and Riding The Number 14 Abercorn Bus
Savannah, Georgia 2011 - Part I
I swear I was going to write a book called, ‘How To See Savannah on your Ass” one day, and this might be it. If anyone is going to try to steal my idea, don’t because I got this one here all written, and the other one started & being looked at by agents and my lawyer has got me covered. And so, here it is. I started writing this under the title of, “The Number 14 Abercorn Bus” and gradually it transitioned into more funny stories, incidents and information about Savannah and the Historic District. And most importantly, How To See Savannah On Your Ass. My story will take you all over Savannah as I write about my favorite spots, bat-shit crazy people and experiences riding that damned Number 14. But I realized while writing and walking around town, you really can see all of Savannah while sitting on your ass.
I hope that you’re sitting on your ass as you are reading these words, get a snack to munch on and perhaps your favorite beverage. It kind of proves my point. Let me take you on a quick trip around Savannah, it’s no bother at all and I love to talk about it anyway, so let’s go.
Savannah is a great walking city and there is a lot to see and do. Don’t fret about getting around town or taking a walking tour. The best way to see Savannah is just by starting in the center of town, perhaps on the corner of Bull and York Streets, as I did, right there in Wright’s Square.
It’s as good a place to start, as any. Don’t mind the ghosts around town, they’ll hardly bother you at all.
You won’t have to worry about getting tired, lost, or finding a place to eat. There are restaurants, cafes, park benches, stone and concrete walls, horse drawn carriages, bicycle taxis, water taxis (by tug boat down at the river), paddle-wheel boats, and more places to sit and park your ass than a god-damned baseball stadium.
There are ghosts and spooks, historic statues and buildings, a river and marshes, tree lawns and a gazillion trees, cobble-stoned streets and marble headstones and a place to park your ass on every corner.
The cuisine of the south is nothing to chide about, southern cooking is some of the best food you’ll ever put in your mouth.
My partner and I cannot visit quaint areas very easily, because we’re currently traveling in a private bus. Forty feet in length. We generally have to make special arrangements to get into town via another route, and we do. Sometimes it’s not easy. We have small motor-bikes that we tow on the back of our bus, but occasionally we ride public transit: ferry, bus, train or what have you. I have some cool friends who will offer to chauffeur when I‘m in town.
But this is the way I ended up in Savannah, by private bus.
We parked at Skidaway Island, State Park.
From there we rode our motor-bikes to the bus stop and jumped on the Number 28 bus that runs down Water’s Avenue from the Diamond Causeway on the south, right down to Randy’s Ribs on the north.
Ignore every rib-joint in Savannah and check out Randy’s. You’ll miss it really, if you’re not careful. Look for a long line of black folks standing there waiting to get some of Randy’s ribs before he sells out. He always sells out around noon or one, so be sure to get there early, like I do. If you see a long line of black folks standing around, and one white boy standing in the middle, that white boy will most likely be me. Some of the best salmon-colored potato salad you’ll ever put in your pie hole. Sauce something golden and laden with honey on those ribs. Don’t ask for the recipe, they’ll laugh you out into the street.
We rode that damned 28 city bus all the way into town with a new friend as an escort. We were headed for the Historic District. That’s really where it’s at, however you can get around all over Savannah by bus, and I have.
The first time we got on the Water’s Avenue bus, we were the only two white people on the bus. We had never been in Savannah before, not knowing where we were going. Everyone on the bus was black and the bus was full. There was a sea of eyes that glanced our way, pretend not to notice.
the odd tweed,
without much care
gazing out of the window,
a peek to the floor,
straight ahead or a glance towards
Okay, so there we are, two gay men that don’t seem to fit, sitting on a bus and not knowing where we’re going, exactly. Dressed like we just got off the plane from Southern California;
A light pull-over sweater
Carrying what look like two black purses
that contain a Yorshire Terrier in each one.
Five pounds each.
Name Haley & Zoey, with a y.
When the bus stopped again, a pasty-white Queen named Bobby pranced aboard in pink gingham shorts and a confidence about him, grabbed a seat across from us. His skin was ghostly pale, drained of blood. After a minute or two, he looked directly at us and squeaked, ’Hey girls, where are y’all from and where are y’all goin‘?” Of course, we all started laughing and that helped to lightened us up.
If you’re southern you use the phrase: y’all. If you’re really southern and you are addressing more than two people, it’s polite to use the phrase, ‘all y’all’.
Bobby was somewhat known around Savannah for being a bit avant-garde, a bit of a flamer & perhaps a little bit sissy around the edges. He was in his early forties, but with gay men sometimes you cannot tell. But people liked him. He worked at The Men’s Warehouse way out on Abercorn part time, sizing up the male clientele and their inseams, making certain of a proper fit in the crotch while pretending to measure the length. It’s a great job for a single gay man. I’m certain many heterosexual male salesmen have tried it, too. Just to see. Maybe an extra squeeze here and a tug there, a slight adjustment, cup the man if he is particularly handsome. Or maybe just for fun. Bobby was as gay as they come, probably lives with his mother, you know the type.
I know I would cup men the very same way Bobby did. I used to sell Men’s clothes at J. Rigging’s in Chicago many, many years ago at the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora. The malls & men’s clothing stores were somewhat cruise-y back then. I once had four men hit on me at the same time. Thrilling, really. Oh to be young, but where was I?
Oh yeah… The number fourteen Abercorn bus.
You haven't really lived a full and exciting life until you've been forced to ride a city bus. Not a tour bus, a real bus. One that folks use to get around town on, mostly because they have to. Perhaps they have to go grocery shopping. They’re forced to haul their groceries and other crap home on the bus, a bit of nuisance but manageable. Some go to work by riding the bus and some, go to church, out to lunch or just out to a favorite spot for whatever reason.
It’s really a private affair, some are shamed.
And I when I say forced to ride the bus, I mean, forced. I should know, I was forced to ride that Number 14 for four months following a surgery. The historic district is a-buzz with horse and carriage, tour bus and city bus, car and bicycle, pedestrian and hearse. The spooks, ghosts and other haints don’t seem to be a bother. They allow public drinking as long as you don’t advertise and folks will park a car anywhere in Savannah. Maybe they have to stop quickly when entering one of the squares because they missed the sign, yield. Or perhaps they’ve been drinking.
