One Hundred Degrees in Savannah

SAVANNAH—It’s hard not to love this town. It’s easy on the eyes, colorful, and there are flowers everywhere.

There are also sweaty tourists, out and about, on foot, exploring Georgia’s oldest city on a sunny afternoon. I wander among them, keeping at least fifty feet away. My surgical mask on.

For the past few weeks I’ve been rediscovering America. I’ve had friends email and ask why I’m on a road trip during a worldwide pandemic.

The answer is because I was starting to lose my mind at home. After almost a hundred months indoors, I had grown deeply lethargic. Maybe even depressed. A friend of mine recommended a change in scenery.

At first I was apprehensive about traveling, but then I figured: “You know what? My mental health is a wreck, and if I don’t do something about it, who will?”

This American tour has been good medicine. I’ve learned a lot, too. The first thing I’ve learned is that Georgia is hotter than the fires of hell. It is 102 degrees outside today.

This is actually a valuable lesson because it reminds me of how artificial our society can be. We modern Americans, for instance, have air conditioning, non-stop digital entertainment, gourmet take-out, and round-the-clock Walmarts where you can buy spray cheese at any odd hour of the night.

But when you visit historic towns like Savannah, you get a sense of how life was three centuries ago. And it dawns on you that our modern electrified society isn’t necessarily the “real” world.

Early Americans’ lives were filled with real-world nature, agriculture, and back-cracking work. They were serenaded by crickets, backyard chickens, frogs, and distant pianos; we have car stereos and electric lawnmowers. They brewed rainwater-and-dandelion tea; I eat spray cheese on Fritos.

My wife and I walk over to Oglethorpe Square for a look around. The place is filled with young tourists seated on benches, all playing on their smartphones.

It’s bizarre to see so many people wandering the ruins of history, but staring at little glowing devices.

There is a tour guide nearby, giving his spiel to a small crowd. I overhear him say that this city is where our country’s first crops were tested. Long ago a little patch of local dirt named Trustees’ Garden was lush with our nation’s very first strains of cotton, peaches, rice, grapes, mulberry trees, and olives.

“Savannah’s soil,” says the tour guide, “was the beginning of American agriculture. This is where it all began, folks.”

I can’t explain why, but I’m overcome with an urge to grab a handful of dirt, just to feel it. After all, the cotton shirt I’m wearing right now traces its heritage back to strains of cotton first grown within this Georgia earth.

I wait until nobody is looking, I stoop low and touch the warm soil. That’s when I lock eyes with a small pug doing his business a few feet from me. He, too, is showing deep appreciation for this earth.

After a full day of walking, my wife and I rest our feet and grab coffee in a little café. It’s a nice joint. Inside, everyone is wearing surgical masks.

Almost everyone.

A large family enters the place. They are loud, young, and rowdy. The family’s kids are chasing each other, knocking over napkin dispensers, shouting. And here is the best part: they’re all coughing violently. Everyone in this family is obviously sick. And maskless.

The manager is calm, but firm. He escorts the un-masked family outside and gives the father a brief lecture. The family leaves, but not quietly. The father shows his No-No Digit to the manager and storms off, still wiping snot from his nose.

When the manager reenters the building, we the customers don’t know whether to applaud him or build a bronze statue in his honor. We are grateful for what he did, but this new normal feels so weird.

My wife and I tour the rest of the city until we develop blisters on our feet. And even though it’s almost suppertime the ambient temperature is still 102 degrees. It’s not hard to figure out how this town got its name.

We hit the River District. Many of the alleys are paved with stones that arrived from England in the 1730s. These English river rocks have seen it all. From carriage wheels and Model Ts, to Toyotas and happy little pugs.

But I think what I like most about Savannah is how tough these people are. This town had a hard time just getting started. The fact it’s still here is a bona fide miracle.

The whole city nearly burnt to the ground. Twice. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, after the fire of 1820—when the downtown was still covered in soot—yellow fever started killing off half the population.

Over at Colonial Park Cemetery are mass graves from the outbreak. The headstones are nothing short of sobering. Many mark the graves of infants.

