1. PAULA DEEN LOOKS TERRIBLE… Before leaving Michigan for Georgia, I gave some thought to what, if anything, I’d do if I were to find myself within shouting distance of Paula Deen while visiting Savannah. I thought it unlikely, but, as her son lives a mile or so from my parents, and as her brother’s restaurant is right down the street, I figured there was at least a chance. As it turns out, I didn’t get the opportunity to either ask her how, in good conscience, she could encourage people to eat unhealthily and then make a fortune selling them medication to manage their subsequent diabetes, or engage her in a substantive conversation about the perils of racism, but, as we sat on the runway in Detroit, waiting for our plane to take off, I got a text from my mom. “Getting a pedicure with Paula Deen,” she said. Which brings us to the first of the interesting things that I learned while on my trip. Paula Deen, according to my mother, looks terrible, and, what’s more, she gets her pedicures, not at a fancy spa, like you might expect, but at a place called Pro Nail, just around the corner from the Oatland Island Wal-Mart. Apparently Paula was there with her sister-in-law, and all the ladies who found themselves soaking their nasty old feet alongside them, tried to cheer Deen up by telling her that God would see her through this most recent turn of events, or some such nonsense. She responded by hugging all of them, and saying something along the lines of, “I’m bent, but I’m not broken.” Oh, and she didn’t use the n-word. I made sure to ask my mom. And I have no idea what her nails were like. My mom wouldn’t tell me. I tried to get my mom to say she had toenails like a sloth, but she wouldn’t.
2. IT’S NOT GEORGIA’S FAULT THAT THERE WAS SLAVERY… I learned this as I pushed Arlo in his stroller along Savannah’s downtown waterfront. I can’t remember the exact language, but there was a sign, right next to the dock from which the mini-riverboats leave, which said something like, “Georgians fought hard to remain a free state, but eventually gave in, unwillingly, when it became apparent that they wouldn’t be able to compete against South Carolina without slave labor.” I don’t doubt that it’s true that land owners wanted slaves in order to compete against out-of-state competitors who were selling the same products at less expensive prices thanks to slave labor, but I just found it interesting that it’s presented as a reasonable explanation, as though the rape, murder, torture and imprisonment of human beings was somehow better on the Georgia side of the river because they knew better, and did it anyway… And I found it fascinating that everyone was so consistent in presenting the “It’s South Carolina’s fault” defense. Over the course of the week in Savannah, I heard this same thing repeated, almost verbatim, three times. It makes me wonder if there’s a coordinated rebranding effort afoot… It also, I think, sheds a little light on the character of those who today say that we need to lower our wages in order to compete with the Chinese. I have little doubt in my mind that, in a different time, they’d be demanding slaves, using the very same reasoning.
3. THERE IS NO EASIER WAY TO MAKE MONEY THAN BY RUNNING A DOLPHIN WATCHING CRUISE… Clementine turned nine years old while we were in Savannah, and her mother and I took her out for a day of dolphin watching, followed by a fancy meal of “southern sushi” and crispy scored flounder at the Savannah’s historic Pink House, sans annoying little brother. I don’t know that I’m ready, at this point in my life, to take on a new career, but, if I ever get the urge to pull up stakes and try something new, I’m thinking that running a dolphin cruise would be the way to go. Here, based upon what I observed, is essentially how the industry works. You line people up, you take their money, you put them on a boat, and, then, for about an hour, you circle shrimping boats, just waiting for the inevitable. Hungry dolphins surface, people snap photos, and, afterward, you pull the boat back into the dock, and steer people toward the seafood restaurant overlooking the water, which you likely also own. It’s seriously the easiest way to make money that I’ve ever seen. Of corse, I think that my conscience could get the better of me after a few years of following around hard-working shrimpers, who are busting their asses to earn a lot less money, while I just ride alongside them in relative comfort, delivering my speech about why it’s illegal to hunt and eat them. (By “them” I mean the dolphins, and not the shrimpers.) It’s such a weird parasitic little arrangement that they have. I can’t help but wonder what the men heaving the nets onto the decks of the shrimping boats must think, being followed all day by tourists snapping photos of them while they work. It’s one thing to have a backbreaking job. It’s another to be photographed constantly while doing it. But, the dolphins love to eat the fish and the other things that are thrown overboard by the shrimpers, and people love to watch dolphins, and there’s a perfect kind of harmony to it all. Also, I learned that little girls really love dolphins… a fact which I would exploit mercilessly in the marketing of Captain Mark’s “If You Don’t Do This You’ll Break Your Daughter’s Heart” Dolphin Cruise.
4. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A SHITTY MOVIE, SAVANNAH’S THE PLACE… Long gone are the day’s when quality films like The Great Santini, The Longest Yard and the original Cape Fear were shot in Savannah. While we were there, we heard mention of two films that had been recently shot in the city; Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, and the Miley Cyrus vehicle, The Last Song. And, of course, Savannah is the setting for much of the epic exploration of gleeful American stupidity known as Forrest Gump… I can’t begin to tell you how depressing it is to be enjoying a beautiful moment in nature, surrounded by 150 year, moss-covered old live oaks, only to hear someone in a fanny pack clomping up behind you yelling, “Run, Forrest, Run,” or, worse yet, overhearing tween girls discussing where, on the grounds of a colonial plantation, Miley Ray Cyrus may have uttered a specific line. And, that goes double for hearing a tour guide refer to a historic fort as, “the place where Abraham Lincoln fought the zombies.”
5. THE TERAIN AROUND SAVANNAH TODAY IS NOWHERE NEAR WHAT IT WAS LIKE EVEN 100 YEARS AGO… One morning we drove out to Wormsloe plantation, the colonial estate of a Brit by the name of Noble Jones who paid his own way over to join Oglethorpe in the founding of Georgia. During the walking tour, when the guild pointed out the foundation of the tabby structure which was, at one time, Noble’s home, I asked why they wouldn’t have built it overlooking the point where the Savannah River opens into the Atlantic, instead of on the banks of an enormous saltwater marsh. “Well, before they started dredging out the river to accommodate larger ships, this used to actually be the ocean,” was the response that I got back. And we heard essentially the same thing a few days later while touring Fort Polaski, the historic setting of Lincoln’s battle against the zombies. The fort, at one point, was right on the water, but no longer is. I imagine this is the case almost everywhere that we’ve got inland waterways, but, for whatever reason, it’s never really dawned on me that some of these “natural” habitat areas we’re fighting so hard to preserve today are really just the result of massive dumping on the part of our ancestors.
6. BABY SEATS. THAT’S WHERE THEY GET YOU… Just because you get a great deal on a rental car, doesn’t mean you’re going to save any money. The car was $14 a day. The baby seat, as we discovered upon landing, was an additional $17 a day. I kept telling Linette that it was too good to be true, and there was no way that the baby seat would be included in the price, and I was right. I wish I wasn’t, but I was.
7. I WANT TO BUILD STUFF FROM TABBY… When first coming to Georgia, the colonists didn’t have ready access to clay, which is the primary component of bricks, so they used a building material called tabby, which is a composed of lime, sand, water and crushed oyster shells. So, they’d find a Native American midden, or “shell heap,” and set about repurposing the discarded shells for construction. I’m not sure what I’d make from tabby, but I very much like the idea of creating something. Unfortunately, making lime from shells doesn’t seem like a very easy task.
9. THERE ARE NO BOOKSTORES IN SAVANNAH… I don’t know that this is true, but Linette swears that it is.