My Last $100: Zima, Buffalo Exchange, and the Atlanta Airport Sky Club

A trip to the coolest city in America: Columbus, Ohio.

Photo credit: Bob Bielecki, CC BY 2.0.

The story of the last $100 you spend is as much about the last $100 you saved as anything. There I was, on my last day in Columbus, Ohio visiting my cousin, and I still had enough cash in my account to make room for some splurges. Part of it is that Columbus is incredibly cool while not being terribly expensive. Part of it was that some of the best things to do while you travel are free — like wandering around staring at buildings, perusing the Columbus Arts Fest, admiring exterior murals, or (in my case) checking out my aunt and uncle’s new home. Part of it was just good dumb luck at the Atlanta airport.

On my way to Ohio, I encountered a magnanimous Tumblr teen in the Atlanta airport. Sitting at the airport bar, downing a baked potato and a Goose Island IPA, a short girl with an immaculate manicure came bustling up, absolutely enormous suitcase in tow. She wanted to know if the bartender could point her towards somewhere to shower. Her landlord had held her up for something or other to do with her rent, which meant she’d missed her flight, and she hadn’t even had time to groom herself properly. Never mind the fact that she looked selfie-ready; homegirl was apparently in urgent need to wash the shitstorm of adulthood off of her. I handed her my dry shampoo. She started telling me her story: her dad was employing some serious tough love when it came to her finances, she’d had some drama involving a friend, and she had recently broken up with a hottie who runs with Atlanta’s Persian mafia.

“You should come to the Sky Club with me!” she announced, once she’d figured out that you can, in fact, take a shower at the airport if you get entrance to a fancy membership lounge. Thanks to a friend who had purchased her ticket, she was in, and she sweet-talked the bouncer into letting her have a guest. We feasted on chicken and pasta from the buffet. We did shots of tequila purchased with her points. We bitched about men and adulting. She shuffled off to take a shower, I headed for my gate, and there you go — trip off to a great start, for free! Take that, airport up-charges.

Fast forward through a week of discovering the joys of Buffalo Exchange, girl talk, an ‘80s-tastic local band with serious saxophone solos, and a glass blowing demonstration. It was time to make the most of my last day. My cousin lives in Victorian Village, a darling historic neighborhood that looks like a snow globe before you shake it and is walking distance from pretty much anything you could want to eat or drink. I headed down the street to what had become my favorite “home-away-from-home office:” a joint called Caffe Apropos that was simple, unpretentious, and attached to a wine store. For $8.58, a plate of hummus and warm pita bread was all mine, along with a cold iced latte. A storm was blowing in outside and I thought of that line from Rocky Horror Picture Show: “It’s true there were dark storm clouds, heavy, black, and pendulous, toward which they were driving.”

At lunchtime, the weather had cleared up and I was ready for a break and a venue change. I asked my cousin if she wanted to join me at Zeno’s, a quintessential yankee dive bar. Dark, cavernous, with a long wooden bar that looks like it was hewn by Irish immigrants in the early 20th century, Zeno’s is the perfect place to park for a cheap beverage and some four-person table-top Pac-Man. It’s also apparently a time machine that will whoosh you back to 1999. A huge banner on the wall was advertising Zima—you know, the lemon lime malt beverage that many a teen sucked down out of the watchful view of adults at family reunions and Fourth of July celebrations throughout the grunge era and early aughts.

A well-known secret about Columbus is that it’s a major test-market for food and beverage companies. If Taco Bell is going to try to make Dorito Loco Tacos happen, for example, or KFC wants to launch the Double Down, they’re going to test it out in Cbus. So it went for Zima’s triumphant comeback, unrolled first in the midwestern bastion of culinary curiosity. The bartender asked me if I wanted a Jolly Rancher to drop into my Zima. I didn’t know this was a thing; when I was last drinking Zima, I was so intent on the adult aspect of it I never would have considered chunking some baby candy into my mildly alcoholic Sprite. I asked if they had Chambord so I could recreate a chapter I enjoyed in Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape, but Zeno’s isn’t exactly a liqueur kinda place.

I took a watermelon Rancher and cautiously licked it, in lieu of dropping it in. And a few seconds later — I cannot make this up — that song comes on by Vertical Horizon that everyone knows but half of the time you thought it was by Blink 182. The one that’s the anthem of every guy who ever said “But I’m such a nice guy!” Talk about ‘90s on ‘90s action. It was $15 for a beer, a Zima, and my cousin’s cider, and that doesn’t seem like much at all to approximate my lifelong dream to have been Angela Chase’s peer on My So-Called Life. Don’t mind me and my cousin. We’re just chilling, waiting for Jordan Catalano to roll in from an afternoon of playing hooky. We just want to drink Zima and watch him lean against things with casual insouciance.

When it was clear Jordan Catalan0 wasn’t going to show, we decided were hungry for some lunch. I also needed to pick up some souvenirs for my cousin back home; after all, I’d come up to hang out with his parents and sister and left him by himself with my cats. We headed to his favorite brewery to pick up some bombers to tuck into my checked bag. Wolf’s Ridge is very hip, with big windows left over from the building’s industrial origins that let in the kind of light that would get Caravaggio hot and bothered. I ordered the Canis Mexicanus, an ass-kicking Chili Imperial Stout, and my cousin ordered a glass of rosé. We also scored bottles of Terre Du Sauvage Gold farmhouse saison, a Buchenrauch Rauchbier, and a Sustinator Doppelbock, along with some Middle Eastern appetizers. All told it was a hefty $59.97. But I had cash to spare, thanks to not blowing out my bank account at the start of my trip during the vast expanse of multiple flight delays. Thanks, Tumblr Teen!

A quick zip to the airport later and a hop-skip-jump through security (the Columbus airport is never not easy to navigate) I had plenty of time to charge my phone before my flight while I dropped $19.11 (tipping me $2.66 over the $100 threshold) on a last vacation drink and snack. I tried to order a Buttery Nipple so I could send a picture to my cousin — an inside joke from a series of nights out during my trip—but the Cbus airport Chili’s doesn’t keep butterscotch liqueur on hand. I was seriously striking out on the liqueurs! Fist no Chambord and now no libidinous shots. Then a kindly woman at Chili’s gave me half of her cheese dip appetizer. Seriously, when did airports become the friendliest places on earth? A trip that starts with female solidarity and tequila, is spent savoring family and girl time, and ends with with free molten cheese and a couple fingers of bourbon is a rare beast, and well worth a Benjamin.

Meghan O’Dea is a writer and editor crafting a life in the foothills of Appalachia. She blogs about the news by day for Uproxx and writes articles essays by night that have been published with Fortune Magazine, the Washington Post, the Rumpus, Revelist, Manifest Station, Femsplain, ink & coda, and Roar, amongst others. She is an avid traveler and bon vivant, but always comes home to her century old bungalow and enormous black cats. She shares snippets on Instagram at @live.true.stories.

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