In any event, I missed one of the parked cars in the middle of Bull Street and required the attention of a doctor. There’s to much to see in Savannah and if you don’t keep a steady eye, you might end up on the ground as I did.
Following a surgical procedure, ahem, I rode that damned bus out of the district twelve miles and then walked half a mile to physical therapy and back again.
It’s one thing to ride a bus here and there for shits and giggles, but until you have to ride a bus, for whatever reason, you don’t really get the flavor, feel, color and scent of riding a city bus.
Those buses can be stinky. And you had better pray to sweet Jesus that stink isn’t vomit. People get sick on the bus as they ordinarily do. Unfortunately, the bus is tight of space and scent travels. It can be pungent. Pray the driver has the air on, and the riders - deodorant or that a window or two is perched open. You won‘t want to actually stand up and open a window yourself, because then, all eyes are on you and really, it‘s best to be as inconspicuous as possible. Trouble lurks. You’ll question who you are, and why you are there. No need to call attention to yourself. Stare forward, smile and pretend not to care.
Never ride a city bus after lunch, the farts will kill you and make your eyes pop out of their sockets.
Savannah Georgia has a great bus system and I got to learn a bit about it first hand. I never did actually learn about the busses and all the crazy routes they take. I mean I learned about what it’s like to have to ride the city bus.
You really can get around the entire city by bus, sight seeing in more ways than one. I actually learned about riding on the Number 14 Abercorn Bus in Savannah as a human being, vulnerable to the whim of others, the stare, the carelessness and the crazy people that ride. Not all are crazy, but some are bat-shit crazy and certifiable, like the Bible Lady or the Neurosurgeon.
While the 28 runs Waters, The 14 runs Abercorn, and parallels the 28, sorta. The 14 runs from inside the Historic District from down around Broughton Street, or up, depending on whether your sense of direction in Savannah is any good.
Most folks get turned around.
I know I have.
Before I learned it.
I used to think north was south
…and south was north.
Finding direction can really problematic in Savannah when you’re getting on the roads and you see the sun where it shouldn’t really be, but it’s not the sun’s fault, it’s yours for getting turned around. I’ll never get used to the east coast, after living on the west coast for so many decades. The bus wanders out all over Savannah, here and there. Takes a while to get used to, if you care. The 14 Abercorn goes out & around the Oglethorpe Mall, and then past it to god knows where.
I’ve never been out there, to the far outside of Savannah, I guess names change. I don’t plan on going and neither should you. Try to stay in that district as much as possible and don’t ever go west.
I swear, the more you ride that old 14, the more you hate that damn mall it circles. It’s a waste of time while you sit and the bus circles, picking up all who travel from all four directions. It must be hell if you have to ride the bus all the way out to wherever it goes and back again. Only thing worse are transfers. If you ride you know.
We fell in love with Savannah and so, we are now living part time in the Historic District on Troupe Square. I love it there, Savannah is a great small city. If you haven't been, I highly recommend it. I wouldn’t live anywhere other than inside the Historic District. I feel safe there and the outskirts of town seem daunting, scary and gloomy - the mall is out there. Inside the district, the police station is near. The general air in the district is relaxing, casual but can be slightly formal at times. White linen can be found indoors or out. Jacket and tie are not required but nobody cares if you doll up. Gay people are welcome.
When we first fell in love with the district, we fell in love with a run-down apartment building on West Harris Street on Pulaski Square. Two Ten West Harris was the address. The Green Square. Quiet but really, why nobody has bothered to put a fountain there in that square is beyond me. There certainly are wealthy property owners on that square, across the square is Charlton Street and there are stunning homes all the way around.
I happened to call a local realtor and saw 210 West Harris while sitting on my ass, out of the back window of her black Mercedes as we flew around the square. Our realtor was rattling off who lived where, who did what, what was what and who was who in town as we drove by. She included a bit of history as we went along. She was a real southern belle and one of the top listing agents in town. Smart as a whip, blonde and can either have honey dripping off the tongue or cut to the quick. Don’t let the sparkling blue eyes fool you. She was always dressed fashionably and dripping in diamonds and jewels.
She had a deep voice and sounded somewhat like Tallulah Bankhead when she uttered those famous words,
‘I have three phobias which, could I mute them, would make my life as slick as a sonnet, but as dull as ditch water - I hate to go to bed, I hate to get up, and I hate to be alone.’
One of the other phrases Tallulah used that I just adore is,
‘I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me.’
The building we bought and renovated was an 1849 brick home that was converted into an apartment building in the fifties, sixties or seventies, I think. I really can’t remember. It was a real shame to break up that original grand old home with its six fireplaces. The largest two on the ground or garden level, as they are called in Savannah. They used to cook down there in those big fireplaces with cast iron. The fireplaces on the ground floor were generally the largest with smaller fireplaces upstairs. Many owned slaves in the district. There was a brick courtyard and carriage house for the horses out back. Perhaps the slaves lived there too, in the carriage house, among the horses. I’ve been in a few that have. The slaves painted the inside of the carriage house ceiling in the Owen-Thomas House a deep haint-blue. Haint is and old colloquial word for ghost, and really, blue is often used to mimic the sky. Perhaps they felt claustrophobic and trapped. That blue was used to keep the spirits out. I know I would. I really should know my history better, but I can’t remember everything. Slaves were common, accepted. I know just enough to be dangerous but you can’t trust a word I say, so don’t.
Oh, and the number 14 does not travel around Pulaski Square so it’s real quiet there, little if any traffic. To see the house we renovated & sold, you’ll have to walk.
That old Owen-Thomas house was started around 1816 and finished in 1819. That old house was originally built for a man named Richardson and was known as his house. There were several changes in owners and it’s now been left to the Telfair, however they don’t take much good care of it inside, if you ask me. They ask for donations, but really, much of the house is still in disrepair even though they charge a fortune to get in and still, they ask for more money but can’t afford a lick of sand paper or paint.
The house was originally designed by an English architect named William Jay of Bath. The house plants were drawn while Willie Jay was still in England. He sent those architectural drawings and elevations to Savannah before he even showed up there. The foundations had already been laid when he arrived. The house was to be as beautiful as those in Bath, England, aesthetically and all.
We converted our building from a dull, dark and dingy apartment building into condominiums, lovingly restored the entire building and carriage house.
