that person for whom nothing is ever destined to work out. I felt amazingly stuck, unloved, under-appreciated, and uninspired. I started to feel neglected by the people in my normal sphere of life, and as if those who truly care about me are all scattered across the globe. I started to feel like nothing I was working on was worthy of finishing. In short, I had this revelation: I’m not a particularly good writer, I’m not a particularly fascinating person, the days of relying on a certain type of charm and irresistible spirit to make things work out have long since passed me, and I have no particular talents and prospects for the future. Even those who genuinely love me don’t always believe in me or take me as seriously as I should. People in my life seem to be moving forward with their own lives, as planned or otherwise, leaving me behind.

Some things never change, so I did what I always do when I feel as if the world is against me and I am lost and alone. I packed a suitcase and headed for somewhere that wasn’t here.

In this case, it took a lot to even get me to that point. In addition to getting fired, my dog had been sick for a number of months with a skin condition that was continually worsening. It took a vet bill of over $300 to cure her, and since no friends were available to watch her, I had to hire a friend who is a pet-sitter (who luckily agreed to charge half her normal fee for taking care of Trixie.). Travel is expensive, and while I used to manage to travel with $20 in my pocket at the age of 23, it turns out I’m no longer quite so low-maintenance, nor am I that energetic. So, money was an issue even before I left. Yet, I still felt I needed to go. With a Northeast visit out of the question, I decided I’d visit a place I’d always wanted to visit but have never gotten around to seeing: Savannah. I’d heard it was beautiful, but never made it there, mostly because all my attempts to get someone to go with me have failed. Friends are always busy, and one of the major incompatibilities between me and The Guy I Am Currently Dating is that he doesn’t like to spontaneously travel, whereas I find it one of the most romantic activities on Earth.

Since I can only handle bus travel for a few hours at a time (although it seems to be growing with the passage of time, I suspect it will be awhile before I can do the straight-through 18-hour trip to NYC again.), my first stop was Charlotte. As I mentioned last time, it’s not my favourite city in the world—I find it a bit corporate and straight-laced, and tends to take itself too seriously. In fact, I call it “Atlanta Lite”. However, it has a number of charming spots, good restaurants, and bits of local flair here and there that seriously make the city. This time, I stayed with a friend who lived in a more colourful, off-the-beaten path kind of place. While on my last visit, I stayed with someone who had a gorgeous, theatrical house with a private lake, but was located in the suburbs of the city. This time, I stayed with someone who had a one-bedroom apartment in an area that looked lovely and residential, but she honestly described as a recently gentrified area.

Not one to be deterred from walking around the city by myself at night, unless it’s where I live, I was pleased to note that it was only about half a mile to some bars and pubs. After pizza at a well-known Charlotte eatery called Fuel, I made my way to an art gallery that was doing loud music, hors d’oeuvres, and drinks. The girl with whom I was staying, Kaitlyn, happens to be more of the tattooed, punk-rock kind of girl, and she suggested I go see a few bands playing at that location, one of which happened to consist of friends of hers. Me being me, I happily stumbled upon the rather pretentious art gallery/lounge space next to a vintage store. As it turns out, the place I was looking for was *behind* the art gallery.

After getting past the door guy, I started laughing. The place she sent me to (she didn’t accompany me because she was having zombie movie night at her house, an invite I politely declined) was not just a dive bar with loud bands, which I might have rather expected. It was a PIRATE bar. Seriously. Everything was pirate themed, including some of the patrons, and it cracked me up.

The bartender had no idea what was in a sour apple martini (I’d probably have had success if I asked for vodka and apple pucker in a glass.), and served me some weird green concoction in which I clearly identified Midori and watermelon. (when asked what else he put in there, I was told “apple vodka and Sprite”.). However, people were friendly in that emo sort of way, and drinks were $4. (I learned to stick to vodka tonic). One of the most interesting things was the band that Kaitlyn’s friends played in, called something along the lines of “Lucyfer’s Angels”. They were clearly goth/industrial, but played guitars and bongos, and only did covers of 1950′s and 1960′s doo-wop songs. I definitely felt like it was one of the more surreal experiences I’d had at a bar. Expect the unexpected.

