Savannah is a cool town. The farmer’s market is thumping this morning in Forsyth Park. There are food wagons, peanut vendors, farmers, growers, butchers, artists, buskers, hipsters, and tourists crawling all over, hawking their wares.
This little market is located within the heart of the oldest planned city in the U.S., beneath the canopies of mossy oaks, and you can feel that heart beating today.
There are lots of families here. There are children running around with ice-cream smears on their cheeks. There are sleep-deprived parents, sipping coffee from paper cups, pushing strollers that are the size of Honda Civics. There are golden retrievers wearing Atlanta Braves jerseys. There are Midwesterner tourists clad in T-shirts which read: “I’m Not Being Rude, I’m From Minnesota.”
I meet an old man who sits on a bench, braiding a crucifix from a palmetto frond, humming to himself.
“Yo, dude,” he says as I walk by. “Here you go.”
He presents me with the crucifix.
And since this isn’t my first visit to Savannah, I reach into my wallet and give the man a twenty.
“Thanks, dog,” he says, fumbling a cigarette into the corner of his lip. “You got a light?”
He smiles and shrugs. “Don’t apologize, dude. Don’t ever apologize for things you can’t control.”
Philosophy lessons are free here in Savannah.
Savannah is one of my favorite cities. I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been to New York City; it gave me panic attacks. I’ve been to Philly, Newark, D.C., Vegas, L.A., and once I almost died of hypothermia in Chicago while waiting for the El train. You can keep your major cities.
I prefer Savannah. Maybe what I love is the history, or maybe it’s the way the sunlight hits the cobblestones. Or perhaps it’s that everyone here always seems like they’re in a great mood. I don’t know.
Either way, this is the town that birthed American hospitality. This is a city that has survived America’s first epidemics, yellow fever, wars, Depressions, and the horrors of real estate development.
This is the hometown of Johnny Mercer. Sadly, a lot of kids have never even heard the name Mercer. Which is a minor tragedy.
In public schools, we now have progressive music classes that teach our children about the artistic achievements of Madonna, Sting, Usher, and Lady Gaga. But for some reason we leave out names like Joplin, Gershwin, Ellington, Armstrong, and Johnny Mercer.
Savannah is also the birthplace of the Girl Scouts. Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Scouts, was way ahead of her time.
Oh, and you know how everyone nowadays is talking about inclusion, equality, and eliminating racial divisions? Yeah, well, the Girl Scouts have been practicing such things since 1912. Look it up. These are among the many things you can learn in Savannah when talking to men on park benches, braiding palmetto fronds.
After I spend the morning browsing the farmer’s market, I find myself wandering back in the direction from whence I came. I am admiring the beards of Spanish moss in the trees overhead. I am taking in the Gothic Revival architecture, listening to the sounds of a quintessential Southeastern city.
When I see my old-man friend again, the man is still busy braiding palmetto fronds, and his cigarette remains unlit.
The old man is approached by a little boy—a kid who is apparently smitten with the old man’s craftsmanship. The old man immediately becomes more animated now that he has an audience.
The boy says he wants to learn how to braid a rose from a palm leaf.
The old timer obliges. He pats the ground beside him. “Have a seat, dog. I’ll teach you how.”
And he does. The elderly man patiently teaches the child how to braid a palmetto rose while the kid’s dad videos the whole thing with a smartphone.
The man’s leathery hands guide the young boy’s little hands, and soon the kid is weaving a beautiful piece of art.
The elderly man is pleased with himself. I can tell by the way he smiles his tooth at the kid.
“Hey, dog,” the old man says. “You’re pretty good at this. I better be careful or you gonna take my job.”
When the kid finishes his rose, he presents it to the old man as a gift.
The old man seems taken aback by this simple gesture.
“For me?” the old salt says. “Ain’t you wanna keep it?”
The kid shakes his head. “I want you to have it.”
The man clutches the rose against his chest. “Thank you, dog.”
I’m telling you. This really is a cool town.