The building had crack-heads living on the ground floor and four or five college girls living above. Filthy really. I counted as many as eleven cats living in that building, most on the ground floor with the crack-heads. When I walked through in contemplation of purchase, the fleas ate my legs something bad. There were two dogs left mostly alone on the third floor by the girl who lived there. The dogs had nowhere to go to the bathroom, so they did it inside that stinky apartment.
I have no idea how those people lived like that. The crack-heads had a pizza box on their kitchen table and I said to my contractor: what do you want to bet there is a pizza in there? Lifted up the lid and the pizza had gone fuzzy. We ran out of the apartment and nearly puked our guts out.
The girls upstairs in the second floor apartment had used the entire apartment as a clothes closet, nothing hung or folded. Panties, bras, socks and shoes. Piled up so high, we had to push through them. Kitchens unsightly, bathrooms a pig wouldn’t even enter. A dirty tampon in the toilet, un-flushed, perhaps it was a turd. I didn’t look that closely. Those apartments were 1,100 square feet each, that’s a lot of space to leave filthy. The carriage house was the worst. The young lady, and I use the term loosely, had a collection of rather large snakes and lizards. Some were three and four feet long. She had rats, cigarettes, cats and marijuana. She was an art student attending SCAD. The carpet was littered with all of the above, including rat turds and cat piss. Now you know what I mean about calling her a young lady.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t.
After I kicked her filthy ass out so I could renovate, she came back and laid a snotty hack from her nose and throat on the carriage house door. You could see it running fresh when I turned the corner, ran smack into her and then called her mommy who was a real estate agent in Tennessee paying her tuition at school and told her what a filthy turd her daughter was. Mother shocked, made her apologize and swear to never pass by our place again.
I kept the security deposit from all of them and they couldn’t understand why. Their contract said no painting, but all of them did. Hideous colors, too. It’s hard to hide red.
We hired and worked with a private contractor. When we were finished, the one hundred and sixty two year-old heart of pine floor was aglow, again on every level. Stripped from years of neglect, dirt, stain and Jesus knows what else.
Those floors really did look like they were on fire, when the afternoon sun hit that pine floor again, restored to its original splendor. It was a sight to see. It was the color of burnt sienna if a fire was reflecting in its finish.
High-gloss trim and high doors, painted eggshell and dove white. Bathrooms and kitchens modernized with marble and brushed nickel. Every lock, key and knob, oil-rubbed bronze. Floor to ceiling windows adorned every room and let in the lovely light from the squares. The sun dappled through the live oak and Spanish moss. I love attention to detail, don’t you?
That dirty old carriage house got stripped bare and repaired fresh and sparkling new. It had French windows and doors that looked into the courtyard. In the center of the courtyard I build a raised garden bed built of brick to match the original. I topped that raised bed with a spectacular tiered fountain and let it run slow so that it dripped like rain drops and echoed off of the courtyard walls covered in creeping fig. I finished it off with sago palms, variegated plants and flowers that bloomed white. Hydrangea, orchid, gardenia and impatiens. I added concrete and bronze urns and baskets hanging on the walls filled with white blooms and a staghorn fern as the centerpiece.
We gave the facing street a fresh look with Plantation shutters painted Savannah Green (a city ordinance that is difficult to change if the neighbors scream, and ours did), a freshly painted porch and new, old-world lighting. The neighbor next door, Gary Arthur, screamed because the shade of white I used was a tad too bright, so I had the painter repaint all the trim at my expense. It’s all in the details and the neighbors don’t like someone new coming into their town, telling them what it’s going to be like when they finish.
Gary was the lover of Mills Lane, and Mills was responsible for renovating some 40 to 45 odd houses in-town before he died. He was married at one time and may have had kids, but I honestly do not know which Mills Lane he was. Gary now is part of the Historic Society, guess they think they run everything. But this story isn’t about Gary or Mills, so I think I will pass.
I planted variegated dogwood and a purple-blooming Oklahoma Red Bud. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot plant out in front of my own property, the city encourages that you care for the tree lawn yourself, the neighbors act as if they own the entire district. I told the neighbor off. Well, actually I think Gary was a coward and sent his secretary out to chastise me.
“You can’t plant that tree, it’s not fitting of the district and you haven’t got city approval, blah, blah, blah”. I looked at her and said, your facts are incorrect and the tree stays. Tell Gary I said I’ve done my best. Chop it down, and there will be hell to pay. Besides, the over-grown sycamore in front of your property, and the enormous magnolia in back is a mess and you don’t hear me screaming. Well, do you? I love magnolias but if they’re not managed properly they turn diseased and yellow. I was forever sweeping up my courtyard, glad to have sold the property and rid myself of Gary’s damned trees.
I planted Asiatic Jasmine since it blended in, shy looking, so they should shut up, right? I added the dull and boring gray walking stones that they called blue-slate just to appease them, as if I cared. I paid Gary a fortune for those blue slates and did it just to show him I was willing to conform, somewhat. Still, they were ugly.
The Historic District of Savannah is really fun outside of the protective neighbors. There are many dog walkers. You can see it all from the bus really as it whirls around the parks & squares going slowly, the turns are sharp the streets narrow, bumpy and uneven. They‘re on a committee, self important, the neighbors. I really haven‘t got the time.
The famous squares of Savannah were first laid out in 1733, and by 1851 there were twenty-four squares in the city. In the 20th century three of the squares were demolished or altered beyond recognition which left only twenty-one. In 2010, one of the three "lost" squares, Ellis Square, rebuilt or restored. The city installed some mature live oak trees and added a water feature. Many of the residents hate the new design and claim it as too modern, however I love it. It’s a beautiful open space and once those trees double in size, it will be spectacular. There are benches of every kind in all of the squares unless I am mistaken, either a water feature or perhaps a beautiful sculpture and maybe someone buried there… as I said: the ghosts.
Most of Savannah's squares are named in honor or in memory of a person, persons or historical event, and many contain monuments, markers, memorials, statues, plaques, and other tributes. And that’s what I mean about not having to take a guided tour of the town, the writings in the squares speak for themselves.
The city of Savannah was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. The squares today are cherished and admired by many, the first squares were originally intended to provide colonists space for military exercises.
“All of the squares measure approximately 200 feet from north to south, but they vary east to west from approximately 100 to 300 feet. Typically, each square is intersected north-south and east-west by wide, two-way streets. They are bounded to the west and east by the south- and north-bound lanes of the intersecting north-south street, and to the north and south by smaller one-way streets running east-to-west and west-to-east, respectively. As a result, traffic flows one way—counterclockwise—around the squares, which thus function much like traffic circles.”