As much as I know enough about Charlotte to identify my clear lack of interest in living there, and that cab fare will kill you if you’re anywhere but downtown (just like Atlanta), I will likely continue to make stops for a day or two during my travels. I always stay just long enough to have an adventure or two, and head out. It’s four hours from ATL, and conveniently, has a MegaBus that will get you to Durham in closer to 3 hours than 4. From Durham, you can MegaBus to DC, and if so inclined, Philly and NYC. I have to say, I’m pretty fond of MegaBus. It has twice the room of the Greyhound, although you’re taking chances if the bus is full, and you don’t wish to ride on the top of the bus. (someone suffering from vertigo does not.) I hesitate to recommend and sing the praises of MegaBus, because I don’t really want too many other people taking it. Suffice it to say, however, I was pleased.

After Charlotte, I took a few days to stop in the Durham area to visit with a good friend of mine who is finishing up his degrees in that area. Surprisingly, I won’t share much in terms of gossip or personal details regarding visiting with said friend, as he’s a very private individual who has asked me more than once not to turn him into a character on my blog, or to use the blog as a space for venting about our friendship (which does have a history of being rather complex and occasionally blog-worthy). While I could probably get away with it, since said friend does not read my blog, I’m one of those types that respects and honours promises. So, you don’t get to hear about all the drama that did or did not ensue. :P (There was actually no drama at all, which is not to be confused with a lack of interesting experiences.)

In all seriousness, I will say I did in fact have a lovely visit with my friend. He’s one of those types of people I always, always delight in seeing, perhaps because we don’t get to see one another that often—or perhaps because it’s just an unfortunate example of how many of my favourite people in life are not geographically well-placed in my world. I am blessed to have a lot of special people in my life, but the flip side of the coin is that so many of them do not live anywhere close to me. It’s a testament to my ability to listen to my intuition when it comes to other people that these friendships are typically amazingly strong, despite the distance, and have gone on for between a quarter and a third of my life. They are often the type of friendships that leave me wondering what kind of different path life might have taken, had we ended up living in the same city. Would we end up being closer friends, or just casual social friends? Would we have inevitably become enemies, lovers, changed the other person’s life path simply by being in every day proximity? Do people simply like me better at a distance, because I am perhaps easier to enjoy or to idealise or to tolerate in short-but-intense bursts of AlaynaTime? *laughs*

As for my friend in Durham, it occurs to me that every time we’ve spent time together in person, our interpersonal dynamic has always been slightly different, as have the circumstances and level of trust and communication. It is a friendship that constantly keeps me on my toes, whereas with a different sort of person, it would likely keep me on guard in a way that would prevent a friendship from actually developing. I’ve noted to him that some people seem to have a rather indefinable chemistry and connection, and regardless of how convenient or sought-after or well-understood that happens to be, or how or if it is addressed, it exists nonetheless. There have only been a few people who have passed through my life with whom there’s actually a tangible feeling of connection that isn’t based in something simple that I can make sense of and consequently dismiss as easy to “get”—like physical chemistry or having everything in common—and those people have turned out to be the ones that have affected my life deeply in some way. It is most unlikely that I share this rather persistent sense of connection and chemistry with this friend, who seems so unlike me at first glance, but is actually very much like me in a number of ways. Sometimes, there’s simply a strange balance between how you and another person interact, and it is very multi-faceted, yet natural. I suspect it is just the way in which the Universe lets you know in a number of tiny ways that you’ve encountered a special person who is likely to remain an important being in your sphere of existence, no matter how complex that turns out to be throughout the course of time.

We keep in touch through phone calls and text messages, but visits are rare and special Consequently, even when things take a turn toward the awkward or the dramatic or the thoroughly unexpected, we always manage to have a great time spending time with one another. This visit was no exception, which can be summed up in the following sentence: I went to the North Carolina State Fair

This may seem like the most mundane of stories I have in my arsenal of travel stories to choose to relate to you, but it’s actually not. I’m a city girl, and have never been to a state fair. I’m usually up for trying something that I would never do anywhere else, with anyone else, so of course I wanted to go check it out, picturing a place where people competed by eating pounds of butter and Aunt Ida’s homemade jam won a blue ribbon.

Strangely, I had the opportunity to cross something off my bucket list, something that’s been there since I moved to the Southeast: Eat a deep fried Oreo. Not only that, but we also had a deep fried cupcake, deep fried pickles, and deep fried praline pie. After that, I bought a bag of cotton candy. I haven’t had cotton candy since I was like 8 years old, and though we gave it a shot, my friend and I were unable to eat the bag of cotton candy over a fairly extended period of time. It’s like it regenerates.

