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Darrell Huckaby - 06/24/09

Have you thought about trying a staycation this summer? That was not a typo. I wasn't talking about a "va-cation" - where you pack suitcases and make hotel reservations and vacate your premises for a week or so to head off to some exotic destination like the French Riviera or Panama City. I am talking about a "stay-cation" - where you stay at home, sleep in your own bed, and visit the places that tourists visit when they come to our part of the world; places that you may or may not have visited recently, or at all.

You know it's a pretty good idea in "these troubled economic times." Raise your hand if you are as tired of hearing that term as I am. If folks would spend more money the economic times wouldn't be so troubled - but they won't and they are and since they are, it might make sense to stay close to home this summer and see some of the local sights and take part in some of the local activities.

I know a lot of folks who actually leave places like Myrtle Beach and Pigeon Forge to come to Atlanta on vacation. My buddy who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., likes to come to Atlanta and go to ball games. At least once a year he packs up his wife and kids and here they come. They usually visit one or two of the upscale restaurants - I mean besides The Varsity - and she does a little high-impact shopping at Lenox Square and Phipp's Plaza and they go out to the ballpark and see the Braves.

I'm pretty sure they spend more money doing that than I spend when I go to the beach, so that might not be such a good example of an economical stay-cation. I'm just saying.

Other folks go to Six Flags, but not me. If I want to be insulted by surly teenagers who could care less about what they are supposed to be doing I'll just drop in on summer school and save my $29.99. Sometimes there is a reason companies go bankrupt, you know. A lot of people come to Atlanta to enjoy Stone Mountain and it is actually a favorite place for me and my clan, although we haven't been this summer.

But if you are looking for an inexpensive way to spend a pleasant and fun-filled day with your family this summer, have I got a deal for you. Take 'em tubing.

Let me tell you about our Monday.

Sunday night we were floating around in the pool, enjoying what was left of Father's Day, when I discovered that my lovely wife, Lisa, and the only child I have left at home this week, Jackson, both had Monday off. None of us were very excited about the prospects of another day around the house, cleaning and doing yard work, so I made an executive decision - one of the few I've been allowed to make over the past quarter-century - and announced that we were going to the North Georgia mountains the next day and float down the Chattahoochee River in inner tubes. Jackson's girlfriend Taylor was down with it and so was my nephew, Tyler. We followed through and had one of the best Mondays in memory. And we spent very little money.

We had breakfast at home. I fired up some bacon and some Holifield Farm pure pork sausage patties - the hot variety, but not the "mo' pepper" kind - and Lisa made her famous cheese grits and scrambled some eggs. I sliced up a South Georgia grown cantaloupe and we were good to go. Cost? Negligible, since we would have had to eat breakfast anyway.

We headed up toward Helen and the three teenagers among us slept in the back of the van while, well, while Lisa slept in the front seat - but I had Willie Nelson and Toby Keith and David Allen Coe to keep me company, so it was a pleasant two-hour drive to Helen. We stopped at Nora Mill and ate some of every sample. Cost: Free. We parked the car and walked around Helen and ate free fudge samples and played with the music boxes and talked with the vendors. Also free.

Next we drove up to Anna Ruby falls where we ate a picnic lunch and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We would have needed to eat lunch anyway and God provided the scenery so the cost, once again, was negligible.

Then we paid $3 each to rent a pink inner tube and spent two relaxing and refreshing hours floating down the clear cool Chattahoochee River. It was wonderful. There were enough people around to make the trip interesting but not so many as to make the river non-negotiable. And the spring rains caused the water to flow freely, but there were no deep or dangerous places. It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

After we got out and dried off, the pink school bus took us back to where our car was parked and we came home. We did stop to eat supper, but, again - we would have eaten supper anyway. So for the price of about nine gallons of gasoline and $15, five of us had as much fun as we could stand. In fact, we had so much fun that we might go back next week.

I'm not saying which day, though. After all, there are only so many of those pink inner tubes to go around.

Darrell Huckaby