*Source: Wikipedia ‘Savannah Squares’.
The district is a long narrow area that is about half a mile wide by one and a half miles long. Don’t quote me, I seldom get my facts right. There is a beautiful respite on the south end called Forsyth Park near the Victorian District and the lovely mansions on Gaston Street, the central fountain there is stunning and beautiful.
Forsyth Place was the first large park created in Savannah. Stylistically, the park was influenced by the urban renewal of Paris in the nineteenth century, when broad boulevards and parks were created. This greatly influenced city planning throughout the industrial world--every large city in the United States was developing large city parks beginning in the 1850's. Culturally speaking, it is not insignificant that the Forsyth Park fountain was thought to be a copy of the one in the Place de la Concorde, by Hittorff, who completed two monumental fountains in that square only a few short years before Forsyth Place was created. Bull Street was thought of as a boulevard and promenade (both French terms) and the fountain served as a focal point of a long vista, all the way from the Exchange, which was City Hall. In an economic context, the park and the fountain would not have been possible if Savannah were not experiencing economic prosperity. The 1850's were the first consistently prosperous period throughout the South, which admired and emulated the high style of the French Empire.
The Fountain is a large, ornate, two-tiered cast-iron fountain surmounted by a classically robed female figure standing in extreme contrapposto, holding a rod. Water comes from this rod into the top basin. The top basin appears to be made of three successive rows of closely arranged flat leaves, around the base of which are arranged acanthus leaves. The pedestal which supports this top basin is surrounded by grasses, including cattails, and a wading bird with wings outspread. This pedestal and basin stand in another, larger octagonal pedestal and basin, into which the water overflows. It is more geometric and architectural than the top basin and pedestal, but it is also ornamented with leaves, in low relief. *Source: City of Savannah
You can see a few statues there, one is a confederate. There is a new fountain and live theatre, too.
There are over fifty species of trees planted there. There are splendid old live oak trees, magnolia, green ash, Chinese elm and fringe flower that are magnificent and quite a spectacle when in bloom. The azalea begin mid to late February and that is my favorite time in Savannah.
Perhaps there are a few hundred trees there in that one park alone, it would be impossible to count. The park is welcoming and would remind you of a very small version of Central Park, in Manhattan. Shady on hot days, sunny on cold. Most love to sit in that park either on a bench or in the green grass perhaps under the canopy in the shade of a splendid Ginkgo.
The Number 14 Abercorn bus runs along side the rather blah, but still-lovely Daughter’s of the American Revolution Cemetery. Sign reads: DAR. Used to be called The Colonial Cemetery, over 700 residents dead from Yellow Fever.
It dominates a large section between Oglethorpe Avenue on the north and East Perry Street on the south. Abercorn Street to the West and Habersham on the East. The bus runs along-side of it. Sometimes it’s nice to sit on your ass and reflect on the open space and the dead while waiting for the 14, or ride past gazing out from the bus windows, while sitting on your ass. There are many benches inside the cemetery, or perhaps you’ll sit on the lawn while you admire the dead.
The cemetery contains the people of Savannah who were buried between 1750-1853. Many fled the city in panic, but the yellow fever caught many unguarded. It came in stages. Stage One: early symptoms with sudden onset lasting about two to five days with high fever, rapid pulse followed by slow pulse, bloodshot eyes, furry tongue, nausea, vomiting, constipation and headache. There was reduced urination, it was painful. I’m sure mother’s screamed, cried and agonized over their loved ones, once stricken, the end in sight.
Stage Two: a brief remission stage lasting hours or days followed by hope and then dashed by,
Stage Three: The yellow phase which lasted from three to nine days. Symptoms to include; liver inflammation, yellow eyes, yellow skin, red blood and black vomit, high fever, weakness, kidney and renal damage, bleeding from mucous membranes and into the skin. A rotting from within. Some called it the consumption, but I am not a doctor.
There was confusion, delirium, convulsions and coma followed by death.
On the far outskirts of town is the famous and very large, Bonaventure Cemetery with stories, and ghost stories and more stories and more ghosts than you could ever shake a stick at. Savannah claims to be the most-haunted city in America, been on television many times, cited as such. The Bonaventure Cemetery was known in the famous book:
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil a non-fiction work by author John Berendt. Published in 1994, the book was Berendt's first, and became a The New York Times bestseller for two hundred and sixteen weeks following its debut. But don’t quote me, facts elude.
The book was subsequently made into a 1997 movie, directed by Clint Eastwood and based loosely on Berendt's story. If you haven’t read it, you must. You will get the feel, the flavor and the cadence of Savannah by reading John’s words. It’s more beautiful than a painting, if not, disturbing and downright gruesome.
Danny Hansford is buried in section 8 of Greenwich Cemetery, next to the more famous Bonaventure Cemetery. He’s accused of taunting Jim Williams, a famous antiques dealer and local celebrity according to some, used him for his money. Danny stands trial to this day, never to have bee tried, all hearsay, he‘s dead and cannot speak for himself in a court of law. He was shot to death in the study of the famous Mercer House on
Bull street, allegedly by Jim Williams. I say allegedly because Jim was acquitted of the murder. Some will say it’s true, but he was tried four times and released.
The famous Johnny Mercer once lived in the mansion, famous for many songs and lyrics, among my favorites, Moon River, The Shadow Of Your Smile and The Days of Wine and Roses.
Danny was known to have been popular with the ladies as well as the gentlemen, was known for wearing tight jeans and a white t-shirt to show off his muscular build.
Rumor has it, Danny haunts Savannah to this very day. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two cemeteries, they converge upon one another. And, as rumor has it, Danny’s spirit remains restless. He was described as high-maintenance, a hustler, male escort, alleged drug dealer and user. He was perhaps a bit narcissistic and made rather vociferous and threatening demands on Jim Williams.
Williams had bought Danny a car, given him money, and paid him off, but Danny never did really appreciate the opportunities presented to him. Perhaps he was just a dumb male prostitute, a gigolo by trade. Full of life, young in spirit and never to die, if you believe in restless souls, now put down to word and film. But as they say, ‘only the good die young‘. And sometimes, the not so good.