But in some strange way, it’s comforting to know that our ancestors faced the same problems we have. I don’t know why this is, but it makes me feel less alone.

We wander along the river, watching the distant boats. I meet an elderly man dressed in ragged clothes. He smells like gin. He’s braiding decorative roses from palmetto fronds, humming to himself.

He hands me a rose for no apparent reason. I am caught off guard by this. I offer to pay him for his beautiful work, but he says he doesn’t want money.

I ask why he’s being so generous to a stranger like me.

“Don’t need a reason to be nice,” he says.

Well. I wish the whole world felt the same way they do here.

27 comments

  1. Cheryl - August 2, 2020 11:27 am

    I’m glad you were able to enjoy Savannah, my home. When this craziness is over, please come back on a book tour.

    Reply
  2. Beryl - August 2, 2020 11:54 am

    Kindness costs nothing and reaps bountiful gratitude.

    Reply
  3. Heidi - August 2, 2020 12:22 pm

    I know what you mean about going crazy being cooped up so long. We finally packed up & went camping with friends. Didn’t wear a mask the whole time and it was good to just see other humans…and smiles.
    Savannah sounded beautiful (tho hot). The bonus…a kind man that remembers what’s important in a society….doing something nice for no reason at all. We surely need more of that.

    Reply
  4. Helen De Prima - August 2, 2020 12:48 pm

    I’m greatly enjoying your peregrinations — “road trip” is my equivalent of “open sesame”, and gasoline is my recreational drug of choice. You’ve got me humming “On the road again . . .”

    Reply
  5. Connie - August 2, 2020 12:49 pm

    We absolutely do not need a reason to be nice. That’s a good lesson for every day but especially now. I’m glad you got a chance to get out of the house. My whole family works in “essential” jobs so we have not been confined to home. We don’t do much else besides work and come home but we all miss the freedom of visiting our other family members. It’s a hard thing right now to balance safety and the need for human contact. Love and hugs and safe travels.

    Reply
  6. Jan - August 2, 2020 12:57 pm

    Excellent! A road trip to soothe the soul is just my kind of medicine. I had the same mental issues … if I don’t get out of this house, I am going insane! A few days on the road was just what I needed. Glad you are letting me go along on this road trip with you and your lovely wife!

    Reply
  7. Tammy S. - August 2, 2020 1:05 pm

    Being nice. It’s free and such a gift to those who get and give niceness!! I work in a preschool and with young adults with developmental challenges. Both a demographic who, by nature, excepting the occasional temper tantrum, are just happy and nice! I miss my work but I miss the people from work the most. Thanks for your many encouraging stories. Loved this one!! And yes, Savannah is SO hot! But so beautiful and full of history!! Also, your “no-no digit” cracked me up. A laugh this morning, and the challenge to be nice. Thanks Sean!

    Reply
  8. Charlie Mathers - August 2, 2020 1:16 pm

    Thank you, brother…

    Reply
  9. Kathy - August 2, 2020 1:19 pm

    Thank you for applauding the manager who took the initiative to call out the family putting others at risk. He probably gets verbally abused regularly for insisting on measures that keep his customers safe. You have always been great, Sean, at recognizing the hidden heroes in our midst.

    Reply
  10. Suzanne Cahill - August 2, 2020 1:22 pm

    Reading this was a great way to start the morning! My husband and I visited Savannah 2 years ago and absolutely fell in love the city, and its people. Thank you, Sean. And…big props to that cafe manager.

    Reply
  11. karehebKaren Hebert - August 2, 2020 1:40 pm

    Sean, your stories and insights of your travels are heart warming. I appreciate your creative writing. I look forward to reading your articles. They are a highlight in my day. Thanks for the uplifting articles.

    Reply
  12. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - August 2, 2020 3:12 pm

    Glad you two are out & about enjoying life again. Other than school closing ours hasn’t changed much. Our work has slowed a lot but not stopped.
    Stay safe & God bless you both.

