Thursday, May 20, 1999

Savannah, Georgia

 Thursday, May 20, 1999: The Drive Down 

I'm taking Friday and Monday off from my job for a brief adventurous jot down to Savannah, fabled city by the sea, lauded in story and song, which I have never visited before.

It has been over two hours now since I arrived at my hotel, the Fairfield Inn on Lee Blvd, only a few miles from the city proper. You may recall from my other adventures of the past couple of years how much I love hotels; this one is no exception. It's not necessarily nicer than any other I've stayed in, but it is in a nice part of town, is priced reasonably, and features phones with data ports built in so I don't have to unplug the phone from the wall to plug in my modem. What more could I ask?

This is exactly the kind of vacation I love. You can have your international visits to London, Dublin, Cairo, Florence; you may take your back-to-nature trips to the mountains or the Okeefenokee or Mt. Everest; you can have your cultured excursions to New York or Boston or Washington, D.C.; as for me, give me the open road, a full tank of gas, and a reservation at an inexpensive hotel a few hours down the road, and I'm happy as can be.

And if you throw in a handful of rest areas along the route, all the better. To me, that familiar green sign announcing "Rest Area 1 mile" is not simply a statement of fact, it's an invitation, one to which I inevitably respond, "Sure, why not?"

This evening, I was about to leave one such rest stop on I-16 between Macon and Savannah, having visited the euphemism, bought a cheap cup of dispensing machine cappuccino, and settled for a pair of blueberry donuts from the vending machine (I was hoping for chocolate glazed; no such luck), when the old guy in the beat-up van two spaces from me asked me if I could jump off his van.

I obliged. I climbed up onto the roof of his rusty Ford, shouted "Geronimo!", and leapt.

Turns out that's not what he meant. Apparently his battery was dead. So I popped my hood, he got out his jumper cables, and in no time his van was purring like an unhealthy cat. He insisted that I accept for my troubles a bag of the Vidalia onions he was on his way to delivering; I told him that really wasn't necessary, that cash would be fine, but he insisted I take the onions. Well, I do love onions...

And now I am going to turn in so that I will be well rested for my first full day in Savannah.

 Friday, May 21, 1999: The Historic District 

Before I had even entered the part of the city that people think of when they think of Savannah, the Historic District, I knew that this is a place where I love being. Going up Bull Street from my hotel, driving under the canopy of live oaks with their beards of Spanish moss, driving over the Rorshack-blot shadows made on the road by the morning sun's vain attempt to penetrate that canopy, I felt happy to be here, eager to get at the core of a place that was new to me and wholly worth visiting.

I drove around the streets of the city for about half an hour, getting a feel for the place, before going to the Savannah Visitors Center and Museum, the parking lot of which baby-sat my car for the bulk of the day for a mere three dollars. Driving down MLK Blvd. toward the Visitors Center, I passed two tattooed, pierced, and dreadlocked youths, who I assumed to be students at the nearby Savannah College of Art and Design. The girl carried on her shoulder a boom box, the boy carried at his side--I'm not making this up--an ironing board. I could not tell from the attitude with which he carried it whether his purpose in carrying it was artistic or utilitarian. Perhaps for his senior project he is creating an installation called "The Angst of the Modern Housewife," in which he paints scenes of storybook romance on the artifacts of today's domestic world: Fabio's face on an ironing board, a rugged cowboy on a microwave oven, a scene from THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY on a vacuum cleaner... Or maybe he was just on his way to take care of some wrinkled shirts.

Above the trash can in the men's room at the Savannah Visitors center, there is a handwritten sign that says "Caution--Do not move trash can!" Directly above that sign, taped to the paper towel dispenser, there is another sign, saying "Caution--Do not move trash can!" Though I saw many wondrous and engaging sights throughout the day, I could not shake the overwhelming desire to return to the Visitors Center men's room and move the trash can. I did not, however. I do not know what earth-shattering events would have ensued, had I done so. I searched through the free Visitor's Guide I got at the Visitors Center; it provided a map of the historic district, a list of businesses in the area, even a coupon for a free gift at Oglethorpe Mall, but not once does it mention the effects of moving the trash can in the men's room.