Judge George Oliver from the Williams trial was quoted as saying that he believed Jim Williams had shot Hansford in cold blood. Then he added that Hansford was "trouble with a capital T" and that "sometimes, people just need killing." At least, that was what the rumor was, or was it in the paper? He’s probably not the type of southern judge I would want to decide my fate.
And then there was Minerva, a shadowed and spooky voodoo priestess in Savannah, told them that ‘to understand the living, one must commune with the dead.’ As rumor has it she did, she tried to commune with the dead spirit of Danny and asked him to forgive Jim, but it must not have worked because Jim was found dead not too long after the fourth trial and acquittal. Some say Danny got even, John Berendt’s book may allude as such.
John Berendt covered the parties, the people, researched the murder and put it all down in his book. You can read it there, it’s in black and white, worthy of the effort. I recommend it, highly.
If you’re so inclined, you might even take a ride out to the Bonaventure Cemetery, but don’t go looking for the famous statue of, ‘Bird Girl’. She’s not there, having been moved to the Telfair Museum at Telfair Square, was nearly unnoticed before the book. If you’ve read the book, Midnight, or have seen the film, it’s worth the price of admission at the museum, just to see her standing there, away from prying hands and perhaps the restless. So much attention drawn to her, now seemingly safe. And certainly solemn.
The Bonaventure Cemetery is large and is nearly one hundred and sixty acres. You can enter at 330 Bonaventure Road and see for yourself. The cemetery is filled with history, art and a splendid garden there along the Wilmington River, salt marsh and islands of the river. I don’t know how many people are actually buried in that cemetery, and I was not able to find out, but I will tell you that with a cemetery of that size, including the one adjacent, it’s shit-loads.
Enclosed within those vaults, crypts and pluts are Pulitzer Prize-winning poets, politicians, plantion proprietors, publishers, soldiers and a singer-songwriter who is pretty famous among those of us who are at least in the fifty set.
The cemetery is located on land that originally was a plantation owned by John Mullryne, several hundred years old.
You really can see Savannah on your ass. You can flit between the bus, jump on and off as they offer a transfer. The businesses and residents, shops and restaurants surround the historic squares and myriad of fountains, flowers, Spanish moss & architectural adornments. The homes are old, they’re beautiful by day or by night.
The Savannah Historic District is a National Historic Landmark. It is significant for its 18th and 19th century architecture. Many of the buildings and homes are designed in the Georgian, Greek Revival, and Gothic styles. Notable buildings include the Owens-Thomas House built in 1818 (Oglethorpe square), the Beaux-Arts style Edmund Molyneux Mansion circa 1917 (Bull Street), the Spencer Woodbridge House built in 1795 (Habersham Street), and the 1853 Gothic Revival Greene House (Madison Square). Important sites associated with the African American community in the district include Beach Institute (East Harris St.), constructed in 1865 as the city's first black school, and the King-Tisdell Cottage (East Harris St.), the 1896 home of a working-class African American family.
Sometimes I like to walk around Savannah in the early evening. You can see inside the homes really well, they appear to be glowing in the evening air. A sneak peak really, and a bit of voyeurism never hurt anyone. You might catch a glimpse of the people inside, and imagine what their life is like. The chandeliers are most likely stunning and you can catch a glimpse or two. The colors of the interior walls ochre, rose, sage, olive, pale blue or gray lit by the chandeliers and candelabra. Gas lamps still flicker in the district and it has an old world feeling. Many porch ceilings are painted various shades of blue from periwinkle to turquoise and perhaps to reflect the sky. Some say the ceilings are painted blue to keep the spirits away and you will see many doors painted red or black for the same reason. The devil lurks as do the various ghosts and haints - ’Haint’ is a Southern colloquialism for ghosts, apparitions, or lost souls. You can sit on the porch steps that lead to the front door and rest a spell, nobody will really care. People wander here and there.
Horse and carriages trot through the squares of Savannah, have done so for hundreds of years. Their shit and piss creates a stench in the summer heat, humidity will kill you. If you’ve never been to Savannah in June, July or August, it’s like walking into a furnace with the dirty feeling of living at the bottom of a wet hamper. I worked on renovating West Harris one summer and I don’t advise it. Take my word and stay away during the fetid months. It’s an offense to the senses and you will leave Savannah cursing as you go.
I always feel sorry for the horses clip clopping around the squares and I let the carriage drivers and tourists know my disdain. How would you like to pull a carriage full of ten to twenty fat people fanning themselves, eating ice cream and ignoring your plight? The poor horses are wet, soaked in sweat. Next time you go to jump a carriage, think about that twice. How would you like it?
You can easily find shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes and lobster bisque with sherry around town. Food so good that won’t remind you of yo’ own momma’s cookin’. And when those fried green tomatoes meet a spicy remoulade sauce, it’s enough to make a grown man cry.
My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
There are a lot of fat people wandering around Savannah. Many are riding the Number 14 in search of Paula Deen’s Restaurant, The Lady & Sons. But don’t go looking for Paula, chances are she’s not there. I heard the restaurant was very good at one time when Paula was actually in the kitchen and running it herself, but now it doesn’t have a very good reputation among many of the locals that I have talked to. In fact, I walked through the restaurant, twice. The buffet table was small and very ordinary. The chicken looks like it came out of a frozen box before it was fried. I think I saw one that was square, might have imagined. I was told the beans and corn in the warming trays are straight out of a can, fat-back added. But don’t trust me, thousands upon thousands line up to catch the site and perhaps, sit down on their asses to enjoy some of that butter and fat.
Paula, if you’re reading this, please don’t get mad at me sugar, as I am also one of your most-adoring fans and have watched you on television ever since you first began nervously with those first shows that opened with the eggs and all. I love me some Paula. Call me up girl, and we’ll sit a spell and sip a Mint Julep, you can chew my ass out for the bad words.
Everyone says that Mrs. Wilkes’s Dining Room is the place to eat, and I have. And it‘s one of the best. It’s excellent and I highly recommend it if you are ever in the city. Don’t listen to those who talk of Johnny Harris b’cuz it’s old and dirty and dingy inside. The food tastes like it came out of cardboard. Dried up looking. A fried crust that isn’t recognizable as breading. The shrimp are Bay. Hardly worth it. It’s not even in the historic district and you can’t get there easily on the Number 14. Some like it, but not me.
