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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