The Year of Living Differently: Georgia on My Mind Day 6 (Last Day in Savannah)

My last full day in Savannah – that makes me a little sad, I have to admit.  I can’t tell you how much I am in love with this city.  I mean, I liked it before after my two brief visits years ago but now I love it.  There’s something special about this place that is a little difficult to explain but once you are here you immediately feel it.  It’s what Mary and others I know feel about New Orleans, which I also enjoy but not in the way I do Savannah.  At a minimum I am now going to make Savannah my official birthday destination each year.

My friend Junior accompanied me on my first stop of the day, the Georgia Railroad Museum.  Located just a few blocks off the historic district, it was a working railroad repair facility until 1960.  It was restored in the 1990s and 2000s and is now considered to be the biggest antebellum era train yard in existence.  There is what’s left of a roundhouse (about half of it was saved), a turntable, several buildings, a smokestack, and lots of train cars – engines, box cars, passenger cars, cabooses (caboosi?), and more.  They have demonstrations and tours all day long including a brief train raid around the yard, which we took.

The actual trains are cool – lots of kids at the place who were agape in glee – but for me the best part was the model railroad exhibit.  I had model trains when I was a kid – a complete set up in the basement with multiple tracks, a town with buildings and working street lights, trees and a faux river.  I would spend hours down there playing and making up various adventures of the fictional people that I had living there.

More story after the photos.

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After that it was time to say goodbye to Junior who was heading back home today, although he might come up to Atlanta tomorrow to meet me so that will be fun.

I headed out to have lunch at a place called the Green Truck Pub, a diner that is reported to have the best burgers in the city. Challenge accepted!  They have a lot of different varieties but I finally settled on the Trailer Park, a burger with bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and house made pimento cheese.  Damn good burger but next time I think I’ll go for the Farm House, which comes with a fried egg on top.

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After lunch I took another trip to Bonaventure Cemetery.  Mary and I had been here back in 2008 when we visited on Plucky Survivors, finding the graves of Johnny Mercer, Jim Williams, and Danny Hansford, the latter two of which are the alleged murderer and murderee whose stories are told in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  It has to be one of the most beautiful graveyards in the world and I wanted to get another look because a scene in my book takes place here.

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I spent some time relaxing back at the hotel and then walked down to the Savannah’s First Friday festival, which is held on the first Friday and Saturday of each month and has a different theme every time.  September’s theme was bacon!  I wanted to come just because of that but it was really the official commemorative t-shirts that sold me:

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Yes, I bought two.  No, you can’t have one.

The festival took up several blocks of the waterfront plaza along lower River Street and had arts and other retail vendors, your typical street fair type tents (face painting, temporary tattoos, etc.), and mechanical bull that had been changed into a mechanical bucking pig (genius!), music, pig trivia games, stuffed toy pig races, and much more.   The story continues after the photos.

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And of course there was food – tons of food, all with at least a nod to bacon.  The things I didn’t get around to trying included bacon ice cream, bacon brownies with caramel sauce, bacon biscuits, candied bacon, Kevin Bacon and egg truffles (a white chocolate truffle shaped like a deviled egg with a picture of Kevin Bacon on it – come on! That’s funny!), and so much more that I lost track.

What I did have is a cherry glazed bacon pop – basically several chunks of bacon on a stick:

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Homemade potato chips topped with blue cheese, onions, and bacon:

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A jalapeno stuffed with bacon and cheese:

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A pork jowl BLT:

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And a bacon wrapped hot dog:

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What happened next really should not be surprising considering my often delicate gastrointestinal system.  Now, mind you, I didn’t eat all of any of the above but I think the week of stupid rich food capped off by a meat frenzy finally kicked my intestines off the island, so to speak. Did you ever see Bridesmaids?  Remember that scene where a lunch at a sketchy Brazilian restaurant ended indelicately with Maya Rudolph’s character in the middle of the street wearing a wedding dress?  That’s all I could think of as I was rushing the four blocks back to the hotel.

After laying down for a few hours I felt better so I headed back down to the festival to watch the fireworks over the Savannah River.  It was a great way to end the night and a perfect way to finish off my visit to what is now, officially, my favorite place in the world.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading back to Atlanta and then back home on Sunday.   Not sure if I’ll have any more to post, but if not, thanks for reading along.

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The Year of Living Differently: Georgia on My Mind Day 5 (More Savannah)

I had the following thought last night: I’m staying in a hotel with no room service, no mini-bar, and no in-room movies.  I might as well be camping.

Yes, I am that spoiled by Vegas hotel rooms and heir non-stop menu of amenities and services.  I really need to get out more.