    Reply
  13. Melodie - August 2, 2020 3:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing your trip to Savannah! It brought back a lot of memories. I was booked to go in Sept., but cancelled for obvious reasons, some of which you mention. Savannah has tons of history. Back when I played music, I played a couple of places in Savannah. Even acquired a puppy from there, and aptly named him, yep, Savannah. He wasn’t a pug, but a mean miniature Dachshund, who grew to the ripe old grumpy age of, 18. We played a place which is no longer there. A restaurant and lounge called, The Plantation. It was on Oglethorpe. We played the Gateway Holiday Inn off of I-95. Was supposed to work the Boar’s Head on the riverfront, but had too much equipment to haul up stairs to a tiny lounge and stage. Oh, for the good old days…..?

    Reply
  14. Vicky Woolery - August 2, 2020 3:37 pm

    Thanks, Sean. Most can’t roam like that so we appreciate your roaming and telling. Bless you.

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  15. Linda Moon - August 2, 2020 4:56 pm

    Just how do you know that Georgia is hotter than hell? Do you KNOW the actual temperature down there? …(just wondering). Thank you for admitting that you’ve been a wreck. A lot of us have, but only a chosen few would be honest about it. A lot of us are also grateful that you’ve been nice enough to take us along on your changes of scenery in that beautiful South you’ve been tripping in. The other half-Moon here says to tell you you’re not alone. We’re in the same boat with you. He’s a really nice guy, and so are you Mr. South!

    Reply
  16. Kris Wehrheim - August 2, 2020 5:07 pm

    Thank you for taking us with you!

    Reply
  17. Ginger Smith - August 2, 2020 5:12 pm

    Savannah also outlawed lawyers and slavery in the first few years. It didn’t last long.

    Reply
  18. MAM - August 2, 2020 6:14 pm

    There’s never too much “nice” in the world. Let’s all decide to spread it!

    Reply
  19. Dawn Bratcher - August 2, 2020 7:51 pm

    Lovely…that’s the word that comes to me for Savannah by your description. I have never had the pleasure of visiting it. Oh, how I would love to travel to see some wonderful and historic cities!

    Reply
  20. Timothy Bell - August 2, 2020 9:48 pm

    This would be a much better country if everyone didn’t need a reason to be nice.

    Reply
  21. kyra C. Bowman - August 2, 2020 9:51 pm

    You painted a lovely picture of a lovely city. We lived there in the 70’s and my son was born there. Went back at Christmas and it is the same. I was touring my son around the city, showing him all the places we had lived. We stopped at a little cottage in Ardsley Park–where we lived before he was born, My son got out to take a picture. There was a woman on the porch. I went up to her and explained why we were photographing her house. I told her we lived there in 1975. Turned out that she and her husband bought the house from us! Her husband had recently passed away and she was staying on. She even remembered my name! That is how the people in Savannah are.

    Reply
  22. Mike Bone - August 2, 2020 10:24 pm

    I have a cousin that lives in Savannah that currently has C19. I wish the father you mentioned could talk with her. He might realize what a prick he is being……..probably not.

    Reply
  23. Christina - August 3, 2020 12:45 am

    Even hot as hell places can offer refreshing kindness. Thanks for sharing your road trip with us. You would be a good host for tv series “Beautiful American towns with Sean of the South”.

    Reply
  24. Nena Manci - August 3, 2020 1:55 am

    We were visiting Savannah for the day yesterday, as well. The heat was sweltering. But it is such a lovely place to visit.
    Too bad we didn’t bump into you.

    Reply
  25. Robert Chiles - August 3, 2020 7:08 pm

    Seeing the places around town that were in “Midnight in the garden of Good and Evil” is a delight, especially Bonaventure Cemetery.

    Reply
  26. Summer Hartzog - August 3, 2020 7:09 pm

    You captured Savannah beautifully, and I think we met the same old man in Forsyth Park on a 103 degree day last May. Or one much like him. I still have my palmetto rose.

    Reply
  27. Anne - August 5, 2020 9:45 pm

    Georgia is hotter than the fires of hell. But here we are! We’re masked, we’re distancing, we’re depressed, we’re angry, and we’re persevering. Thank you for this wonderful article about our wonderful town. You uplifted my spirit when I truly needed it today. I’m buying one of your books tonight!!! Many thanks…..

    Reply

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