Nope. You’ll simply have to trust me on this one and go to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. It’s been in operation since before World War II when Mrs. Wilkes had a boarding house and began feeding folks her special southern dishes. The table is served family style. The well-trained staff efficiently whisk a heap-load of prepared dishes to your table where you will be seated with many other people. You pass the dishes from one end to the other and back again. More food than you could ever eat. The tabletops are crowded with platters of fried chicken and cornbread dressing, sweet potato soufflé, black-eyed peas with ham, okra gumbo, corn muffins and biscuits just to name a few. Really, your eyes will nearly pop out of their sockets when you see the presentation.
Menu changes daily so regulars can have something different
One man named Craig Claiborne wrote, “The Buttermilk Chicken, Corn Pudding, and the biscuits was one of the greatest things, ever, to happen, in his life.”
It’s not too hard to find the dining room, as long as you’re walking along Jones Street somewhere in the neighborhood of Jones & Whitaker Street. If you’re there between 9 and 1, you’ll find it easily by the crowd and long line down Jones and around the corner on Whitaker. If you’re there before that, or after 2 you would miss it if you blinked. It’s just below street level on Jones. If you go there on the weekends, you’ll be sorry to learn that there’s nobody there, and if you’re lucky enough to spot the place, you wouldn’t know it was so good. No sign until recently, still hard to find. I’ve been there and sometimes I can’t even find the place. Nope, trust me and go on a weekday between nine and one or you’ll be sorry.
Selma Wilkes ran that old boarding house since 1943. Smell of hushpuppies & collards. Food so good it attracted local color, nuts & kooks. One Spanish Civil War veteran used to ride his tricycle to the dining room and ate there every day for three decades. The cook staff prepare the simple meals, comfort food. You’ll be surprised to find that the spices are simple, salt & pepper, really. Food the way your great grandmother prepared it, perhaps. One of the cooks, Mildred Capers, judged the doneness of her fried chicken by the sound of the oil in the fryer. Some say Mrs. Wilkes was in that kitchen at ninety-four years of age, made sure it ran smooth.
I’ll say one thing more about it, and then no more-
Fried chicken, beef stew, sausage and meatloaf. Cabbage, snap peas, macaroni and cheese, butter beans, snap beans, black-eyed peas, and okra. Rutabaga, squash, mashed potatoes, candied yams, pickled beats and red rice. Okra and tomato salad, potato salad, apple salad, brown rice, baked beans, English peas and noodles.
Dessert is soon to come. Perhaps a banana pudding.
You did leave room, didn‘t you?
My other absolutely favorite restaurants are:
1. Soho South Café on Liberty Street, west side. The restaurant is owned by Bill and Bonnie Retsas. The food there is not only a work of art, but you get a large portion and make sure you have your camera with you to take a picture before you take a bite. It’s that beautiful. Many will tell you about the food there and when you walk in, the smell is intoxicating. Unusual. It’s a lunch or late lunch café. They close around 4 in the afternoon, so don’t expect to go for late dinner. The building is an old garage, don’t let the Bohemian décor fool you, sit in the middle of the café if you can and make sure to catch the local color. Bill and Bonnie serve an exquisite Sunday Brunch, but if you get there late, the wait is unbearable, the restaurant will be packed full and you will be sorry once you see those eggs Benedict topped with sauce and crab. I eat there at least once a week. The Seared Ahi Tuna Niçoise salad is simply the best you’ll ever have. Bonnie, if you’re reading this, a big hug for you.
Bonnie’s salads are so beautiful they ought to be professionally photographed, Everything is made from scratch, the freshness of the food is outrageous. The desserts are worth the visit, alone. Bonnie’s attention to detail and generous portions are worth the rather long wait for a perfect meal. It’s Savannah, honey… some call it Slow-vannah, so you just sit down, hush yo’ mouth, wait for Bonnie to serve you. I promise it’s a real treat.
2. Saigon on Broughton street for Thai Vietnamese is simply the best. Ignore others, trust me on this one. I go with my partner and we share dishes. We always get Thai spring rolls with shrimp. They are hand made. We adore the chilled and crispy Som Tom - Papaya Salad with shredded papaya, tomatoes and crushed peanuts with a sweet garlic sauce served on a bed of iceberg lettuce. The Tom Ka - Coconut soup is exquisite. We always share an order of Angel Wings which is chicken stuffed with ground pork, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts, served with sweet chili sauce. Their yellow curry is outrageous and one of my favorite dishes is the Banh Xeo - Vietnamese Pancake. which is a very authentic dish consisting of a thin rice flour pancake (ask for it blackened or a bit crispy) stuffed with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and diced, sauteed onions, served with a side of romaine leaves, sliced cucumber, cilantro, and a seafood vinaigrette. What you do is, wrap banh xeo in Romaine leaves with cucumber slices and cilantro, then dip in the dressing. Mouthwatering. The Chef’s recipes are authentic and so is the family.
Other favorite restaurants are: The Shrimp Factory, The Cotton Exchange and Vic’s on the River. If you have a lot of time, you might try the Pink House. I call it the Stink House, food way above average. The building is pink and hard to miss. Formal-ish and pricey.
The Cotton Exchange has the best fried grit-cake smothered in an onion-cream sauce with prawns and Andouille (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃duj]; English: /ɑːnˈdwiː/ ahn-dwee) Sausage. It is a coarse-grained smoked meat made using pork, pepper, onions, wine and seasonings. The word Andouille is French in origin. It was brought to the United States via Louisiana by French immigrants. The sausage is most-often associated with Cajun cooking. It’s very Gullah or Creole.
Just north of Broughton and running parallel are Bay Street & River Street, respectively. River street, of course, runs along the river. The trolley runs there and around town, the streets are so old, cobblestone that anybody could break neck or twist an ankle, easily. The steps and walkways narrow, short steps and tall. There’s one set of steps that lead from the east end of Bay Street down to the river that are so precarious, and so steep, that you could get killed walking down them slowly, while holding the handrail, supported by two others. It’s that dangerous. I’m surprised there isn’t a pile of old ladies and skulls at the bottom laying on those cobblestones.
River Street is bustling on most days with The Savannah Candy stores, and myriad of restaurants and bars. Savannah might be a little bit dangerous at night, so check with your hotel staff before venturing out. I am in at night and out in the day, but that‘s me.