And I did, again, today, with a rearranged itinerary that I cobbled together after rescheduling the trolley tour I was planning on taking yesterday that was cancelled at the last moment.  The company behind the tours picked me up promptly at 9:30 from the hotel and took me to the saddest offices ever (mismatched chairs in the waiting room from roundly 1983 and carpeting from roughly the same era).  At 10am our tour guide, Jefferson (he swears that is his real name) walked in wearing full Civil War regalia… and sneakers.

He loaded the half-dozen or so of us on a fully enclosed, air-conditioned bus – not the open-air trolleys that I was expecting.  This was both a good thing and a bad thing in that it was already roughly 900 million degrees and it was raining early this morning but also a bit of a bummer in that it made taking pictures through the fixed windows almost impossible.

Jefferson had been doing tours for 24 years after getting his degree in history and doing some work at the Georgia Historical Foundation.  He was an odd duck, to say the least.  He spoke with exaggerated elocution – “under the statue on the righ-TUH is believe-DUH to be the bah-DEE of Jame-ZUH Oglethor-PUH, the founde-RRR of Savannah.”  His script, which was completely memorized, featured various quotes form diaries and papers of the era he was covering, which he would do in a slightly different voice.  “As the general said, ‘I view them the way I view sheep droppings – just as prevalent and about the same size.’  - General Such and Such, February, 1861.”  He would literally say all of those words and do the quotation in sort of an exaggerated southern growl.  It was highly entertaining but not in the way he meant it to be, I think.

The tour was very heavy on the histories of the various people that were important to Savannah history and less so on the buildings and neighborhoods and landmarks, which is what I was more interested in.  But I did still learn some new and interesting stuff.

Early settlers had very little regard for their dead and so when they wanted to build something on a place where they had buried people, they didn’t bother moving the bodies.  Therefore there are several buildings and even a road that are on top of gravesites.

Each of Savannah’s historic squares (21 of the original 24 still exist) are the centerpieces of wards; neighborhoods that were built around the squares as the city expanded, so the historic core of the city is made up of a series of interlocking wards instead of one big district.

Lawyers were not allowed to practice in early Georgia.  This became a problem later on when someone important got into some legal trouble.

One of the most fascinating neighborhoods is the Beach Institute district, so named for the school in the area that was founded by Alfred Beach.  Located just a couple of blocks from the Troup ward, where the Armillary stands, this neighborhood was the first built specifically for the freed black slaves after the Civil War.  The houses there, while now lovingly restored and going for ridiculous amounts of money, are a stark contrast to the imposing mansions and brownstones in what was the white neighborhoods nearby.

The tour was supposed to last three hours but when we took a break at about 90 minutes in I politely made up an excuse about being invited to a lunch and bailed on the second half.  I walked back to the hotel and snapped some more pictures of the upper level of Factor’s Row, with its iron bridges and lots of monuments and memorials. This town really likes monuments and memorials.

More story after the photos.

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I obviously hadn’t been invited to lunch but I did have a restaurant I wanted to go to – Sandfly BBQ – billed as one of the two best BBQ joints in the city according to most of the faceless Internet people in the know.  Located in a little strip mall, it wasn’t much on personality, either in terms of the décor or the kind of surly people who worked there (one heavily tattooed young woman reminded me a lot of April on “Parks and Recreation”), but the food was terrific.  I got a pulled pork platter with a side of mac and cheese and fries plus a sampling of their smoked sausage.  The pork was great but the sausage was perfection, juicy and a little spicy.  They had three different sauces – a mustard, a heavy vinegar, and one that some would probably describe as sweet but that I would describe as slightly less heavy vinegar.  It was still good.

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By the way, someone asked me how I am able to eat all of this, especially with my limited eating capacity.  It’s simple: I don’t eat all of this.  I have a few bites of everything and then I walk away, often wasting huge amounts of food and feeling personally responsible for starvation in Africa.

After lunch I headed out to the Pin Point Heritage Museum, which I had read about as being one of the most fascinating little historical attractions in the area – whoever wrote that was right.

Pin Point was (and still is to some degree) a little neighborhood on the east side of the mainland, along the marshes that spill out to the rivers and islands that separate Savannah proper from the Atlantic Ocean.  Much like the Beach Institute neighborhood, it was founded after the Civil War as an area for freed black slaves and was predominantly a “factory town” for the AS Varn & Sons oyster and crab factory.  Populated almost exclusively by people from West Africa, the community had a native language, Gullah, which is sort of like Creole dialects of English – chirren is children for example – and their own customs.

The museum has taken the old factory and turned it into a fascinating interpretive center that relates the history of the community, goes into extensive detail about the oyster and crab picking work that was done here, and the people who lived here (some of whom still do).  It has terrific interactivity including several places with pictures of people who used to work there and buttons you can push to hear them talking about their experiences.

Among the many fascinating bits was the detail about the community’s burial customs.  When someone died, they would often take various food to the gravesite for 30 days as a way of easing the spirit into the next realm and it was said that the last person who died watched over the cemetery until the next person was interred.

