Monday, October 22, 2012

Day Trip: Burt's Farm

When you drive up into the north Georgia mountains during leaf season, expect to be pissed off. The two-lane roads aren't built to handle the jillions of Atlantans making the short trek up there to see leaves die and change colors. It's the asphalt version of an arterial plaque, but you can't just shove a balloon down the double yellow line, inflate it, and blow all the cars off the road.

So there's one thing you need to know when you drive 90 minutes out of your way to buy pumpkins: leave as early as possible. That's what my family managed to somehow do by a miracle last weekend as we headed up to the far end of Dawson County to go to Burt's Farm.

What's so special about Burt's Farm? An enormous field of pumpkins of all shapes, colors, sizes, and deformities. Those little tiny pumpkins you find at the grocery store that are too small to even carve, but half the price. F'n huge pumpkins that you can't even fit in the back of a pickup truck. Pumpkins that look like they have herpes. Vampire pumpkins. Corn. Oh, and hayrides.

Where's the corn maze, you ask? Take your pick. Burt's doesn't carve a maddening and panic-inducing corn field you intentionally get lost in while wondering if you'll ever find a bathroom again because they don't have a corn field. But if you really want that kind of experience, there's at least 10 on the way there.

Like I said, my family, now involving a 1-year-old, miraculously left the house before 9 AM in order to beat the rush to Burt's, which set a record for efficiency that I'm sure we will never repeat. We took the long way up there, going all the way to Ellijay, then East Ellijay, before missing the turn onto Highway 52 and going way, way too far and turning around. Once we found Highway 52, it was all good because we followed it east until it ends, veered left, and saw the farm on the right. (There are more efficient directions detailed below, although more complicated and scenic.) When you get there, you won't miss it, and the reason is because you've been driving through rural Georgia for a seriously long time and you've suddenly come across the Dawson County version of Disneyworld. Shiny metal vehicles glisten in the sun, packing the parking lot directly in front of the entrance. Patrons from 5 to 90 push around wheelbarrows full of inedible fruits. Port-o-potties as far as the eye can see. A man waved us on while standing next to a sign that said "LOT FULL".

The place looked packed, and it was barely 10:30 on a Sunday. Why weren't all these people in church? The answer came to us later when church let out.

Fortunately, Burt's has two overflow lots: one paved, one grass. Seemed like there was plenty of parking even though the grass lot was full. We found a space, jammed our son into a stroller, and headed down the hill to the entrance.

There was no entrance fee. We strolled straight into pumpkin heaven (or hell, depending on how much you like white people with children). The smell of incredible food was everywhere. Pumpkin pies. Pumpkin popcorn. Pumpkin hot dogs. I'm not sure all those things existed but it sure smelled like it. If you already over-indulged in pumpkin-based foods this year, you'd want to puke, but you'd appreciate the aroma while yacking.

This was not necessarily a stroller-friendly place because of the rough terrain and foot-based traffic congestion, but I had an epiphany as I watched all the veteran white people with children. What do little kids like more than being pushed around in a wheelbarrow? So we obliged my small child and set him down in one with the stroller folded up next to him. Best idea ever.

A massive line of people waiting for the hayride bisected the farm. We didn't touch partake because we didn't want to be stuck there all day even though the prices were decent. At $4 per adult, $3 per child, and $0 per child under a year old, the whole family could ride for a single bill. I don't know what's so fun about sitting on hay and driving through the woods, but it looks like lots of people truly enjoy it, so if that's your thing, have at it. Just make sure you do that first before putting pumpkins in a wheelbarrow, because I imagine people get pissed if you abandon your 'barrow and leave it sitting around in valuable 'barrow-driving real estate while you sit on hay and ride through the woods.

The line for the hayride

By the time church exploded its patrons upon Burt's Farm, the line had backed up all the way to the entrance, making it difficult to 'barrow from one side of the farm to the other, so we grabbed up our pumpkins and headed for the checkout line. We bought:

  • One 5-pound blue pumpkin
  • One 5-pound yellow pumpkin
  • One 4-pound herpes pumpkin
  • One 3-pound exploding-alien-pumpkin
  • Four tiny UFO-shaped orange pumpkins
  • Four tiny UFO-shaped white pumpkins
  • Six ears of petrified corn

And all that only cost us $36 after tax. I know that sounds like a lot of money to spend on inedible fruit, but check out your local church-parking-lot pumpkin patch and you'll see that they're charging more. Plus, that's not a likely place to find a wide selection of herpes pumpkins.