I had lunch at the Chao Chinese restaurant, directly across the street from the Chatham County Jail ("Write me a letter/Send it by mail..."). As I sat in my booth by the window, stuffing myself on the $4.95 buffet, I looked out the window and saw a middle-aged bearded black man walk by with a clapboard sign that proclaimed, "Repent! The time is short. The Lord is calling on all to Repent!" I considered the wisdom of his advice, and saw that he was right: I repented.

Of all that I saw and did today--I will not attempt here to record the entire events of my day--I think I can safely say that the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences was the experience most capable of instilling wonder and delight, and the cappuccino cake I had at the cafe at Montgomery and Congress was the one most capable of inducing a diabetic coma. If you are in Savannah any time soon, I recommend you take in both.

 Saturday, May 22, 1999: Tybee Island, Fort Pulaski, Burger King 

Saturday, my second full day in Savannah, was not only the most exhausting day of this vacation, but also one of the most exhausting days of my life. I left my hotel room at 10:00 Saturday morning, and by the time I stumbled back in at 7:30 that night, a Burger King bag in my hand, I was tired, sunburned, and irritable. I watched the second half of an X-Files rerun (the one where Lili Taylor plays the blind woman) while eating my double cheeseburger and fries, read for an hour, and was asleep by 9:30. I did not get up until 9:00 this morning, which means I slept for eleven and a half hours; that's how tired I was!

I began the day by driving up U.S. 80 to Tybee Island, about a half-hour journey east. As I sat in my parked car near the beach, gathering my things before hitting the sand, an older gentleman in a short-sleeve plaid shirt and green and white baseball cap knocked on my window and asked me if you really need to put money in the parking meters. I told him I thought you did; I had seen a car on my drive down the road with a ticket on its windshield. He nodded and said "Oh, okay. We're not from around here. We're from California." (Perhaps in California, parking meters exist only for the great aesthetic value they add to the landscape.) I passed his RV--I know it was his by the California license plate--on my way to the beach.

Before yesterday, I hadn't seen a body of water larger than the Chattahoochee or Lake Lanier in fourteen years. I had forgotten what the beach is like; I had forgotten about the warm ocean breeze that whips through your hair and spreads the smell of salt and Coppertone through the air, the woosh of the ocean as the waves come in, the calls of sea gulls, the difficulty you encounter when you try to walk on sand in tennis shoes, the crunch of sea shells beneath your feet, the cries of children as they dodge waves and each other. I had forgotten all these things and more, but they came flooding back to me within seconds of stepping onto the beach.

I walked along the beach for over an hour, including a stop at the pier for a hot dog and Yoo-Hoo, before returning to my car and heading back out on U.S. 80.

My next stop was Fort Pulaski, an impressive brick and lumber Civil War-era fort, the site of a major defeat for the Confederacy. As I paid my two dollars admission, someone behind me said, "Well, hello there." I turned to see the smiling face of the Californian and his wife. We chatted briefly about the beach, then went our separate ways as we looked around the souvenir shop and then walked to the fort proper. I ran into them several times as I made my way through the fort's various levels, weaving in and out of officers' quarters, artillery magazines, jail cells, and kitchens. The Californians and I left at the same time; I was behind their RV waiting to turn back onto U.S. 80.

By this time I was tired, but determined to take in more of what the city had to offer. I returned to the Historic District, visited the Ships of the Sea Museum (where a replica of a nineteenth-century ship's bridge included what I assume to be a genuine plaque, reading in three languages, "Will members of the crew kindly refrain from urinating from the poop deck"--that's exactly what it said; I wrote it down), walked through City Market, and made a brief, perfunctory walk through Colonial Park Cemetery before returning to my car, half a city away.

I must have walked a total of about five hours yesterday, between the beach, the fort, and the Historic District. I also got pretty sunburned. I feel better today, as I sit with my cup of coffee and hand-held computer in the cafe at Books-A-Million, composing this message. I don't know what I will do with the rest of my day, but I'm going to do my best to avoid much walking.

 Monday, May 23, 1999: Going Home 

This morning as I sat in my car on Abercorn Street, waiting to turn left onto DeRenne Avenue to go to the big expressway that would take me away from Savannah and back here to Lawrenceville, I felt sad. Looking at the live oaks that line Abercorn as it heads into downtown Savannah, I did not want to leave. I like it there.

But I have been home for nearly six hours now, and I realize that I like it here too.

(This message was sent as an e-mail message to many of my friends at ExecuTrain, where I worked back then. I added it to the blog on October 10, 2017--almost twenty years later.)

No comments: