Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ukrainians Shouldn't Talk to Strangers


Ukrainians should never talk to strangers on a plane. They'll get crazy ideas that you can never get out of their heads.


On the flight from Atlanta to Augusta, they chatted with a few of their seatmates. Georgia locals. When everyone learned they were visiting from Ukraine, all they could say is "You have to go to Savannah!"


Well, once you get something stuck in your head, it's hard to get it out.


We had the schedule for the whole week planned out. Sunday was the Morris Museum of Art and a Greenjackets game. Monday was training. Tuesday was training, a trip to the Columbia News Times. Wednesday was training and a cookout at Dana's house. Thursday was training and golf at West Lake. Friday was training and a music cruise down the Augusta canal. Saturday was a trip to the Augusta Museum of History and shopping. We had it planned out for about a week and it didn't include Savannah. 


So, Kim and I started trying to find a creative way to get them there since part of the group had never been to the United States. And most had never seen the Atlantic Ocean. We wanted to make their trip special. And if it meant going to Savannah, we were going to Savannah


As the week progressed, things started to fall in place. We were able to move a few things around and free up time on Saturday for a quick trip. 


Beach day finally came and I picked up everybody at the hotel. We made it to Savannah and quickly made a beeline for Tybee Island.


You couldn't have asked for a better day to spend at the beach. We just happened to be spending it with thousands of other people that thought the same thing. 


People were everywhere. What I thought was a crowded beach was nothing compared to Ukrainian beaches along the Black Sea. Everyone scoffed at my observation. Apparently, there it's hard to walk on the sand without having to step over someone. So much for my idea of a crowded beach.


We all managed to dip our toes in the Atlantic Ocean that day, munched on some leftover snacks from the music cruise the night before and even took a few pictures. But the best part was great seeing everyone having a great time.


On our way back from Tybee, we had to make a stop for gas. For the record, $90 will not fill the tank on a Ford Expedition. This alone makes me glad I drive a Honda. 


Just like every gas station on the way to and from the beach, there was a produce stand next door and we were able to pick up a few Georgia peaches. But, before we left, I had to grab another southern delicacy for the group; boiled peanuts. After Anatoliy's first introduction to peanuts at the baseball game - I'm convinced he devoured the peanut, shell and all - I wasn't sure how these would go over. Most everyone tried some, but it seemed Anna and I liked them the most as we devoured almost the entire bag. We were even snacking on them well after they got cold several hours later.


All in all, a beautiful day to spend at the beach with friends.


Well, our Ukrainian friends have come and gone. We keep in touch via the World Wide Web.


Another group will be here in a few weeks. We can’t keep them from talking to strangers on the plane ride over, either. But if they do, I hope their seatmates suggest other places to visit. Maybe like Hawaii?



























Scratch One Off The Bucket List



During the Ukrainian visit to Augusta, Dana Atkins, president of The Augusta Chronicle, was gracious enough to invite everyone to his house for a barbecue, where we all gathered on his back deck for some awesome food and a little socializing.


After dinner, he quietly stole Anatoliy away and the two headed out to the garage.


To say Dana is a golf enthusiast is an understatement.


He started pulling out every golf training aid he had. There was a mirror, a weighted driver, a power swing fan and even a hinged training club. It was everything Anatoliy needed to become the Tiger Woods of Ukraine.


Dana worked with Anatoliy as I stood by, taking pictures and shooting a little video. This was history in the making. He gradually worked through the training aids to actual clubs. I watched as Anatoliy would take a few swings, often losing his balance and ending up on his tiptoes. But with each swing, the grin on his face grew wider and wider. He was in heaven.


Anatoliy had never held a golf club in his hands before tonight and talked to us about how it was dream of his to swing a club.


Golf hasn't taken off in the Ukraine like it has elsewhere. In a country where the average income is less than $400 a month, it's hard to find the disposable income to afford a golf habit. Plus, there are only a handful of golf courses in the entire country, where many people don't know the game. Just about the only golfer they recognize is Tiger Woods. The headline for a story in a Ukrainian newspaper on the US Open didn't proclaim Justin Rose the winner. It said Tiger Woods lost.


Such is golf in Ukraine.


We were going to introduce them to golf in America.


During their trip to Augusta, we wanted so badly for them to see Augusta National but knew that wasn't possible. The best we could do was take them to the main gate on Washington Road and let Anatoliy look longingly down Magnolia Lane.


But Dana had a special treat for our friends. He had arranged for the group to hit balls at the driving range at West Lake.


As luck would have it, it was raining that day. The same way it has almost every single day for the past month.


Anatoliy, though, wasn't going to be deterred. Having held a golf club for the first time the day before, he was determined to hit a few balls. And the monsoon that was upon us wasn't going to interfere.


As the rain poured, we all huddled under umbrellas to watch as Dana worked with Anatoliy on his swing. Anatoliy made a few whiffs and dug up some worms, but his dream finally came true when he made contact with the ball. This may have been the happiest time in his life.


When Kim and I were in Ukraine, everyone we met was introduced to us with a list of their list of sports accomplishments first and then what they did. Sometimes those came before we even learned their names.


Now, Anatoliy can add one more accolade to his list. Golfer.




















One If By Land. Two If By Sea. Three If By Delta Airlines.





We knew it had to come to an end. All good things do. Right? We just wished it wouldn’t. 


Friday came and it was time for Kim and I to get on that big ole jet airliner and start heading back to Augusta.


It was a sad goodbye. Tears were suppressed. Hugs were exchanged. But they say, “What goes around comes around.”


After all, in two weeks, the Ukrainians were coming!


It was a long two weeks. For Kim and I, it was worse than being kids waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, combined with the last week of school before summer break. And you might as well throw in those days leading up to the family vacation to Disney World.


We were excited kids and the day of their arrival couldn’t have gotten here fast enough.


Soon, the day we had been waiting for, had finally come.


Kim and I waited at the airport for their plane to arrive. We watched anxiously as the plane made its way to the gate and the passengers started deplaning. People filtered out as we waited for our friends to appear. And we waited. And we waited. Just when we began wondering if they had missed the flight, we caught a glimpse of Anna. The rest weren't too far behind.


They were finally here.


The area between the terminal and baggage claim is no man's land. It may as well be the area that separates North Korea from South Korea. While Kim and I could see everyone, we couldn't run to greet them. We had to wait some more. 


And to make the wait even more agonizing, there was one more stop to be made before they officially crossed the border into Augusta. 


Anatoliy, being Anatoliy, gathered the group for a picture. He chose the statue in the middle of the terminal of golf great Ray Floyd as the backdrop for his picture. Kim and I chuckled. After 24 hours of traveling, they, or should I say Anatoliy, were in no rush to get out of the airport.


But they were here. And another good thing was about to begin again.