There’s a rather lovely bridge there just east along the river. I rode over it one time on my Yamaha scooter. As I was speeding up onto the bridge, going about fifty, sign says: No motorcycles. By the time I read the sign, I was actually up on the bridge and half way across it. I learned quickly why the sign said not to take motorcycles because I nearly shit my pants and was practically scared to death. The view from up on top of that high-arched bridge is spectacular when coming over it from South Carolina, you get to see the Savannah city skyline. Don’t avert your attention from the road for too long, the drop is far, the suspension is high, the center is arched and the truckers drive like mother fucking assholes over that fucking bridge and could care less if some cute and adorable gay man like me is tootling along on his scooter: beep, beep. I damn near got killed on that thing. They ought to move that damned sign where a person could see before it’s too late.
City planning not so great. City council, questionable. Otis Johnson, Mayor. One time I called the police and they never did respond. Another time, they just knocked on my door to warn me about a neighborhood theft of small scooters, never asked.
So anyway, my partner and I rode the Number 14 Abercorn city bus from time to time when it was raining, mostly for fun. There‘s nothing like grabbing your umbrella in a downpour and running down the block, up and over two, trying to catch the next bus. If you miss it, you have to wait until another one comes along and that can be a long, long, long and boring time. What the schedule says and what actually happens can be two different things.
I can’t tell you the number of times we jumped on the bus and rode out to the outskirts of town, shopped at Publix, Fresh Market, Haverty’s, Best Buy, Pier One Imports or to check on something new. Return trip carrying loads of bags, orchids in our arms from Fresh Market - Phalenopsis Orchid. I have a penchant for orchids, can’t resist them. There is a golden yellow phal’ with a raspberry throat that I cannot pass up. I know I can carry that cotton pickin’ orchid home on that bus because I have been known to schlep a bathrobe from one end of Manhattan to the other and back again, in New York City. I love to shop, if I have to have it, I’ll carry it anywhere and everywhere until I get it home. Don’t try and tell me I can’t, makes me want it more.
Our kitchen table in Savannah is really a display table for books, orchids, candles and French china. Tony uses it as his desk, writes checks, glances over bills and works on his laptop. It’s an enormous round black table with one of those heavy bases and thick tops. It’s gorgeous. I cluster a group of about a dozen orchids just off center and it’s dazzling and colorful. The morning sun streams into the kitchen and it looks alive.
I like to sit in the living room, legs splayed up over my favorite chair, a view of French doors, marble balcony, urns & potted plants with a view of Charlton Street, live oak & magnolia. In the spring there are apple blossoms in bloom in Troup Square and freshly planted flowers. It’s one of the most beautiful squares in Savannah. It’s located on Habersham between Charlton and Harris Street. It was laid out in 1851. It was named after George Michael Troup, Congressional Representative, Governor, and Senator. There was only one other square, Washington Square, named for a person who was alive when so honored. You can sit in that square and wave to me as I wave back at you, there. Call up a yoo-hoo and I might be there.
On the West side of the square there are the high-stoop McDonough Row Houses, built in 1882 that were the object of one of the first historic restoration efforts in the 1960s when federal funds became available for historic preservation activities.
Kennedy Row, low stoop brick houses on the West side of the square, were built in 1872 and also rehabilitated in the Troup Square Renewal Project.
On the West side of the square, there is a dog fountain that was reinstalled in the 1980s.
The Armillary Sphere in the center of the square was created in the 1970s and represents an ancient astronomical device, adorned with signs from the Zodiac.
*Source: City of Savannah
There should be a fountain in that square, but nobody ever asked me. You would think the people that’s lived there for so long would want one, wouldn’t you? Bunch of kooks and eccentrics.
One of the most difficult things I’ve done was to get an orchid home on the Number 14 without knocking off a bud, or breaking stem. One time I carried three tall phalenopsis orchids home, in full bloom.
When I stepped on the bus,
the driver stepped on the gas,
nearly sending the scared
and frightened orchid to the floor,
and me along with it.
If you stare directly into a Phalenopsis, they do appear to be somewhat frightened, anyway. You must be very gentle with them because they scare easily.
Savannah gets tremendous wonderful and blustery
spring thunderstorms & summer down pours.
The thunder, lightening and wind can be spectacular. Tornado warnings, not uncommon.
Savannah's streets in-town are not very-well suited for drainage and the streets are often flooded as high as the side of an average car. A surprise when driving fast.
Many of the streets are cobble-stoned and the curb and drainage is poor at best.
Since we only have our Yamaha Vinos for in-town travel, it makes for some cold, windy and wet bike rides. So, we opt for the bus from time to time. It was Tony's suggestion really, and I have to say it's always an adventure, great fun and a wild jaunt when riding on a city bus.
I am a people watcher. I grew up with parents who made fun of everyone with great ridicule, nobody was safe. Of course, they were just, ‘observing’.
My parents loved sit just and watch the world go by, odd characters did not go unnoticed.
Perhaps I inherited my people watching skills from them, a bit snarky myself. Why lie? I really work on decorum and kindness, but not always. I passed fifty years ago and have found the older I get, the more real I tend to be. I call it like I see it. Some don’t like it, but that’s tough shit.
We usually ride the Number 14 Abercorn on rainy days, orchids love to follow me home and they are generally happy in the rain and cling to me in a mock of epiphytic style.
We started riding the bus to get about on rainy days, and more-frequently on cold days to avoid shopping at the dreadful district Kroger, a grocer and deli that I have likened to a third world market, or worse. It’s secretly laughed at by upscale residents who call it the Monkey Market because at one time, it was known as the M&M Market, owned by someone with the last name beginning with the letter: M. I can’t remember the name for the life of me,
But the name: Monkey Market, sticks.
The uppity white people inside the district snicker because the Monkey Market has entirely black employees.
It’s so bad, the attitude there, that I’ve actually written a letter to the Kroger/Safeway chain, chastising them for shame that they would put anyone through shopping in their dirty and sometimes cockroach infested store. Don’t let them lie and tell you it’s cockroach free, I’ve brought cockroaches home in paper bag or clinging to the inside of cardboard. If you buy a case of water there, you had better check it when you get home, before you bring those hideous cockroaches inside.
I bought a chicken there and when I got it home and went to roast it, cut open the plastic - the smell nearly made me vomit. Lord knows how old that damned smelly chicken was. But I can tell you it’s not worth writing a letter, they don’t seem to pay attention, care or get what I am trying to tell them.