It’s a terrific little facility and I highly recommend it if you are ever out this way.  The travelogue continues after the photos.

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After that I went out to Tybee Island, which acts as Savannah’s beach community.  My first stop was at the Tybee Island Lighthouse and Museum, the latter of which was closed as they prepared it for a fundraising event that night.  But the lighthouse and the light keeper’s houses were open for touring so I tried to shake off the dumb amount of BBQ I had just eaten and started trudging up 175 stairs.  I made it, barely, but then couldn’t go out on the tiny little two-foot wide catwalk.  Have I mentioned how terrified of heights I am?  I took one step out and immediately felt like the entire thing was tipping over and I was sure I was going to fall.  In hindsight I hear Mel Brooks singing “High Anxiety.”

More story after the photos.

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I couple of miles down the road is the highly typical tourist beach town, with its endless line of souvenir and clothing shops, overpriced party bars, and seafood restaurants.  If you have ever been to a place like Myrtle Beach, you have absolutely no need to come here.  Still, the ocean, which is nice.

More after the photos.

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I headed back to the hotel and, now that I’m 48, promptly took a nap.  I’m not ashamed at all.

Tonight was the Savannah Fashion Night, where they take over several blocks of Broughton Street for a festival focused on fashion and art.  By the time I got out there they were pretty much shutting it down but for some reason I’m getting the feeling that I didn’t really miss much.  The people that were left on the street were a strange mixture of artsy students from the Savannah College of Art & Design, and good ol’ boys with plastic cups of beer.

So instead we – oh I should explain we – the night before I met a guy named Junior – no he’s not a good ol’ boy from the south, he’s actually from Toronto originally but moved to rural Georgia a few months ago.  He’s in town visiting friends and family for his birthday as well – one day after mine – and we bonded over shared Virgo traits.  He came out with me Thursday night and we went to Club One where they were having a drag show, but unfortunately not from The Lady Chablis.  She gained a measure of fame after being featured in the book and movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and performs at the club regularly – just not when I’m going to be here.

The ladies on the bill were your fairly standard drag queen types with one exception pictured below.  She came out, whirling and twirling, and literally ran down the dance floor and ended in a full split.  I’ve never seen anything like it and wish I had my camera out when that happened.  Instead all I could catch was this:

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Tomorrow is my last full day in Savannah and I’ll be doing the Railroad Museum, out for a hamburger, and Bonaventure Cemetery plus what I’m hoping will be the pinnacle of the week – Bacon Fest!!

The Year of Living Differently: Georgia on My Mind Day 4 (A Birthday in Savannah)

So today I’m 48.  Thank you for all the happy birthday wishes via Facebook, email, text, and the like.  It is definitely appreciated.  Either read (or skip) to the end for the punchline about my special birthday concerto.

I started the day later than I planned, again, because as mentioned, vacation.  But the point of getting up early in the morning was so I could go stand in line for lunch.  I’ll get to that in second.

First a stroll along Broughton Street, which is sort of like Old Town Pasadena, with blocks and blocks of charmingly restored old buildings, the ground floors of which have been converted into stores, boutiques, shops, restaurants, and markets.  It’s got a touch of American mall commercialism creeping in with a J Crew and Urban Outfitters making appearances but there are a still lots of smaller, independent stores along the way so it balances out in the end.

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About a mile from my hotel was my destination – Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room.  This is a Savannah tradition since 1943 when Sema Wilkes started helping out in the kitchen of the boarding house where her husband was staying.  They bought the place in 1965 and she ran it until her death at age 95 in 2002.  Her family still keeps the tradition alive.

The place is only open from 11am until 2pm during the week and is famous worldwide so it draws quite a few people to its door.  The line could start forming as early as 9am and often by the time they open it could be hundreds of people long.

I got there at about 10:30 and I estimate there were probably 100 people in line, give or take.  I was a bit concerned about having to stand in line that long but then they opened and after the first rush of people had been seated the host came out and asked if there were any singles.  I raised my hand and ran, getting the last seat at the first serving of the day.

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Once again traveling by myself has its merits, much like it did in Chicago when I got into the impossible-to-get-into Purple Pig not once but twice because I was a pathetic loner.

It’s a small place in the basement of a row house style building with only a handful of tables that seat nine people each.  The folks at my table were mostly a convivial lot although they viewed me with suspicion for most of the meal.  First, as mentioned, pathetic loner.  Second, the kind of severe looking woman on my right held her hands out and asked everyone to pray and everyone else at the table joined hands and prayed while I sat there, trying to be respectful with my head bowed slightly.  I didn’t hold it against them that they wanted to pray before the meal but they seemed to hold it against me that I didn’t.  Oh well, I didn’t go there to make conversation or friends.  I went there for the food.