We also walked through a lovely garden that kind of resembled what you’d think Alayna’s Faery Garden would look like. Seriously, if I lived in the middle of nowhere, this would be my backyard. Lots of pretty flowers, bridges lit up with tiny lights, trees lit up with tiny lights, butterflies, benches, gazebos and as if to punctuate just how much this location was designed for me, they started to set off fireworks. Being a city girl, I don’t think I’ll ever have the opportunity to have this sort of Alayna’s Wonderland Escape, and I’m sure building such a thing might cost more than the house. But still, it was delightful.

In the end, I was so hopped up on sugar and good company and more sugar and deep-fried sugar, I was able to walk a rather significant distance back to the car on a rather chilly night, and my body cooperated with the endeavour.In fact, for the most part, it tolerated the crowds, the neon, the spinning rides (not going on them, of course, but being near them), which gave me hope that I am improving. If all I need is a consistent supply of sugar and delightful company, there’s no reason I should not have made a full recovery by now. *laughs*

As a post-script, I’d like to say that I maintain my stance on cows. The brown ones are NOT cows. The only ones we spied at the fair were clearly Chick-Fil-A cows. :P I joked they should be dressed in rainbow garb.

Aside from spending time with the aforementioned friend, I genuinely enjoy visits to Durham because I really and truly like Durham. I know my friend finds this strange, being a big-city kind of person who can’t wait to get out of such a small town, and me always bitching that Atlanta is too small to keep me happy, but Durham is a strangely fun place. I never fail to meet interesting strangers or have something fun happen to me. They have a performing arts centre that would make most larger cities jealous, and the atmosphere is a strange mix of the academic, the artistic, and the liberal…all things I like. It is not fancy, it is not pretentious—unless you purposely seek it out—but it is really a charming place filled with positive energy. I am far more impressed with it than Charlotte, Richmond, Savannah, Jacksonville, Tampa, or any other small-to-medium sized city in the Southeast, with the exception of Asheville. (I also really love the culture and people in Asheville.)

On this visit, I spent my last day in NC in Raleigh. Prior to knowing the friend in Durham, the only visits I’d made to the area were to another friend in Raleigh, or to stay in the Research Triangle Area. Although it’s only 20 minutes apart, Raleigh is significantly more conservative and more upscale than Durham. The people are also much more reserved, although once I got to know a few people, it seemed they were more than willing to open up and befriend me.

In Raleigh, I had the misfortune of getting rained on multiple times, and people mistaking my normal, everyday appearance for a sign that I was part of a theatrical production. However, I also saw a comedy night, met the Organizer of a local Meetup that basically does what I do for the same sort of group as I organize in Atlanta, and was “singled out” by one of the comedians for his act. After the show, I spent time talking to another comedian who performed that night, and found him very pleasant company. (Chivalry is not dead when men want to buy you a drink and enjoy your conversation, and are intuitive enough to know not to hit on you.)

The women in Raleigh didn’t seem to gravitate towards me as much as the men; I’m very familiar with that look of judgment that says “Why do you have to go around looking and acting like that? I don’t appreciate you being you.”. I received that look often, usually after an attempt to introduce myself to a stranger. However, I did meet a very sweet girl who was at the bar we started off the evening hanging out at, who was funny and personable and in a wheelchair. Her husband, who seemed absolutely devoted to her, told a story about how they met in college, only to find out they grew up about 10 minutes apart. It was so sweet, and for about 20 minutes, I believed in stuff like “things that are meant to be” and “true love conquers all” and “human beings are all designed to be monogamous and grow old together.”

All in all, I may not agree with the politics of many, but there’s no arguing that the people of North Carolina are “nice”, at least to me, and I’m not exactly conventional or low-key. I was pleased to see that Duke’s campus not only got rid of Chick-Fil-A, but was flying rainbow flags out of windows, as were many independent establishments in Durham. Once I got up to Raleigh, though, if I heard one more pro-Mitt Romney ad, I was going to start cutting TV connections. *laughs*

There’s no doubt I’ll visit all three cities again in the future, likely on my way up to D.C. or NYC in the Spring. In the meantime, however, I informed my friend in Durham it was his turn to visit Atlanta on a winter road trip, since it is also the season of the holidays, my birthday, NYE, and my book release party. I don’t travel when I have to wear clothes with sleeves or wear socks. *laughs*

After my adventurous night in Raleigh (and no sleep, since I was up at 7 AM!), I headed off to Savannah….but that story is long enough to be a blog in itself, and will have to wait until tomorrow. Spoiler alert: Absolutely nothing went the way it was planned! :P