Just walked in the door from one of the better work assignments in years.
The final tally for the odyssey with Tom Sorensen in his Audi (it has the better radio): 773.2 miles in 46 hours, with 54-of-65 passes completed by Cam Newton, and one fork to the head from Abdullah the Butcher.
Pretty good road trip.
Road trips, of course, are good by nature. Especially for guys. Women, for instance, fail to hear the lyricism of small-town names like LaGrange, Opelika or Fair Play. They fail to appreciate the architectural perfection of the Peachoid as you're hurtling down Interstate 85 listening to John Lee Hooker. They may not care for the smell of gas on your shoes or the taste of grease and black coffee that fuels a long drive.
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The football they might not mind -- "How was Cam?" my wife asked, since she gets that he's this year's draft poster-boy.
Auburn itself was interesting, a charming piece of rural South filled with polite, smart kids who are good with directions. Near the school of engineering, we asked how to get to the old track to park. The kid rattled off four precise turns, with landmarks and street names, and was better than any GPS. When I was in college, I rarely knew where I was going, would have been no help to others.
Auburn's pro day was interesting, if only to see the reaction of the top teams to Newton.
Coaches and GMs flocked to him during Tuesday's stop. Wednesday, many of them will make plans to spend more time with Alabama DT Marcell Dareus (a three-hour side trip which, with better planning, we'd have made). But Newton was the star, and carries himself as such.
Still, he's not a Hall of Famer yet, and the trip kicked off with one of those.
With Tom in tow, it was natural that I'd finally found a companion eager -- not just willing -- to eat at Abdullah the Butcher's House of Ribs and Chinese Food in Atlanta.
Tom's a Ric Flair guy, and when Abdullah found that out, he told Tom to ask Flair why he'd never wrestle him. There was genuine indignance in his voice.
There was more wrestling talk, a great plate of rib tips, collard greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread and sweet tea (the indigenous food of my people). He asked us if we wanted pictures. Are you kidding me? Neither of us are photographers (we may not be writers), but the fact is, he slapped me in a headlock and took a foreign object to my head.
As always, the ref was looking the other way.
Tuesday, everybody was looking in one direction.
Wednesday, we headed home, as the rest of the NFL made its way through Alabama -- we were tempted. Some will go from there to Clemson (but Panthers coach Ron Rivera's hitting Nebraska Thursday to see CB Prince Amukamara).
The road goes on, except for Tom and I. After all, there are wives and kids and dogs at home who miss us. And after the obligatory share of Atlanta traffic (bad any time of day or night), there was a certain relief pulling into my house.
Still, there was Abdullah (his friends call him Abe), lemonade at Toomer's Drugs (the trees are hanging in there), and two nights in Newnan, Ga. (hometown of Lewis Grizzard, which I only mention since not enough people have a sense of humor).
There were also stories told and characters met along the way which we'll write about later, stuff so impossible to believe that you might swear we made up.
But that's for another day. Today, we're tired.
Still, before he pulled out of the driveway, Tom and I agreed.
We should have gone to Tuscaloosa.
-- Darin Gantt