Did I forget to mention that covering table is food… plates and plates and platters and bowls and more plates of it?  I counted 25 different dishes including things like fried chicken, meat loaf, pulled BBQ pork, Brunswick stew, black eyed peas, succotash, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with cheese, corn bread, several different types of beans, red beans and rice, and so much more that I couldn’t keep track of it all.   You get a seat and you start eating and you stop when you are full.  Or maybe you cram in a little bit more because it is just that good.  Everything was delicious – I swear I could eat that fried chicken every day for the rest of my life.  Of course if I did that it would probably be a short life, but it would be a fat and happy one.

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After lunch I walked back over to Troup Square and got more pictures of the Armillary – the sculpture that is an important part of my novel – and of other stuff as well – Spanish moss draped trees, a lovely square with a gazebo, the dog fountain in Troup Square (they have a blessing of the animals every year), a fountain, and random, pretty streets of which there are roughly a million.  Seriously, this is one pretty town.

The story continues after the photos.

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On my way back to the hotel I spotted this place for sale.  I want it.  It’s 5 bedrooms, 5 baths, on Columbia Square in the heart of the historic district and it’s only $1.9 million.  I think that’s a bargain, quite frankly.

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I also stopped and got a tiny little bit of famed Leopold’s ice cream, even though dairy does bad things to me.  It’s another Savannah tradition that was in business from 1919 to 1969 and then reopened again in 2004.  I remember having a scoop when Mary and I were here in 2008 and loving it and it was roughly a billion and three degrees today so it seemed like it was worth the risk.  A kid’s portion of chocolate raspberry was delicious!

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I was supposed to go on a trolley tour this afternoon but the company I was booked with cancelled it at the last minute because they hadn’t sold enough tickets to make it worth their while.  I rescheduled for tomorrow morning, so I rearranged my itinerary to make up for it.

As I have mentioned several times I have written this novel that I am very proud of that takes place here in Savannah.  I have been to the city a couple of times briefly but I did most of the “location scouting” using the Internet – Google Earth, street view, and the like, obsessively pouring over photos and satellite shots to try to map out action pieces and more.  Today, I spent the afternoon going around to a bunch of the places I put in the first book and/or places I intend to put into future books.

It was almost stupid thrilling, I have to admit, even at places like the shot below, which is just a road but an important road on the way to Old Fort Jackson.  In my book, something very bad happens on this road.  It looks like the kind of road where something bad could happen, doesn’t it?

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Then it was on to Old Fort Jackson, where a big action scene takes place in the novel.  It was built for the war of 1812 but was mostly used in the Civil War, guarding the city along the banks of the Savannah River against enemies approaching from the Ocean.  The fort has been restored and there are lots of displays, some cool cannons (which they fire off periodically), and a particularly enthusiastic park guide who knows absolutely everything about the fort, the Civil War, and, perhaps, everything else you might want to ask her about.  Seriously, she is one of those people who does Civil War re-enactments.   Enough said.

The fort itself isn’t that thrilling of a destination – I wanted to see the cannon fired but had to sit through 40 minutes of lecture about cannon shells and maps and how to position a cannon and, I don’t know, I may have dozed off.  But still, for most of the time I was geeking out over seeing this place that I had seen so clearly in my head when I was writing the book.

I am going to have to change a couple of minor details but for the most part it was just the way I thought it would be.

More of today’s story after the pictures – note the one below is of a container ship passing by so close that it seems you could reach out and touch it.

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Afterwards I drove to the Oglethorpe Mall.  Why?  The main character in my book is a 14 year old girl.  And something really bad happens at that mall.  Yes, lots of really bad stuff happens in this book.  But good stuff, too.  Anyway, this was another situation where I’ll have to tweak a few things based on the reality of what it looks like in person versus what it is like on street view but it was still a geeky pleasure to see it.  More after the pictures.

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The next stop was the Colonial Park Cemetery, one of the oldest in the city. This isn’t in my first book but will be in the sequel.  It’s a pretty place, with lots of old monuments and headstones, some lovely Spanish moss draped trees, and the appropriate amount of creepy for what I want to write.  More story after the pics.

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Lastly I went down to River Street along, appropriately enough, the river.  Several blocks of what were once cotton warehouses have been converted into stores, restaurants, hotels, and pubs all built into the bluffs overlooking the water.  It’s charming in a touristy kind of way, with old brick and cobblestone streets, iron walkways rising up the hill, and a great example of how you can preserve a city’s history instead of blowing it up and starting over (I’m looking at you Las Vegas).

More after the pics, including the one of a sign at a pub that I thought was a good thing to live by…

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Finally, for my birthday dinner, I went to the Old Pink House, another Savannah favorite located in an 18th century mansion right next to the hotel in which I am staying. In business for several decades, it’s the kind of place where locals go for their “occasion” meals (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and since me turning 48 is an occasion, I figured it was a good place to go.

