Hacktreks in the USA
Barry Dunstall finds that Atlantas
big corporations are determined to mix business with pleasure.
Never mind about New York. The largest state east of the Mississippi
River is Georgia, and Georgias capital and financial heart is
Atlanta, the city that pays the rent. Are there any more famous brand
names in the world than Coca-Cola and CNN? Both companies are headquartered
in Atlanta. So are Delta Air Lines and UPS, to name but a few of the
citys more prosperous residents.
Once just a settlement called Thrasherville, every downtown
skyscraper tells you that modern Atlantas business is business,
home to one of the nations hottest job markets. But rather than
allow these expanding companies to dominate the city centre and drive
out tourism, Atlanta encourages its thriving international corporations
to mix business with pleasure. CNN, for example, offers tours of the
companys global headquarters, taking people behind the scenes
at the studios and newsrooms. In fact, the building, with a spectacular
glass interior, is the most popular attraction in Atlanta, welcoming
20 million visitors a year. You even have the chance to join in a live
televised debate or present a weather report. And if you cant
fit everything the CNN Center has to offer into one day there
are also plenty of shops and restaurants you can always stay
overnight at the buildings very own Omni Hotel.
In Munich you drink beer, in Tokyo sake, and in Atlanta
else? Coca-Cola, never a company to miss a commercial opportunity, is
also in on the tourism act. The World of Coca-Cola showcases
the past, present and future of arguably the most famous product on
the planet with over 1,000 items of memorabilia (none of which, of course,
reveal the 15 secret ingredients), including illustrations by Norman
Rockwell. The bottling line, a kind of robotic sculpture whirling and
swooping as it fills hundreds of bottles, is an extraordinary work of
art. In truth, the exhibition is more a celebration of the power of
marketing than the drink itself, but no less interesting for that. After
all, did you know that Coke, not content with conquering planet Earth,
fitted a drinks dispenser on the space shuttle Discovery? And at the
end of the self-guided tour is the neon-soaked tasting bar, where you
can drink as many samples as you want from the companys global
range of beverages, sold in nearly 200 countries.
League Baseball lovers in Atlanta head for Turner Field (named after
CNN media mogul Ted Turner, of course), home of the Braves. Before
the game, dont miss the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame, with
over 500 exhibits including the 1995 World Series Trophy. All-year-round
tours take you everywhere including a luxury suite, the press box,
clubhouse and into the dugout. Alternatively, sports fans can watch
the Atlanta Thrashers play NHL ice hockey (badly) or the Atlanta
Hawks play basketball at the hi-tech Philips Arena, right next door
to the CNN Center. And dont forget, every April the worlds
greatest golfers compete to finish second behind Tiger Woods in
the US Masters at nearby Augusta.
people who prefer tourism to be a little less sporting, you can at least
take a walk through the Centennial Olympic Park, a reminder of the Games
of 1996. Right in front of the CNN Center, the fountains of the 21-acre
park are buzzing by day and romantic by night.
Indeed, much of Atlanta underwent a facelift for the Olympics, but now,
seven years on, that gloss has worn off slightly and the city has a
far more honest, lived-in look.
A word of warning for gourmets downtown Atlanta empties when
the business community locks up and goes home for the weekend. The only
place open for Sunday lunch is McDonalds. During the week, though,
visitors on the convention circuit keep the restaurateurs busy. Every
other person I meet is wearing some sort of delegate badge.
With its progressive big city attitude, Atlanta has little
time to look back into history. One exception is Underground Atlanta,
a subterranean shopping, dining and entertainment complex built on a
six-block stretch of land once used by the railways. The malls
100-plus shops and 12 restaurants are surrounded by reminders of the
citys railroad history, ideal for the steam engine enthusiast
who likes a good lunch with his nostalgia.
Overall though, downtown Atlanta has forsaken old for new. And I dont
hear anyone complaining.
© Barry Dunstall December 2003
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Cities in Hacktreks
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