She Doesn’t Even Go Here

This weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting my dear friend Lexi whom I met while interning in Washington, D.C. this summer. Though she now works full-time in D.C., (Oops, she actually has her life together, graduated in four years, and started a career…) she makes trips back to her home state of Georgia as often as possible. Particularly, she goes home to visit her alma mater, the great University of Georgia.

Having an inexplicable affinity for the South, despite having never been there before this weekend, I did not hesitate to book a round-trip flight to Georgia when Lexi told me two months ago that she would be visiting. I mean, what was I going to do, pass up an opportunity to watch an SEC football game in person? Be serious.

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So, this past Friday, I did the unspeakable and woke up BEFORE THE SUN WAS UP in order to drag my tired butt to the airport (Code for: I made my friend wake up at 4 a.m. in order to drag my tired butt to the airport. Sorry Kevin.) just to make the trek from Reno to Las Vegas, from Las Vegas to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to Athens. Now that’s dedication.

Let’s skip over the parts when I shamelessly passed out on my first flight, when I wandered around like a lost puppy in the Vegas airport, then gave up and spent 30 minutes in line at Starbucks, and when I may or may not have shed a tear as I caught my first glimpse of the South from my airplane window while the flight attendant announced that a U.S. soldier on the plane was returning home from his tour of duty.

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So we’ve skipped ahead. I grabbed my bag from the overhead bin (Can we take a moment to appreciate that I managed to pack everything into ONE bag?) and practically RAN off the plane. You can imagine how Lexi and I looked when we first saw each other…

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Then we headed to Athens. I gazed out my window in awe as we drove by the beautiful Georgia countryside. My heart was happy to see a part of this beautiful nation I’d never seen before. As the sun set on the state of Georgia that day, I felt fulfilled knowing that I couldn’t have dreamt of a lovelier view.

Lex and I talked at a million miles per hour as we tried to cram four months of catching up into a one-hour car ride. It’s almost as if we hadn’t been texting, calling, FaceTiming, SnapChatting, Instagramming, Tweeting, and Facebooking each other all that time. Add the entire 1989 album to this madness and you’ll begin to form a picture of what that car ride was like.

And then we were there. Lexi played tour guide by pointing out the locations of where her college memories took place as she drove. It seemed that each little spot, even the most seemingly insignificant of them, held a little part of her heart; a moment captured in her mind, that when all pieced together, formed the scrapbook of her life in college. Though everything in Athens was new to me, everything there was home for Lexi. All I could hope is that I one day feel the same way about my little college town.

Athens. What an incredible town. The biggest difference I noticed between my university and the University of Georgia is that, whereas the University of Nevada is a university that just so happens to be based in the city of Reno, the University of Georgia is based in Athens — a town built around its university. Everything in that city revolves around its university, especially game days.

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EVERYONE in the area is a die-hard Dawgs fan, and even if they aren’t, they wouldn’t be caught dead rooting for any other team. So that was my excuse for stocking up on lots of red gear, even though that’s the color of my own school’s rival. (We may or may not be playing them this coming Saturday.) What, am I not going to flaunt my new spirit jersey? I bought it so that, to the naive passerby, I may give the appearance of actually belonging at the University of Georgia.

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And why wouldn’t I? The campus itself is beautiful, with traditional buildings and gorgeous landscaping, it felt like the classic American university. Everywhere we walked, Lexi had some fascinating UGA tradition to tell me about, such as the chapel bell or the Georgia arch.

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The Georgia arch is one of UGA’s most recognizable symbols. Built in 1864 (ten years before my university was even established), the arch stands at the entrance of the university, but is only to be used as a walkway by UGA graduates. It is said that any UGA student who walks underneath the arch before graduating will never do so, and that any non-UGA student who walks underneath the arch will encounter bad luck.

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UGA’s chapel bell can be rung by anyone by pulling the rope that stretches to the ground. Built in 1913, the bell used to signify the beginning and end of class periods, religious services, and emergencies, but is now rung to mark special occasions, such as athletic victories and graduations. The bell is not, however, to be rung before any sporting event, as it is bad luck for the Bulldogs.

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One of the few living collegiate mascots, UGA’s aptly named “Uga” comes from a prestigious lineage of English bulldogs who have served as the face for UGA athletics over the past half a century.

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The Dawg Walk is a game day tradition of UGA football players walking through the marching band and a crowd of fans before entering the stadium. Georgia fans come from all around to partake in the tradition of school pride and celebration.

Lexi and I spent the majority of our time catching up with her college friends, touring the campus and surrounding town, and doing quintessential “Georgia things,” like dining at Waffle House. Side note: as a California native, I had never even heard of Waffle House until about three years ago, and even then, I didn’t know that it was a real chain. Any doubt I had of Waffle House’s existence was quickly diminished when we passed nearly 30 on the drive into town.

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And yes, the waffles were actually pretty good.

As one of its former bartenders, Lexi wanted to spend a lot of time at Pauley’s, one of the downtown bar/restaurants, which was nice, considering that it is a central gathering place for Lexi’s friends. We sipped on manmosas — Pauley’s speciality drink, which are made like classic mimosas, but are topped with a splash of vodka — and hung out with the bartenders. One thing that I loved about the downtown scene in Athens is how the bartenders are current students, and are not only encouraged to invite their friends to the bar during their shifts, but are welcome to hang out with their friends while bar tending. This phenomenon made the downtown scene very relaxed, and is something I think my college town could stand to mirror.

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Double-fisting Starbucks and manmosas with new friends at Pauley’s the morning of game day.

We hung out at Pauley’s at all times of the day — morning, midday, afternoon, evening, and late night — and it was always a blast. I loved how versatile the bar/restaurants of downtown Athens are, in that students can seamlessly move from a low-key dinner with friends into a rambunctious Friday night on the town. Moreover, each bar/restaurant is mere walking distance from another, or a darling boutique, parking garage, or campus building. The barrier between the university and its downtown is non-existent, which allows for a safe, comfortable environment that students can call home.

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Although I only visited for a short weekend, I fell in love with the charming city of Athens, Georgia, and its beloved university. I’ll miss the rounds of bombs that Southern boys just love to buy, and the way I could effortlessly walk from bar to bar. I’ll miss the new people I met, from old friends of Lexi’s to Georgia alumni with whom I shared a drink and a spirited “Go Dawgs!” I’ll miss the stories Lexi told me about each new person and place I encountered, and I’ll daydream about what it would be like to park in the Clayton Street garage one morning, attend class, walk to a shift at Pauley’s, and move seamlessly into a night out with friends. I’ll wonder what it would be like to walk under that infamous arch.

But for now, it’s time I return to reality, and prepare myself for a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend at home! Thank you, Lexi, and Athens, for an incredible trip!

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What dream school would you spend the weekend at if you could? Tell me on Twitter and I might retweet you!

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