By the time we left, Burt's was going parking bananacrazy. Cars were doing the creepy Christmastime mall parking lot crawl, stalking people to their parking spaces and waiting patiently for parents to pin their kids down into 20-point harness safety seats. And leaving was a disaster, too, as it took us five minutes to turn left onto the two-lane road that suffered under the stress of a million families headed to the pumpkin patch who couldn't get the kids together before noon.

  • Take I-75 north from I-285 and veer right onto I-575 north
  • When I-575 ends at the Pickens County line, continue north on Highway 5
  • Go past the roads that lead to Jasper (Industrial Blvd. and Highway 53)
  • Turn right on Antioch Church Rd. and immediately right onto Talking Rock Rd.
  • A few hundred feet later, turn left onto Highway 136, going through downtown Talking Rock
  • Veer right at a split not long afterward (do not veer left onto Whitestone Rd.)
  • At the T-intersection, turn right on Jones Mountain Rd. (this is still Highway 136)
  • At another T-intersection, turn left onto Burnt Mountain Rd. (still Highway 136)
  • Enjoy the mountain view and your ears popping as you drive a long, long time on this road
  • When it ends, turn left onto Elliot Family Pkwy (Highway 183)
  • Veer right at the split onto Highway 52
  • Go exactly 1 mile and Burt's is on the right

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Whatever Happened to Picture-in-Picture?

As I watched yet another house hunting show with my wife, despite having bought our house more than a year ago, something I used to say all the time came back to me. A couple was negotiating down on a house, feeling that they were getting a good deal at $435,000. This in itself is not totally outrageous, unless you live in Atlanta, but the fact that they were buying a one-bedroom condo nearly made me vomit. It wasn't in New York City. It wasn't in SanFran. It was somewhere like downtown Oklahoma City. They immediately gutted the brand new kitchen and trashed the marble counter tops because they were the wrong color. Didn't even attempt to recycle them at all!

I then turned to my wife and said "When they show stuff like this, there should be a picture-in-picture of an African kid with flies on his face, and a subtitle that says 'Meanwhile in Africa, this kid walks 6 miles a day for water that doesn't give him horrific diarrhea!'"

"You say that all the time," she responded, which may have previously been true, but no longer is. But I couldn't help thinking about it. As we watch our first-world problems on television, like the $3500 wedding dress that's not quite right, how much would it change our perspective to have that small child with fly apathy staring at us from the corner? He doesn't do much in heart-tugging commercials for opening our wallets, but giving us the stinkeye all day while we watch white people lament over the bottled water brand that the convenience store doesn't stock might make us appreciate what we have a bit more.

Watching two shows at once in the 90s
Then I got off my internal soap box as I became distracted by that archaic concept of the picture-in-picture. Suddenly, I realized that I haven't seen one in years. And why not?

First, let me refresh all the millenials on what PIP is. Back in the day, we were sufficiently obsessed with television to watch two television stations at once. This was extremely useful for watching Nascar, because you could leave the cars zooming left in a tiny box in the corner while you watched something funny. Yep, you could catch up on Friends while watch Dale Earnhardt take the lead.

Picture-in-picture was a feature of higher-end TVs that placed a tiny box in the corner of the screen displaying another channel. You could switch between the two with the PIP button on the remote, or display and remove the box. Most people used it for amusing themselves with something else while commercials played on the program you actually intended to watch. With the commercials silently droning away in the corner, you could be entertained while keeping an eye on your program and seeing when the commercials ended and the program came back. So what offed this genius idea?

  1. The Internet. Instead of watching another program, lots of us sit in our living rooms with our laptops and iPads, finding an alternate way to amuse ourselves until the program comes back.
  2. DVRs. With the main program recording on another channel, it doesn't matter if you miss the end of the commercial break, because when you switch back, you can just rewind it.
  3. Cheap, flat TVs. PIP was useful in sports bars for showing Nascar juxtaposed with baseball, but now we just put 50 TVs in one room because they weigh hardly anything and cost even less.

DVD bonus features
So it looks like picture-in-picture isn't making a big comeback anytime soon. In fact, the only new use for the technology appears to be DVD/Blu-ray special features that utilize it to show video in the corner of the screen while a movie or television show is playing, allowing a talking head to spew facts at you. Neato!

But with all those ads and watermarks television stations put at the bottom of the screen these days, surely they can spare some real estate for a fly-covered kid. It might make you appreciate your toothbrush a little more.