In fact, the Monkey Market is so bad, that I prefer to ride twelve miles out of town to Publix or Fresh Market. The employees at the Monkey Market seem to have a below-below average IQ or dislike customers like me.
Rumor has it, they dislike the white customers. I’ve been treated abhorrently there. Waited for thirty minutes once for half a pound ham and a quarter of a pound of cheese. You can see the staff eye you from the corners of their sockets, rumor has it: reverse discrimination. Whatever it is, it’s bad. So I said to the deli service gal: I’d like half pound of the baked ham please.
Service Girl: We ain’t got none-ah dat.
Me: It’s right there, right in front.
Service Girl: Oh, dats what we’s call boil’d.
Me: Half a pound, please and may I have a quarter of a pound of the Emmental cheese?
Service Girl: We ain’t got none-ah dat.
Me: It’s right here in front, see here? *points
Service Girl: Oh dat, we calls dat impoted.
Me: yes, I can see that it says it’s imported right on the label, thank you.
So, I hate the Monkey Market and prefer to ride the Number 14 Abercorn out the twelve miles to Fresh Market.
I simply adore the fresh market. I smile at the thought of going there. It‘s eye candy, really. If you haven’t been to one, you must. Employees of every ethnicity, kind and friendly they seem to know what they‘re talking about. If not, management makes certain to help. I’m friendly with all of the employees and they love me and call my name when I walk into their department.
Hey Steve, how you doin’? Only they say ‘hey’ in a long, drawn-out southern drawl so it comes out more like: haaaaaaaaaaaaaay.
And I respond in exaggerated slang that makes them giggle: Well, alright Ebony, how you, girl-fren? And Jimmy, sugar, how they treatin’ you around here? Your flowers look fresh & gorgeous and have you been back to the church you quit last couple of months ago? No? They’re really that hypocritical? Well, you know how fake church folks are.
Hey Raspberry, what’s shakin’ babe.
She winks at me, ‘Hey sugar, you sweet thang, where yer little Puppy Zoey?’
And I respond, She’s right here in my little basket, Raspberry. Would you like to say hi to Zoey? And she does and we laugh and giggle and gossip like school girls because, really? I love my little Raspberry. Eyes sparkle like a sly old cat. Her smile is infectious, she’ll glance at you sideways with those eyes of hers, perhaps a flirt, perhaps not. Shy, but with a spark to life. She don’t know where she wants to go in life, too young.
You get that rental car you want for your birthday? No? Awe, why not girl?
How are all y’all?
We doin’ good. But be careful in Savannah, if someone says, ‘well bless your heart’ that means: Go fuck yourself. No two ways about it.
When you walk into a Fresh Market, it looks like a flower stand in Paris. There are orchids piled on tables in every shape, color and size. Oncidium to phalenopsis, cymbidium, dendrobium, epidendrum, and perhaps, even the Dingle bell orchid: Harrisella porrecta.
I absolutely love a nice dingle bell, don’t you?
There are enormous flower buckets filled with colorful and exotic flowers from lilies to allium, gerbera daisy to roses. Oh,
they have a lovely display of stunning roses in every color you can imagine for eight ninety nine. It’s a great price and if you snip the base, change the water daily and add a packet of flower food, (I grab gobs of packets & keep them in my kitchen drawer) you can make a bouquet of really good roses and all types of flowers last, for a week. I have been known to snip them down within a quarter of an inch of their life, and place them bunched up in a small water glass, in and out of the refrigerator for another week. A stunning presentation for afternoon cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. I love flowers.
I have been collecting specimen plants for over 32 years.
Don’t make the mistake most people do in calling a Gerbera daisy, a ‘Gerber’ daisy. People like me will giggle & snicker behind your back and consider you ‘flower ignorant‘. Learning the hybrid names & common names will get you far with flower experts, just don’t call an oncidium an onkadidium or you’ll never ever be expected to remember specimen names like Aeonium of the family Crassulaceae or Tillandsia adpressiflora.
And you certainly don’t want that now, do you?
And then it happened one day that I broke my shoulder and was forced to ride the Number Fourteen Abercorn bus out to see my surgeon for the myriad of procedures, x-rays, prescriptions, follow-up visits and the dreaded five months of physical therapy.
On a fucking bus.
With a broken shoulder.
In agonizing pain and usually hopped up on morphine in the form of Dilaudid.
Damn that shoulder.
But as with anything, you learn a few tricks, have a bit of fun because life is what you make of it, or so they say. I actually learned to whip up a new cocktail since I wasn’t supposed to actually drink wine while I was hopped up on dilaudid. But what the heck does the doctor know? I generally go to doctors for a second opinion after I have already diagnosed myself.
So, I go without wine in the evenings for a week or two, because honestly, I’m in so much pain post surgery that it’s all I can do to keep from crying. But that gets old and tiresome and I invented a great new drink.
You take sparkling water and add fresh grapefruit juice and ice to it, right? Then you add a smidgen of vodka. Ah. It’s very refreshing and you can have one or two of those and not even really get the effects of vodka, mostly because it’s such a tiny amount and you’re already talking to yourself while hopped up on…
Next thing you know, I am not drinking sparkling water with grapefruit juice and a splash of vodka, I am now drinking vodka over ice with grapefruit juice and a splash of water. I start adding a lemon twist to fend off scurvy and keep my lips fresh and puckered. After a cocktail with dilaudid I start too look rather handsome in the mirror and begin to forget about my tradgedy.
And I will tell you what, dilaudid is much more enjoyable when you’re in excruciating pain in the late afternoons & evenings when you’re adding a bit of grapefruit juice to your diet, splashed generously with vodka.
Eventually the vodka didn’t thrill me enough, so I switched to gin. At least gin has flavor where vodka, there really isn’t much. I enjoy a nice potato vodka, but beyond that it’s all crap. There’s nothing like Hendrick’s gin and after that, Bombay Sapphire will do nicely. Depends on whether you like juniper or cucumber. I happen to like both.
Gin & oxycodone is a lovely combination when you’re in agony because you can actually talk to yourself out loud and then, answer your own thoughts and questions. I talked to myself out loud for days on end and I’m not positive but I think I even drooled a bit. It’s a great way to spend time recuperating. -End Part 1