The home is beautiful, the staff is lovely, they have a woman in an antebellum gown wandering around saying hello to people, and they serve low-country southern cooking – fried green tomatoes with bacon and sweet corn; a fried pork chop with ham hock gravy, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens; and bacon mashed potatoes, plus a light raspberry sorbet for desert because by that point I had eaten more in the day than I eat in most weeks back home.

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I can barely move, so I sit her typing this on the balcony in the warm Savannah night overlooking the square where, I swear to God, a lone violinist is playing classical music for tips.  If I was writing this into my novel I couldn’t have done it any better so I went downstairs and said to him “I’m sitting on my balcony of the hotel over there, it’s my birthday, and you have made this night absolutely perfect for me, thank you” as I dropped $20 into his violin case.

So he played “Happy Birthday” for me.

I really like this city.

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The Year of Living Differently: Georgia on My Mind Day 3 (Road Trip!)

Many of you will remember the Plucky Survivors See America tour that me and my late friend Mary took around various parts of the US.  They involved lots of driving, lots of food, lots of silly roadside attractions (and a few serious ones), and cows.  It’s a long story.  You can read about it on the website.

Today I decided to turn my trip from Atlanta to Savannah into a one-day version of those Plucky Survivors trips and eschew the direct route – freeways for about 250 miles – so I could explore the Georgia countryside instead.  All in all I drove about 360 miles and made several stops along the way, some planned and some not.

One of the things I learned fairly quickly about rural Georgia highways is that logging truck drivers?  A bit nuts.  Did you ever see the movie “Duel”?  I couldn’t snap a good picture because I was going 70 miles per hour in a 55 zone on a two-lane road through the back woods but the little tiny bit of a dark line you see in the picture below is the roof of a semi trying to crawl up my ass.

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About 140 miles south of Atlanta is the Andersonville National Historic Site, an expansive bit of the Georgia countryside where one of the largest and most notorious prison camps was set up for captured Union soldiers during the Civil War.  It was basically a big wall around a big chunk of field with no shelter and very little in the way of food, water, or supplies.  During the 18 months or so that it was in use, more than 45,000 soldiers were held here, more than three times the number the camp was designed to hold.  Of those, nearly 13,000 died mostly from disease or malnutrition.

The grounds where the stockade once stood are open field now with markers indicating where the walls were.  There are some monuments from the various states whose men died in the camp and a huge cemetery.

It’s also the home of the National Prisoner of War Museum, which contains extensive information about soldiers in captivity and the people who held them there.  It’s a really fascinating place, with well-done exhibits and not-too-cheesy tableaus, but it’s a bit hard to consume.  They made a conscious decision not to group displays or information on any war or theater of war together, instead mixing it all up in an effort to show that prisoners of war are the same regardless of when or where they were held.  So you have info related to the Andersonville camp mixed in with Vietnam War stories and World War II and so on.  I understand the inclination to not want to “play favorites” as it were, but it made absorbing the information difficult at times.

The story continues after the photos

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By the way, Georgia in late August/early September?  Wow, it’s hot.  About a billion degrees and a billion percent humidity, so I didn’t do much exploring of the outdoor areas.  Sue me.

Right across from the prison site is the Civil War theme park of Andersonville proper, a tiny little burg with a few old buildings dressed up in Confederate flag drag.  It gave me the heebie jeebies and so I drove on by.

Just after leaving Andersonville, I stumbled on one of those Historic Marker signs and decided to follow it.  It took me to an airfield that was the site of Charles Lindbergh’s first solo flight.  Cool.

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A quick 15 minute drive away is Americus, Georgia, home (pun intended) of Habitat for Humanity and their Global Discovery Village.  Some people have called this a “slum theme park” but what they have tried to do is show the need and the solution by recreating the shanties, shacks, and shelters found in impoverished countries around the world and then showing the types of homes they have built to get people out of those deplorable living conditions.   One of the most striking things I saw in the slum area was that many of the little spaces had either light bulbs or small televisions; this is done not because these crude shelters have electricity but because those items represent hope that someday the lives of the people living in them will be better.

More story after the photos.

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It’s fascinating and I could’ve spend much more time exploring but did I mention that it was a billion degrees today and that the whole thing is outside?

I cruised up to the center of Americus, with its lovely and well-kept lines of Main Street America buildings, and went on the hunt for something to eat.  I settled on what appeared to be the town café, called The Station.  The waitress swore the burgers were fantastic so I ordered one and it wasn’t fantastic but it was good and hit the proverbial spot.

More after the pics.

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My next stop was what has to be one of the weirdest museums I have ever been to and I have been to some weird-ass museums.  This one was the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum, which you would think would be about telephones… and it is.  Like roughly nine billion telephones from old to more recent.  But then there’s also this other random stuff in it, like a pipe organ and church pews, a giant stuffed bear, weird and vaguely creepy tableaus, old cars (some sitting on flat tires), stuffed animals, Indian artifacts… the list goes on and on.  There was no real rhyme or reason for it that I could discern and I was going to ask the person manning the front desk but she seemed perplexed by the fact that anyone was actually there so I figured that would be a waste of time.

I wasn’t supposed to take pictures, but I snuck a couple below.  My favorite is of the random Indian brave with an expression on his face that seems to say “What the fuck?”  The deer next to him has a similar expression on its face.  I laughed out loud when I saw it.

More story after the pictures.

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On the road for another 100 miles or so and I came across not one, not two, but three different towns advertising various pig themed festivals.  I got pictures of the signs of two of them – The Wild Hog Festival in Ocmulgee (pronounced just the way it looks, I’m guessing) and the Real Squeal BBQ Festival in Lyons.  I think I like Georgia.

More after the photos.

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On the other hand, along the same stretch of highway I saw a place called Fatboys, which advertised “Bait, Meat, Beer, and Deli.”  That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!

Another random sighting on the drive was the Statue of Liberty replica below. It had something to do with honoring people who fought in various wars.

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My last official Plucky-style stop was in Vidalia at the Vidalia Sweet Onion Museum.  Yes, they have things like this, you just need to know where to look for them.  Again, the person at the place seemed surprised that anyone was there to visit – she had to turn on the lights so I could look around.  It’s basically one room with a bunch of stuff about Vidalia onions. Turns out that it’s a felony to try to pass a regular old onion off as a Vidalia.  Good to know.

The creepy onion character?  Yumnion.  I bought a magnet with him on it.

More after the photos.

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The day turned dark and stormy as I headed into Savannah, which was kind of cool in several ways.  First, I love thunderstorms (although not, perhaps, driving in them) but also in the novel that I have mentioned, something very important happens to the main character in the midst of a big storm in Savannah.  It felt almost like I was being welcomed with a light and sound show.

I took a quick drive by Troup Square, where the main character of my book lives, and took a picture of the Troup Armillary – a spherical representation of the universe made in the 1800s.  It is very important to the mythology of my novel so I was almost giddy to see in person for the first time.

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I checked into the hotel – the Planter’s Inn on Reynolds Square and got settled into my room.  This is the same hotel Mary and I stayed in when we visited Savannah back in 2008 (wow – could it have been that long ago?).  It’s still nice, although perhaps a little more worn around the edges than it was six years ago.  Still, the staff is beyond friendly, they have morning breakfast, wine and cheese every evening, and warm cookies in the lobby every night.  I could get used to that.

My room is one of the few that has a balcony and it overlooks the square.

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Once the rain let up, I went for dinner at a place called Zunzi’s 2, a legendary local haunt that serves sandwiches and burgers with a South African flair.  It’s a funky little bar/restaurant where most of the staff is made up of white stoner kids (many with dreadlocks) who are so friendly that I may go back later to light up with them.  Kidding.  Sort of.

They have a sandwich that the Travel Channel called the best in the South and the 2nd best in the entire US called The Conquistador, which is slow-roasted chicken on a freshly baked baguette that you drench in their signature sauces (spicy or kinda spicy).  The female dread-head that delivered it to me said “You have to put both on there, man – I swear to God, it’ll change your life.  Trust me.”

For some reason I trusted her implicitly and told her so and then drenched my sandwich in both of the sauces.  Life changing?  Well, maybe not but it is a fantastic sandwich – easily in my top 5 sandwiches ever and if I didn’t have so much good food on my itinerary I’d go back and have another one.

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Finally, I went for a walk back up to Troup Square and took a few photos along the way.  The cemetery will play an important part in the second book, which I am writing now.

Tomorrow I go out exploring more of Savannah and do some more eating along the way!  Until then…

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The Year of Living Differently: Georgia on my Mind Day 2 (Atlanta Again)

I got a little bit later of a start than I intended because I’m on vacation and I don’t really need to get up as early as my stupid schedule was dictating.  I like to keep busy so I wind up cramming so much stuff in that I can never get to it all unless I start at stupid o’clock, which pretty much destroys the concept of relaxing.

But when I finally got moving I headed to the Center for  Civil and Human Rights.  This brand new facility just opened in July right next door to the World of Coca Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. It’s a lovely building with three levels of exhibits about the civil rights movement and a broader discussion about human rights around the world.

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The main floor features a good overview of the battle that African Americans have faced in this country, focusing on the period between the 1950s and the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  It’s all here – the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma to Montgomery March, Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King Jr, and more examined with video, text, interactive screens, audio, and more.  While nothing is given in depth treatment, there is enough to offer enlightenment and education if you haven’t ever been to a facility like this before.

The things is that I have.  I’ve been to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, built on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Reverend King was assassinated.  I’ve been to the MLK museum and birthplace.  I’ve been to the Rosa Parks museum and driven the Selma to Montgomery march route.  So for the most part this facility didn’t offer me anything new, which is not to say that it’s bad in any way, it just doesn’t dig any deeper than what you would expect.

There were a couple of standout exhibits.  One asks you to sit at a lunch counter, put on a set of headphones, and see how long you can take the verbal harassment and bumps and shoves that the mechanized seat provides.  It’s powerful stuff – I lasted about a minute and then had to stop.

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The other was a really remarkable bit of technology that had 3-D holograms of various human rights pioneers around the world.  Just walk up, swipe in the air for the menu, select a person, and they step up and tell their story.  Fascinating.

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This part of the facility on the second level is mostly about global human rights issues, touching briefly on everything from the subjugation of women in the Middle East to the persecution of gays and lesbians in Africa and beyond.  It also has some calls to action, asking you to learn about how the way you live your daily life can impact people around the globe.  That soccer ball you are kicking around?  It was probably made by children in Asia.

The bottom level of the center has an art gallery and an exhibit of various papers and personal effects belonging to Martin Luther King, Jr.  This room was completely silent and there was a large wall onto which the words “I Have a Dream” were being projected in multiple languages, sort of fading in and out like wisps of smoke.  Beautiful.

I always try to get a souvenir at places like this so I got a magnet with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.  It reads: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”  Wise man, that Abe.

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Next it was lunchtime.  I needed a BBQ fix so I went to a place I had read about called the Bone Lick BBQ.  In addition to getting rave reviews, it has a bit of a celebrity connection in that actor David Cross – you know, the “Analrapist” Tobias Funke from “Arrested Development” (among other things) – is an investor.  That alone made me want to eat there.

It’s located in a newish mixed use complex (apartments and shops) but the inside of it looks like a well-worn roadhouse, complete with concrete floors and corrugated tin on the walls.  And it’s not fake roadhouse, like those stupid chain restaurants – this felt authentic even though it really wasn’t.

The menu is fascinating, with things like Big Ol’ Totties (tater tots topped with sausage, pulled pork, chipotle BBQ sauce, Brunswick stew, and homemade cheese sauce), pork cheek and grits, homemade pork rinds, and all sorts of slow-cooked ‘que.  They also had something on the late night menu called “Bitch, Please.”  I asked and was told “It’s sort of a fried cheese and bacon thing with cheese that you dip it in.”  I intend to go back for this.

I got a two-item combo – pulled pork and chicken, plus a side of their jalapeno mac and cheese and a couple of pieces of toast.  I know recently I said that Smoq in Chicago was the best BBQ I had tasted in a long time, perhaps ever, but this was insane good.  The pork was perfectly smoky and practically melted in my mouth while the chicken was the most tender, juiciest piece of bird I have ever had.  There were five different kinds of sauce, from vinegar based to mustard to sweet, which is the one I preferred.  I give this one an A+ and may come back next Saturday when I pass back through Atlanta on my way home.

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After lunch I continued my tenuous Hollywood connection theme with a trip into a lovely section of town (sarcasm implied) to get a couple of pictures of Terminus, the series of buildings that is a main focal point for the series “The Walking Dead” at the end of the last season and, presumably, in the beginning of the next one.  The train car is even there!

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And if you don’t watch the show, I don’t want to know you anymore.

Next it was a stop to what I believe I am counting as my third presidential library (after Clinton and Lincoln) with the Carter Center.  I don’t have a strong opinion about Jimmy Carter as a president but I have a very high opinion of his life after the White House and thing he is the closest thing we have to a saint in this country.  The work he and his foundation have done around the globe is nothing short of miraculous and I was eager to learn more about the man and his life.

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The museum was only okay, I have to say.  It was very heavy on the text and photos, with only a little bit of video and almost no interactivity.  The recreation of the Oval Office is always impressive.

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Still, I did learn some stuff like the fact that the peace treaty that Carter negotiated between Israel and Egypt has held for decades and that since it was signed in 1978, no Egyptian has killed and Israeli or vice versa.  Pretty remarkable.

I went back to the hotel after that to fight with the Internet (and lost most of the time) and then went to dinner at a place called Bantam + Biddy, which was supposed to be a new southern restaurant but was really more of a shiny café.  I ordered the meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese and it was good but not worth rhapsodizing about.  That’s okay – there are lots more opportunities for good southern cooking ahead.

Tomorrow I go on a journey that evokes the Plucky Survivors days with a road trip across Georgia and stops at museums both serious and silly before I finally get to Savannah.

The Year of Living Differently: Georgia on My Mind Day 1 (Atlanta)

Georgia Traveloguey

Why are you going there?

That has been the most common question I have received when I told people I was going to Atlanta and Savannah for my birthday vacation.

The reasons are long and varied.  Food is a big part of it – I love southern food and haven’t had a good fix in many years.  But beyond that, Atlanta is fun and Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Plus, the new novel I just wrote is set in Savannah so I’ll be going to see all the things I wrote about but haven’t actually visited before.  I’ve been to Savannah but not to some of the specific places I put in the book.

Besides, it’s my birthday, and I’ll go wherever I damn well please.

It was a very uneventful flight from Los Angeles.  The last time I flew Delta I swore I would never do it again but this time was quite lovely, with good service, comfortable seats, and an arrival 10 minutes ahead of time.  The only oddity was the woman who was seated next to me who, through some mix up at the ticketing window, had been seated in row 30 (economy plus) while her husband was in row 52 (coach).  Apparently this was a tragedy of almost epic proportions.  First, she asked both me and the woman on the other side of her to switch seats with her husband so they could sit together.  Hmmm… trade an economy plus window seat for a middle coach seat?  No thank you.

Then she spent the last 10 minutes of the time on the ground furiously texting her husband and the next 15 minutes after that shifting in her seat to look back behind her.

Finally she got up and moved back to sit next to him because apparently she couldn’t be 22 rows away from him for a 3 ½ hour flight.  I don’t get it but maybe that’s why I’m single.

Things started to go haywire when I got to Atlanta at the rental car pickup.  I had reserved a full-size vehicle and all of the ones they had available were, to be blunt, pieces of crap.  Chevy Impalas (the old ones), Nissan Altimas, and the like all with over 30,000 miles on the odometer.  I worked in the rental car industry many years ago and I can tell you that 30,000 miles on a rental car is like 100,000 miles on a normal car – that’s how badly they get treated.

So I decided to upgrade but even the premium vehicles were kinda junky.  They had a Chevy Camaro that I finally settled on only to see that it had a huge scratch on one side and insanely high mileage and they wanted $25 per day more for it.

Finally I gave up and picked a boring Toyota Camry with 26,000 miles on it.  I made it out of the parking garage when a loud “DING DING DING” started emanating from the dashboard and the “Maintenance Required” light came on.

Back around into the rental car center and as I was standing there they pulled up a shiny new Buick La Crosse and I said “that one,” agreed to the extra daily charge, and drove off in it.  Nice car – even nicer than the one Mary and I had several years ago when we first started Plucky Survivors.

I’m staying at the Artmore Hotel in Midtown, which was my second error.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice and interesting place, originally built in 1924 and in business as a hotel ever since so it certainly more character than the Marriott Suites I was going to stay in.  But the staff is a bit cold and brusque at times (I feel like I’m bothering them every time I ask a question), and some of the modern conveniences you get in a modern hotel are missing.  Internet that works, for instance.

My original room, located at the very back of the property, got no signal at all, so their solution was to give me a number for technical support who wanted me to do things like reboot my computer and check my LAN settings.  It’s not my computer, it’s the cheap ass router that’s a million miles away at the front of the hotel.

When I showed them that I could get connected fine in the lobby but not in the room they said, “Well, you’re welcome to bring your computer to the lobby when you want to go online.”  I said, “Um, no.”

“Then what would you like me to do, Sir?” came the very annoyed reply.

They finally agreed to switch my room but the only other one they had available was a two-bedroom suite, which is kind of ridiculous for just me.  It’s nice with a full kitchen, a dining room, and a living room downstairs, and two bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs.  The furnishings are well-tended and the funky art on the walls are things like a painting of Audrey Hepburn from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and black and white photos of Elvis, The Beatles, and Mick Jagger.

Of course the Internet barely works here – I have to perch my computer on the corner of the dining room table, keep it perfectly still and not breathe on it, and then reconnect every 10-15 minutes because it drops me like I’m a microphone at the end of a poetry slam.

But all was redeemed with dinner at a nearby bistro called South City Kitchen.  They specialize in southern classics and I thought it was a perfect way to kick off my Deep South adventured.  I started with the Pork BBQ appetizer – shredded pork on a scallion and grits hoecake (sort of like a cornbread pancake) and topped with BBQ sauce and horseradish slaw.  I love it when a dish mixes disparate flavors together and this one did so perfectly – tangy slaw, sweet sauce, and smoky meat.   Really just perfect.

For the main course I went with the buttermilk fried chicken served on a bed of mashed red potatoes and garlic collard greens.   This was upscale in a foodie kind of way but still holding on to its southern cooking roots.  Exactly the right amount of breading on the chicken, a little spicy but not too much, and juicy beyond belief.

Strolled back to the hotel enjoying the warm night air and then went out for a drink at a local pub.

All in all a successful first day.  For my Labor Day activities I will be going to a new civil rights museum, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, and the place where Rick, Glen, Maggie, and Darryl are being held prisoner in a train car*!

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* If you don’t watch “The Walking Dead” you only have yourself to blame.